When the clock struck midnight and the NBA's season rolled over from October into November, the draft class of 2009 lost their chance to extend contracts with their current teams beyond the 2012-13 season. Letting that extension window lapse meant potentially plunging a player into the throes of restricted free agency this summer; a potentially uneasy time for both franchise and employee. Moving ahead with a deal meant paying off on potential and committing significant cash on players that might not be worth the bother come 2016 or so. All while the NBA, with every player listed below in action on Wednesday night, moved ahead with its opening week.
Spooky times, all around. So who made out with the most fun-sized bars? Click the jump to see.
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Curry has dodgy ankles, that's obvious even from watching from afar, and he made his debut as unabashed Warrior lead dog on Wednesday night while missing 12 of 14 shots and turning the ball over more than he assisted teammates. A few hours prior to that, the Warriors handed him a four-year, $44 million contract.
Neither seem to match up, but this is the chance you take as an organization. When Curry is right — and there have been significant and long stretches where the guy is playing effortless and productive basketball — he is a borderline All-Star that puts his team in a position to win. Ankle woes can take out an entire season, the grind of an NBA turn just doesn't allow for the sort of rest needed to recuperate unless teams opt to put a player on the shelf for a few weeks, but the Warriors have to make their move now.
The team has dealt Monta Ellis, fixated on an either/or lineup that banks on Andrew Bogut and rookie Festus Ezeli to cover the defensive shortcomings of all the Warriors with offensive tallcomings, while attempting to make a mark with a core led by Curry. Embracing the core means committing to it financially, and you can do a lot worse than paying Curry this much cash from now until he turns 29.
DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
Every so often, you get to take in a move that more or less helps you sign off on your opinion regarding a general manager. In the case of Toronto's Bryan Colangelo, on the job for nearly seven years now with two playoff trips to his credit, we've got our move. DeMar DeRozan is a nice guy that can create some fun flushes at times, but to pay him eight figures a year on average in advance of what was going to be a turn as a restricted free agent next summer is just absolute madness. The chorus wants to remind you that DeMar is just 23, but there have been plenty of wing scorers at age 23 over the last decade and a half that have done far more with their 200-some games to that point, and DeRozan's inability to stick out in any significant area beyond scoring sufficiently enough after shooting quite a bit has remained a constant from his teens to current age.
The move is so laughable and distressing that you almost wonder if Colangelo is salting the sod for the next GM to take over. If the Raptors re-sign Kyle Lowry to a rate concurrent with his production, Lowry would join Andrea Bargnani as the only two Raps making eight figures in 2012-13; and yet the team will be over the cap once the first year of DeRozan's extension (starting at around $9 million a year, we're guessing; unless the Raps tried some Bulls-like upfront move with his yearly salary) starts to tick away. Toronto boasts a solid enough rotation that a great (and we do think he is "great") coach in Dwane Casey can do good things with, but there is nothing in DeRozan's game that has us anticipating a jump in production that would justify anywhere near what he'll be set to make. NBA players grow in small strides before tailing off past their prime, and DeRozan would have to make a huge jump along the lines of his Slam Dunk contest attempts.
All in advance of his potential restricted free agency in 2013. It's true that the shooting guard position has become increasingly hard to fill of late, an odd turn considering the plethora of wings that seemed to dot the NBA two decades ago, but you don't attempt to retain a player like DeRozan at this price merely because you think some other team is going to make a mistake in the summer and snatch him away. Either match that attempted snatch, gross, or let the guy walk. Don't — as Colangelo did with Bargnani a few years back — attempt to trump up a blown lottery pick's worth by paying him nowhere near what he's worth.
This is why we have lockouts. Teams bidding against absolutely nobody to pay a player what he isn't worth. DeRozan had no leverage here, and Toronto didn't seem to care. Keep these sorts of deals in mind the next time NBA owners kvetch about salary structures gone wrong.
Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls
After declining to sign off on an extension prior to the game, and telling anyone that would listen that a reconsider before the midnight ET deadline was unlikely, Gibson agreed to Chicago's terms following the team's opening night win over the Sacramento Kings. The move — for anywhere between $32 million and $38 million over four years, depending on how many incentives Gibson hits — is a fantastic collaboration for both sides, but the timing feels exploitive and leaves me uneasy.
It's true that Gibson and the Bulls could have come to terms over the summer or during training camp, but negotiations didn't really take hold until recently; a common occurrence with extensions like these. Again, Gibson and the Bulls should both be happy with this contract, but asking a player to sign off on the next half-decade (including Gibson's final year under his rookie deal) of his career in the hours before or after an actual game (the NBA has long played plenty of hoops on Halloween night) seems tacky and wrong. What if he tore a ligament? What if he was pulled in the first quarter after botching a defensive cover and missing a rotation, and engaged in a tiff with his coach? What if he put up a career high in points? There's too much room for emotion to be involved, from either side either pulling the offer, rejecting it, or accepting it. These deadlines — placed on Oct. 31 in order to gain early season intrigue — need to be placed in the offseason where they belong.
As stated, the deal is fantastic for both sides. The Bulls will get an All-Defensive Team-worthy starting big forward that won't even make eight figures a year; and make no mistake — the Bulls will use the amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer next summer to save money, and make Gibson their starting forward. That's incredible value for a player in Gibson that, at age 27, is just entering his prime.
Don't cry for Gibson, though. He'll be working with a cast and crew that he's grown up with, and by the time forward Nikola Mirotic comes stateside to play for Chicago he'll have a frontcourt helper that can work as the offensive ying to Gibson's defensive yang. This isn't to say Taj is lacking on that end, his perimeter ability and low post acumen grows with every season, and new'ish Bulls point guard Kirk Hinrich seems receptive to going to his new/old teammate with passes both on the block and in the pick and roll.
Like forward/centers of his ilk — think P.J. Brown or Antonio Davis — Gibson figures to age well and take in another significant (if not max or even eight figure yearly) contract once this deal expires in 2017. All in all, a nice career turn for a player idiots like me deemed too old and too unremarkable to make a difference upon his drafting in 2009.
James Harden, Houston Rockets
Five years, $80 million.
Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers
Jrue Holiday has significantly — and we mean significantly — cut down on his turnovers since his rookie season. His defense has improved, and as a superficial scout it appears as if he's become more and more comfortable mixing up his scoring and dishing instincts despite a decline in assist rate. The guard took a step back in 2011-12, but any bit of lockout-induced statistical noise can be argued away. And the first NBA player to be born in the 1990s obviously has a long career ahead of him with plenty of potential to cash in on.
Paying eight figures a year for that potential? Until the guy is 27, not yet to hit his prime? That's a risk. There is a significant chance Holiday could truly bust out in his first year as the 76ers' go-to point guard; but this is the team that didn't see fit to pay the already-there/still-very-young Lou Williams even an average salary, and they just bid against absolutely nobody in order to ensure that no other team would sign Holiday to the sort of offer sheet the 76ers just signed Holiday to.
This is what restricted free agency is for, and it boggles the mind that years in teams continually refuse to use it. The Sixers just sent Holiday a ton of cash just so they didn't have to go through the process of watching a team offer Holiday the sort of cash Philadelphia just signed him to. And if Andrew Bynum re-signs (the recently-turned 25-year-old's third NBA contract) next summer, the capped-out Sixers will have signed off on their rotation for years. Not bad, considering Bynum and Holiday's age and talent level, but a dalliance with restricted free agency could have knocked a few million off of Holiday's rate and prevented luxury tax uneasiness down the line.
That's a worry for another day. For now, the Sixers are 1-0 and Holiday is soooo young and they'll get Bynum back soon and things are looking great and I'm never coming down off of this high, maaaaan.
Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets
Anyone balking at Ty Lawson's four-year, $48 million extension are probably the same people that balked at selecting him with a lottery pick in the 2009 draft — a draft held just a few weeks after the Nuggets had lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference finals. Lawson barely breaks the six-foot mark, if that, and the NBA will forever be uneasy with players small in stature, and forever obsessive (with this dumb writer leading the pack) with the roaming giants.
The production, blind to Lawson's inability to sit behind Andre Miller in a movie theatre, is worth it. Lawson is no All-Star, but he has a motor that drives these Nuggets, he has improved every season at almost equal ascending amounts, and Denver will be paying him through his prime. If there is any worry about his height, it will take place in his late 20s and early 30s, when diminutive players typically tail off. Good thing Denver's current deal expires five months before Lawson turns 30.
More importantly, with all the talk of rates and production aside, it's important to point out that some people react different to contract uneasiness than others. Certain players tend to be certain with contract issues, blithely playing through that storm and stress while confident (whether it's deserved or not) that the salary figure they're expecting will be in place at the end of the negotiating day. Or year.
Lawson? That confidence didn't seem to apply to him; and whether it was a negotiating tactic or not (if it was, it was a failed tactic, with Ty averaging $12 million a year), George Karl's admission that his extension status was a "distraction" was telling. Better to get it out of the way, as the Nuggets enter into an incredibly important season.