As training camps and preseason games go on this month, players drafted in 2012 face a significant career decision: do they preemptively sign a contract extension with their current team — or do they wait to enter restricted free agency during the keenly anticipated July transaction market?
For the player, there are pros and cons to both approaches. Wait until the summer and you’ll be entering a market where just about every team can bid — and bid up — on your services. Ink a deal right now and you have guaranteed security if you play poorly in 2015-16 — or maybe play not at all due to injury. If players and team don’t agree to a deal by Oct. 31, negotiations will be put on hold until July 1 next summer.
The Magic have two players on their roster who were drafted in the first round of the 2012 draft. (Second-round picks, like the recently departed Kyle O’Quinn, aren’t required to sign four-year deals.) One of those players is Andrew Nicholson, whose minutes and averages have gone down in each of the two years since his rookie season. If Nicholson has a long-term role with this team, it’ll probably continue to be a small one.
The other 2012 draftee on the roster is Evan Fournier, a French swingman the Magic acquired in a trade that sent away Arron Afflalo in June 2014. After two years warming the Denver Nuggets’ bench, Fournier suddenly emerged as a player who could be a creative, long-term member of an NBA rotation. After previous career bests of 19.8 minutes and 8.4 points per game, Fournier went for 28.6 minutes and 12.0 points per game in his first year in Orlando:
Even though injuries shortened Fournier’s season to 58 games, it quickly became clear that general manager Rob Hennigan had engineered a coup with this trade, as Denver traded away the big-budget Afflalo at last season’s deadline.
Evan Dunlap of the Orlando Pinstriped Post reports that Fournier is very interested in pursuing a contract extension. So I was curious: looking at the contracts of recent players who started their careers with similar statistics to Fournier’s, what would be a fair deal to retain the Frenchman? I used this and this Play Index search on Basketball-Reference to come up with my comparisons.
Quincy Pondexter / New Orleans Pelicans
Like Fournier, Pondexter is a long wing (6’6”) with outstanding range (Pondexter shot 36.4 percent on three-point shots in his first three seasons), and less-than-stellar defense (Pondexter has a career Defensive Rating of 108). A key difference between the two players: after his third season, Pondexter was 24 years old, while Fournier is still 22. Pondexter received a four-year, $14M extension from the Memphis Grizzlies, agreed to before he would’ve entered free agency. Adjust for the league-wide salary inflation we saw starting this summer, and that deal today would probably be something like four years, $21M. Considering that Fournier has the edge in terms of both age and passing ability, and that’s probably too low.
Nicolas Batum / Charlotte Hornets
Even though Batum is rightfully considered a senior member of the French national team while Fournier still hasn’t locked down a starting spot, both players posted similar averages in their first three NBA seasons. Batum had an average stat line of 9.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 36.4 percent three-point accuracy. Fournier is at 8.9 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 38 percent three-point accuracy. The big difference is in minutes: Batum played 4,894 minutes in his first three seasons, starting 168 games, while Fournier has played 3,592 and started 40. A lot of that discrepancy has to do with Batum joining a rebuilding Portland Trail Blazers team when he debuted, while Fournier started with a playoff-bound Denver Nuggets squad. In this way, the NBA isn’t a level playing field: Batum proved himself as a consistent starter from the start, while Fournier has yet to do so, even though he may be capable of it. That probably makes Batum’s four-year, $46M extension a bit out of Fournier’s reach.
Chase Budinger / Indiana Pacers
While nobody will confuse Budinger and Fournier, either stylistically or visually, in many ways Budinger is the NBA player whose statistics best resemble Fournier’s. Through three years, they had similar scoring averages (Budinger’s 9.4 to Fournier’s 8.9), similar minutes averages (21.5 to 20.9), similar three-point accuracy (36.3 percent to 38 percent), and similar struggles on defense. Budinger was injured for most of his contract year, playing just 23 games for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2012-13. After the season, the former second-round pick still signed a three-year, $15M extension with Minnesota, including a player option for the upcoming season. (Budinger exercised this option and was then traded to Indiana.) Considering that Fournier had his own struggles with health last season, perhaps he could expect to receive an inflation-adjusted version of this contract, which would probably look like three years, $22.5M.