Thursday, July 25, 2013

On John Wall's Proposed Extension

John Wall is in talks to sign a large extension. Is it the right move? (Flickr)
By Jeremy Conlin @jeremy_conlin

Reports started to circle this morning that the Washington Wizards are in discussions with point guard John Wall about a contract extension. The figures were not officially disclosed but are expected to be in the five-year, $80 million range. Here's a quick breakdown:

The Good:
  • John Wall is a good basketball player. He had a PER of 20.8 in 2013, which was 6th among point guards - only Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, Kyrie Irving, and Stephen Curry sported higher scores. Last season, the Wizards were 5-28 with Wall out of the lineup, 24-25 with him in the lineup. That 24-25 record with Wall, prorated to the full season, would have had the Wizards in the playoffs. On top of that, he's only 22 years old, so he'll likely continue to improve. 

The Bad:
  •  Wall missed 33 games last season and another 13 in 2011, his rookie season (although it should be noted that he played 66 of 66 in 2012). Another young point guard, Steph Curry, saw his extension drop from possibly a similar five-year max deal to a four-year, $44 million deal because of injury worries. Perhaps it's a false equivalency, because Curry's injury was seen as a chronic issue that could continue to cause problems down the road, while Wall's is seen as a one-time injury that he's fully recovered from, but over the course of their first three seasons, Wall has missed about the same number of games (46) as Curry did (50).
  • Much of Wall's improvement in 2013 came from improved shooting from the 3-10 foot range, sometimes known as the "floater" range - it's not a shot right at the rim, but it's not quite a jump shot, either. He shot 43% from this area in 2013, compared to just 29% in 2012 and 26% in 2011. Is this improvement a fluke or is it sustainable?
  • An $80 million extension would put him in a class with Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose. Other guards his age, including Curry, Ty Lawson, Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo, Tyreke Evans, Mike Conley, and others, have salaries in the $9-12 million range. Most of the evidence we have suggests Wall is closer to Curry, Lawson, Rondo, and the rest, than he is to Westbrook and Rose. But he'll be paid in the elite group.
  • If Wall doesn't sign this extension, he will become a restricted free agent next summer. Unless he wins the MVP next season (highly unlikely), the largest contract he'll be eligible for on the open market will be four years, $64 million, which is basically the same contract they're looking to ink him to now (just for one fewer year). Wouldn't it make more sense to take another season  to see him at full strength before making an $80 million commitment? The only thing they have to gain by inking him to a contract now is a 5th season. 
All things considered, a 5-year, $80 million extension is probably an over-pay by the Wizards. They're taking on more risk than they absolutely need to at this point in time. Usually, the point of offering an extension before a player's rookie contract expires is either to (1) use leverage of recency to sign a player below market value - like what happened with Steph Curry, or (2) to lock up a sure-fire max player as soon as possible - like what happened with Blake Griffin or Derrick Rose. This doesn't feel like either of those scenarios. They're clearly not getting Wall to sign below his market value; they're offering the maximum extension. And I don't believe that Wall is a sure-fire max player like Griffin or Rose.

All that being said, don't the Wizards kind of HAVE to give Wall this contract? On some level, they have to bet on Wall becoming that max-level superstar if they want to have any hope of competing for a title. It's a commitment to Wall, but also to their fans who have dealt with crappy teams for the better part of the last 30 years.  They could probably play hardball with Wall and end up saving $10 million over the course of the contract, but at what cost? Creating a toxic relationship between a star player and management, which seemed to be happening in Minnesota until David Kahn was forced out? If Washington wants to avoid even the mere appearance of friction between Wall and the front office (which could filter throughout the organization, and potentially affect negotiations with Bradley Beal down the road), giving him a max extension is the right move.

Final conclusion: It's a risky move, but there are enough reasons to believe it's worth the risk. It's not a no-brainer decision, but certainly defensible.

1 comment :

Kevin said...

Good stuff. I would like to see the Wiz wait and make Wall show them he can play a full 82 games, but I get the impulse to lock him up and show that they are committed to what they appear to be building. It's about building goodwill and appearances for other good players around the league will recognize that they're taking care of their best player, which could help in free agency, you'd hope.