Kyrie Irving may indeed privately wish to set sail from the shores of Lake Erie for supposedly greener pastures, but before freaking out about it you should get to know why the CBA makes that extremely impractical and unlikely for him to do.
Irving is in the midst of the third year of his rookie deal. The way first round picks currently work under the CBA is that they are offered two-year guaranteed deals and the teams have separate options for the third and fourth years, along with a deadline to pick up those options. With Irving, and really most rookies, those options are no-brainers for teams.
Rookie deals are the most valuable contracts in the NBA currently due to the fact that there is almost no negotiating room for the player and his salary is determined solely by the position he is drafted in: the higher the pick, the higher the salary. Thus, players on rookie deals often over-perform their pay grade. In the case of players like Irving, they outperform it by a wide margin. Even if fans are disillusioned with his supposed lack of leadership and the fact that he hasn’t won a whole of lot of basketball games, on an open market Kyrie would be making almost triple his current $5.6 million salary.
Players on their rookie deals are eligible for contract extensions from their current team in the summer following their third season, which is what Irving is currently headed toward. The maximum length of an extension is four years with one exception, the “Designated Player” rule. This rule allows teams to select one player on a rookie deal for a five-year extension. Oklahoma City used this rule to give Kevin Durant five years while only being able to offer Russell Westbrook four. David Kahn, the former GM of the Timberwolves, famously decided to save Minnesota’s “Designated Player” slot for Ricky Rubio and in the process upset Kevin Love, causing him to push for a player option for the fourth year of his deal which will allow him to bolt Minnesota early if he so desires.
The contract offered to Irving this summer will in all likelihood be the largest the Cavs can offer within the CBA. That is for five years and somewhere around $80 million. The yearly salary is derived from 25% of the salary cap. Irving is also potentially eligible for the “Derrick Rose” rule due to his selection as a starter in this year’s All-Star game. The “Derrick Rose” rule allows “Designated Players” to instead earn 30% of the salary cap if they meet any of the following criteria before the start of their new contract: win a MVP, be selected to start in two All-Star games or be named to an All-NBA team twice.
If Irving is voted in as starter again in 2015, then he will be eligible for this pay raise assuming he signs the extension. James Harden was eligible for this raise, but failed to meet the requirements; the first year of his “Designated Player” deal was worth $13,668,750. Paul George is going to enter the first year of his “Designated Player” deal next season and, seeing as he is probably going to make his second All-NBA Team, will meet the requirements raising his pay to $15,800,000 in the first year of the deal.
But What if Kyrie Doesn’t Sign the Extension?
If Kyrie fails to sign any offer put forth by the Cavaliers by October 31, 2014, then Kyrie will not only be the first player to turn down the “Designated Player” contract, but he will have already cost himself a decent amount of money. If a player on his first contract enters the summer following his fourth season without an extension then the team can either rescind his rights (not happening) or offer him a Qualifying Offer, which is a one-year deal valued at 125% of the player’s previous season salary. Irving’s Qualifying Offer would be around $9 million.
The player then can accept the offer (which almost never happens), and become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the one-year deal, or decline it, at which time he becomes a restricted free agent. Once the player becomes a restricted free agent, his current team has three days to match any offer sheet signed by the player from another team. Thus, players in restricted free agency are ultimately still controlled by their current team.
Irving cannot make as much money in restricted free agency as he could by accepting the “Designated Player” contract. Not only that, but it doesn’t give him any control of where he plays. If he’s going to turn down an extension, it’s hard to see him not opting to take the Qualifying Offer and in doing so becoming the first player to turn down a mega-contract coming off their rookie deal in an effort to enter free agency early. Seeing as Irving is likely to qualify for the “Derrick Rose” rule mentioned earlier the difference between the money he’d make under the Qualifying Offer and an extension with the Cavaliers in the 2015-2016 season alone is around $7 million. Not to mention the fact that Irving can only get a four-year deal in free agency where as he can get a five-year deal with the Cavs.
Following the blowout loss to the Knicks on TNT, Irving was quoted as saying:
“Do I privately want out when my contract is up?’ I’m still in my rookie contract and I’m happy to be here. And I’m pretty sure I’m going to be here for a long time. I’m not saying anything to tell the future, but I’m pretty sure the relationship I have with Dan Gilbert and management extends off the court. I enjoy being here.”
The fact that he mentioned he’s still on his rookie contract in a response to him wanting to be here implies an understanding from Kyrie that even if he did want out of Cleveland, it would cost him risking way too much money to do so and ultimately the notion is impractical. In all probability he will be plying his basketball trade in Cleveland for the next five or six years. It’s up to Gilbert to convince him to stay beyond that.
Photo: Scott Sargent/WFNY