To pay or not
toupee to pay—that is the question.
Or might've been, if William Shakespeare were one of a long list of candidates for the Philadelphia 76ers' as-yet-unfilled general manager job.
Whoever winds up replacing Rod Thorn will have a busy year ahead, to say the least. He'll have to convince All-Star center and unrestricted free agent Andrew Bynum, whom the Sixers acquired in facilitating the Dwight Howard trade, to sign long-term in the City of Brotherly Love next July.
Then, there's the not-so-small matter of retaining Jrue Holiday's services for the foreseeable future. The 22-year-old guard out of UCLA and 2013 restricted free agent told Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports in July that he's in the market for beaucoup bucks:
Sixers guard Jrue Holiday added to USA select team roster. Holiday also is seeking a max contract extension from Sixers, source tells Yahoo!— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) July 2, 2012
At first blush, this probably sounds patently outrageous and, frankly, it is. According to Spike Eskin of CBS Philly, such a deal would up Holiday's earnings to $12.9 million per season over a five-year span.
That'd be a steal if Holiday were the budding All-Star everyone's expecting him to be. Problem is, he's yet to elevate his game to a level that would merit such comfortable compensation and, more importantly, the tying-up of the Sixers' cap space that comes with it.
Everyone and their mother in Philly had Jrue pegged for a significant leap last season, his third in the NBA. Instead, Holiday appeared to regress. His scoring, field goal percentage, rebounding and assist numbers all declined, in some cases dramatically so.
What's worse, Holiday's backslide came when the Sixers needed him more than ever to fuel their anemic offense. All he did was wind up 25th in assist percentage and 37th in offensive rating among guards who played more than 30 minutes per game last season (h/t Matt Moore of CBS Sports). At times, Sixers head coach Doug Collins resorted to playing Evan Turner, a swingman by trade, at the point.
Which is to say, Holiday didn't exactly help Philly's offense hum, at least not like a point guard with a max contract should.
To his credit, Jrue had a few shining moments in the 2012 playoffs. His scoring, rebounding and assist numbers all increased marginally, and his three-point accuracy crept over the 40-percent threshold. Along the way, Holiday scored 20 or more points on three separate occasions while leading the Sixers to the brink of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Still, by no means did Jrue's performance suggest that he should earn as much as the point guard (Derrick Rose) whose injury allowed Philly to advance at all, or even the other (Rajon Rondo) who outplayed him thereafter.
Nor did it suggest that, if Holiday's camp can't work out an extension with Philly's front office this fall, he should garner a four-year, $58 million deal after the season, one on par with what Roy Hibbert, Eric Gordon and Brook Lopez—the cream of the restricted-free-agent crop this summer—pulled in on the open market.
But the fact that those three ended up getting paid as well as they did bodes all too well for Holiday's odds of landing a massive payday. Hibbert got pushed around by smaller players in the postseason, and Gordon and Lopez combined to appear in all of 14 games last year.
Yet, they all made out like bandits. Holiday, for his part, has at least been fit enough stay on the floor for Philly, having missed but 10 games in three seasons.
Even if all that time on the court has hardly yielded spectacular results.
Then again, the free agent class of 2013 is shaping up to be far deeper than the 2012 edition, particularly at guard. Chris Paul, an unrestricted free agent, is the clear headliner, with OJ Mayo eligible to join should he exercise his player option and ditch the Dallas Mavericks after one season.
At present, the batch of restricted free-agent guards includes Ty Lawson, Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings, James Harden and Tyreke Evans, all of whom have done more in their NBA careers to earn significant raises but only some (if any) of whom will take home max contracts.
And that's without mentioning Jeff Teague, Darren Collison and Eric Maynor, all quality point guards in their own right who may play their way into sizable salaries after this coming season.
If the Sixers play their cards right, they'll be able to undercut whatever leverage Holiday thinks he has by pointing to a free agent market (and a league) that's saturated with floor generals that are as good as, if not better than, he is.
The proliferation of point men also renders less likely any scenario in which another organization might drive up the bidding for Holiday, a la the Houston Rockets with Jeremy Lin. How many teams will be willing to shell out an eight-figure yearly salary to Holiday when A) there are better options who will work for the same money, B) there are comparable options that will work for less and C) so many squads already employ or will look to retain starting-caliber players at his position?
To be sure, If the Sixers don't lock him up now, they run the risk of upsetting him and/or having to offer him a steeper salary later should he finally break out in 2012-13.
But that risk pales in comparison to what could happen to Philly's financial situation if its new GM were to overpay to keep Holiday in a Sixers jersey. Fans have already seen the franchise's fortunes beset by cap-choking contracts doled out to the likes of Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala. The last thing the Sixers need is to see another overpaid player of theirs underperform, especially when there are so many other options on the market to consider.
And they'll have the cap room to do just that. Philly is on the hook for just over $36 million in salaries for the 2013-14 season and could even reduce its tab by refusing the option on Evan Turner's rookie contract.
Think some of that flexibility might be better spent on any one of those other available point guards?
So long as Sixers ownership is willing to supersede the salary cap to keep Bynum—whose Bird rights the team owns—enticing other big-name, big-money free agents to Philly shouldn't be too much of an issue.
Unless, of course, prospective employees find the idea of living in eastern Pennsylvania to be less-than-thrilling.
That aside, it seems fairly clear, at this juncture, that Jrue Holiday's reality doesn't jibe with the glorified image of it that he has dancing around in his head. If he plays up to his capabilities this season and emerges as a potential All-Star, then sure, the Sixers should and probably will lock him up next summer.
And if not...well, to misquote the Bard (again), soon will be the winter of Holiday's discontent.