It is extension season in the NBA. Kevin Love has his on the table and Russell Westbrook has his freshly minted. For almost every fourth year player, this is a big time of year as they either get to enter restricted free agency or sign on with the teams that drafted/acquired them.
Love, Westbrook and Rose are obvious players who deserve extensions and maximum extensions. They were among the top picks in the 2008 NBA Draft. Ryan Anderson was the 21st overall pick that year. But judging by his very strong play this season and how he fits in with (at least) the current Magic roster, they have to be at least thinking of tendering some type of extension toward Ryan Anderson.
Anderson is a specialized player, but he is ninth in the draft class in terms of win shares and fifth in the draft class in 3-point percentage (fourth among real shooters… sorry Serge Ibaka).
This year Anderson has been even better than ever. In his first year as a full-time starter, Anderson has kept his strong per-36 numbers up. He is averaging a career-high 17.8 points per game, is shooting a career-best 41.4 percent from beyond the arc and is posting a 24.7 PER, second best on the team behind Dwight Howard.
Stan Van Gundy has said Anderson needs to continue his improvement on the defensive end and to do more than be a great shooter. But it is painfully clear with how well Anderson has played offensively that you can live with some of those shortcomings.
The question is, as the January 25 deadline for extensions approaches, whether Anderson is worth wrapping up with an extension sooner rather than later.
This is a difficult question. Even Anderson would admit that much of his success is predicated on the defense digging down to stop Dwight Howard. For some reason, teams still feel willing to take their chances with Anderson firing away from long range even though he has constantly and consistently burned them for much of the past three seasons.
Now that Anderson has firmly established himself as a starter and a valuable asset on the perimeter, you could begin to imagine the kind of market that might be out there for him. And since he is a restricted free agent, do not be surprised if a team desperate for 3-point shooting and great spacing from a power forward is willing to spend a bit more than the Magic are willing to pay to secure his services. Think of something like the three-year deal J.J. Redick got last summer from Chicago.
Figuring out the market for Anderson is difficult at this juncture too. Tom Ziller of SBNation rated Anderson as the No. 22 free agent and the No. 11 (No. 12 if you include Russell Westbrook, who signed an extension Thursday) restricted free agent in the 2012 market. He has certainly increased his value in the beginning part of this season, showing what an accurate shooter and major contributor he can be when given the minutes.
Orlando will surely make Anderson the $3.2 million qualifying offer to retain the right to match any offer sheet Anderson signs next year. Orlando also holds Anderson’s Bird rights, so only Orlando would be able to offer him a fourth year in a deal.
Of course, the whole Dwight Howard uncertainty makes predicting what the Magic might do concerning Anderson’s impending free agency even more difficult to decipher. Orlando might very well be in a holding pattern on the Anderson front while they wait to figure out what to do with Howard.
Undoubtedly Anderson is Orlando’s most valuable trade piece to try and acquire another star player to pair with Howard. His small salary makes it more difficult to use him in trades without the use of a trade exception. Adding three or four years to his deal would force teams to re-calculate his value. Part of his appeal is that he is on a rookie contract and that the team that will hold his restricted free agent rights can match any offer made on him.
As Mike Prada of SBNation points out, teams have to be careful in offering extensions. You don’t want to get wrapped up in a young player that then underperforms and you found out you outbidded yourself. But you don’t want to lose a key player in free agency, even if you have the right to match any offer.
I am sure Otis Smith and the Magic are weighing all these things in their discussions with Anderson and his agent, Chris Emens, if they have had these discussions at all.
It seems from the relative quiet surrounding the extension deadline that Orlando is going to let it pass and let Anderson slip into free agency. This makes some sense considering how much work Orlando has yet to do on the Dwight Howard front. That has to be at the foreground of all thoughts right now (and remember also that Jan. 25 is also the deadline for the Magic to extend Howard or extend-and-trade Howard).
Will it be a move that pays off? That is a question only Otis Smith and Orlando can answer as they weigh the value and potential of Anderson on the open market.