When the Memphis Grizzlies and Mike Conley Jr. reached agreement on a five-year, $40 million extension in November 2010, I had one thought: uh oh. This would not be good news for the Detroit Pistons as it attempted to re-sign guard Rodney Stuckey. And now, a year later, is news that the Pistons are having trouble coming to agreement with the restricted free agent. Stuckey reportedly has already turned down a five-year, $40-$45 million contract.
You see, NBA contracts don’t exist in a vacuum. Every new contract is based more in the precedent set by players before him and not on their actual skill level. When one player becomes overpaid agents aren’t prone to asking for less just because they know that a different team gave out a terrible contract. Now, following not just the overpaying of Mike Conley but of other players in Stuckey’s draft class, the prospects of getting him for fair value appear remote. Even with the latest collective bargaining agreement the “new normal” appears to be between $8 to $10 million a year for quality players coming off of their rookie salaries.
Thaddeus Young, selected by the Philadelphia 76ers just three spots ahead of Detroit picking Stuckey at No. 15 in the 2007 NBA draft, just signed for five years and $42 million. Or DeAndre Jordan, who inexplicably is going to be paid more than $10 million per year because he can run fast, dunk the ball, and do little else. And Marcus Thornton, a shoot-first guard, who signed a four-year, $33 million deal with the Sacramento Kings. These all help dictate what Stuckey is “worth.”
These deals are all based on the hope that they will eventually live up to what they’re being paid, and it’s always a dangerous game to play. Hopefully the Pistons are smart enough to know that it is not a game they have to play. Nobody wants to lose a young asset like Stuckey when they are in the rebuilding phase. But committing big money to a player that has yet to prove they are a difference maker can set back a rebuilding project much more than losing a player.
And, honestly, as much as Dumars likes to pay to keep his guys, I’m pretty confident that Detroit is not going to give in on Stuckey’s demands. If there is one thing Dumars has proved, it is that he likes to work fast. He knows what he wants and reaches deals with his players and free agents quickly. The fact that the sides are still far apart on a deal does not bode well for a long-term future in Detroit for Stuckey. And it is rare in today’s NBA that if a player needs to be moved, a sign-and-trade can’t be reach.