“No one’s ever turned down a maximum extension of a rookie contract.” This is something you hear all the time. Especially from Cleveland Cavaliers speculators who are fretful over the loss of Kyrie Irving.
It’s true, of course. The NBA's most recent collective bargaining agreement incentivizes lottery picks staying on with the teams that drafted them. It’s a systemic wrinkle meant to produce more parity in the superteam-or-bust era.
When incumbent remote markets like Cleveland have to battle with the draw of the posh, nostalgia-loaded destination that is Los Angeles, being able to offer your superstar more years and more dollars than the competition goes quite a way in retaining your top players.
This is why most believe Irving will be anchored to the Cavs until at least 2018. He simply doesn’t have the economic gall to leave their imminent extension offer on the table and run to free agency in 2015 for lesser offers.
So goes the thinking, anyway.
But Irving, by an army of accounts, is unhappy with his team. He’s had issues with coach Mike Brown and teammate Dion Waiters. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst dropped this bomb via Cavs, The Blog:
The truth is [Kyrie’s] camp has been putting out there for years – years – that he doesn’t want to be in Cleveland. That they don’t want him in Cleveland. He doesn’t like Mike Brown. He didn’t like Chris Grant. He doesn’t like Dion Waiters. He’s already gotten a General Manager fired. He might get Mike Brown fired.
Happiness, they say, has no price. For Irving, supposed contentedness has a pretty measurable cost, and it's a few million dollars per year. That’s what he stands to lose by fleeing his franchise in Cleveland and signing for the maximum allowable money elsewhere next summer.
It’s a good chunk of money, but the thing is, Irving, like many of his budding superstar peers, is a franchise unto himself. Like LeBron James before him, the 2012 Rookie of the Year could take a smaller salary away from the Cavs but still be assured equal or greater income. Irving’s already proved himself as an endorsable star, collecting a prominent deal with Pepsi.
Imagine how many more advertisers he could attract in Los Angeles, New York City or on a team that Irving could regularly make deep playoff runs with, maximizing his time in the network television limelight.
This isn’t all about Irving, though. The next star NBA prodigy has been identified by the masses, and he’s New Orleans Pelicans sensation Anthony Davis. Arguably already a top-10 talent, Davis’ team is going through growing pains in a loaded Western Conference.
It’s certainly too easy to make a call on the Pelicans’ development just because they haven't yet cracked the playoffs—they deserve more time. But they’re saddled with a lot of salary issues. Between Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday, they owe almost $100 million over the next three seasons. It's going to be hard to gain steam with this hodgepodge crew in a historically competitive conference.
Davis isn’t unhappy, but if his team can’t accomplish the very difficult task of building a contender around him, he may be. It'll be hard to move those oversized salaries in a trade, so unless the current team meshes beyond expectations, Davis might not get the whiff of the gold he'd like. This is a former NCAA champion, a fierce competitor who yearns to win, and the Pelicans have a ton of work to do to put him in a position to do so.
He even showed a hint of frustration when the team restructured on the night of the 2013 NBA draft, trading fellow University of Kentucky alum Nerlens Noel to the Philadelphia 76ers for Holiday as soon as they drafted him. Davis sent out this tweet soon after:
My night has been terrible! 👎— Anthony Davis (@AntDavis23) June 28, 2013
Neither Irving nor Davis has experienced a great number of NBA trials or tribulations. They’re young, and we don’t know who they are as professionals just yet. But both look to be the types of stars that the league’s general managers will trip over themselves for with team checkbooks in hand. And with Irving’s singularly magnetic ball-handling skills and clutch gene, and Davis’ iconic unibrow, easy affability and endless performance ceiling, advertising executives will also put a lot on the negotiating board for their services.
The 2011 CBA favors the team that did the drafting of the star in free agency, and it has helped bring parity. Just take a look at the first round of this year’s playoffs—some of the wildest, most unpredictable postseason action we’ve ever seen.
But the true test of this provision will come when a new generation, led by Irving and Davis, considers its options wholly and decides whether to play along with it or leave.