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NBA rookie extension deadline forces some players, teams to handle complex issue during season


By Jon Krawczynski

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

MINNEAPOLIS _ The clock was ticking down on Halloween night, and millions of dollars hung in the balance for Ricky Rubio and several other players who entered the NBA in 2011 and were up for extensions of their rookie contracts.

To make matters worse, they were faced with weighty decisions about their futures while regular season games were being played, leading many involved in the process to express concern about the timing of the deadline.

These are talks that could make players free agents after the season if not nailed down, and though they deserve the full attention of everyone involved, the Oct. 31 deadline means many negotiations drag into the regular season. Many hope the date will be moved up.

“It becomes very difficult,” Minnesota Timberwolves president and coach Flip Saunders said. “The league encourages you, if you got a game that night, you might want to get that thing done. It would be beneficial to have the date moved before the start of the regular season.”

Negotiations between Rubio’s representatives and the Timberwolves for a contract extension had gotten heated, and time was of the essence. If an agreement wasn’t reached by midnight, Rubio would become a restricted free agent next summer.

He was not alone.

San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson and Golden State’s Klay Thompson were all in Rubio’s situation, trying to make major life decisions while also playing regular season games.

Rubio didn’t have to play on Oct. 31, the day he signed a four-year, $55 million extension. But he did play twice earlier in the week while the talks were ongoing, and it was a stomach-churning experience.

“There was a lot of stuff going on off the court I didn’t like,” said Rubio, now sidelined indefinitely with a severely sprained ankle. “At the end of the day, it’s business and you have to have that part.”

Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau, who watched Bulls guard Jimmy Butler deal with the issue this year, also would like to see the date moved ahead of the start of the season.

“That’s one of the great challenges of this league is you can be distracted on almost any given night with something, whether it’s the contract extensions, the back-to-backs, early start, late start, injuries,” Thibodeau said. “You want to train yourself not to fall into that trap and to be ready to go each and every day.”

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