On Monday afternoon, there will be another deadline for NBA clubs to monitor before the start of the regular season this week. Recruits in 2019 and their teams have until 6 p.m. ET to agree terms for an entry-level contract extension.
Extensions to players in junior deals must be negotiated before the final year of their contract. So, while nearly all 2019 first-round picks enter season four of their original deal, they must agree to the extension before noon on Monday. Otherwise, they will play the 2022-23 campaign on an expired contract.
If no extension is agreed, the player will become a restricted free agent in the 2023 season if he receives a qualifying offer from his former team. Any extensions that are agreed, such as the recent deals of Brandon Clark and Jordan Paul, will start during the 2023-24 season.
The Indiana Pacers placed 18th in the 2019 NBA Draft, and used it to determine Goga Bitadze’s place. Petadze, a 23-year-old indoor player, has just wrapped up a first season in which he averaged 7.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. He led the team by three points (75%) and was third over the team in field goal percentage (64.3%) during exhibitions.
“Rick [Carlisle, Pacers head coach]-I have a lot of respect for him. Whenever he felt like I had to play, Petadze said during pre-season, I would go in there and do 100%. He hopes to take a step forward this year. “That’s what I have to do, I just have to stay prepared.”
The three-year Professional is currently eligible for the Junior extension, and will remain so until Monday’s deadline. However, between Bitadze’s career to date characterized by inconsistent impact, the Pacers’ salary cap, and the risks outweighing the reward, it seems unlikely that the Indiana and Georgian big-man would agree to longer contract terms.
Petadze had the best season of his career in 2021-22, averaging 7.0 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. After the All-Star break, he raised his game even further and averaged 11.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game to close out the campaign. His defensive impact improved, and his overall feel for the game was noticeably better than he had been for the first two seasons – his situation and his perception were no longer a liability.
The center of the bruise showed significant growth throughout the year, especially below the extension. But the early parts of his season were marked by struggles and inconsistent play, which have been themes throughout his career. The Pacers had other top players on the roster deserving of minutes, which made Betadze’s role change a lot, but he struggled to put back-to-back good games together until late January of his third season. Prior to that, he marked his time in the pros with often inaccurate play terminations and timing.
It’s hard to take a long-term gamble on that resume. Sure, Bitadze who has played well in their last 15 appearances in 2022 is worth investing in, but this is so small from a sample that the Pacers can have no confidence that they are making a smart financial decision. With another good season full of growth, the Georgian big man will prove to be worthy of another decade, perhaps even with the Pacers. But this information can only be discovered after the deadline for the extension of the Junior Scale has passed.
Another consideration for the Pacers in any negotiations with Betadze is their salary cap. Indiana expects to have quite a bit of salary cap space next summer, even if they have Bitadze’s free agent cap on the books. Any extension of the position would likely start with a salary figure below the cap — roughly $14 million, if he receives a qualified offer — and that would technically free up some short-term cap space for Blue and Gold.
But with potentially so much space available, freeing up so little in order for Bitadze to sign a risky extension would be a poor use of money. If Bitadze has another solid season and proves he’s worth more than he is now, Indiana should be happy to pay him if they want to keep him. Using their salary cap space on a young, proven talent is a better job than making a risky investment a year ago.
This is why the risks outweigh the potential rewards for Pacers in any potential Bitadze extension. He isn’t expected to be part of Indiana’s rotation to open the 2022-23 campaign, so putting money into him now is a bet on growth that may not even be able to happen on the field during next season. If Indiana waits until the 2023 season to negotiate another contract with the young senior, they will have a better idea of what player he is expected to be — and what role he could play in the Blue and Gold going forward.
Frontcourt players Miles Turner, Ushai Brissett, Terry Taylor and James Johnson all currently have expired contracts for Indiana State, so there may be minutes available in the team’s rotation in 2023-24. If Bitadze plays well enough next season to earn some of it, the Pacers should be content to pay what he’s worth as a restricted free agent, assuming it fits their playing style. If he doesn’t prove to be a rotational level player, Indiana may look to a help center elsewhere. The risk that Bitadze won’t grow much this season, and therefore overpay for it when Indiana’s roster status is in flux, is not worth the risk with the Pacers because the reward is just that they’ll save a few million dollars in his next contract. Flexibility is important, and it’s something the front office in Indiana values.
“Goga really made some game-winning hits for us,” Carlisle said last Wednesday. “It ended up having two buildings. played massively. Petadze finished eight points in the Pacers’ win.
Technically, Bitadze can receive a certain Junior extension, but these are usually reserved for All-Star talent in entry-level deals. Assuming that’s out of the question, Pacers could extend Bitadze beyond the 2022-23 season with a contract that spans one to four seasons and can start anywhere from Bitadze’s minimum salary up to 25% of the salary cap. Year-to-year increases are limited to 8% of the extension’s first year’s salary.
Book big guys like Andre Drummond, Dwayne Deadmont and Mike Moskala, who signed deals worth between $3-5 million in annual value in this off-season. Can Petadze grow to this level of player this season? Can. But there is little reason for the Pacers to bet that this will happen and pursue the extension now rather than simply sign the young center to a due contract at restricted free agency next season if he improves on this upcoming campaign.
The other side of the coin is Petadze’s thinking. It’s hard to imagine that he would be interested in a long-term deal with Blue and Gold at the moment. Since being drafted, the great Georgian has been buried on the bench behind Miles Turner, Dumantas Sabonis, Isaiah Jackson and, on limited occasions, Jacquard Sampson. This season, it looks like Turner will be the Pacers starting at five and Jackson will be his backup, with Jalen Smith getting some time in the center as well.
Why is Petadze rushing to sign a long-term contract with a team that does not even have a role? Turner has been in trade rumors all summer playing with an expired contract, so there may be minutes on the Indiana rotation in the future. But without knowing what the roster looks like or what plans are in the front zone, Bitadze may want to wait on an extension and see if a better position with more opportunities emerges in the upcoming off-season.
Generally, teams and players place bets during starter extension negotiations. The front offices are betting that their young player is locked up under a fair contract at worst and for a pittance at best. Players bet that they get as much money as possible, even if they wait a year for a restricted free agency, by signing a deal a full year in advance.
With Bitadze and Pacers, it’s hard to imagine either side taking that bet. If the market capitalization of Bitadze is 3-5 million dollars, it is almost impossible to write a contract that looks favorable and still makes sense for the young center to sign it. And for Bitadze, what is Indiana’s extension offer that won’t be taken after one summer from the Pacers or another team? And what extension offer can Bitadze sign without guarantees of playtime?
With all of these factors playing an important role, it is unlikely that Goga Bitadze and the Indiana Pacers would agree on extending the entry-level scale. If Petadze has had a good season, the Pacers may be willing to pay him next season to be in his rotation going forward. If the center has had a good season, it could be worthwhile for both sides to explore their options, together and separately, in the summer of 2023. And if it’s been a bad year for the Betads, the Pacers may not even want to keep it beyond the current campaign. All results indicate that waiting is the best option for both Indiana and Bitadze.
“At the moment, I feel fine,” Petadze said of his health last week. If he can go into a healthy and impactful season, Pacers and Bitadze could negotiate a new contract next summer. But right now, Indiana and the young big guy don’t have enough incentives to push hard for a freshman contract extension.