Last spring Nurkic Fever spread across the Pacific Northwest. Portland Trail Blazers fans hadn’t seen a player rise to cult-hero status this quickly since the days of Billy Ray Bates.
Unfortunately for BlazerManiacs, Nurkic’s long term status with the team has not been finalized. His rookie contract ends at the end of the 2017-18 season, at which point he will likely become a restricted free agent.
The Blazers and Nurkic, however, can forestall the Bosnian Beast’s pending free agency by agreeing to a contract extension. As a player entering the final year of his rookie contract, Nurkic will be eligible to sign an extension on July 1.
Astute readers will remember that President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey has negotiated rookie contract extensions for key players in the past - Damian Lillard signed one in the summer of 2015 and CJ McCollum signed one last summer.
The question the Blazers face in 2017 is whether or not Nurkic and Olshey will take the "Lillard-path" and sign the extension. Following are some frequently asked questions regarding Nurkic's pending extension:
Why would the Blazers want to extend Nurkic?
Remember Nurkic Fever? The 33-point, 16-rebound domination of the Denver Nuggets to all but clinch a playoff berth, followed by an epic walk-off interview?
Or the night he put up 28 points, 20 rebounds, 8 assists and 6 blocks against the 76ers?
And let’s not forget that the Blazers were 14-6 (.700) with Nurkic in the lineup and 27-35 (.435) without him.
The on-court reasons for wanting to lock Nurkic down ASAP are self-evident.
There's also the possibility that the Blazers could sign Nurkic to a less than maximum contract this summer, whereas if he continues his dominant play he’s guaranteed to get a maximum offer in 2018. If Olshey is completely convinced that Nurkic will continue to improve next season, then it would behoove him to push for a non-max extension now so as to lock in a player at a below-market salary.
Why would Nurkic agree to an extension?
Long-term security. As noted above, if Nurkic plays well next season without an extension he will almost certainly get a maximum contract offer from the Blazers or from some other team. But he does take the risk of playing an entire season with no long-term financial stability. Another injury this season, an off-court mishap, or a down season would have a significant negative effect on his value.
Unlike Lillard, Nurkic does not have a long-term big money shoe contract to his name, so there is substantial financial risk to playing the next season without a future contract. He may decide that it is worth locking in a less than max deal immediately to guarantee his financial future into the next decade.
Why would either side wait?
If Nurkic is completely convinced that his 2016-17 season was not a fluke and he can continue to improve next year, and he is not worried about injury risk, then he is guaranteed to get a maximum contract in 2018. He may find it undesirable to compromise for anything less this summer.
On the other hand, if the Blazers are worried about Nurkic's injury track record, concerned that his attitude will sour once the honeymoon phase ends in Portland, or have suspicions that a big contract will negatively impact his work ethic, then they may want to wait to commit big money to their star center. They will still have the option to match any contract from another team next summer; the only risk is the highly unlikely scenario that Nurkic signs a qualifying offer and becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2019.
What’s the maximum contract Nurkic can sign?
Per the league’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams can sign up to two players coming off rookie contracts to five-year deals - also referred to as the team's "designated player." Nurkic can join Lillard as the Blazers’ second player with a five-year deal; McCollum signed a four-year extension in 2016.
As a player with under six seasons of experience, Nurkic will be limited to an annual salary of 25 percent of the team's salary cap. He can qualify for the "Derrick Rose Bonus" and be eligible for 30 percent of the cap if he wins MVP next season.
What happens if they don't agree to an extension?
If Nurkic and the Blazers do not reach terms on an extension then the Blazers will have the option to tender a $4.1 million qualifying offer to Nurkic. If Nurkic accepts that offer he will become an unrestricted free agent after the 2018-19 season.
If Nurkic rejects the qualifying offer, he will become a restricted free agent after next season. This means the Blazers have the option to match any salary offered to Nurkic by another team and Nurkic must accept the Blazers' deal.
It is exceedingly unlikely that Nurkic will accept the qualifying offer next season. Players of his caliber only accept that offer when they desperately want to become a free agent so they can expedite departure from their current team - Greg Monroe being a recent example.
What are the salary cap implications?
The Blazers already have $120 million in guaranteed salary with only seven players signed for the 2018-19 season. Unless the team undergoes radical changes in the next 12-18 months, they’ll be well over the cap when Nurkic’s extension kicks in. So any deal made with Nurkic is unlikely to affect their roster flexibility.
Nurkic’s extension would not kick in until July 1, 2018, so it would have no impact on the team’s salary or possible luxury tax bill for the 2017-18 season.
Is there a deadline for the extension?
Nurkic and the Blazers will have until Oct. 31 to negotiate an extension. If they do not agree to terms by then they cannot sign a new agreement until July, 2018. Since Nurkic is currently a Blazer, Olshey and Nurkic's agent could continue negotiations during the season, but the deal will not become officially until the summer.
Eric Griffith | @EricG_NBA