The NBA’s somewhat-dodgy deadline for extending players entering their fourth season of play came and went on Friday, with three notable deals striking in the hours before November hit. Players like Kyrie Irving, Kenneth Faried, Kemba Walker, Nikola Vucevic, and the Morris twins already agreed to extensions with their incumbent teams, while a trio of young perimeter types managed to make hay before midnight.
Despite the promise of rookie coach Quin Snyder’s attack, the Utah Jazz figure to return to the dregs of the Western Conference once 2014-15’s 82 games are sorted out, which is a shame. What’s most frightening is that the team could head into 2015-16 with four players making eight figures a year for a team that looks an awful lot like this unit.
It’s true that Burks is only 23, that competent shooting guards are hard to come by in the modern era, and that the NBA’s salary cap could hover in the low $90 millions by the end of Burks’ contract, but that’s no reason to sign the guy to a four-year, $42 million-to-$45 million (depending on incentives) extension right now. Restricted free agency is exactly what players like Burks are made for, and though he’s shown incremental progress spread out over his first three seasons, committing eight figures a year to what could be an above-average contributor at the NBA’s least essential position boggles the mind.
If a team made an outsized – say, “four years at $42 million-to-$45 million” – offer to Burks next summer, there would be no shame in letting him walk for nothing in opposition to paying that price, or swallowing hard and matching the offer. You have to at least try to use the system, though. The team is attempting the restricted free agent route with big man Enes Kanter, who has yet to prove he can play well alongside franchise cornerstone Derrick Favors; but even if Kanter’s struggles continue there would be no shame in matching an eight-figure offer for the talented center if another team commits to such an offer sheet.
Were that to happen, the Jazz would have four players making major money (Kanter, Burks, Favors, Gordon Hayward), four players without obvious All-Star potential. The reasoning behind the Burks deal, in a vacuum, is sound. The cap is rising. Off guards are in short supply. Burks is one of the few Jazz members that drives and finishes well. There is hope he could make a massive leap in his fourth year, as DeMar DeRozan’s name has been bandied about.
If Burks tails off, though, this could be a huge whiff. Even with that salary cap. He remains an intriguing player and is already working at an above-average level at a young age, but considering Utah’s flat-lining roster (until Dante Exum changes everything, that is), this will be a deal to keep an eye on.
Presuming he falls back to earth a bit after his ridiculously efficient and entertaining start to the season, Thompson doesn’t fit the ideal of a max contract player. He’s not exactly as one-dimensional as, say, Allan Houston in his prime, but he’s also not Golden State’s best player, and at times he ranks as their fourth or fifth most important player once you factor in the team’s need for Stephen Curry to dominate, Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala to make things happen defensively, and Draymond Green’s ability to stir the drink.
In 2014, however, signing Thompson to a four-year, $70 million deal is absolutely the right thing to do. Advanced metrics don’t adore Thompson because of the things Klay doesn’t do – the guy never rebounds, he isn’t a passer, and he doesn’t get to the line very often. Thompson’s specialty – he is a lifetime 41 percent three-point shooter despite working in high volumes – is to be absolutely coveted in this era. He can adequately guard three positions, though his ability to chase around point guards might be a bit overstated, and if he can find some midpoint between this white hot start to the season (Thompson currently leads the NBA at 29.7 points per game) and his work last year, he’ll be just fine at this price.
In other eras, this looks like an iffy deal. Markets change, as do priorities, and though the Warriors will have to determine just how to avoid the luxury tax and possible salary apron in coming years (we’re not sure, exactly, who is lining up to take David Lee off their hands), this was the right move for a team looking at the third round and beyond this spring.
This is where things get dicey.
Ricky Rubio is so much fun to watch. Despite suffering an ACL tear during his rookie season, he remains a top defender, and he’s clearly an expert passer. Teammates take chances when playing alongside him, knowing that he’ll be able to hit them with a pass that most other point guards wouldn’t have the moxie nor the ability to attempt. That’s an asset that isn’t talked about enough, and something that’s hard to put a price on.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have put a price on Rubio’s next four seasons, though. Four years and $55 million to pay Rubio up until the edge of his prime, nearly $14 million on average for a guy with a career 36.8 shooting percentage. Yes, the salary cap is going up, and we’ve already established that there are other facets of Rubio’s game to celebrate and compensate. This is still a lot of money for someone that still deserves to be dismissed as a scoring threat by opponents. Rubio doesn’t just struggle with shooting in the grand Brevin Knight-tradition. His struggles are historic.
He’s just 24. The Wolves hired a full-time shooting coach over the offseason, Flip Saunders has coached four great point guards quite well (Stephon Marbury, Terrell Brandon, Sam Cassell, Chauncey Billups) in his past, and the Timberwolves are truly Rubio’s team. A sterling commitment like this can boost the spirits of even the most ebullient types, and though Ricky’s early returns (he’s at 37 percent over the first three-game showing of his Small Sample Size Theater in 2014-15) aren’t promising, there is still time to get this right.
Of course, we’ve been saying that since Ricky Rubio – fresh off an international career that saw him shoot just as poorly – entered the NBA. Now he’ll be paid nearly $14 million a year, starting next season, to try and get it right. The experiment continues.
At least the experiment will be an entertaining one.
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