Members of the 2016 NBA draft class are eligible to sign rookie-scale extensions up until Oct. 21. Ben Simmons, Jamal Murray and Caris LeVert have already signed extensions with their respective teams, but a number of their fellow draft classmates have yet to follow suit.
Over the coming days, we’ll examine some of the most difficult extension decisions involving members of the 2016 draft class, continuing with Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam.
Out of all 2016 draftees still waiting to sign an extension, Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam is likely to land the richest payday.
The reigning Most Improved Player is fresh off a season in which he averaged a career-high 16.9 points on 54.9 percent shooting, 6.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.0 three-pointers, 0.9 steals and 0.7 blocks in only 31.9 minutes per game. As the No. 2 option behind Kawhi Leonard, Siakam helped guide the Raptors to their first-ever NBA championship this past spring, which is far more than they could have expected when they selected him with the No. 27 overall pick in 2016.
However, last year’s breakout campaign will only drive up his asking price—perhaps up to a five-year, $168.2 million max extension.
“Siakam has a legit case for a max,” a former Eastern Conference general manager told Frank Urbina of HoopsHype. “Would I give the max to any of the other players up for extensions? Hell no. I consider these factors: whether the player has an impact on winning, whether he is a great fit for our culture, whether he still has room for growth and whether he can be the best player on a championship-caliber team.”
Siakam checks the first three boxes without question, but the last remains to be seen.
Leonard did miss 22 regular-season games this past year, and the Raptors chugged right along without him, going 17-5 in his absence. Siakam didn’t skip a beat in terms of his production sans Leonard, either.
On a per-36-minute basis, Siakam averaged 20.3 points on 54.2 percent shooting, 8.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists when he wasn’t sharing the court with Leonard. By comparison, he averaged 18.4 points on 55.5 percent shooting, 7.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per 36 minutes next to the three-time All-Star.
But once the playoffs came around, Leonard was the two-way engine who fueled the Raptors’ title run. Without his 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.3 triples and 1.7 steals per game, Toronto likely would have lost in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers, who flummoxed Siakam by throwing second-team All-Defensive center Joel Embiid at him after Game 1.
With Leonard and Danny Green having both left the Raptors in free agency this summer, Siakam will now command more attention as the No. 1 offensive option opponents must stymie. While he won’t face the likes of Embiid or reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo every night, he also won’t have Leonard to attract an opponent’s top wing defender anymore.
That may make Toronto reticent to commit to him financially as a No. 1 option.
Siakam finished as Toronto’s second-leading scorer with 16.9 points per game last season, but Serge Ibaka (15.0), Kyle Lowry (14.2), Fred VanVleet (11.0) and Green (10.3) weren’t far behind. With Leonard and Green now out of the mix, the Raptors will likely establish an egalitarian identity in which Siakam, Lowry, Ibaka, VanVleet and Marc Gasol share the bulk of the scoring load.
The Raptors are sure to at least broach the subject of an extension with Siakam before the Oct. 21 deadline, but it’s uncertain whether they’ll come to an agreeable middle ground.
“They’re going to try to extend him,” one Eastern Conference general manager told Urbina. “Do I think he’s a max player? No. Do I think he’s a good player? Certainly. It’ll come down to what he thinks he’s worth, and I’m sure his agents have called around to see what kind of offers he could get if he enters restricted free agency.”
Simmons, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA draft, was a no-brainer max extension candidate for the Philadelphia 76ers. Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray wasn’t far behind, given his importance to the team construct (in particular, his fit alongside Nikola Jokic). However, Siakam doesn’t quite fit into that camp yet, as the Raptors have yet to see him operate as a No. 1 option sans Leonard.
If he isn’t willing to sign an extension for less than the max, the Raptors will likely allow him to test restricted free agency next summer. They would still be able to match any offer sheet he signed, and he might not be able to find a max contract offer elsewhere if teams decide to save up for the loaded 2021 free-agent class.
The Raptors also have financial incentive not to extend Siakam until next summer.
If they do give him an extension now, his agreed-upon 2020-21 salary would immediately be on their books come July 1. If he becomes a restricted free agent, he’ll have only a $7.05 million cap hold until he signs a new contract.
That could end up being a $20-plus million difference.
With Lowry, Gasol, Ibaka and VanVleet all on expiring contracts, the Raptors could have a mostly blank slate in terms of long-term financial commitments next summer. Norman Powell ($10.9 million) and Patrick McCaw ($4.0 million) are their only two other players on guaranteed contracts beyond this season, although they’re sure to pick up OG Anunoby’s $3.9 million team option for 2020-21 as well.
If the Raptors keep Siakam’s $7.05 million cap hold in place, they could have upward of $80 million in salary-cap space next summer, which could allow them to go big-game hunting in free agency. A relative lack of top-tier free-agent options outside of Anthony Davis complicates that plan, but they could leverage that cap room to throw bloated offer sheets at other restricted free agents or acquire star players on huge contracts via trade.
Since the Raptors have some financial incentive to let Siakam play out the final year of his contract, they might only entertain the possibility of an extension if he agrees to a non-max deal. While the security of a multiyear guaranteed contract should be appealing, Siakam might decide to bet on himself as a max-caliber player and turn down a non-max extension.
That could make finding a middle ground difficult in the next few weeks, unless Siakam is willing to take a slight discount.