The draft class of 2012 has one year remaining on their guaranteed contracts before they become restricted free agents. As of now, they are eligible for contract extensions that would start after this season. Zach Lowe had a great article on this today where he highlighted a number of players and their potential situations (including Bradley Beal, Harrison Barnes, and Andre Drummond).
The Celtics on the list are Jared Sullinger, Perry Jones III, and Tyler Zeller. We'll leave the first two for another day, but the note on Tyler Zeller was interesting.
Zeller was one of last season's pleasant surprises, scoring efficiently in a variety of ways and providing on-again, off-again rim protection for a Boston defense in desperate need of it. Depending on team context, Zeller looks like either a dynamite third big man or a very nice fourth/fifth starter. Those guys are going to run into the eight figures in the new NBA, and if Boston can snag Zeller long-term for anything under $12 million, it may jump at the chance.
Zeller was a very solid rotation center for the Celtics and is a guy I'd like to keep around for the long term if at all possible. Also, given the market for good bigs, $12M a year doesn't sound that unreasonable for Tyler. The problem is that locking him up now diminishes some of the horde of cap room that the team could potentially have next offseason.
On the other hand, you could make a case that maximizing cap room is not going to be much of a problem next summer. If anything, we might be better off using some of our expiring and team-option deals to bring back some high priced trade targets around draft time or at the start of free agency (see Kevin's article from this morning).
The decision to extend is a risk-reward for both parties.
The Celtics lose flexibility by extending Zeller now, but they could get him a a cheaper price in the long run. Ainge could decide to wait and see how things go this season before committing money to Zeller. He would still have the right to match any offer next summer. Still, letting him hit the restricted free agent market opens the door for a team to offer him max money (some teams will find it hard to reach the salary floor and could throw short term money around).
As for Zeller, he has the same decision that faces most serviceable NBA players at some point. Do you take the security of a long term deal now, or roll the dice on a bigger payday a year later (thus risking an injury over that time period)? Even at the prospect of banking some major raises next offseason, most free agents this summer elected for the security of a longer term deal.
So it will be interesting to see how Tyler and the Celtics handle this situation.