- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Anthony Davis became the first member of the 2012 NBA draft class to secure a five-year maximum-salaried contract extension, but he's about to get some company. Damian Lillard, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 draft, is nearing an agreement with the Portland Trail Blazers on a five-year maximum extension of his rookie contract that could pay him as much as $120 million, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein:
[Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball]
First-round picks from the 2012 NBA draft such as Lillard are eligible to negotiate contract extensions now through Oct. 31. But like any free-agent deal throughout the league, they can't be formally signed until July 9, when a leaguewide moratorium on player business is lifted.
The exact figures of the extension will depend on how much the NBA salary cap actually rises in 2016, but sources said the Blazers are prepared to pay Lillard, 24, the maximum amount they're allowed to and make him their designated player.
The salary cap for the 2016-17 season — the year after next, when the extensions for rookie deals for the class of 2012 will kick in — is projected to increase to $89 million, thanks to the influx of revenues from the nine-year, $24 billion broadcast rights deal that the NBA reached with ESPN and Turner Sports earlier this year. The cap figure's expected to soar even higher in '17-'18, with current projections reaching $108 million.
The higher reported salary figure for Davis likely stems from the expectation that, after playing out this season, he will be eligible for the "Derrick Rose rule" bump. That clause in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement allows first-round picks who have completed all four years of their rookie deals to make up to 30 percent of the salary cap if they've already been named to one of the three All-NBA teams at least twice, been voted in as an All-Star Game starter at least twice, or been named the league's Most Valuable Player, as opposed to the 25 percent limit otherwise imposed on max salaries for players with five years of NBA service time.
Davis was voted in as a starter on the Western Conference All-Star squad back in February before bowing out of the game due to injury, and was named to the All-NBA First Team back in May; one more appearance on any of the three All-NBA teams or vote-in as an All-Star starter and Davis' 30 percent is locked in. Lillard's made the last two Western Conference All-Star teams, but has yet to be voted a starter. He did, however, make the All-NBA Third Team after his breakout sophomore season. If he can return to top-six status among NBA guards in the minds of voters this season, his lucrative deal could turn into an even wilder windfall:
Lillard made All-NBA in '13-14. If he makes it next season, would be eligible for the super-max Brow just got. $ details will be interesting
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) July 1, 2015
Lillard's deal could wind up somewhere between the 25 percent and 30 percent poles — as others have noted, that's a matter of negotiation, and Paul George stands out as an example of a player whose Rose rule-max wound up slotting in above 25 and below 30. Even if Lillard's price tag winds up a bit north of the $24 million average annual value of the deal as reported, Blazers owner Paul Allen and general manager Neil Olshey likely won't blanch too much at the idea of paying an even higher premium — as Jason Quick of The Oregonian notes, it's already far and away the richest deal in franchise history — to lock Lillard down as the cornerstone of the next era of Pacific Northwest basketball, even as the other four members of the starting five that led Portland back to the postseason could get scattered to the winds.
Small forward Nicolas Batum has already been traded away to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for 2014 lottery pick Noah Vonleh and veteran swingman Gerald Henderson. All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge is reportedly on his way out, perhaps to join up with the '13-'14 champions in San Antonio. Center Robin Lopez and shooting guard Wesley Matthews are drawing significant interest from multiple suitors in free agency, even with the latter working his way back from a torn Achilles tendon. Midseason pickup Arron Afflalo, considered a solid second-unit addition who struggled after being pressed into starting duty by Matthews' injury, is also on the market and could skip town.
Keeping Lillard from reaching restricted free agency next summer and securing his services through the 2020-21 season ensures that the Blazers will have one star around which to build the rest of their roster, which presently includes an intriguing mix of young pieces — Vonleh, rising guard C.J. McCollum, floor-stretching big man Meyers Leonard, draft-night-acquisition center Mason Plumlee, just-signed defense-and-rebounding wing Al-Farouq Aminu — but little else in the way of bankable commodities. As it stands, Portland's got just Aminu's new deal plus the qualifying offers and team options of Vonleh, McCollum and Plumlee on the books for the '16-'17 season when Lillard's extension kicks in, which, combined with the spiking cap, means Olshey should have both an awful lot of flexibility to work with in crafting the roster and a signature star teammate to sell to prospective free-agent or trade targets in the process.
And make no mistake: Lillard is that kind of star. Whatever your thoughts on his defensive work at the point of attack — which both eye-test and statistical analysis will tell you is lacking — he's an inarguably enticing offensive force, a skilled playmaker and scorer who gives head coach Terry Stotts one of the league's most confident and versatile weapons on the ball. The 2012 Rookie of the Year has stepped up his scoring average in each of his three pro seasons after a distinguished four-year run at Weber State, developing into a pick-and-roll maestro plenty comfortable stepping behind a screen from 25 feet out and bombing away from deep.
His 34.3 percent mark from 3-point last season represented a steep decline from the 39.4 percent clip he hit at from long distance during the '13-'14 season, and he struggled mightily with his outside shot against the swarming defense of the Memphis Grizzlies in Portland's first-round exit during the 2015 postseason. But he's shown a capacity to be an accurate high-volume marksman whose ability to pull up off the bounce forces opponents to stick close, affording him opportunities to blow past them with his tight handle and quick first step and get into the paint to make plays for himself and others.
Lillard's been durable through three seasons, never missing a game and ranking in the top seven in the league in total minutes in each campaign. He was one of just five players in the league last season to average at least 20 points, six assists and four rebounds per game last season, joining the top four finishers in 2014-15 Most Valuable Player voting: MVP Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, runner-up James Harden of the Houston Rockets, third-place finisher LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers and fourth-place Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
It remains to be seen whether he's quite as effective a scoring force in the context of a brand new starting lineup. But after watching the way Curry's ability to strike the fear of God into opponents with his shooting opened up opportunities all over the floor for his Warriors teammates en route to a championship, if you squint a little bit, you can see the prospect of Stotts finding myriad ways to keep a new-look Blazers offense whirring and humming around the hub of Lillard's skills.
Lillard's one of the very best offensive players in the league, and at just 24 years of age, the Blazers are making a very big bet that he's got even more improvement in store as he enters his prime. If Portland does in fact wind up having to move on from its most recent successful chapter, there are certainly worse ways to start writing the next one.
- - - - - - -