The players who sign rookie-scale extensions are usually big names. Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis and Jonas Valanciunas have already inked them this summer, and we’ll probably see Harrison Barnes and Andre Drummond get extended before the October 31 deadline. Where it gets tricky is the middle tier of players, guys who aren’t max players but might get paid more if they hit restricted free agency than their team necessarily wants to commit.
Tyler Zeller is one of those players. He had a solid season with the Celtics last year, and he’s discussed an extension with them. He’s made it clear that he wants the long-term security that comes with a new deal.
While the chances for a bigger payday increase next summer due to increased financial flexibility teams will have courtesy of the league’s new TV deal kicking in, Zeller doesn’t sound all that eager about hitting the restricted free agent market.
“It would be nice to have an extension, just a little more security,” Zeller admitted. “But at the same time, you have to approach the year and you can’t be heartbroken if you don’t get it. You have to make sure you’re fully prepared. Either way, I have to do my job this year. I have one more year on my contract. So I have to go out and do as much as I can to help our team this year.”
It will be interesting to see what kind of deal Zeller gets, if he gets one. He’s proven he can be a starting center in the NBA, if not an elite one. But competent big men usually get eight-figure deals, so locking him up won’t come at a discount to Ainge. With the amount of teams that will have cap space next summer, it’s pretty likely that Zeller will get a huge deal from somebody if he hits restricted free agency, so there could be motivation for the Celtics to give him a deal that may seem too high now but will look better when the salary cap jumps next summer.