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Revisiting the decision to not sign John Wall to an extension this summer

NBA: Washington Wizards at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

This summer there’s been a lot of talk about whether or not John Wall is watching the pockets of other NBA players. However, there hasn’t been nearly as much talk about how the Wizards had a chance to make Wall somewhat whole over the summer.

Thanks to the rise of the cap, the Wizards had an opportunity to renegotiate and extend John Wall’s contract to essentially make him a max player under the new cap. Here’s how it works, as detailed by CBA FAQ:

A contract for four or more seasons can be renegotiated after the third anniversary of its signing, extension, or previous renegotiation (if the previous negotiation increased any season's salary by more than 4.5%). Contracts for fewer than four seasons cannot be renegotiated. A contract cannot be renegotiated between March 1 and June 30 of any year.

Only teams under the cap can renegotiate a contract, and the salary in the then-current season can be increased only to the extent that the team has room under the cap (and cannot increase the player's salary beyond the maximum salary). A renegotiation can only be used to provide a salary increase -- players can't take a "pay cut" in order to create more cap room for the team.

The Thunder and Rockers were both able to renegotiate and extend their stars because they kept the requisite space open this summer to make a deal work. To make the math work for Washington, they would have needed to keep just under $9.6 million of cap space open to bump him up to the max.

It’s unclear if there were ever any discussions between Wall and the Wizards on an extension this summer, but if there were, it’ll be difficult to resume those negotiations between now and when he hits free agency. Even though the cap is going up next season, the Wizards aren’t projected to have enough cap space to offer Wall a max extension next season, even if they were renounce all their free agents, including Otto Porter. It doesn’t get any better in the summer of 2018, since almost every player’s salary increases and no one comes off the books unless Jason Smith decides to exercise his player option.

That brings us back to the decision not to extend Wall this summer. Washington had a chance to bump Wall’s salary up to the max for the last three years of his deal and add an additional year to his deal. That additional year would have been appealing to Wall because it would allow him to be eligible for the super-max that players with ten years of service can sign.

Problem is, by keeping that space open, the Wizards would have had to restructure their spending this summer. They would have had to pass on signing Ian Mahinmi, or a combination of the other players the Wizards acquired with their cap space (Andrew Nicholson, Trey Burke, Tomas Satoransky, Jason Smith). As Matt Moore of CBS Sports explains, it’s a predicament either way:

Do you want to not extend Wall and continue to have him mad about being underpaid relative to inferior star guards at his position? Or do you want to extend Wall and have him mad about the team not being able to contend?

Given how many roster spots the team needed to fill this summer, the Wizards’ decision to invest in the latter option is understandable. But here’s where it gets muddy: How much better are the players the Wizards signed than ones they could have acquired for the minimum?

If you go off VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) the answer is pretty sobering. Ian Mahinmi was the only player the Wizards signed who posted a positive VORP last season. Trey Burke posted a VORP of 0.0, Jason Smith was -0.1, Andrew Nicholson was -0.4, and of course Tomas Satoransky is an unknown. In other words, you can at least make an argument Washington spent a big chunk of cap space on replacement-level players, and if that’s the case, they may as well have given that money to Wall and signed actual replacement-level players to minimum deals.

I know, I know. VORP, like any other all-encompassing stat, has flaws. Even the concept of a “replacement level player” is flawed in some respects. Furthermore, Burke, Smith, and Nicholson could all improve next season in a new environment. The potential upside, plus the track record of producing on an NBA level, is arguably worth the extra money.

For Washington’s sake, let’s hope it works. Wall may or may not be paying attention to what other players are earning, but he’s definitely paying attention to the standings. If Houston and Oklahoma City are in a better position at the end of next season even after choosing to invest money in their stars rather than spending on free agents, he certainly has reason to question why other players are getting the best of both worlds while he gets neither.