Every year, it's a big storyline in NBA circles: the Nov. 1 deadline for teams to sign their fourth-year players to extensions of their rookie-scale contracts.
Last November, the big headliner of the 2006 draft class was the Celtics' Rajon Rondo. The top lottery picks from that summer — Andrea Bargnani, LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy — had all worked out their deals long in advance, and Rondo was the one notable straggler as Nov. 1 approached. At the last minute, the C's struck a deal with their young point guard, inking a five-year, $55 million pact to keep Rondo in Celtic green through the summer of 2015.
This year, the buzz was about Mike Conley.
Let's make one thing clear: Conley is no Rondo. He is a combo guard with a decent outside shot and he'll probably be a fringe starter in the NBA for years to come. He's not much of a penetrator or playmaker and he's an average defender at best. He was a reach of a No. 4 overall draft pick in 2007, and while he's a decent player today at age 23, he's not the kind of guy you build a franchise around.
Evidently, the Memphis Grizzlies disagreed. Up against that Nov. 1 deadline, they signed Conley this week to a five-year extension worth $45 million.
This is yet another illustration of what's wrong with the NBA today, and it's why the association is inevitably headed for a lockout next summer. The players are obscenely overpaid to the point where something must be done to restore fiscal sanity. When a player like Conley is getting nearly eight figures per year, you know you have problems.
There's nothing wrong with LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard getting max money. Those guys put the fans in the seats and they deserve to be paid handsomely for driving the popularity of the game. It's the NBA's middle class that's the problem.
Conley's set to average $9 million over his next five seasons. Jose Calderon's contract is for about $9.8 million per. Beno Udrih is looking at nearly $7 million a year. The NBA is flooded with good-but-not-great point guards making great sums of money.
And then you have Rondo.
Five years from now, fans may look back on Rondo's extension in Boston as the best contract of the decade. In an age where NBA players are frequently and grossly overpaid, Rondo is making a relatively modest $11 million a year between now and age 29. It may sound like a lot of money, but it's nothing compared to the game's richest point guards. Chris Paul and Deron Williams will each make $15 million this season, and those figures will only go up in future years.
It's often said in the NBA that you can't win by overpaying mediocre talent. The salary cap will always drag teams down — if they're sinking eight-figure contracts into dead weight, they'll never have the resources to compete for a title.
The Celtics, on the other hand, have a cost-controlled centerpiece to their championship plans and have the cheapest superstar in the game locked down for a half-decade.