Will the Wizards give John Wall a max contract?
According to several persons with knowledge of the situation who talked with CSN Washington, all the signals point to the answer being yes.
"I feel like I'm a max guy, just on how I am as a person. I feel like I make my teammates better," Wall said. "I'm just a leader. I like to lead and I feel like I can change the organization. That's the way we're going with this team and how we've been playing lately."
Wall also said that he has no desire to play out the one-year qualifying offer in 2014-15 and eventually switching teams. That's good, at least.
For the rest, I have several questions.
1. What does "all the signals point to" mean? Seems pretty vague. Perhaps these sources are not directly involved in the negotiations. If so, it's worth taking this report with a grain of salt. It's early anyway, and there's still plenty of negotiating to be done.
(UPDATE: Michael sent me this tweet in response to this line. Sounds like the sources are sound, but it's still too early for anyone to say anything definitively, and the language reflects that).
@mikepradasbn FYI: Up high I make clear persons w/ "knowledge" of situation. Signals = what theyve told me, Wall + how he's playing— J. Michael(@JMichaelCSN) March 19, 2013
2. When would this supposed max contract offer come? If the idea here is that Wall will eventually be maxed out, I can understand that. This is a league where elite talent gets paid, and Wall has elite talent. If the Wizards don't work out a contract extension this summer, there will probably be enough teams waiting in the wings to offer Wall a four-year max deal. If Eric Gordon, Brook Lopez and Roy Hibbert get max offers, Wall will as well.
If the idea here is that Wall will be maxed out this summer, though, that's potentially problematic. I can understand wanting to give Wall an early extension to get him in at below the max deal, but if the plan is to just hand over a max contract this summer, that somewhat defeats the whole purpose. There's always some concern that Wall will torpedo things publicly a la Gordon if he doesn't get his deal this summer, but he has little leverage to actually do something serious with his discontent. (Also: Gordon's act, along with his lingering knee issues, has probably hurt his value around the league).
Teams negotiate these deals because they feel like they have a better chance of securing a key player at better value than they would if they let them hit restricted free agency. If you give Wall the maximum he wants, then you're obviously doing it for different reasons. Why not just wait until you have more information on whether he has legitimately earned the money?
3. Would Wall get the five-year max? This is left unsaid in Michael's piece, but it's very important. While both a four- and a five-year maximum deal would start at whatever 25 percent of the salary cap is, a team can only designate one player to receive the five-year max. If the Wizards don't give Wall that five-year max, does it mean they are saving it for Bradley Beal or some other mythical franchise-level talent they could acquire? Should they save it for Beal or Mythical Franchise Player?
This is sometimes where feelings can get hurt. Kevin Love still hasn't forgiven Minnesota for not giving him the five-year max and negotiated a third-year opt out in his deal for that reason. If Wall doesn't get the five-year max, will he resent Beal? Will Wall react in the same way Love did? Do the basketball questions about whether Wall can be a FRANCHISE PLAYER in all caps dwarf the previous questions in this paragraph?
I haven't really weighed in on the "is Wall worth the max" discussion yet because I'm waiting to see how he closes the season. The last 16 games will determine a hell of a lot for me. But for now, I will say that this is way more complicated a decision than it seems.
There are two considerations here:
1. Is Wall worth the max?
My answer: TBD. But obviously, the answer to this question determines a lot.
2. Does it matter if Wall gets the max and he's not worth it?
Yes, but it might not be as big a deal as some think. I think it depends on degrees. If Wall gets the five-year max and isn't worth it, that's a much bigger problem than if he gets the four-year max and isn't worth it, simply because that means the Wizards can't use the five-year max on a player better than Wall.
I think it's easy to lose track of two important points here. One, if the debate over whether Wall is worth $13.5 million or, say, $10-11 million causes the Wizards to lose Wall, it's bad. Finding players that you can build your franchise around is incredibly difficult. You have to suck for a while and get a number of high draft picks, roll the dice on a Tier B free agent or hope a supplemental youngster (like, say, Beal or next year's lottery pick) raises his game beyond expectations. No matter how one feels about Wall, it's going to be practically difficult for the Wizards to hypothetically replace him.
And why would he need to be replaced? Because you haggled with him over $3 million a year? Doesn't really seem worth it to me.
Second, you sometimes need to overpay for premium talent. It is significantly easier to find a $1.5 million guy to produce what's worth $4 million than to find an $11 million guy to produce what's worth $14 million. (The Wizards have done just that this year with Martell Webster, for example). As Tom Ziller noted in his most cost-efficient contract piece yesterday, the practical value of bargains isn't their bang for the buck, it's that they allow you to overpay a bit to keep your core pieces while maintaining some salary-cap flexibility.
Having these players allows you to have salary cap space to spend on the more expensive players whose production you also need. If you can get starter-level production out of your $800,000 second-round pick or your $1.1 million bargain bin free agent, you can spend big money on players who can produce but come with a much higher price.
Basically, if the Wizards overvalue Wall a bit by giving him a max deal, it just means that they have to work harder to find the next Martell Webster. That's a hell of a lot easier than finding the next person to replicate Wall's importance to the franchise at 75 percent of the cost.
The answer just isn't simple here. Hopefully, the Wizards figure out the best solution, but it's not going to be easy.