With small-ball lineups reigning the NBA these days, the third-string center has become something of a lost figure. On the rare occasions when these players do get off the bench, it's typically only to provide fouls or eat up a few minutes in the event of injury. They've always been role players, but now that job is becoming increasingly minor and perhaps surplus to requirements.
Some players persist, though, including Golden State Warriors big man Andris Biedrins. Despite averaging only 9.3 minutes in 53 games this season (with ostensible starter Andrew Bogut missing 50 games), Biedrins has an early termination option to opt out of his $9 million contract for the 2013-14 season, the last year of the six-year, $54 million extension he signed as a very promising player in July 2008. To the surprise of no one, Biedrins has chosen not to exercise that option. From Chris Haynes for CSNNW.com (via PBT):
As was expected, Golden State Warriors center Andris Biedrins will exercise his player option and return to the Bay Area for the 2013-14 season, according to his agent Bill Duffy. [...]
“He will not opt out,” Duffy stated clearly to CSNNW.com.
General Manager Bob Myers has some tough decisions to make being that the Warriors are destined to be luxury tax payers next season with roughly $75 million in salary tied-up.
The punitive luxury tax system goes into effect and Carl Landry (player option), Jarrett Jack (free agent) are integral pieces the organization would hope to retain.
To be clear, this is not news because of the announcement, which was as predictable as anything that has happened in the NBA this season. There's no way that Biedrins would make this kind of money on the open market, if he were even to get a new contract offer at all. It's a shame, too, because he once looked like the kind of big man who could thrive in this era: at his best, he was active, athletic, able to cover a lot of ground, and a solid performer in pick-and-roll situations.
Under the last collective bargaining agreement, Biedrins's $9 million salary would have been an enticing trade asset for any team looking to open up cap space for future free agents. However, with the new CBA making it easier for teams to sign their own players to extensions, it's not necessarily as valuable to hold a great deal of cap space.
The Warriors, then, are likely going to have to pay Biedrins for another year. With little-used wing Richard Jefferson holding his own $11 million player option, the Warriors could be faced with paying two end-of-bench players approximately $20 million simply because of past mistakes (Jefferson came over in a trade, but it's not as if the Warriors didn't know they'd have to pay him). That's roughly a quarter of the likely salary cap, which emphasizes just how little margin for error teams have.
Biedrins and Jefferson signed these contracts fairly long ago, to the point where general managers can't be faulted too much for not predicting they'd become albatrosses under a then-undefined CBA. Nevertheless, their effect on the cap for this upcoming season suggests that these lucrative deals might not exist for valued role players in the future. With each contract getting teams closer to a more punitive luxury tax, it makes little sense to risk massive payouts on all but the best players on a team. If a player's success seems at all tenuous, why risk financial headaches for uncertain rewards? We could see more extreme salaries, with a team's most valuable players getting up near the max-level salary and everyone else inching nearer to the minimum. In effect, it might mean the marginalization of the NBA's middle class.