Kobe Bryant’s massive contract extension came as a massive surprise, because though it was apparent that both Bryant and the Lakers wanted to continue their relationship until the end of Kobe’s career, most assumed Los Angeles would at least wait to see how the recovering Bryant performed in 2013-14 before deciding to hand him more and more money. It turned out that the Buss family apparently had no issue jumping the gun and making Bryant the league’s highest paid player in both 2014-15 and 2015-16, even if it meant hamstringing the team’s attempts at rebuilding with Bryant at the helm. Because though the Lakers will have cap room to sign a high end free agent this summer, salary cap space will be hard to come by after that, and Bryant plus a star plus minimum-salaried filler is no championship contender at this point.
What the contract extension also didn’t do is alleviate some of the confusion both Miami and Dallas will enter their own offseasons with. The Heat are attempting three pretty gnarly things at once – defending their consecutive titles, steering clear of the punitive wrath of the luxury tax, while keeping their borderline-legendary triptych of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh around and happy.
All three can opt out of their contracts this summer to take in gigantic extensions, and all three will likely want as much money as they can possibly get in reaction to taking less money as free agents in 2010, and the two and possibly three championships that followed. The kicker here is that LeBron James is definitely underpaid at even the maximum price, Chris Bosh might be overpaid (considering his diminished role) if he makes the maximum, and Dwyane Wade stands the chance of being overpaid if his career-long knee injuries continue to limit his productiveness as the season wears along.
Wade, ever mindful of this, didn’t try to rock the boat when recently asked about a Bryant-like extension. From Brian Windhorst at ESPN:
“When I get into that position, it’s something I’ll think about,” Wade said. “You have to sit down at the time and see what is best for you and for your team.”
“As a player, I loved it. Everyone who gets what they get deserves it, great,” Wade said of Bryant’s new deal. “There’s a reason the Lakers felt that Kobe should get that money. There’s no right or wrong.”
LeBron James, hanging around and ever-respectful of the Miami Heat legend, couldn’t help but chime in:
“D-Wade is getting that Kobe deal,” James said from the next locker.
That “legend” part is tricky. Wade is having another fabulous, All-Star level season as he averages 18.5 points and a combined ten rebounds/assists and 2.7 steals/blocks in only 33 minutes a night. The 11-year guard is shooting 53 percent from the field, and he’s shown no real signs of rust in a Heat offense that is ranked second in the NBA. That sort of production might not be worth the potential four-year, $100 million deal Wade could sign in this offseason, but it’s not far off. Especially when you add in the “Kobe” factor, because in spite of LeBron’s brilliance, Dwyane Wade is Mr. Miami Heat.
The problem is that the Heat don’t know if this sort of game-to-game production will hold up in a season that still has six (!) months to go before the NBA Finals tip off; assuming the Heat even get there. Wade was dragging his leg around during the 2012 and 2013 postseasons and had to drop out of the 2012 Olympics, and it’s worth questioning how much his “Mr. Miami Heat” status should play a part in how much he’ll be paid in 2017-18.
The luxury tax will soon be three times as onerous as it was in 2010, when the Big Three all signed their cut-rate deals to create a winner. While there’s no guarantee that Wade will demand the max from the Heat – he can always shave money off the yearly deals in exchange for years at the end of the extension – there’s a likely guarantee that the decision-making process won’t be easy. All sides – Wade and his reps, owner Micky Arison, Heat el jefe Pat Riley – respect each other and have winning at the top of their priority list. Sometimes that’s not enough, though, to eliminate uneasy feelings.
If anything, the Dallas Mavericks and Dirk Nowitzki seemed to have chased away any chance at an uneasy negotiation months ago, when Dirk floated the idea of taking a massive pay cut as a 2014 free agent if it meant helping the Mavs secure a superstar helper from this summer’s free agent class. Nowitzki went on record as saying “if [it] helps us to be better I’ll take a pay cut,” and while he didn’t exactly hedge on those words in the wake of the Bryant extension, he didn’t fully commit to them either.
After repeatedly talking about how he wasn’t “concerned about extensions at this point” in the 2013-14 season, Dirk offered this preview to Jeff Caplan at NBA.com:
“I don’t really want to look forward too much,” Nowitzki said. “I’m not going to extend, obviously. I want to play the season out and then we can talk about the summer. I want to have a good season. I want to have an injury-free season and then [his coach/agent] Holger’s [Geschwindner] going to take his leather coat and meet with [Dallas owner Mark Cuban] in the bunker suite and we’ll go from there.”
Ever the opportunist, Dallas owner Mark Cuban saw a chance to get a sly, if totally accurate, bit of pregame negotiating in. From Dwain Price at the Star-Telegram:
When asked if it’s a given that Nowitzki will re-sign with the Mavs, Cuban said: “You’ve got to ask him. But we’re going to do all we can to keep him forever.”
Cuban did say he believes breaking the bank and making as much money as possible is not Nowitzki’s cup of tea.
“Making hundreds of millions of dollars,” Cuban said, “will do that to you.’’
That’s the hope, at least. That the $204 million Dirk has made in Mavericks payroll alone will be enough to sway him to let his $22 million 2013-14 salary drop precipitously this summer as the Mavericks once again lineup for another offseason with plenty of cap space. Nobody is expecting Dirk to take the veteran’s minimum, but if he did the Mavs (provided they pass on re-signing Shawn Marion and Vince Carter, while keeping Samuel Dalembert) could have nearly $30 million in cap space and a solid foundation already in place.
That’s only the ownership’s wet dream, though. Because as Kobe Bryant confirmed last week, a whole hell of a lot changes for players when it comes time to talking real numbers, and turning down real money.
- - - - - - -