It pays to be a big man in the NBA. Teams are always hungry for size, and if you can harness those physical tools into actual basketball skills, it will pay off big-time when it comes time to negotiate a new contract. A year ago, the idea of Tyler Zeller being a priority for a team to sign to a contract extension seemed absurd. But after a solid first year with the Celtics, it’s becoming more likely that they’ll want to lock him up long-term, or else someone else will.
Last month we saw how the Boston Celtics rewarded Jae Crowder for making the most of his opportunity to play significant minutes after being acquired from Dallas in December. They signed the 6-foot-6 Crowder to a five-year, $35 million deal.
Will Tyler Zeller be next?
The 7-foot center is among three Celtics (Jared Sullinger and Perry Jones III) from the 2012 draft class who are in line for a potential extension this fall. But of the trio, Zeller is the most likely to get a deal done prior to the October 31 deadline.
In his first two seasons with the Cavaliers, Zeller seemed on track to be little more than a permanent backup. But he made a jump last season after being traded to the Celtics. He’s mobile for a seven-footer, able to run the floor well and finish around the basket, which proved to be a perfect fit for the offense Brad Stevens ran in Boston.
With the salary cap going up next summer, teams will be motivated to lock in young players to long-term deals now at what will be below market value once the jump takes place. Don’t be surprised if Zeller gets eight figures annually in a new deal. The idea of a four-year, $40 million extension for him seems crazy now, but if he proves to be a long-term starting-caliber center, that looks a lot more reasonable under a cap that’s expected to be closer to $89 million in 2016, when the extension would kick in.