The important last-minute NBA roster decisions to watch

There will be plenty of roster transactions over the next 72 hours.

Beside teams needing to reduce their rosters to 15 players by the Monday deadline, several front offices will weigh decisions when it comes to rookie and veteran extensions.

Let's look at the major choices each team faces leading up to regular season, and the likely outcomes.


The roster spots to watch

The 5 p.m. ET waiver deadline Saturday serves as the unofficial date for teams to begin trimming down their rosters. Although the 15-man roster does not have to be set officially until Monday, players who are not waived by Saturday will begin to accrue per-day salary.

For example, Suns point guard Isaiah Canaan will earn a total of $19,858 if the team elects to wait until Monday to waive him. That amount will count against the salary cap.

The league uses the standings in reverse order from the previous season for claiming purposes on waived players. Players such as Canaan who signed one-year minimum contracts are free to be claimed by all 29 teams. Only teams that have cap space (just Sacramento) or a trade exception can claim a player who signed for something other than the minimum.

If a player's salary reflects the minimum on a longer or more complicated deal (such as Jawun Evans), cap space or a trade exception is required for a claim.

Here are the six teams to watch as the Monday roster deadline approaches:

Boston Celtics

The Celtics have 15 guaranteed contracts but there's uncertainty surrounding  Jabari Bird. Bird was granted a leave of absence and has not been with the team in the preseason after being charged with assault. (He pleaded not guilty).

As the league continues its investigation of his arrest, Boston signed guard Marcus Georges-Hunt to a non-guaranteed contract. The Celtics can release Bird but they would have to eat his $1.4 million salary if they do it now. And if Bird is suspended before the start of the season, Georges-Hunt would still need to be waived. A player who is suspended by the NBA is not transferred to the suspended list until after the fifth game. Bird would have to remain on the active list for the first five games of the season.

Expect Georges-Hunt to be on the roster sometime this season, though when is still to be determined.

LA Clippers

Matching the Tyrone Wallace offer sheet in early September only clouded the Clippers' roster situation. Wallace, who has $300,000 guaranteed this season and no protection in 2019-20, is likely to make the team, meaning LA will likely have to waive two players with guaranteed contracts.

Evans and Sindarius Thornwell -- both 2017 second-round picks -- are possible candidates, since they have $1.4 million guaranteed contracts this season with a team option for 2019-20.

Wesley Johnson also is an option, but the forward's $6.1 million expiring contract is an asset the Clippers could use in a trade as the February deadline nears.

Milwaukee Bucks

Here are the choices general manager Jon Horst faces with the one remaining roster spot.

  • Take a chance on  Christian Wood ($100,000 in guaranteed money), the player with the most upside but also with the least NBA experience.
  • Keep veteran Tyler Zeller as an insurance policy at backup center.
  • Do the same with Tim Frazier at point guard.
  • Don't be surprised if Wood is on the roster when the season starts. He is coming off a strong summer league, has familiarity with the new coaching staff and brings the versatility to play power forward or center if needed.

    New Orleans Pelicans

    The Pelicans are in the unique situation of having three roster spots open. Despite a preseason ankle injury, Jahlil Okafor is all but certain to fill one of them. The former lottery pick has $50,000 in guaranteed money and will back up Anthony Davis when he is cleared to play.

    Expect a combination of Jarrett Jack, Garlon Green,  Kenrich Williams and Troy Williams to be on the roster at the start of the season, with the veteran Jack and undrafted Kenrich Williams as the favorites.

    Phoenix Suns

    A week after GM Ryan McDonough was let go, what is left of the Suns' front office now has to decide which two players will be waived.

    The logical decision would be for the Suns to cut  Darrell Arthur. However, Arthur has a $7.4 million salary that could be used in a trade to upgrade at point guard. On the other hand, Arthur has not been a participant during the preseason and does not factor into the rotation this season.

    If the Suns do eat the Arthur contract, management will have a choice between Canaan and center Richaun Holmes. Canaan serves as a veteran insurance policy for a Suns backcourt that features two rookies and the untested Shaquille Harrison. But holding onto Arthur could see both players end up waived.

    Phoenix did recently apply for the disabled player exception on Arthur. The exception would be valued at $3.83 million and could be used to sign, trade for or claim a player with one year left on his contract. However, Phoenix will not be granted the exception if Arthur is waived before being granted approval. The Suns also would need a roster spot available in order to use the DPE.

    Don't be sure that the Suns will be granted this exception. Multiple team executives told ESPN.com they were dumbfounded about what exactly season-ending injury for Arthur could be. The veteran has not appeared on the injury report during preseason and the team has not announced that he was hurt. For Phoenix to be eligible for the DPE, Arthur's injury had to occur with the Suns and not before the mid-July trade to acquire him.


    Rookie extensions

    Expect a low number of extensions when the Monday deadline passes at 6 p.m. ET -- likely no more than five players, one more than last offseason.

    Yes, Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker have inked contracts worth $158 million, but an average 2015 draft class and an eye toward preserving cap space for a star-studded 2019 free-agent class has teams taking a backseat this offseason.

    Also keep in mind that teams are prohibited from offering five-year contracts unless it comes in at a max salary, such as with Towns and Booker.

    The recent extension

    • Justise Winslow | Miami Heat

    The ongoing discussions to acquire Jimmy Butler did not factor in when it came to a new contract for Winslow. Winslow was not part of the conversations regarding Butler, league sources told ESPN.com. Both sides were able to negotiate a three-year, $39 million contract ($13 million flat annually) that gives Winslow security for at least the next two seasons. (The third year of the deal has a team option).

    Even if Winslow outplays his contract, the extension allows him to enter free agency in 2022 when he would still be in the prime of his career, as the forward is only 22. Despite Winslow's inconsistencies (including an injury-plagued second season) and possible luxury tax ramifications in 2019-20, Miami is betting on Winslow's upside.

    Even before for an extension, the Heat were already staring at the possibility of once again being a luxury tax team next season. The team had $120 million in guaranteed salary and are now at the $132 million tax threshold.

    Winslow is now subject to the poison pill restriction, making his contract close to untradeable for the 2018-19 season. Winslow would count as $3.5 million of outgoing salary for Miami and $10.6 million for a team interested in acquiring him.

    Ongoing discussions:

    • Larry Nance Jr. | Cleveland Cavaliers

    The Cavaliers can take an aggressive approach with Nance. Though Cleveland could have cap space next summer by waiving the partial guaranteed contracts of JR Smith, Kyle Korver and George Hill, Cavaliers management has made it known that the forward is part of the rebuild after LeBron James' departure.

    The 25-year-old has the versatility to play multiple positions, including backup center, and despite averaging 21.5 minutes last season he still posted 5.8 win shares, per Basketball Reference. That ranked No. 53 among all active players and was higher than well-paid big men such as  Kelly Olynyk, Marvin Williams, Serge Ibaka and James Johnson.

    • Bobby Portis | Chicago Bulls

    What a difference a year makes. Last October, the future of Portis was in doubt after an on-court incident with former teammate Nikola Mirotic. The fight cost Portis eight games, left Mirotic on the injured list with a fracture in his face and led to questions -- including from me -- if Portis should be allowed to step onto the court while Mirotic recovered.

    Portis appeared in 73 games after his suspension and logged career highs in minutes, 3-point shooting, rebounds, assists, steals, points and player efficiency rating. Now he's a sixth man of the year candidates. (If preseason is an indication, expect Jabari Parker to start in place of the injured Lauri Markkanen and Portis to continue his role coming off the bench).

    A Portis extension that starts around $8.5 million would see Chicago lose only $1 million in cap space next summer and still leave the Bulls with close to $28 million in room.

    Wait until next year:

    • Kristaps Porzingis | New York Knicks

    In New York, every dollar matters when it comes to chasing an All-Star free agent (see, Kevin Durant) next summer. Bypassing extension talks with Porzingis has more to do with thinking eight months from now than concerns over the ACL injury he suffered last season. Although a timetable has not been established for his return, Porzingis has had no setbacks in his rehabilitation. 

    Signing Porzingis to an extension comparable to Towns and Booker (five years, $158 million) would see the Knicks' projected cap space decrease from $36 million to $26 million. And that figure gets smaller after you factor in a likely high lottery pick in June.

    • Myles Turner | Indiana Pacers

    In the past, the four-year, $90 million-plus rookie extensions of Rudy Gobert and Steven Adams would have been used as a comp for a player such as Turner. That all changed this summer when the Rockets signed Clint Capela to a five-year, $80 million contract that has an additional $10 million in likely and unlikely bonuses. However, the Pacers are restricted to offering only a four-year contract now (unless it's a max), which would lower a comparable offer.

    Waiting until next July benefits both sides. Unlike Capela, who had no leverage this summer with a shrinking market, Turner can be patient since half the NBA should have at least $20 million in cap space.

    The Pacers project to have $65 million in room and can take advantage of Turner's $10.2 million free-agent hold before signing the center.

    • Terry Rozier | Boston Celtics

    Kyrie Irving's plans to return to Boston next season only clouds the future for Rozier. With its payroll expected to reach $145 million after a new contract for Irving, Boston will need to get its finances in order before a new contract for Rozier can be addressed.

    Keep in mind that the Celtics also have the potential to add four first-round picks (their own, the Kings', the Grizzlies' and the Clippers'), and Rozier's inexpensive replacement could be in the June draft.

    • Trey Lyles | Denver Nuggets

    Still only 22 and having not scratched the surface of his potential, Lyles became part of the Nuggets' rotation in late November after seeing limited minutes to start the season. More of a stretch 4, Lyles posted a career high in effective field goal percentage (56.6) while playing comparable minutes from his previous two seasons in Utah.

    Despite his upside, don't expect an extension for two reasons. Including the $30 million Paul Millsap team option, Denver has $122 million in committed salary next season, $10 million below the luxury tax. Extending Lyles and retaining Millsap will put the Nuggets in the tax, something they avoided this season.

    As evident with past clients (Tristan Thompson, Eric Bledsoe), Lyle's representatives at Klutch Sports have been known to draw a line in the sand when it comes to negotiations. In fact, Lyles was held out of summer league in 2015 with Utah over a holdup over a standard first-round scale contract that has very little room for negotiating.

    More eligible players: Justin Anderson (Atlanta), D'Angelo Russell (Brooklyn), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Brooklyn), Frank Kaminsky (Charlotte), Cameron Payne (Chicago), Sam Dekker (Cleveland), Stanley Johnson (Detroit), Tyus Jones (Minnesota), Emmanuel Mudiay (New York), Jerian Grant (Orlando), Jarell Martin (Orlando), Delon Wright (Toronto), Willie Cauley-Stein (Sacramento) and Kelly Oubre Jr. (Washington)


    The veteran extensions

    There are 30 veteran players with two years left on their deals who are eligible for extensions before the Monday deadline, including  Draymond Green,  Eric Gordon, Jae Crowder and E'Twaun Moore. Don't expect a new deal for Green.

    Moore has two years left at $8.8 million and $8.6 million. He's an interesting case study. For salary comparison, his cap hit this season ranks No. 33 among shooting guards.

    Not a household name, Moore is coming off a career year with the Pelicans when he played all 82 games and is likely to be in the starting lineup when the regular season begins. Extending Moore an additional two seasons (2020-21 and 2021-22) to a $10 million contract comparable to the future midlevel exception would give the Pelicans a backcourt insurance policy at a market-friendly salary.

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