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Burning Questions Week: what would a Grant Williams extension look like?

Although negotiations have stalled, it’s in Boston’s best interest to secure a contract with their 3&D stud.

2022 NBA Finals - Game Six Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Grant Williams is up for an extension, and the Celtics have until October 17th to get it done. It’s tough to pinpoint what the contract terms might be, what the team is willing to pay him, or what type of deal he’s looking for.

This uncertainty emanates from his unique skillset. His counting stats from last season aren’t impressive (7.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.0 assists), but after an underwhelming rookie season and heavily criticized sophomore year, Grant made a leap in 2021-2022, becoming the versatile big everyone was excited about when he was drafted in 2019.

His most valuable quality is the ability to guard bigger players on the block while still having the quickness to defend guards on the perimeter. He’s on a shortlist of bigs that includes Draymond, Bam, Jaren, AD, Giannis, along with young sensations Evan Mobley and Scottie Barnes, who can effectively guard any player anywhere on the floor.

On the TNT broadcast during the playoffs, Stan Van Gundy said, “I always thought he was a good defender. Now I’m wondering if he’s the best defender in the league.” Notorious SVG certainly isn’t the arbiter of what constitutes a good defender, but he’s also not a guy to spew an out-of-pocket hot take like that.

Williams was a low volume low percentage three-point shooter at Tennessee, but shot 41 percent last year, including 47 percent on corner threes. He once struggled finishing at the rim, often getting blocked by lengthier bigs, but last season shot an outstanding 75 percent at the rim and 57 percent overall from two-point range.

A contract for four years and $44 million sounds just about right for Grant Williams. It’s slightly below Timelord’s 4-year $48 million dollar deal, and in line with the 3-year $33 million extension the Mavericks recently gave Maxi Kleber, a similar undersized-but-versatile big who doesn’t have Grant’s defensive capability but does a little more on offense.

But with NBA contracts, guys don’t get paid what they’re worth, rather what they can command on the market. He might be an $11 million player at his current age of 23, but this extension pays him at ages 25, 26, 27, and 28. Combined with the new TV rights deal in 2025 and last week’s news about the salary cap jumping to $134 million for the 2023-2024 season, Grant Williams and his agent Erik Kabe will certainly seek a more lucrative contract than 4 years, $44 million.

From his 2019 draft class, Ja Morant, Darius Garland, and Zion Williamson each signed max extensions, while RJ Barrett signed a 4-year, $120 million deal ($107 mil guaranteed). Cody Martin, Nic Claxton, and Daniel Gafford – diamond-in-the-rough second rounders – also signed extensions.

By all indications, Grant enjoys playing in Boston. He has good relationships with Tatum and Brown, and he played an important bench role on last year’s Finals team. Earlier this summer, he commented on extension talks:

“I think both parties are hopefully mutually understanding that we want to get this thing done and make sure that we come together and have a successful next few years.”

Sounds like a guy who wants to keep wearing green. However, when he sees the contracts of Marvin Bagley (3 years, $37 million), Richaun Holmes (4 years, $46 million), and Daniel Gafford (3 years, $40 million), he won’t feel compelled to take a hometown discount, nor should he.

The Celtics can learn from the Jalen Brunson situation. Dallas could have signed him to a 4-year, $55 million deal before last season, but the Mavs didn’t offer the contract until the trade deadline when it was clear Brunson would command more that summer. The question of whether he was worth $100 million lingered throughout the season, but considering the impending cap spikes, his 4-year, $105 million contract with the Knicks might soon look like a bargain.

I fear something similar could happen to Grant Williams. The Celtics might play hardball during extension talks and choose to play out the season. Grant will show improvement, and when restricted free agency hits, Boston will be priced out.

For that reason, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to give him a 4-year, $60 million extension. The cap is jumping up by $10 million in two years, and when the new TV money kicks in by 2025, it will seem like a fair deal.

It’ll be comparable to Wendell Carter (4 years, $50 million), Mitchell Robinson (4 years, $60 million), and Lauri Markkannen (4 years, $67 million). It’s well below Jaren Jackson’s 4-year, $105 million extension and Duncan Robinson’s 5-year, $90 million albatross of a contract, while on par with Lu Dort’s 5-year, $82 million deal (with $64 million guaranteed).

On the surface, paying Grant Williams $15 million per year seems steep. But it’s counterproductive to look at the sticker prices. Instead, we should look at percentages of the salary cap, and $15 million is 11 percent of 2023-2024’s $134 million cap.

By comparison, when Marcus Smart signed his 4-year, $52 million contract in 2018, that was 13 percent of the cap, and Avery Bradley’s 4-year, $32 million contract from 2014 was 12 percent. If the cap goes over $150 million, Grant’s contract will be under 10 percent, and he’ll join Jaylen Brown and Robert Williams as having one of the best deals in the NBA.

If you couldn’t tell, I’m a fan of Grant Williams. I love how he wasn’t afraid to get physical with Giannis, how he kept shooting when the Bucks left him open in Game 7, and how he responded last year after his much derided 2020-2021 season.

No, he wasn’t particularly good in the conference finals and was a non-factor in The Finals. But players usually get better after experiencing the highest levels of basketball, and I’m confident he’ll come back this season as an improved player. At 23, he’s not even scratched the surface of his prime.

After Al Horford’s “fountain of youth” period ends, Grant can easily slide into the starting power forward role. He played with the ball more often in college and was considered a good passer, and I expect him to build on those skills over the next few years.

I hope over the next month, we get a “Grant Williams and the Boston Celtics have agreed to an extension” tweet from Shams or Woj. Even if it feels like an overpay, he might pleasantly surprise the fans by outplaying the deal, just like he did last season.