With the exception of his first couple of years in the league, when he was just starting to feel the NBA game out after coming over from France, there's never really been any question as to whether Boris Diaw had the skills to be a good NBA player. No, the issues have come when other elements have gotten between those skills and their proper deployment.
When his coaches have called for him to adopt a score-first mentality in slow-down sets, as Mike Woodson did with the Atlanta Hawks and Paul Silas did with the Charlotte Bobcats, Diaw has stagnated. When he's been allowed to serve as a ball-moving facilitator in an uptempo scheme — as he was with Mike D'Antoni's Phoenix Suns and (to a lesser extent) with Larry Brown on the Bobcats bench, and as he is with Gregg Popovich's San Antonio Spurs — he has flourished. When he's been in the heat of playoff pushes and championship chases, he's remained engaged and in form; when he's had to play out the string for dead-end squads bent on rebuilding, he's lost motivation and, more troublingly, added a spare tire.
After playing arguably the best ball of his career and serving as an integral piece of the Spurs' 2013-14 championship team, Diaw inked a new contract to stay in San Antonio for the next few years. The structure of the deal — initially reported as a three-year, $22.5 million pact, but later revealed to be a four-year, $28 million agreement — showed some creativity on the Spurs' part.
For one thing, Diaw's salary descends, starting at $7.5 million this season before dropping to $7 million for 2015-16 and $6.5 million for '16-'17 before bumping back up to $7 million in '17-'18, when the Spurs presently have only the rookie deal of 2014 first-round draft pick Kyle Anderson on the books. For another, Diaw is only guaranteed to make his full salary in the first two seasons of the contract; the third year carries just a $3 million partial guarantee, while the fourth year is entirely unguaranteed, affording Spurs general manager R.C. Buford the flexibility to be able to use Diaw as a more inexpensive and thus moveable asset down the line if he should underperform the new contract or if the Spurs' needs change by the back half of the deal.
The most interesting — and, I believe, previously unreported — portion of Diaw's contract, though, deals with those pesky pounds, as laid out by Amin Elhassan of ESPN Insider (subscription required):
Most importantly, Diaw's deal features $500,000 in annual performance bonuses in the form of a weight clause. Each season, he gets:
• $150,000 for weighing less than or equal to 254 pounds on Oct. 25
• $150,000 for weighing less than or equal to 254 pounds on the first Tuesday after the All-Star Game
• $200,000 for weighing less than or equal to 254 pounds on April 1
Basically, the Spurs have given Diaw a real incentive to make weight at three important junctures of the season: opening night, post-All-Star stretch and playoff push.
The structure of this contract gives the team some leverage to keep the player motivated while giving him an incentive to continue to perform at a high level.
As if the sheer presence of the $500,000 carrot for Diaw to keep eating carrots wasn't enough, my favorite part of this comes in reading the fine print of Diaw's contract entry on ShamSports.com: "Contract contains $500,000 in annual performance incentives currently listed as unlikely." Maybe that refers to another set of incentives, but boy oh boy, do I hope it doesn't. (NOTE: "Unlikely" actually has a specific collective bargaining agreement connotation. I still think it's funny.)
Giving Boris a half-million reasons to stay in shape constitutes smart business for a Spurs team that relied on the 32-year-old to log major floor time last year (fourth-most minutes on the team in both the regular season and playoffs) and figures to need him just as much this season. Diaw's size, inside-out scoring ability, playmaking skill and off-the-bench punch make him the perfect replacement option whenever Pop needs to rest one of the three primary veterans (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili) that he'll need to keep fresh if he hopes to have a real shot of repeating as champions for the first time in his illustrious career on San Antonio's bench. It's a decent bet that the mere thrill of the chase, the opportunity to play in Pop's freewheeling system, and the chance to pal around with longtime buddy Parker once again would keep Diaw in line, but this way, Buford and company hedge their bet. If Diaw holds up his end of the bargain, that's $500K very well spent.
For what it's worth, the Spurs listed Diaw at 250 pounds last season. (It might not be worth much; NBA teams tend to regard "official" heights and weights as mere suggestions.) Then again, Pop doesn't seem to think Diaw really stayed anywhere near that ballpark this summer, despite his work for the French national team that won bronze at the 2014 FIBA World Cup:
Pop on Boris Diaw: "Boris is having pina coladas. We have a pool where you guess his weight. You have to start at 275."— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) September 26, 2014
Diaw quickly responded with a classic Instagram photo, claiming that he was having "only one glass of wine and [doing] daily workouts," and that Pop needn't worry:
Diaw joined the Spurs in Germany for their to Alba Berlin, but before that, Pop had a bit of fun at the expense of his large charge, according to Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News:
“We’ve been told that there’s a chance we might see Boris in Berlin,” Popovich said [...]. “We got a picture the other day with a beret and a glass of wine. Boris is in a relaxed, peaceful mode at a French bistro not to be named because we don’t know exactly where the picture was taken.”
As for Diaw’s pledge of daily exercise and minimal excess, Popovich said he’s not worried.
“Of course [I trust Diaw],” he said. “He’s a man of his word.”
Apparently, he's got an even better reason to be than we initially believed.
UPDATE: Stalwart Express-News Spurs beat man Jeff McDonald informs us that this isn't quite the new sensation we'd been led to believe:
Boris had a weight clause in his previous Spurs contract, too. He made it last season.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) October 10, 2014
Having won a title and made some dough, will be interested to see how engaged Boris is, weight-wise, in the season to come.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) October 10, 2014
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