As extension talks w/ Celtics fail, what do the futures of Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller look like?

Although it remains unclear how hard all sides were trying, the Celtics failed to extend the rookie contracts of either Jared Sullinger or Tyler Zeller before Monday's deadline of 11:59 p.m. EST.

Why were the Celtics involved in extension talks with Sullinger and Zeller?

All players selected in the first-round of the NBA draft receive four-year contracts.  However, the third and fourth year of the deal are options held by the team, who must decide to exercise the option by October 31 of the preceding season.  That is why you recently read about the Celtics picking up the options for Marcus Smart, James Young and Kelly Olynk.

For players whose fourth-year options are picked up, they and the team are provided an exclusive negotiating window to agree to an extension beyond the fourth and final season of the rookie contract.

This window of time begins after the player finishes his third NBA season on July 1, and ends at the beginning of their fourth on October 31.  However, if, like this year, October 31 falls on a weekend, the deadline is extended to the next business day, which is why the deadline was yesterday.

Any player who fails to agree to a contract extension with their respective team by the aforementioned deadline will become a free agent once the year is over.  Therefore, Tyler Zeller and Jared Sullinger will be free agents - either restricted or unrestricted - at the end of the season.

Does this mean Sullinger and Zeller are free to play anywhere they want next season?

It depends on whether they are restricted or unrestricted free agents.

In order to make them restricted, the Celtics must submit them qualifying offers, which is basically a one-year contract.   The qualifying offer is $3,695,169 for Zeller, and $3,270,004 for Sullinger. However, if the Celtics choose not to submit either player a qualifying offer, that player will become an unrestricted free agent, who is free to sign and play anywhere they want in 2016-2017.

Considering value of the qualifying offer, the Celtics will submit one to both Sullinger and Zeller, at which point the burden of decision shifts to the player.

The player has two options if submitted a qualifying offer: (1) accept and play under a one-year contract in 2016-2017, but have the right to enter the market as an unrestricted free agent following that season; or (2) turn the offer down and immediately enter the market as restricted free agents.

As restricted free agents, each player is free to sign an offer sheet with any NBA team, but Boston will always have the right to match the other team's offer sheet and re-sign the player.  In addition to matching the offer, the Celtics can choose not to.

What is the max deal for Sullinger and Zeller?

Contract extensions are controlled by the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).  Per the CBA, the controlling factor for how many years and dollars a player can receive in any contract extension is primarily controlled by the amount of seasons they have played in the NBA.

Max Years

Extensions of rookie contracts can be for up to four years.  While exceptions exist allowing for extension of five years, neither Sullinger nor Zeller fall within those exceptions.

Max Amount

For Sullinger and Zeller, who have played four NBA seasons, the max amount they can receive is 25% of the NBA salary cap in the season their extension goes into effect, i.e. 2016-2017.  While exceptions exist allowing for players to receive 30% of the cap, those will not apply here.

The NBA salary cap for next season is projected at $90 million.  Also, please note the 25% max is based on Basketball-Related Income (BRI), which tends to be slightly lower than the cap figure.

The max amount Sullinger and Zeller can receive is approximately $22 million for next season, which is subject to annual increases over the life of the contract.

How can we project Sullinger and Zeller's worth?

With the rise in the NBA salary cap, projecting NBA contracts has become more difficult, as prior contracts given to comparable players are no longer as relevant as they once were.  For example, compare the rookie contract extensions signed by Tristan Thompson and Demarcus Cousins.

Under this season's cap figure of $70 million, Thompson signed an extension for 5 years/$82 million, which is an annual average of $16,400,000.  Demarcus Cousins, who signed his rookie extension prior to the 2014-2015 season, received 4 years/$62 million, which is an annual average of approximately $15.5 million.  Should Tristan Thompson be paid more annually than Cousins?  No, but Demarcus signed under a lower cap number than Tristan, which is what sets the market.

Based on contract extensions signed to date, what are Sullinger and Zeller projected to command next offseason?

The most important extensions to look at for comparison purposes are the ones given to players from the 2012 draft class since those were calculated based on the 2016-2017 salary cap projection.

Sullinger's player/extension comparisons from the 2012 Draft Class

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist - 4 years/$52 million ($13M annually)

Regardless of the type of statistical measurement used (advanced, per 100 possessions, per 36/minutes) to compare the two, Sullinger comes out ahead.

Terrence Ross - 3 years/$33 million ($11M annually)

Sullinger is statistically better than Terrence Ross in every type of statistical measurement.

Zeller's player/extension comparisons from the 2012 Draft Class

John Henson - 4 years/$44 million ($11 million annually)

Zeller and Henson are strikingly similar in almost every category within every type of statistical measurement.


Jared Sullinger signs an extension of 4 years/$52 million ($13M/year, approx. 14% of $90M cap)

Tyler Zeller signs an extension of 4 years/$40 million ($10M/year, approx. 12% of $90M cap)

Question for Readers: what would you sign the two players for? Do you think the Celtics extend them after the season?

Follow Max Sandgrund on Twitter @SotoSpeakz

Photo Credit: Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports