Somewhat lost in the complete and utter madness of this year's NBA free agency was Monday's news that Philadelphia 76ers guard Jrue Holiday would be seeking a maximum contract extension from the team (via Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports on Twitter).
Meanwhile, Sixers fans have been left trying to reconcile with the two-year, $13 million contract offered to not-so-fan-favorite Spencer Hawes. Holiday's absurd contract request has officially been relegated to the second-worst thing to happen to the team this week.
Why the backlash against Holiday's theoretical max contract?
For starters, check out his career averages. 11.9 points, 5.0 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game don't exactly scream "pay me $15-20 million a year."
This past year, his third season in the league, many Sixers fans expected Holiday to take "the leap," transforming from an OK-but-not-great starting option to a foundational backbone for the team. I even based my fantasy basketball team around that theory this year. (Whoops.)
Instead, most of Holiday's per-game averages actually regressed compared to the previous season.
His three-point shooting percentage rose to a respectable 38 percent in 2011-12, but his 4.5 assists per game should be cause for concern to any Sixers fan imagining Holiday as the starting point guard for the next half decade.
Not to mention, his PER of 14.2 fell below the level of "league average player," too. Ouch.
Mike Prada of SB Nation likely had it right when he tweeted on Monday that Holiday realistically wasn't expecting the team to throw this extension his way this summer.
Instead, he was essentially signaling, "don't even bother negotiating an extension with me unless you're willing to spend that much," as Prada suggested.
Essentially, Holiday challenged the Sixers with this demand.
It's time the Sixers challenge Holiday back.
When Holiday's agent broke the news to the Sixers front office that he was seeking a max contract extension, here's hoping the Sixers said something along the lines of, "Go earn it."
Realistically, there's a strong chance the team will plop down $10 million/year or more on Holiday next summer, when he's eligible to become a restricted free agent. Look at the contracts being dished out this summer.
If Goran Dragic, George Hill and Jeremy Lin are landing $8-10 million/year deals this summer, why will Holiday's case be any different in next year's free agent market?
As Lin proved this past year, it only takes a few weeks or months of elite production to earn a fat NBA paycheck.
If Holiday has any hope of landing a max contract next summer, he'll need to continue elevating his game and prove to the Sixers that he's worth building around.
When discussing Holiday, it's important to keep in mind that he just turned 22 a few weeks ago. For someone who already has three years of NBA experience to his credit, he's pretty darn young.
In other words, Holiday still has plenty of room to grow. Most athletes don't exactly finish developing before their 23rd birthday. (See: James, LeBron.)
Someone will assuredly bring up Kevin Durant, who was only 21 when he led his Oklahoma City Thunder to a near-upset of the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs in 2010. There's a reason Durant went No. 2 overall in the NBA draft while Holiday went 17th.
Besides... didn't Holiday just lead his team further in the playoffs than Durant did at the same age?
The Sixers wouldn't have stood a chance against the Chicago Bulls had Derrick Rose not torn his ACL at the end of Game 1, but the series remained competitive after that, despite Rose's absence. The Bulls didn't roll over and die against the Sixers.
Instead, Holiday, Evan Turner and Andre Iguodala catalyzed the series win over Chicago and extended the Boston Celtics to seven games in the next round before succumbing to some unlikely three-pointers from Rajon Rondo in Game 7.
Holiday displayed aggressiveness in the playoffs not often seen in the regular season, something he'll need to consistently bring next year to have any hope of a max deal.
He nearly doubled his season averages in free-throw attempts, going from 1.8 per game in the regular season to 3.4 per game in the playoffs. Holiday only attempted a quarter of his shots in the regular season from inside, according to 82games.com, so the boost in playoff free throws was a sight for sore eyes to Sixers fans.
On the other hand, his playoff shooting percentage of 41.3, while coming against two of the best defenses in the league, clearly needs to improve for the Sixers to take the next step.
The fact the Sixers could win playoff game in spite of 7-of-23 shooting nights from Holiday speaks to the strength of the rest of their team, but it isn't a formula for frequent success.
To Holiday's credit, that 7-for-23 night came in Game 4 against the Bulls, a game where Holiday drained two critical three-point baskets in the final four-and-a-half minutes to give the Sixers just enough breathing room to survive. The Bulls could never recover from the 3-1 series deficit, which Holiday expressly helped engineer.
Next season, Holiday needs to retain the aggressive mentality he displayed throughout the playoffs, driving to the basket and drawing more fouls. He'll also need to improve his shot selection and boost his field goal percentage.
Do those two things, and he'll have a much more realistic shot at obtaining the max contract he desires next summer.
Kick back and relax in Dreamland, Jrue.
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