With the promise of a new TV rights deal leading to a skyrocketing salary cap in the next two seasons, NBA teams were more willing than ever to commit large sums of money in long-term extensions to the 2011 NBA Draft class.
Cleveland got the ball rolling in July 2014 by signing Kyrie Irving to a maximum extension (5 years, $90) and before the clock struck midnight on October 31 a record ten players had committed themselves to their teams through at least the 2018-19 season. All of the extensions will go into effect in 2015, after the players complete the final season on their rookie deals.
That's three full seasons beyond a projected jump in the salary cap by as much as 50% and two years beyond the earliest expiration date of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.
By committing more than $400 million to 2011 Draftees alone, plus another $56 million to an extension for Ricky Rubio, teams have created a bit of certainty as the league enters a new era of salaries that could soon be 50% larger than ever before. Now, if the league or players opt out of the CBA in summer 2017 and create a work stoppage in order to redistribute the "pie", teams at least have more of their players under old contract terms that could make them bargains sooner than later.
The two smallest extensions, by far, were signed by the Phoenix Suns twin forwards Markieff Morris ($32 million over 4 years) and Marcus Morris ($20 million over 4 years). No other player signed for less than $42 million.
The Morris brothers got the smallest deals but have not been the least productive. They preferred the security of committing to play together over the uncertainty of restricted free agency next summer.
On the other end of the spectrum, eight players from the first round of the 2011 Draft are either out of the league entirely or will be unrestricted free agents next summer, including two of the top ten players picked (Jan Vesely and Jimmer Fredette).
While ten contract extensions were signed, some of the best players from the 2011 draft decided to wait until next summer to decide their fates. Tristan Thompson (repped by LeBron and Eric Bledsoe's agent Rich Paul), Kawhi Leonard, Reggie Jackson and Jimmy Butler could all have signed contracts north of $12 million per year this fall but decided to wait to see if the offers would get even bigger next summer.
It's quite possible that the league will ease into the 50% increase in the salary cap in 2016 by raising next year's cap halfway. If the league does that, contracts signed in 2015 could make the 2014 contracts look like bargains because "maximum" salaries are a function of the cap. When the cap goes up, maximum salaries go up. Teams like Charlotte (Kemba Walker), Utah (Alec Burks), Phoenix (the Morrii), Orlando (Nikola Vucevic), Minnesota (Rubio) and Denver (Kenneth Faried) have insulated themselves against that. Even Golden State, who gave Klay Thompson the maximum salary it could offer, is hoping that $16 million per year is nothing compared to what they'd have had to pay a year from now.
The Phoenix Suns should be thrilled with the contracts they signed with the Morris twins.
Markieff Morris parlayed a career year (13 points, 6 rebounds per 26 minutes) into an $8 million/year contract extension a year after he was considered an underachiever. This year, in three games, he has proven even more productive. Morris is now the team's best power forward, producing 15 points and 7 rebounds per game. On a per-minute basis, Morris has maintained his 2013-14 production with remarkable consistency.
Marcus Morris is armed with a $5 million/year extension after producing 10 points, 4 rebounds per 22 minutes. He started the first three games this season at small forward thanks in part to the three-game suspension of the likewise newly re-signed P.J. Tucker. "Mook" made 5 of 9 three pointers in the opener, totaling 21 points, and has averaged 12.3 points per game over three games. His three-point percentage of 38.9% is third-best on the team so far. Mook may never be a star player, but $5 million per year will soon be a bargain in a league whose average salary could be $9 million per year.
Utah's Alec Burks ($11 million per year) got nearly as much money per season as the Morris twins combined ($13 million per year). Burks has a career 9.8 PPG average and 35% three-point percentage, though he upped that PPG to 14 last season on 28 minutes per game.