Initially left off the Western Conference All-Star roster, Damian Lillard passionately defended his credentials.
He eventually earned a nod as an injury replacement. But, eligible for a contract extension this offseason, Lillard surely hasn’t abandoned his faith in himself.
Lillard, sources said, has no plans to consider signing an extension less than the designated max
There is no reason for him to do so, either.
Lillard is already a star, and his track record and attitude suggest he’ll continue to improve. He’s definitely worth a max contract. If the Trail Blazers don’t offer him one, teams will line up to do so.
Lillard’s salary is locked in for next season at $4,236,287. His extension would begin in 2016-17, when the new national TV contracts are in effect.
Based on projected salary caps, Lillard’s max extension would be worth about $121 million over five years. However, the Trail Blazers could agree to pay more if he meets the Derrick Rose Rule criteria. Lillard would qualify by making an All-NBA team this season or next,* and his projected max would rise to about $145 million over five years.**
*Or winning MVP, but that’s hard to do without making All-NBA.
**If Lillard makes All-NBA this season, he and Portland can negotiate an extension with full knowledge of whether Lillard is eligible for the higher max. If not, they can put a clause in the contract that specifies what happens if Lillard makes All-NBA next season – essentially declaring a salary between his upper and lower limits.
Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul are shoe-ins at guard this season. The other two spots are up for grabs between Lillard, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Jimmy Butler and Klay Thompson.
There’s one – and only one – good reason for Portland not to offer Lillard an extension.
If Lillard signs an extension, he’d count against the cap at his 2016-17 salary when 2016 free agency begins – about $25 million with the Rose Rule and about $21 million without it.
However, if he doesn’t sign an extension, he’d count only $10,590,718 against the cap when 2016 free agency begins (250 percent of his previous salary). The Trail Blazers could use that $10 million-$15 million of created cap space and then exceed the cap to re-sign Lillard because they hold his Bird Rights. Lillard would be a restricted free agent, so he couldn’t unilaterally leave that offseason.
The potential downside for Portland? Asking Lillard to delay getting his new deal signed could fracture his relationship with the franchise. Maybe he seeks a shorter deal as a restricted free agent in 2016 – or, worst case scenario, accepts the qualifying offer and becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2017. He probably doesn’t want to put off his deal and risk injury.
But the potential reward – $10 million-$15 million of cap space – is high. Maybe Lillard would take a small risk to help his team assemble talent around him. Again, barring catastrophe, he’d get the same money either way.
This is the dilemma every team with a high-end player up for a rookie extension faces, and as the salary cap skyrockets while rookie contracts remain tied to a scale set in 2011, it will remain an issue.
The Trail Blazers should try convincing Lillard to delay. He’ll get his max contract regardless. It’s just a matter of when he officially signs. The difference is bookkeeping and cap space.
If Lillard isn’t interested in that, just give him his max extension. He’s worth it.