Restricted free agency hasn’t yielded the contract Collin Sexton hoped to get. Where does that leave him?
The NBA offseason is largely over. There are still trade(s) potentially involving Kevin Durant, Donovan Mitchell and/or Kyrie Irving to be made, but most team’s work is done. Most players are where they’ll be when the season starts.
Collin Sexton is an exception. The 23-year-old guard is currently in restricted free agent purgatory. As the calendar heads towards August, there’s no movement on a contract for him, be it from the Cavs or another team. The two teams still with cap space — the Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs — don’t seem to have interest. There does not seem to be a Deandre Ayton-like offer sheet that forces Cleveland’s hand and gets him paid what he wants.
The Cavs, per Cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor, have offered Sexton a three-year deal worth $40 million. That’s in line with the Jordan Clarkson-esque contract Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer reported Sexton had been offered from the Cavs at the onset of free agency.
That contract — roughly $13 million per year — is what the Cavs can currently offer without going into the luxury tax. They could create more room by moving someone else on, but right now they appear to be using the tax line as a negotiation line.
Cleveland also has a full 15-man roster right now. To clear a spot for Sexton, the Cavs would need to move someone else — likely Cedi Osman or Dylan Windler — in a trade. There was some talk of doing that with the Pacers before Ricky Rubio came back via free agency and not a sign-and-trade, but it never got anywhere serious.
So where does this leave Sexton, the man stuck waiting as the NBA’s business moves on? To start, this says something about how much the Cavs value Sexton. They didn’t go out of their way to get a deal done last summer when he’s extension eligible, and they haven’t moved this summer to clear up cap space to offer Sexton more than $13 million. They still could — trading away Windler would give them roughly $17 million under the tax, Osman would give the Cavs roughly $21.9 million — but haven’t yet. If they wanted to promptly re-sign Sexton, Winder or Osman would be somewhere else.
“Collin is obviously super important like we’ve always talked about, a big part of our culture,” Cavs president of basketball operations Koby Altman said in June during Ochai Agbaji’s introductory press conference. “Can’t talk too much about that right now as he’s a restricted free agent, but you know how we feel about him.”
Cleveland, in other instances, have moved quickly to lock up core young pieces. Garland signed his five-year rookie extension this summer soon after he became eligible. Last summer, Jarrett Allen inked a five-year, $100 million right as free agency opened. Cleveland did not think twice about paying them.
This all makes it feel like the Cavs, led by Altman, are working to squeeze Sexton. That is their right, as teams and players are not ever fully on the same side, only when it suits them to project as such. This squeezing tells us one of two things: a) Cleveland doesn’t like Sexton all that much or b) they want to maximize their leverage because they can. It could be a mix of both.
That also means this process will likely continue to drag out. There’s no indication that Sexton is close to agreeing to the deal the Cavs have offered or that Cleveland has a deal lined up to send someone out to create room for Sexton.
Maybe Sexton and his camp have a move still to make. He’s represented by Klutch Sports, the same agency that just negotiated Darius Garland’s five-year extension, reps LeBron James and guided Tristan Thompson through his rookie extension with the Cavs. These sides are familiar with each other. Maybe they can find a sign-and-trade that gets Sexton the money he wants — reportedly around $20 million a year — although that would have to involve the Cavs. They certainly have a value of Sexton in mind should this scenario present itself, although it’s unclear what that is right now.
Maybe that move is accepting the qualifying offer — worth $7.2 million — and hitting unrestricted free agency next summer. There would be no strings on Sexton then.
But he’d also have holds on him in-season that could complicate his ability to maximize unrestricted free agency in 2023. Sexton, if he comes back, he’s a complimentary piece to Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen. Caris LeVert, heading into the last year of his contract, fills a similar space.
Sexton’s role shifted in a year one of that duo before they had won anything. Then he got hurt and the Cavs made a playoff push. What does his role look like coming into a year where there are expectations coming in? His usage rate stayed high, but it’s hard to imagine it remains there now that Garland has fully established himself as the man running the show. (He also has the contract to back it up.) On top of that, LeVert was not on the roster when Sexton got hurt. Mobley feels primed for a year two offensive leap. There’s not room for Sexton to be exactly who he was. That may be for the better, but it’s an adjustment.
Assuming he’s back in Cleveland, that is. Where this goes next is entirely unclear. There does not seem to be any movement from either side. For now, Sexton is being squeezed.