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Winderman: Trying to make sense of rookie contract extensions

Nov 1, 2012, 2:56 PM EST

Daryl Morey, James Harden AP

On many levels it makes sense that the NBA’s deadline for rookie-scale extensions is Oct. 31.

Because while there are many treats (for the players involved), there also can be more than a few tricks (down the road when it comes to teams’ salary caps and luxury taxes).

James Harden? He deserved as much as anybody (although the max is another issue, and we’ll get to that later).

DeMar DeRozan and Jrue Holiday at $10 million plus per season? Really?

For that matter, more per season for DeRozan and Holiday than Taj Gibson, a player who actually has helped drive his team deep into the playoffs, even if as a reserve?

First let’s start at the crux of all NBA contracts: the presence of a maximum salary.

NBA negotiations no longer are about per-for-performance, at least not at the top end. Instead, it’s a matter of a player essentially saying, “How much you got?”

With established maximum-salary levels, players know exactly how much their own teams have, since the salary-cap, even in its post-lockout draconian form, still allows teams to exceed the cap to retain incumbent free agents or impending free agents.

To the Thunder’s credit, Sam Presti drew a line in the sand, computed Harden’s request for five years at $80 million and balked.

It was the right move, because with the Thunder, Harden never would reach leading-man status, not behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

In Houston, he yet could prove worth the money.

And that’s something hard to say with just about every other rookie-scale extension negotiated outside of Gibson, and perhaps Ty Lawson.

Even if Gibson hits his incentives and reaches $38 million over four seasons, he already has proven to be worth considerably more than Carlos Boozer (which is why Boozer will be amnestied after this season and Gibson will receive a role commensurate with his new deal).

Otherwise?

Stephen Curry at $44 million over four seasons? To what, miss shots and sit out games for the Warriors? Yes, he has shown he can be special, he just hasn’t done it over an extended period, the perfect reason to allow him to become restricted, which still would have had the Warriors in control, while also getting another season to get a read.

DeMar DeRozan at $40 million over four seasons? This is why the Raptors are the Raptors, consistently living in fear that they won’t be able to lure prime free agents (they won’t), so they instead squander on anyone willing to stay north of the border. And continue to chase a No. 8 seed and one-and-done playoff fate in perpetuity.

Jrue Holiday at $41 million over four seasons? Question: Is Holiday among the top half of point guards in the league? Answer: No. Question: Will he ever be? Answer: The 76ers are gambling eight figures a season on that prospect. A nice player? Sure. But the NBA’s new economy supposedly is not a place for nice players to make very-nice money.

Ty Lawson at $48 million over four seasons? We’re not talking Harden money here, but something closer to it than the other extensions in this rookie class. And yet, based on the star-less system the Nuggets supposedly are constructing, there is something to be said about making sure the motor of the offense is sated. In many ways, the Nuggets are Lawson, the little team that could. In Denver’s economy, this is a move that makes more sense than some of the above.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at @IraHeatBeat.

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