Dynasties often begin with luck. And in the case of Golden State Warriors, dynastic luck came in the form of a bargain.
The day before the Warriors opened up the 2012-13 season, they signed Stephen Curry to a 4-year, $44 million extension. While this deal may seem like an absurd underpay in hindsight, it was a risk on the part of Golden State at the time. Curry had just missed the last 40 games of the 2011-12 season due to multiple right ankle sprains, undergone arthroscopic surgery for the second consecutive summer, and also sprained that ankle again right before the 2012-13 season started.
But the Warriors took the risk anyway, and then they obviously reaped the benefits. Curry became the greatest shooter ever and changed the game of basketball as the Warriors won their first title in 2014-15. His reduced contract would later almost become as valuable as himself, as the Warriors were later able to sign Kevin Durant to a max contract alongside Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. This, of course, wouldn’t have been possible if Curry had been healthy when he was younger and received a more fitting contract.
On Monday, the Memphis Grizzlies announced that they had re-signed Jaren Jackson Jr. to a 4-year, $105 million contract extension. And while this deal doesn’t represent the same level of bargain that the Warriors got for Curry, it could pay dividends in what the Grizzlies can do competitively with greater salary flexibility down the road.
First, let’s get one thing straight. Jaren Jackson Jr. is good. Really good. I’ve been harder on him than anyone, and I may have half-jokingly called him a glorified Andrea Bargnani last spring, but he’s genuinely one of the more unique young big men that the league has ever seen. Outside of Karl-Anthony Towns, he’s the most prolific shooter at his size in NBA history. At 7’0”, can create off the bounce against almost anyone, from both the perimeter and the post.
Even from just purely the eye-test, I can tell you that Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett didn’t have this in their bag.
Il tuo 213cm che raccoglie palla da terra, fa un crossover e stepback da 3. Esegue Jaren Jackson Jr pic.twitter.com/Wy6Z9hk8gu— Francesco Semprucci (@fra_sempru) October 16, 2021
For a player of his overall talent, he was clearly on a trajectory to receive a rookie max extension like the other young stars in his draft class. Luka Doncic, Trae Young, and Michael Porter Jr. both received 5-year, rookie-scale super-max extensions with the possibility of earning up to $207 million on those deals. If Jaren had continued his progress from year 2, in which looked almost every bit of what you want a modern big man to be, without tearing his meniscus, it’s likely that he would have joined their company.
Even now, it is still exceedingly possible, if not outright likely, that a still just 22-years-old Jaren can become a bonafide star. Now it does make sense that Jaren himself would take a long-term extension less than the max considering that nearly half of his NBA career has been spent out with injury. I’m sure that he believes he’ll still be a star, but it was still a financially sensible decision on his part. Yet if he had played through this season while demonstrating the tangible improvement that he already has in preseason, he would almost definitely get the rookie-scale max extension.
So the fact that the Grizzlies were able to get him on not only a much cheaper contract, but also one that declines (he will receive just over $56 million over the first two years, but just under $49 million over the last two), means that the Grizzlies now have much greater flexibility as Ja Morant and Jaren enter their primes than they otherwise would have.
It probably won’t mean that a Kevin Durant caliber player will be walking through the door (it’s still Memphis after all). But it will allow room for the Grizzlies to target another max-level player along with other complementary pieces, especially two or so years from now. That’s how a small-market like Memphis can create a potential dynasty, or a perennial contender at the very least.
Because if you want to a create a future dynasty in a place like Memphis, continuity is key. Not only do the Grizzlies have Jaren locked up for the next 5 years counting this season, but Ja Morant has now gotten to see that the Grizzlies can and will take care of their franchise cornerstones. While that doesn’t absolutely mean that the Grizzlies will be able to re-sign Morant when his inevitable max extension comes to an end, the fact that they have taken care of one of their main guys early will undoubtedly help them compete in the present while also bolstering their argument for future contention as well.
No matter how far off it may seem, these types of decisions definitely affect the future. It wasn’t an identical situation, but the Utah Jazz delayed re-signing Gordon Hayward in the summer of 2013 — a year before his restricted free agency — and they ended up matching a relatively meager offer the following summer, which allowed him to walk just three years later to the Celtics who would take care of him.
There’s still time for it to work out, but the Phoenix Suns are playing with fire by not giving DeAndre Ayton — a more established player than Jaren in the same draft class who just started on a Finals team at 23 — a max extension before the deadline yesterday. They’ll inevitably end up giving him one when he enters restricted free agency next year, yet when it comes time for him to enter unrestricted agency, he may, like Gordon Hayward, just remember how the team that drafted him didn’t take care of him when they should have.
But the Memphis Grizzlies will not deal with such problems. Jaren Jackson Jr. is here to stay, and his presence as a rising star should pay off both now and in the future.