Monday at 6 p.m. ET was the deadline for players selected in the 2018 NBA Draft to sign rookie-scale contract extensions with their respective teams. Some of them were no-brainers like Trae Young with the Atlanta Hawks or Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks, who were both signed for top dollar. One surprise was Deandre Ayton, who was key to the Phoenix Suns making the NBA Finals, who wasn't able to come to an agreement with Phoenix management and will now enter restricted free agency next offseason. Another surprise was Collin Sexton not coming to terms on an agreement with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Sexton, who Cleveland selected eighth-overall in 2018, has become a staple of Cavaliers basketball for both the organization and their fans. Last season Sexton averaged 24.3 points, which ranked 18th in the NBA, on 47.5% shooting along with 37.1% from three-point range, 4.4 assists and 3.1 rebounds. It also helps that both Sexton and Cleveland general manager Koby Altman made it explicitly clear that they want to keep the former Alabama product long-term. All of that, along with being considered one of the organization's cultural leaders, signing Sexton to as much money as he wants seemed like an easy move for the Cavaliers, right?
Well, not exactly.
When looking at Sexton's statistics, of course you can walk away impressed but there should be context behind them as well. Yes, at his core Sexton is an elite three-level scorer that has limitations in terms of defense and playmaking. But, it doesn't help Sexton's case as a maximum salary player as Cleveland hasn't won too many games during his time with the Cavaliers. It's also rational to worry about whether or not Sexton would have the same statistical output as well if Cleveland suddenly became a winning team overnight. More importantly, would he be able to generate the same numbers as well on a night-to-night basis either?
That in itself is where the serious question lies and where, according to sources, a contract extension similar to what Terry Rozier signed with the Charlotte Hornets (four years, $97 million) likely served as the baseline comparison for Sexton's deal. But, those same sources said the amount of money being committed to Sexton won't be top dollar but he will still be fairly compensated based on what he's achieved to now and as well as his performance over the next several seasons. If Sexton continued to grow and more importantly lifts the Cavaliers to new heights, then he would make more money overall.
That seems like a fair, and reasonable, deal for both sides. But, what made Sexton and his camp ultimately decline Cleveland's offer was the amount of money guaranteed to him. According to sources familiar with their thought process, Sexton was hoping to sign a four-year, $100 million extension with the Cavaliers. Those same sources said both sides went back and forth over terms to keep Sexton in Cleveland long-term but nothing could come to fruition and eventually, the deadline passed.
So, what happens now for both Sexton and the Cavaliers? The team is legally unable to sign him to a long-term extension until next summer when Sexton becomes a restricted free agent. Cleveland went through this process with big man Jarrett Allen this summer - who they signed to a five-year, $100 million extension. The Cavaliers could take a similar approach with Sexton and try and lock him up to a long-term deal immediately after factoring in his production from this season on top of everything else. That seems like the most logical, and practical, approach to all this but there are still other avenues that both Sexton and the Cavaliers could go down together.
First off, Cleveland could also risk possibly losing him to another team in free agency as well. There aren't many teams out there who have the salary cap space that makes sense for Sexton other than the Detroit Pistons, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the New Orleans Pelicans that could outbid Cleveland in free agency. Of those aforementioned teams, the Thunder could be a legitimate threat since, according to sources, Oklahoma City is intrigued by the pairing of Sexton alongside budding superstar Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and their bevy of youngsters.
If the Thunder, or any team, were to sign Sexton to an offer that the Cavaliers don't feel comfortable matching that would likely result in a sign-and-trade deal. Cleveland actually just participated in one not too long ago when they acquired Lauri Markkanen in a three-team deal between them, the Portland Trail Blazers and the Chicago Bulls. But, losing homegrown star power like Sexton for an odd assortment of pieces is frustrating and could severely set back the team's overall long-term development.
The only way trading away Sexton makes sense for the Cavaliers is if rookie big man Evan Mobley is much further ahead than anticipated and Darius Garland takes the next step towards becoming the face of the franchise. That's a pretty massive leap though and it's also why keeping Sexton is paramount for both players' respective growth to help them get to that point one day. So, if Cleveland lets him test the waters of free agency and he signs an offer sheet worth much more than they feel comfortable with, the Cavaliers could be forced to keep Sexton for much more than he's actually worth.
Speaking of Sexton's worth, what his perceived value is on the open market could hurt his financial security as well. If contract negotiations go sideways with Cleveland and Sexton is forced to look for a new team to sign with, who's to say that said new team doesn't have the same fears as mentioned above? What if other teams lowball Sexton and he's forced to agree to an offer worth less than what the Cavaliers initially offered him? Something similar happened to Boston guard Dennis Schroder after Schroder turned down an initial extension offer from the Los Angeles Lakers.
Although it does seem unlikely, it's a scary possibility that Sexton could face. That's why it's surprising that he turned down Cleveland's initial offer and instead will bet on himself this season. In life, nothing is certain and sometimes taking the best offer you can get at the time is the best possible decision. But, with Sexton and his ability to surpass any and all preconceived notions about him, along with his remarkable ability to stay healthy, perhaps betting on himself is the best thing for him and his career. Only time can tell what will happen next for Sexton and his future with the Cavaliers. Thankfully, there is still a mutual desire for him to remain in Cleveland long-term. Hopefully, that keeps it from being a stormcloud that hangs over what's shaping up to be a very promising season.