The Christian Wood Extension Dilemma

On Christmas Day, Mavericks’ forward Christian Wood became eligible for a four-year, $77 million contract extension.

He played like he knew that.

Wood had the all-around performance against the Los Angeles Lakers that Mavericks fans have been waiting for all season. He scored 30 points, grabbed eight rebounds, dished a season-high seven assists, snagged four steals and blocked two shots. He continued his offensive dominance while dispelling concerns about his defensive limitations.

Now that Wood has become extension-eligible, the bill has come due. 

Evaluating Christian Wood

Wood has played as expected this season, averaging 17.4 points and eight rebounds on 53.8% shooting from the floor and 38% shooting from three-point range. He has predominantly come off the bench but recently became a starter due to injuries and slow starts.

In the eight games (six starts) since Kleber’s injury, he averaged 20.3 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks in 34.5 minutes per game, a clear uptick in performance. Furthermore, his defensive rating has improved from 120.7 to 110.5 since December 14. He has tallied seven straight games with at least two blocks, including a four-block performance against the Houston Rockets and a three-block performance against the New York Knicks.

Despite his defensive improvement, Wood is still a player who has his flaws. A score-first, defensively challenged power forward is not the ideal archetype to pair next to Luka Dončić, as evidenced by former Maverick Kristaps Porziņģis. Wood, because of his limitations, is probably not the “second star” the front office wants. Any player who cannot be the “second star” is taking cap space away from a player who can.

Evaluating Wood, furthermore, is not as clear-cut as looking at his statistics. His limited starts add a caveat: he has mostly played against opposing teams’ bench units. Prior to Kleber’s injury, he also rarely closed games, preventing the front office from properly assessing his late-game decision-making. Furthermore, the front office has less than a season to come to conclusions about Wood, which is a limited timeframe to make a big financial decision.

Wood Against the Field

If Wood were to sign this extension, he would earn roughly $19 million per season.

This past summer, forward Aaron Gordon signed a four-year, $86 million contract with the Denver Nuggets. He averaged 15 points and 5.8 rebounds per game prior to his extension as one of the league’s best all-around defenders. Now, he is averaging 17.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.

Forward Lauri Markkanen signed a four-year, $67 million contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers last season. He averaged 13.6 points and 5.2 rebounds prior to that extension and currently averages 23.1 points and 8.1 rebounds for the Utah Jazz.

Wood is as talented as these players. While he isn’t as skilled defensively as Gordon, he has a similar offensive repertoire to Markkanen while being more athletic. Wood’s extension would place him on a salary that matches his talent level.

The Mavericks’ Options

The Mavericks have three ways they can handle Wood’s extension. First, they can offer Wood an extension. Second, they can trade Wood at the deadline for a disgruntled star. Third, they can wait and hope to offer Wood a contract during the offseason.

The first option seems the most pragmatic but has its drawbacks. Wood has played well all season long and can easily become a talented yet reasonably-priced forward that can help the Mavericks for years to come. The concern is that should he regress, his full extension would extend into the 2026 offseason, limiting the Mavericks’ ability to pursue another star to complement Dončić. 

This concern is echoed by Tim MacMahon, who reported that “[The Mavericks] are not going to put four years on the table…they don’t want to have a long-term commitment to a guy who has bounced around the league and has a reputation for being unreliable.” Furthermore, Marc Stein reported that “the consistent signals emanating from Dallas…have suggested that an extension is unlikely.”

The second option has the highest upside but also the lowest probability of materializing. While the Mavericks rarely make big midseason trades, the front office is always on the lookout for the much-desired “second star.” The Mavericks are always involved in trade rumors, but Wood’s expiring contract will likely make contending trade partners hesitant to offer any significant assets in return.

The third option is the riskiest but has the upside of being combined with the second option. Should both parties fail to agree on an extension, the Mavericks can offer Wood a similar or greater contract this offseason. 

This method, however, is not a guarantee.

The Mavericks Have Been Here Before

Just last season, the Mavericks faced this dilemma with Jalen Brunson. Like Wood, he was an ascending player and had just become a regular starter.

The team did not offer Bruson a four-year, $55 million max extension. The team did not trade him and ultimately hoped to re-sign him in the offseason, betting that his improved play would not price them out of his services.

His improved play priced them out of his services, and he walked for nothing in return.

Extenuating circumstances contributed to Brunson’s departure, but whatever the front office decides to do with Wood’s extension, they cannot leave the negotiation table empty-handed. 

“I’m happy to be here,” Wood told ESPN. “The vibe is good.”

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