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How the Pacers’ slump could cost Paul George more than $6 million

Apr 4, 2014, 9:25 AM EDT

Kirk Hinrich, Paul George

When Paul George signed a  contract extension with the Pacers before the season, it seemed nearly a foregone conclusion he’d take advantage of the Derrick Rose Rule and receive the higher of the two possible salary paths he could take in the next five years.

All he had to do this season: Make at least the All-NBA third team (or win MVP, but achieving the latter without the former is essentially impossible).

George made the All-NBA third team last season at age 22. Previously, 43 of 56 players ever to make All-NBA so young made it the next year. And nearly half the exceptions can be explained at least in part by injury (Derrick Rose in 2011-12, Chris Bosh in 2007-08, Amar’e Stoudemire in 2005-06, Stephon Marbury in 2000-01, Michael Jordan in 1985-86) or other extenuating circumstance (Rick Barry in 1967-68).*

*Barry signed with the ABA’s Oakland Oaks that year, and though he was barred from playing due to his Warriors contract, he obviously wasn’t going to make All-NBA in the ABA, anyway.

It seemed as long George remained healthy, he’d get there – and he’s remained healthy. George has played in all 76 of the Pacers’ games this season. He’s played pretty well, too, making his second straight All-Star Game.

But that might not be enough in a season that has seen the NBA’s first-class forwards both improve from within and expand from the outside.

LeBron James and Kevin Durant will take the two All-NBA first-team spots at the position. Blake Griffin should, and likely will, also place ahead of George. That means George can fall behind only two of these players and get his higher salary:

There’s a chance Neolithic voters will punish Love for racking up empty stats while playing for a non-playoff team, but I really want to believe we’re past that. Yes, Love sometimes targets rebounds rather than contesting shots at the expense of Minnesota’s defense. Yes, the Timberwolves will miss the playoffs. But he had a fantastic season overall, and Minnesota still has a chance to finish with a winning record in a loaded Western Conference. Despite George’s defensive advantage, I would absolutely choose Love over George.

Davis’ candidacy, the next-strongest of the group in my eyes, will depend on his health down the stretch. He’s been incredible these last few weeks, really appearing as if he turned a corner. And his start to the season was solid enough to serve as a base for his closing fireworks.

If New York makes the playoffs, Anthony’s stock will go through the roof. Somehow, he’s quietly worked his butt off (even more than usual defensively) for a Knicks team that appeared to be going nowhere. Regardless of whether New York outlasts Atlanta and Cleveland, Melo has certainly given the Knicks their money’s worth heading into free agency.

Aldridge appeared to be a shoe-in earlier in the season, even an MVP candidate in the circles intent on applying the word “valuable” in an extremely team-specific manner. But the Trail Blazers and Aldridge have collectively slipped, though not so far to eliminate him from the discussion.

Nowitzki is having his best season since leading the Mavericks to the 2011 NBA championship, and Daallas’ place on the playoff fringe will draw eyeballs. If Nowitzki steps up and leads the Mavericks into the playoffs, he’ll get All-NBA consideration.

As always, Duncan has been quietly excellent. Maybe a 19-game winning will actually get voters to notice, though that accomplishment will likely have faded out from view by the time ballots are submitted. It’s possible, though, Duncan gets more All-NBA votes than George and takes a center spot. Until last season, he’d been a forward for all 13 of his All-NBA selections. That’s why Duncan is listed with the “maybe.”

The appeal of the Pacers – and by extension, George – was their team-first attitude and team-wide success. The former is headed out the window, and the latter might be going with it. Fairly or unfairly, Indiana’s late-season slump could cripple George’s All-NBA hopes.

There will be another time for more thoroughly analyzing the candidacy of George and the other forwards – and each has a couple more weeks to build their cases – but it’s definitely conceivable at least six of the bunch could finish ahead of him in All-NBA voting.

And if that happens, it would be quite costly to George.

What’s at stake? Using the latest salary-cap projections: $6,755,943 during the next five seasons.

Typically, a player’s rookie-contract extension can begin at only 25 percent of a slightly adjusted variant on the salary cap. But if he meets what are called the “5th Year 30% Max criteria,” he can negotiate a contract that starts at up to 30 percent of the adjusted cap. (Hat tip: Larry Coon for providing adjusted cap estimate)

Zach Lowe of Grantland:

The two sides struck an interesting compromise, according to several sources who have seen George’s deal: If George makes an All-NBA team this season, triggering the raise, his salary will settle at 27 percent of the cap level, instead of the full 30 percent.

The Pacers also gave George an opt-out after Year 4 of the new deal,which Mark Deeks of ShamSports.com has reflected in his salary database. Indiana was reluctant to do the opt-out, but ultimately yielded on the issue, per sources close to the talks. They’ll have the advantage of George’s Bird rights as long as he’s on the team, regardless of the opt-out clause. The main point of the “designated player” provision is to give teams the chance to lock up a franchise player they drafted for a year longer than usual. George’s deal subverts that principle, and allows him to hit the open market earlier than expected.

Here are the different versions of George’s contract –  25 percent max in blue, 27 percent max in gold – based, again, on the latest salary-cap projection.

image

Season 25% max 27% max
2014-15  $14,686,832  $15,861,779
2015-16  $15,788,344  $17,051,412
2016-17  $16,889,857  $18,241,045
2017-18  $17,991,369  $19,430,679
2018-10  $19,092,882  $20,620,312
Total  $84,449,284  $91,205,227

So, George has more incentive than the typical player to finish the season strong.

The Pacers, with a No. 1 seed on the line, probably wouldn’t mind if he does. But if he doesn’t, that might be OK, too.

On the flip side of a George-focused analysis, Indiana would have to pay him more if he makes an All-NBA team. On an obvious level, that would cost Herbert Simon real dollars. It would also limit the Pacers’ ability to re-sign Lance Stephenson and remain under the luxury-tax threshold.

Here’s how much money – using a $76.7 luxury-tax-limit estimate and assuming the Pacers 2014-15 roster is comprised of George, Stephenson, Roy Hibbert, David West, George Hill, Luis Scola, Ian Mahinmi, Chris Copeland, C.J. Watson, Solomon Hill, Donald Sloan, and two minimum-salary players – the Pacers could have under tax limit for Stephenson, depending on George’s contract.

  • George at 25 percent max: $8,985,162 starting salary,$51,664,682 over five years
  • George at 27 percent max: $7,810,215 starting salary,$44,908,739 over five years

Either way, the Pacers might be able to clear more room by waiving Scola, whose salary is only partially guaranteed depending on incentives. Indiana could also carry fewer than 13 players for portions of the season.

George, in his quest to trigger a higher salary, doesn’t have so many options. Thanks to the Pacers’ slump and a strong pool of forwards, his All-NBA candidacy is pushed further against the ropes than ever seemed possible.

It’s up to George to step up in these final six games and leave a lasting impression for All-NBA voters. A lot is at stake.

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