The early extension remains one of the more fascinating contract issues that teams and players face. Franchises can sign first-round picks to contract extensions after their third year in the league; the extension kicks in Year 5. So, for instance, Stephen Curry signed a four-year, $44 million extension with the Warriors last offseason. That didn't affect his 2012-13 salary at all, but assured him that he'd have a nice fat contract in place for 2013-14 and beyond no matter how (or, in this case, how much) he played this year. For the Warriors, it prevented Curry from hitting restricted free agency in the 2013 offseason.
It's pretty clear who won that round of negotiations.
Curry would be a no-doubt max player if he hadn't signed that deal. What's the difference between the deal he signed and the one he would be signing? We won't know exact numbers until the NBA releases the 2013-14 cap figure, but we expect that the deal would have begun at right around $15 million (25 percent of the team salary cap) and reached more than $60 million over four years. So Curry more or less gave up $15 million plus for the insurance of being under contract.
Given Curry's struggles with ankle injuries in the past, that didn't look like a terrible bet a year ago. Then he went out and played a shade under 3,000 minutes in the regular season, missing just four games. (He missed 50 games over his first three seasons, and 40 in the 2011-12 season alone.) Of course, Curry gets a whole lot of money either way -- the difference between $11 million and $15 million to a guy currently making less than $5 million shouldn't be noticeable. It is noticeable for the Warriors, who have some expensive players on the payroll and need to maximize the use of what cap space they do find. Andrew Bogut is due $14 million next season, and David Lee is on the books for $44 million over the next three seasons. Richard Jefferson is due $11 million in 2013-14. (Oh, man.) So that $4 million in salary the Warriors will save from signing Curry early will go to good use, whether it be in re-signing Jarrett Jack, keeping Carl Landry (who can opt out) or giving Golden State some breathing room to sneak under the tax line.
All told, most of the teams who went with early extensions won their negotiations. Jrue Holiday signed for four years, $41 million, then made the All-Star team. Ty Lawson signed for four years, $48 million ... and got MVP votes. (Well, votes on the five-deep MVP ballot. No one with a vote actually said Lawson should be the MVP.) DeMar DeRozan is the glaring exception: he signed a $38 million extension and had a pretty DeMar DeRozan season. It's not a horrid deal, but when you add in that the Raptors traded for the similar and vastly overpaid Rudy Gay midseason, it looks less valuable.
Keep all this in mind as we begin to talk about early extensions for the 2010 draft class, namely John Wall. If the Wizards can lock him up under the max, it could pay big dividends. But if Wall learns from Curry, he just might hold out for the max.
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