When the 2012/13 NBA season officially began on July 1st, the Clippers moved quickly to lock up All-Star forward Blake Griffin to a maximum-salary, five-year extension. To date, Griffin is the player heading into the final year of his rookie deal that has signed a contract extension, but there's no shortage of potential candidates. Brandon Jennings, Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday, Taj Gibson, and the Thunder's much-discussed duo of James Harden and Serge Ibaka are all eligible for extensions as well. However, the next player we see receive a new deal may be a guy that was picked with just the 18th overall pick in 2009 -- Ty Lawson.
Playing on a Nuggets team that features a number of young, talented players, Lawson is the next one in line for an extension. With Danilo Gallinari (four years, $42MM), Wilson Chandler (five years, $31.7MM), Arron Afflalo (five years, $36.8MM), and most recently JaVale McGee (four years, $44MM) all locked up, Lawson could receive a long-term contract that exceeds all of them.
In his three seasons so far in Denver, Lawson has progressed in exactly the way the team hoped. As his minutes increased from 20.3 per game in 2009/10 to 34.8 in 2011/12, his production increased as well, from 8.3 to 16.4 PPG and 16.4 to 19.4 PER. While Lawson had a terrific regular season this past year, he was at his best in the postseason, nearly helping to lead the Nuggets to a first-round upset over the Lakers by averaging 19.0 PPG, 6.0 APG, and 23.2 PER.
The Nuggets re-signed Andre Miller to a three-year deal earlier this month, and he'll provide a solid veteran presence at the point in Denver. But Lawson definitely seems to be the team's long-term answer at the position -- the 24-year-old has told multiple outlets in recent weeks that he's optimistic about working out an extension with the Nuggets at some point this summer.
So what kind of deal could Lawson be looking at? A pair of beat writers recently weighed in on the subject, with Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post opining (via Twitter) that the floor for Lawson's next deal should be $11MM annually, exceeding McGee's guarantee. Chris Tomasson of FOX Sports Florida (Sulia link), meanwhile, tempered his expectations slightly, but conceded that the young point guard could become the Nuggets' third player to command an eight-digit annual salary.
The Nuggets' 2012/13 books won't be affected by a Lawson extension, which wouldn't take effect until 2013/14, but Denver's handful of long-term contracts means they don't have a ton of flexibility going forward. With McGee, Miller, and Anthony Randolph signed to multiyear deals, the Nuggets' '13/14 commitments total over $60MM -- a figure that includes Al Harrington's $7MM+ salary, which is only partially guaranteed and could be waived or traded. Still, an eight-digit salary for Lawson would take the Nuggets well over the cap, and could even see them approaching the tax threshold, depending on their other moves.
Lawson's annual salary could also vary depending on whether the Nuggets are willing to give him a five-year deal. A team is only allowed to sign one player coming off a rookie scale contract to a five-year contract, and it's hard to see why Lawson wouldn't be that designated player for Denver. He's a better candidate than other Nuggets on rookie deals, such as Kenneth Faried and Evan Fournier, and the team is unlikely to land a lottery pick anytime soon. If the Nuggets were to offer Lawson five years rather than four, perhaps they could reduce the annual cap hit slightly, in exchange for a larger overall guarantee.
Will a core of Lawson, McGee, Gallinari, Chandler, Afflalo, Faried, Fournier, and the rest ever be enough to challenge for a title? That much is still unclear, but so far the Nuggets have done a good job of signing multiyear deals that are still fairly movable if the team decides to move in another direction. Lawson seems to be heading for a long-term contract worth around $10MM annually, and based on his development in the first three years of his NBA career, that's another deal that should never become an albatross for Denver.