Happy New Year!
Let’s bring in the New Year by making it rain on some NBA players, and by adding one more thing for Phoenix Suns fans to stress about.
Thank you, and I’m sorry.
Read more at your own peril.
The NBA and players union ratified the new CBA, which takes effect on July 1, 2017.
Part of the agreement is to share more of the new revenues with NBA players than ever before, including some players already under contract.
Those under contract for 2017-18 who will see a bump in their salary includes those whose salaries were predetermined - and now too low - under the prior CBA: minimum salaries and rookie-scale contracts.
When it comes to the Suns, here’s how that gets impacted.
Tyler Ulis definitely gets a raise
He might not be playing much right now, but remember when 2016 second-round pick Tyler Ulis signed a 4-year contract like the first rounders get (two years guaranteed, plus two team options)?
His guaranteed contract for year two - next season - will now be 45% higher, worth more nearly $400,000 more than when he signed. Ulis will make just over $1.3 next season.
Ulis’ years 3 and 4, which are team options, will rise as well if the Suns pick up the options and they are below the new league minimum at the time.
Big Sauce and John Jenkins might too
Both Alan Williams and John Jenkins are already under contract for league-minimum contracts for 2017-18, though they are NOT guaranteed.
If the Suns pick up their options (or if they sign with another team to a full contract), they would also get 45% more money next year than they get this year, equalling raises of about $400,000 each.
Warren, Booker, Chriss and Bender get smaller raises
While next year’s incoming rookies will also get that same 45% increase over what was already slotted, current young players already signed to rookie scale deals won’t get quite the same windfall.
For players already on first round rookie-scale deals, the new CBA will give them 15% raises in 2017-18 over the league-mandated contract terms they’d originally signed.
This is still lower than their counterparts in the 2017 Draft will get (whose go up 45%) but it’s something. Unlike the aforementioned minimum contracts, these 15% raises to players on existing rookie scale deals do NOT count against a team’s salary cap.
And then, as long as the Suns pick up their team options, they will receive 30% and 45% raises, respectively, over what they’d originally been slotted in the next two years (2018-19 and 2019-20, respectively).
While that might seem like a lot of free dough, it’s really not. Players on league minimum and rookie contracts are the league’s best value for their production.
Special note: These increases to players already on rookie scale deals above the league minimum will NOT count against the salary cap. The owners and union agreed that, while the players should get more money, teams had already planned their futures partially on the size of contracts already signed.
T.J. Warren and the bottom 95%
Before we move on to hand-wringing over Devin Booker, the Suns have an easier decision to make with T.J. Warren.
Warren - like nearly all the NBA - isn’t good enough to warrant a full five-year rookie extension. He won’t ever be a top-15 NBA player or be named to an All-NBA team, multiple All-Star teams, league MVP or Defensive Player of the Year.
That doesn’t mean Warren is bad. That just merely means Warren is somewhere among the bottom 95% of the league.
Under the new CBA, the “bottom 95%” of the league has only mildly changed free agency and extension rules.
Warren won’t be a restricted free agent until 2018 unless he’s signed to an extension before that by the Suns. At that time Warren, like Alex Len this coming summer, will be able to see what the NBA landscape looks like for playable starting-caliber but not great players.
The median income should be nearly $10 million by then, and Warren and Len should both be worth a lot more than that.
Eric Bledsoe and the bottom 95%
Under the new CBA, Eric Bledsoe is eligible for a contract extension and/or renegotiation this summer with the Suns.
Because he’s been with the Suns since his second year, and through his rookie extension, Bledsoe meets the first qualifier of the new super-max extension rules.
But as good as he is, Bledsoe is unlikely to meet the other requirements. In order to actually become eligible for a contract extension equalling a whopping 35% of the salary cap, Bledsoe would have to be named to an All-NBA team this season or make the All-Star team. He’s very unlikely to meet either criteria, partially because he plays for a very bad team and doesn’t get national exposure, and partially because he’s just not an All-Star.
Most of you are breathing a sigh of relief right now because I don’t think anyone wants Bledsoe to take up more than 1⁄3 of the team’s cap space all by himself.
But that’s leads us to...
Devin Booker and the top 5%?
The only player on the Suns right now who might someday be a top-15 NBA player and/or make an All-Star game or two is Devin Booker.
He's not that caliber now, but in the context of the Phoenix Suns he’s the closest they’ve got.
So let’s pretend for a moment.
Let’s just imagine that Booker’s shot starts dropping and rises up to elite status in the next year. If so, the Suns will likely want to give Booker as much money as it will take to keep him long term.
The new CBA allows for TWO five-year extensions to rookie deals, as opposed to the prior limit of one 5-year extension per team. And each of those extensions could be up to 25% of the salary cap as a starting salary in year one, with up to 8% raises each year for four more years after that first year.
Could Booker be in line for a max 5-year rookie extension starting at 25% of a nearly $120 million cap by 2019? For a point of reference, C.J. McCollum got a max extension this summer from the Blazer and is going to make more than $25 million per year starting next season.
Even if Booker’s not worth it, here’s another thing to consider.
Under the new CBA, veteran players can sign super-max extensions after their second contract (i.e. after year 8 or 9) ONLY if they are
- (a) still playing with the same team that drafted them up to 9 years ago, or
- (b) were acquired before their second contract began and then stayed with the same team after that for the length of that second contract.
We call this the Kevin Durant rule. Under the new CBA, the Thunder could have offered Durant tens of millions of more money to stay with them over leaving for the Warriors. Next summer, the candidates are DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George. Both are still with the team that drafted them and are nearing the end of their second contracts and have met the Designated Player Exception rules.
Not saying that Booker is the next Durant or Cousins or George because he’s not.
What I’m saying is that now Devin Booker and the Suns must use the NEXT TWO SEASONS - all before he turns 23 years old - to decide if he will be their equivalent of that player. And whether they want to stayed married to each other for likely the rest of his career, for better or worse.
Because this is now the new reality:
Whoever Devin Booker is playing for at the end of year four is the team who can give him BY FAR the most money for the rest of his career. He will still only be 22 years old, not even close to his peak as a player.
If leaves or is traded after he starts his second contract, at any point and for any reason, he will no longer be eligible for that golden goose contract no matter how good he ever gets.
For example, let’s take a look at former Sun Isaiah Thomas. Thomas just scored 52 points recently for the Celtics, only the 4th player to do so for the league’s most storied franchise, and is eligible for an extension under the new CBA rules this summer as the best player on a Top-4 team in the East.
Yet because Thomas was traded by the Suns to the Celtics five months into his second contract, he is NOT eligible for this special new rule. Now, the most Thomas could get this coming summer is a 25% per year extension for up to four additional years. He’s better off waiting one more year, until his deal expires, because then he would be a 7-yea veteran who can command up to 30% of the cap. But there’s the rub. Will Thomas be as valuable NEXT summer to the Celtics than he is now? So much could, and will, happen between now and then.
Now let’s talk about DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins FOR SURE is worth his team’s Designated Player Exception, just like he was worth the 5-year rookie max extension before. But the only team who can give Cousins that golden goose contract is the Kings, no matter what he does between now and when his contract is up.
Let’s pretend the new CBA was in place a few years ago when Boogie was up for his rookie extension. Wouldn’t he at least have to sit down at that time and think: Do I really want to spend the next 10 years in Sacramento? And if I don’t trust the Kings to put a playoff team around me, I need to get traded NOW or I could be choosing between purgatory and losing tens of millions of dollars, maybe even 100 million.
Someone like Joel Embiid or Nerlens Noel has to ask himself that question right now. Each of them is up for his rookie extension this summer from the Sixers (Embiid after year three, Noel after year four). They both play center, but they both have injury history and have never even shared the court together despite a desire to try.
Let’s pretend Noel stays with the Sixers and finds his niche in the next couple of months next to Embiid in some lineups before the next injury hits. And let’s pretend the Sixers come to both of them with max extension offers (Embiid’s would start a year later). They each have to ask themselves - do I trust the Sixers to manage my career properly, to put me in line for another max extension five years later if I become All-NBA? Because if I don’t, and they trade me later, I’m Isaiah Thomas no matter how good I get.
Now that’s pressure.
Pressure on Booker
If Booker doesn’t see a bright future with the Suns, he needs to get himself traded in the next year or two to a team he DOES want to spend his career with.
If he’s still on the Suns after year four then there’s no way any OTHER NBA team can offer him anywhere near what the Suns can. He’d either be stuck in Phoenix - like Cousins in Sac, or George in Indy, or Embiid in Philly - or have a significantly lower max salary ceiling somewhere else for the rest of his career.
That’s a lot for Booker to deal with before he even turns 23 years old. But if he really wants to someday play with his friends D’Angelo Russell or Karl-Anthony Towns without giving up a ton of money, his wheeling and dealing needs to start happening now. Or conversely, THEIR wheeling and dealing needs to start.
Pressure on the Suns
First of all, the Suns need to get the draft right. This new CBA helps teams keep their drafted stars more than the last CBA did. But you have to draft one to reap the rewards.
Second, they have to make Booker happy here. As long as the Suns can either sign him to an extension, or keep him around until after that extension deadline date, they can begin to breathe easier.
On the other hand, it’s tough to walk a guy down the $$$$ path who is not even 22, not even an All-Star and not even shooting 40% on his best shot.
But just like Portland did with Dame and then C.J. McCollum, and just like Washington did with Bradley Beal, it’s better to overpay your young talent than let them walk away.
The Suns will try to keep Booker. They need to keep Booker. He’s the closest thing they’ve got to a potential perennial star and face of the franchise since Steve Nash left five years ago.
It’s Booker that needs to decide if he wants the Suns, and he and other young players will have to decide earlier than ever in their careers.
Happy New Year, Suns fans!
One more thing to stress about.