Part of the fun for cap-conscious NBA dorks like myself is taking a look at all the teams that have just a wee bit of cap space left over as they enter the year. We'll tell anyone who'll listen that, "aw, man, they could totally use that in a trade," sending out $3 million in salary to pick up a player making nearly $10 million if the team in question still had just over $6.5 million left in space entering the season.
But what if those trades aren't there? What if we overvalued that cap space? Or what if a team truly values a player that, to the naked eye, might not be the most important player on the court at times, but whose contributions are well known both to the team and to those that spend way too much time trying to catch up on advanced statistical metrics?
Nick entered this season making $6.75 million in his final year with the Thunder. But after Tuesday night, he'll be making an All-Star level $13.3 million this year with the Thunder. How is that even legal, in a salary cap sense? Well, as Marc Stein reports, the Oklahoma City GM essentially gave him a $6.5-plus signing bonus for this season alone. Signing bonuses usually aren't common in the NBA, because you have to fit any level of payoff (right down to free TVs or ducats) underneath the salary cap. You have to report it, and most teams are perpetually over the salary cap with no space left to offer.
The Thunder had that left over salary cap space. And the team thought that that extra cash wasn't going to ease any sort of deal that they liked, and certainly not one that they wanted on their books as the league strives for a more ownership-friendly collective bargaining agreement after this season, so they dumped that cash on Collison now.
Why? Well, Collison remains one of this league's most underrated defenders. His return from injury earlier this season was huge for the Thunder, he was an absolute demon moving his feet last year for Oklahoma City, along with taking a huge number of charges for one of the better defensive teams in the NBA.
And while Nick himself will tell you he's not worth what he's making this season on the open market, he's also not going to be worth what he's making from 2011 through 2014. Just $11 million over that span, usually working for far less than half the average salary, for a well above average player. The Thunder are paying now, so that that they can pay a lot less later. Essentially, they just handed Nick Collison $6.5 million for the rights to only pay him $11 million over four years starting in 2011.
Seems like a great deal, for both sides. Especially with the litany of young talent the Thunder have already in the stable that will be looking for a contract extension in the years to follow, people like Russell Westbrook(notes), Serge Ibaka(notes), Jeff Green(notes), and (we hope he earns it) James Harden(notes). This deal ensures that, while Kevin Durant's(notes) eight-figure contract extension takes to the Thunder books in 2011-12, the team should still have some below-cap flexibility to deal and/or sign and add to that impressive (currently on pace to win 59 games this season, without two of its last lottery picks contributing at all) young rotation.
This is why we have hope in Thunder GM Sam Presti. Even if he fails to make that waited-upon Big Move to put the Thunder over the top, he's allowed himself the assets and flexibility to do so because of sound basketball and sound NBA thinking. Those are two different things, Presti realizes, and he's done well with them both.
Now, let's all go see if Nick Collison will loan us 60 bucks.