The Cleveland Cavaliers chose not to extend Isaac Okoro’s contract prior to Monday’s deadline. Okoro joins the likes of Killian Hayes and James Wiseman as members of the 2020 NBA Draft Lottery who were left out of contract extensions this year.
There is not much surprise here. Okoro has increasingly become the odd-man-out for Cleveland and faces the highest risk of falling out of the rotation as any of their recent lottery picks. Okoro will have to prove he can develop fast enough to match the Cavs’ accelerated timeline before he earns a long-term commitment from the front office.
The other aspect of this is common sense: There is no rush for Okoro to sign an extension when the same deal will likely be on the table next summer. Okoro will enter restricted free agency at the end of the season, where the market should be favorable to Cleveland.
Per cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor, “Okoro’s representatives had productive talks throughout the process but both sides ultimately felt it was best to wait, letting this upcoming season play out and revisiting negotiations next summer when Okoro could join a talented restricted free agency class.”
Okoro has trekked an uphill battle since being drafted fifth overall. An unpolished offensive prospect whose primary strength was defending the perimeter was quickly forced into a “3-and-D” role once the Cavs made their leap. He’s made good on his defensive projections but is still missing the three-point shooting part of this two-way equation.
A new role with the bench should be best for Okoro. He will face less pressure to space the floor now that he is not sharing it with both Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen. Cleveland’s added three-point shooting should take a massive load off of Okoro’s shoulders.
Just how good can Okoro be with the second unit? That is the golden question and will determine whatever price tag he commands next summer. A successful, breakout season for Okoro could pay him dividends and strain the Cavaliers’ budget. However, tumbling out of the rotation could cut deep into whatever leverage Okoro has in contract negotiations.
My prediction? Okoro is primed for the best season of his career, whatever that might be. I suspect Okoro will become a mainstay in Cleveland’s rotation and earn a contract somewhere around the mid-level exception, which is projected to be $13 million per year in 2024. Okoro is a 22-year-old, defensively sound prospect who has gradually improved on offense each year. This is the type of player I want sticking around.
For a reasonable price, of course.