The Cleveland Cavaliers have a decision to make over the next month. Their free agency signings may be complete, but there is one other contract decision to work out. Isaac Okoro, as a first-round pick from the 2020 NBA Draft, is eligible for an extension.
It’s one of the rhythms of the NBA calendar. When the new league calendar begins, a new draft class of players becomes eligible for rookie extensions. The biggest names usually ink a maximum extension during the first few days, while the rest of the class waits until the weeks before the season begins (which doubles as the deadline for rookie extension) to finalize any negotiations.
If an extension is not agreed to, the discussions cease for the duration of the regular season and the player will hit restricted free agency the following summer. In recent negotiations, the Cavaliers handed Darius Garland a maximum extension last summer, but the year before failed to come to terms with Collin Sexton on an extension and let those negotiations carry on to restricted free agency the following summer.
Isaac Okoro is eligible for a rookie extension, and the Cavaliers have to answer some major questions before they can reasonably agree to a deal. One question is personal to Okoro; do they still see him as a crucial part of their future as a team? It seems like he could be pushed down the pecking order to the point that he isn’t even a rotation lock, and in that scenario, it would make more sense to move him in a trade than extend him.
The second question is what level of team salary the Cavs are willing to bear moving forward. Their books seem fairly static for the first season of a new deal with Okoro, the 2024-25 season, but in 2025-26 both Donovan Mitchell and Evan Mobley could be starting new contracts. Does committing long-term money to Okoro make sense in light of major contracts on the books for Jarrett Allen, Garland, Mitchell, Mobley and Max Strus?
Those questions are upstream from the brass tacks of what Okoro is actually worth in an extension. He is a defensive stopper in the backcourt, but his role on the Cavaliers is marginalized both by the presence of two All-Star guards and his own poor shooting and offensive ability. If they don’t value him, however, is it likely another team would see enough in him to tie up their money in a restricted offer sheet?
That’s the backstop of the negotiations for Okoro and any of his 2020 draftmates. Agreeing to an extension isn’t just about fair market value; it’s also balancing the risk that Okoro signs for more money next summer. How likely is it that Okoro is going to take a leap this season? The downside risk for Cleveland seems minuscule, and letting the negotiations wait a season gives Cleveland more information, more flexibility, and likely the avenue to a more team-friendly deal.
NBA Insider Eric Pincus is one of the best in the business when it comes to understanding the salary cap and player contracts, so it is no surprise that Bleacher Report would tap him to predict rookie extensions for Okoro and the rest of the 2020 Draft class.
If Okoro and the Cavs are going to agree to a deal, Pincus’s closest comp was Nassir Little, who signed a deal starting at $6.25 million with the Portland Trail Blazers last year; given the increase in the cap, that would be equivalent to a $7.2 million starting salary for 2024-25. Does something like a three-year, $23 million deal make sense?
Pincus predicts that the Cavaliers won’t feel like Okoro is worth the investment this early in the process, and that seems correct. The risk of waiting is infinitesimal, and Okoro has to show he can continue to improve as a shooter to have a future as a rotation player on a winning team.
Okoro plays hard and has grown up with this core over the past few seasons, but he also has some glaring flaws that will hold him back. A modest extension to keep him around would be an interesting, but unlikely outcome. Most likely, Pincus correctly nails it: no deal will be coming before the season.