2011 NBA draftee contract extensions: Revealing the instability of NBA free agency

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By JAKE FISCHER
College Contributor Network

The Oct. 31 deadline to extend members of the 2011 Draft class came and went on Friday. Following all the rumors about extension talks, a new NBA record of nine 2011-12 rookies signed early extensions to prevent reaching restricted free agency in July.

There's a lot to be discussed when it comes to these extensions: the Morris twins' extremely intriguing salary split, Denver splurging on Kenneth Faried and Ricky Rubio signing for less than the maximum salary former Minnesota general manager David Kahn saved for him, rather than Kevin Love back in 2012.

Yet one of the bigger takeaways from this past deadline is that the free agency market is going to be as unstable as an atomic bomb during the early years of this new league-wide TV contract.

It was only two years ago that Stephen Curry re-upped with Golden State on a four-year, $44 million contract. With a history of ankle injuries, Curry's annual salary was clearly trimmed. "They had to protect themselves a little bit," Curry told Yahoo! Sports about the Warriors.

Still, one day prior, Ty Lawson inked a four-year, $48 million extension with the Denver Nuggets and DeMar DeRozan signed a four-year, $40 million deal that will now likely reach $42 million in incentives.

Two years later, Curry has clearly emerged as an All-NBA talent, DeRozan was selected to his first All-Star game last season and Ty Lawson arguably earned an All-Star nod a year ago as well (before dealing with injuries that cost him about 20 games). All three of those deals seem incredibly reasonable.

But now, teams are handing out contracts with an annual eight-figure salary as liberally as free samples at Wegmans. Today's free agency now places far more emphasis on paying a player based on the market value for that player's position rather than stressing emphasis on a player's context within the team's roster.

For example, Alec Burks took a sizable leap last season and, after Friday's deadline, the Jazz now say he's worth about $11 million per year on a team struggling mightily to find a competitive identity. Through three seasons, Burks and DeRozan's numbers were nearly identical per 100 possessions. The big difference: DeRozan started 210 games during his first three years in the league and played 6,721 minutes, whereas Burks started 12 games and played 4,269 minutes.

Many criticized the Raptors' deal with DeRozan at the time, yet he had still proven to be an efficient scorer in starter minutes. If DeRozan could improve his three-point shooting and free throw rate, it was clear he could develop into a top-tier scorer.

The Raptors had a big man of the future in Jonas Valanciunas in the first year of his rookie deal, Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay chucking threes and Kyle Lowry manning the point. There was room for DeRozan to grow into a slasher and mid-range scorer with all of that spacing.

Burks may mature into a more lethal scorer as well, but his situation is not as balanced. Utah just handed Gordon Hayward a max contract, is trying to force-feed Derrick Favors on the block while also paying special attention towards developing Rudy Gobert. The Jazz have a lot riding on developing point guards Trey Burke and Dante Exum as well.

It's not very likely Burks will ever register much more than the 10 shots per game he took in 2013-14 for Utah. DeRozan managed to shoot 14.1 times a night even while playing with Gay and Bargnani. It's all about opportunity.

Let's not just pick on Utah and Alec Burks.

Ricky Rubio played 82 games in 2013-14, yet has had a worse injury history than Eric Bledsoe, who Phoenix waited to re-sign before ultimately giving five years, $70 million this summer. Minnesota gave Rubio four years and $56 million, leaving each player with roughly $14 million annually. That's the number Bledsoe received. Why shouldn't Rubio garner the same?

Remember that Hayward max-extension from this summer? That drove up the price for Klay Thompson. Nik Vucevic's four-year, $53 million extension with Orlando will definitely impact Andre Drummond's negotiations with Detroit next October.

NBA teams are now at the mercy of what the market value sets for each position. It's a tricky environment to work in. No smart team wants to be the organization to jack up the price for a top power forward, for example, who's still not quite worthy of All-Star consideration.

Just ask the San Antonio Spurs.

There's a reason why Pop and company declined to hand Kawhi Leonard the max extension they're undoubtedly going to match this summer.


Jake Fischer is a junior at Northeastern University. He covers the NBA for SLAM Magazine and SB Nation, writes for the Boston Globe and lives and dies with the Philadelphia 76ers. Follow him on Twitter: @JakeLFischer
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