The minute Daryl Morey matched the Cleveland Cavaliers' four-year, $24 million offer sheet for Kyle Lowry, the GM, coach Rick Adelman, and owner Leslie Alexander had to anticipate the question would come.
The deal will pay Lowry about $6 million per season to fill the reserve point guard role behind Aaron Brooks. Alexander asked the front office to re-sign Lowry and Luis Scola at all costs earlier this summer.
Scola landed a five-year, $47 million deal. Morey said all along he would match all "reasonable" bids.
So, Brooks wants to know, "Where's my money?" Houston Chronicle Rockets beat reporter Jonathan Feigen first reported Brooks' contract dissatisfaction last week here.
If LeBron James' skimpy South Beach defection was a shock for some, this revelation should have inspired some shrugs and yawns because so many draftees at the end of their rookie-scale paychecks seek more.
It seems like an elementary gripe. When the starting point guard is slated to earn at least $4 million less than his backup, management should expect an unhappy camper. This year, though, seems different than others.
Kevin Durant is the lone player from the 2007 draft to receive an extension. Brooks, Jeff Green, and Greg Oden, among others, will clamor for salary upgrades this year, but none of them can claim surprise if they make it through April without bargaining table success. A looming lockout will complicate matters further.
What will maximum contracts look like in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement? Will rules force shorter contracts or alter the extension deadlines? Will guaranteed money in the final years of deals become a scarcity?
Brooks, the NBA's reigning Most Improved Player, can run with the best of them. He shattered the franchise record for made three-pointers in a season. He creates matchup problems for slower, bigger opponents.
His ability to decide when to pass and when to look for offense in the endgame needs refinement. Some would say his decision-making requires an overhaul.
That, plus his occasional shaky handle and spongy defense, separate him from the elite performers at his position.
Of the players considered tops of the league's point guard crop, only Tony Parker, Rajon Rondo, and Chauncey Billups own championship hardware.
Derek Fisher, the richest current floor general in terms of titles won, is an outstanding role player with lion-sized testicles. He drills big-time shots in big-time games.
There is a sense among Brooks supporters that he could rise to that elite level. Those not enamored with him would send him packing in an instant if his inclusion in a trade helped lure Chris Paul or Carmelo Anthony.
Brooks will need to convince Morey and Adelman via the necessary amendments that he is indispensable. Players fitting that adjective are the ones who get extensions.
Durant was destined to reach that level from the moment the Oklahoma City Thunder picked him second in the 2007 draft. He signed an $80 million extension this summer and then led Team USA to a gold medal in Turkey.
Manu Ginobili brought the San Antonio Spurs to their knees with his superstar production in March and April, when Gregg Popovich's squad still faced the possibility of the eighth seed, or worse, the lottery.
Ginobili was part of a three-headed monster that hoisted a trio of trophies. The Spurs face the same quandary with Tony Parker.
Brooks joins Shane Battier, Jared Jefferies, Chuck Hayes, and Yao Ming on the list of Rockets with contracts that terminate come July 1, 2011.
Yao's ability to stay on the court and out of a suit will prove paramount for the futures of everyone on the roster. A playoff berth will be crucial, as will success once the team reaches the postseason. That would seem to mean at least one series victory.
"It's kind of stressful," Brooks told Feigen. "I was hoping we maybe could get something done this summer, but we couldn't, so I'm stuck in the position I'm in."
"I understand, but it's bothering me. It's the business of basketball. You have to take it like it is. I'm stuck with that."
The Rockets will get to work with agent Leon Rose when Brooks does Oct. 26. What he does in the regular season to follow up a year with career averages and the most responsibilities of his career will determine his Houston fate.
Silence from Morey does not signal a pending divorce, but the Rockets GM's continued hot pursuit of another superstar will cause many to think otherwise.
To them, silence and departure are synonyms. To the Rockets and Brooks, though, this is a routine rigmarole.
Morey will wait for Brooks to deliver a compelling on-court case for more money. NBA players, for those unaware, tend to perform at their best in contract years. Brooks will want to prove he deserves as much annual salary, or more, than Lowry.
The career backup, who signed the Cavs' offer sheet in pursuit of a starting job, will ensure Adelman thinks more than once about whether Brooks takes the floor at tipoff.
This isn't a $6 million question, or even a $2 million one. Morey paid Lowry and Scola. Where's Brooks' money?
He'll have to go find it, just as those two did. If Brooks plays up to expectations, the answer will count as a victory for both sides.
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