When teams and players are negotiating rookie-scale contract extensions, talks will often go down to the wire, with the two sides reaching an agreement just days or hours before the deadline. But when the club is willing to offer the maximum allowable salary, why wait? That's been the case for several extension candidates this offseason, as we've seen Paul George, John Wall, and DeMarcus Cousins ink max deals with the Pacers, Wizards, and Kings respectively.
Because they have less than six years of NBA experience, George, Wall, and Cousins won't be earning the same kind of max salaries that players like Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony are. Still, their contracts still represent significant commitments from their respective teams, despite the fact that the trio has combined for just one All-Star appearance and one All-NBA spot (both from George in 2012/13). The potential for greatness is there for all three guys, but their teams were willing to give them long-term max deals before that potential has been fully realized.
2013 represents the third consecutive extension period in which multiple players have received max deals. From 2011 to 2013, eight players have signed max rookie-scale extensions, after only five players signed max extensions in the four years from 2007 to 2010.
So why have these maximum-salary extensions been handed out with increasing frequency in recent years? Some may point to an increase in deserving players, but that's a tough case to make. After all, Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Rajon Rondo, and LaMarcus Aldridge were among the players in 2009 and 2010 alone who re-upped for less than the max.
One factor that must be considered is the Collective Bargaining Agreement. It's probably not a coincidence that this increase in max extensions began in the first year of the new CBA. Much has been made about how that CBA has kept spending in check more than the previous iteration did, but perhaps teams are just becoming smarter about where to spend their money. Clubs seem more willing to commit max money to their best players, while becoming more averse to mid-level overpays for role players, which can quickly eat up leftover cap room.
Additionally, because teams are becoming smarter about managing their cap situations and avoiding bad long-term contracts, there will always be at least one club with max cap space in the offseason, ready to pounce in free agency and offer a top restricted free agent a max deal. As we've seen in recent years with players like Eric Gordon and Nicolas Batum, those free agent situations can become messy, with the player publicly expressing a desire to join that new team, only to backtrack when his previous team matches an offer sheet. Getting a deal done during the extension period and avoiding free agency altogether allows clubs to sidestep those potentially awkward situations, while exhibiting to the player that they're fully committed to him.
Even after three years, it's hard to argue that the increase in maximum salary rookie-scale extensions is a full-fledged trend. But the 2014 offseason could provide a strong hint. At the moment, only Kyrie Irving seems like a solid bet for a max extension a year from now. If another player or two from a group that includes Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Enes Kanter, Klay Thompson, and Tobias Harris is able to land a max deal, it will be clearer that the new CBA is playing a major role in teams' evolving extension decisions.
With the help of Chuck Myron's look back at recent rookie-scale extensions, here's the complete list of maximum rookie-scale extensions since 2007. Not all of these contracts are for the maximum amount of years, but they're all for the max salary:
- 2007: Dwight Howard (Magic)
- 2008: Chris Paul (Hornets), Deron Williams (Jazz)
- 2009: Brandon Roy (Trail Blazers)
- 2010: Kevin Durant (Thunder)
- 2011: Kevin Love (Timberwolves), Derrick Rose (Bulls), Russell Westbrook (Thunder)
- 2012: Blake Griffin (Clippers), James Harden (Rockets)
- 2013: DeMarcus Cousins (Kings), Paul George (Pacers), John Wall (Wizards)