The narratives of the NBA offseason are largely dominated by free agent signings and trades, but contract extensions have in themselves provided another wrinkle into the offcourt yet eagerly anticipated side of the NBA.
Darius Garland and Zion Williamson “quietly” signed 5-year, $193-million contract extensions with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the New Orleans Pelicans, respectively, with both deals going as high as $231 million depending on whether Garland or Williamson hit certain marks or earn specific accolades.
Extensions of this scale are great for Garland and Williamson, who both averaged more than 20 points per game in their most recent playing seasons. Certainly, the Cavaliers and the Pelicans are happy with the early returns as both entered the league in 2019 and will be 22 years old by the time the NBA opens its 76th season sometime in October.
However, the similarities pretty much end there.
Garland has made strides with each passing season, raising his per scoring average by around 4.7 points through three NBA seasons without compromising his efficiency. His assists have also gone up over the years, and the loss of Collin Sexton following surgery to repair a torn meniscus on his left knee only showed that the former Vanderbilt Commodore wasn’t fazed by the heavier workload.
Cleveland rewarded Garland’s efforts and production with a max extension that is reportedly the largest contract in franchise history. That the Cavaliers were quite close to advancing to the NBA postseason for the first time since 2018 was obviously a factor and the 2022 NBA All-Star was a major contributor to that. The timing is also perfect for Cleveland as they can continue to build the team around him, Sexton, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen.
Meanwhile, Williamson has been great when healthy, with healthy (or perhaps HEALTHY) being the operative word.
Garland himself entered the NBA with some questions surrounding his health after having surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee that ended his lone college season at Vanderbilt after five games. After missing only six games in his rookie year, he has missed 14 games in the last two seasons but considering his body of work, they pale in comparison to Williamson’s. whose torn meniscus delayed his season debut and fractured foot forced him to miss the 2022-2023 NBA season.
In the past, teams have valued players based on potential and during the time he was on the court, Williamson past performances have only added fuel to how New Orleans views his potential when healthy. The South Carolina native has had the distinction of being the only NBA player to average 27 points on 60 percent field goal shooting in a single season and 25 points on 60 percent field goal shooting over two seasons.
Of course, these come from 85 games through three seasons, which is a small sample size considering how a typical NBA season runs for 82 games As per ESPN, those 85 games would be the fewest number of games played by a overall top pick after three seasons following David Robinson and Greg Oden, who both only played 82 games during that span.
The max extension could be a bargain or a burden depending on how the next five years pan out for Williamson. Williamson on the court during wins and playoff appearances will be a reflection of how the Pelicans made a savvy deal that kept a solid core of him, Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum, Jonas Valanciunas, and Herb Jones together. Missed games and losses piling up will only raise issues on roster flexibility considering that max contracts take up a significant portion (more or less 25-35 percent) of the salary cap.
NBA teams are, of course, entitled to award contracts how they please, but outsiders can’t at times fathom the risks these front offices take. The desire to win and succeed in the NBA can at times be blinding, which is my careful consideration is key.
Young athletes getting extensions are also well and good, especially as it helps them provide for their families. You just hope that things work in their favor so they have fruitful careers, both financially and on the court.
Darius Garland and Zion Williamson have agreed to max-contract extensions with their respective teams and that’s great, but how it all works out remains a question mark. What this whole exercise has brought out though, is that value is in the eyes of the beholder.