It's impossible to discuss trade rumors involving Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum without noting that both players have just one year remaining on their contracts, and will be eligible for free agency next summer. Typically, when we hear about potential new destinations for either star center, we hear that any team acquiring either player would want a long-term commitment before making a deal.
As we've written many times, star players like Howard and Chris Paul are extremely unlikely to sign in-season extensions, since they'd only be able to add three new years rather than the five they could sign for in free agency. But there are certain instances when signing an extension could make more sense for a star player than signing a free agent contract. And as Larry Coon writes in an Insider piece for ESPN.com, Bynum may be one player that fits that bill.
If Bynum were to wait until next summer to sign a five-year contract, it would mean the following:
- He would have to stay relatively healthy this season to avoid hurting his stock, something he hasn't always been able to do.
- His maximum first-year salary for 2013/14 would be $17,733,450, 105% of his 2012/13 salary.
- He would become a free agent again in the summer of 2018, at age 30.
None of those factors on their own should scare Bynum off of waiting until next summer to sign a new contract, but as Coon explains, there are alternatives that could better suit the 24-year-old. If he were to sign an extension immediately, for instance, he'd eliminate the potential injury risk involved in playing out the season.
Coon proposes that Bynum's best bet may be signing a three-year extension with a player option for the final season. In that case, the Lakers center could hit free agency in the summer of 2015, at age 27, when he has ten years of NBA experience. This would allow for the following:
- By signing a five-year deal in 2015 (or 2016), Bynum could ensure he's locked into a long-term contract before the league or players' union has the opportunity to opt out of the current CBA in 2017. A new CBA could potentially be less favorable for maximum-salary players.
- Because Bynum would be a 10-year veteran in 2015, signing at that point would allow him to earn a first-year salary worth the maximum salary for players with 10+ years of experience, which will almost certainly be higher than the $20,393,468 he'd earn in that season if he were to sign a five-year deal in 2013.
- Signing a five-year deal in 2015 and including a player option for the last season would allow Bynum to opt out in 2019 and perhaps sign one last long-term contract at age 31. As Coon notes, due to the over-36 rule, players who are older than 31 can't sign full five-year deals, so age 31 represents the last opportunity for a maximum payday.
For Bynum, there are pros and cons to signing an extension in the near future, and it's certainly not out of the question that he'll decide he's better off waiting until next summer to ink a five-year max deal that would pay him over $100MM. But whereas it makes little sense for players like Howard and Paul to agree to extensions, there are reasons to believe it could be in Bynum's best interests.
So when we hear that Bynum and the Lakers could be discussing a potential contract extension, don't assume it's a bluff to accelerate Howard trade talks with the Magic. If they don't believe they'll land Howard, locking up Bynum for three more years is the best move the Lakers could make, and it might just be Bynum's best move too.