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Pay Kevin Martin?

We all accept Kevin Martin is one of the cornerstones of this franchise. I think most have enough clarity of mind to know he's not Jordan, Kobe, or even LeBron. He's a great young player, but he's not the singular talent who can bring title contention all by himself.

This is important to remember as the Kings get ready to negotiate a long-term deal for Martin. Between now and the start of the reason, Sacramento can offer Martin a five-year extension tacked on to the end of his current rookie deal, which expires at the end of 2007-08. If an agreement is not reached, Martin stands to become a restricted free agent next summer, meaning any team can offer him a contract with the Kings having an opportunity to match.

Though Kevin isn't LeBron or Kobe, it's important to lock him up now. He's on the rise -- his 2007-08 will surely improve on his terrific 2006-07. Rising performance leads to rising market worth, of course, and who knows what ridiculous offers some team could make next summer. (Ridiculous offers are the one constant in NBA bidding.) Fiscal responsibility and peace of mind would both point to an extension this summer as the preferred resolution.

So, how much is Martin worth? Again: he's not Kobe or LeBron. A max deal is out of the question, based on a really good season-and-a-half. Al Jefferson probably won't get the max, and power forwards > shooting guards. In fact, Dwight Howard is the only guy from the class of 2004 first round to get an extension so far, and I'd venture he'll be the only to get a max. Emeka Okafor, Josh Smith and Jefferson will get big deals, maybe $60 million for five years. Martin, along with Devin Harris, Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, and Andris Biedrins, will be in that next financial tier.

Where does Martin fit with those four? The Kings are at a disadvantage because Martin's all they've got (relatively speaking). The Bulls can't afford to lose Deng or Gordon, especially on the cusp of something special. But the Kings cannot lose Martin; that'd be disaster. With few bright spots on the roster in the midst of a rebuilding effort, Martin is the glimmer. (No offense to Flaco, Shawes, or Q.) Chicago will stop at nothing to keep Deng, but what about Gordon? I could see the Bulls playing hardball with him, letting him become an RFA next summer. Gordon's an important part of the team, but he's not so good, so promising you have to cater to his wishes. If some other team wants to give Ben $10 million, I think the Bulls would glad let them. Geoff Petrie doesn't have the same luxury with Martin -- watch him leave, and you've got nothing.

Biedrins, being a young center, might get overpaid. I could also see the Warriors waiting on him in case they'd like to include him in a trade this season -- they're trying to win now. It's much harder to trade a guy who has a lucrative contract due (known as a 'base year compensation' player). Harris is a bizarre case (clearly not in the Chris Paul/Deron Williams tier, but better than Kirk Hinrich/Luke Ridnour), and who knows how much Dallas is willing to pay to keep him. Luckily for us, Martin has some relatively apt comparisons in the league.

Richard Hamilton will make $9.7 million this year. Tayshaun Prince will make $8.6 million. Josh Howard is on a roughly $10 million per year deal (which he signed last summer). Gerald Wallace just signed for $57 million over six years. Jason Richardson is overpaid at an average of $12.5 million over the next four seasons. Michael Redd is on a max contract, making $14.5 million this season. Richard Jefferson will make $12.2 million. Corey Maggette (who's considered underpaid) is due $7.8 million. Manu Ginobili will make $9 million. Caron Butler will make $8.2 million.

I actually think Butler's contract is the best comparison. Folks knew Butler was good before he got that extension with Washington -- not franchise-player good, but cornerstone good. He signed a five-year, $46 million extension two summers ago. Martin would seem to be in a slightly more prominent position; Butler had moved around (in the Shaq and Kwame Brown trades) and despite a big rookie season hadn't shown true All-Star glimpses. Martin was an outside All-Star contender last season -- coincidentally, he and Caron would have been key rivals for the East's last guard spot had Martin been in that conference. Given all that, I think we can expect Martin to get a somewhat larger contract than Butler.

But how much is too much? Josh Howard got a four-year, $40 million extension last summer. I thought that was a fantastic deal for Dallas -- and I think Howard and Martin are comparable in team impact (though they do it in vastly different ways). Of course, I'd love to see a full five-year extension for Martin, so that would tease out to five years, $52 million. Since I think Howard's deal was so good, I should be happy with a slightly larger deal for Martin, right? So I think five years, $56 million would be the 'good taste in my mouth' cut-off.

I suspect the deal will be closer to the Howard's pro-rated deal (the $52 million). I hope it's closer to Butler's (with no offense to Martin; I just really want him to contend for a title in Sacramento, you know?).

Regardless, I pray it happens this summer. We just can't wait for Kevin to become a full-fledged star before we pay him.

UPDATE: Henry Abbott of True Hoop wonders: "My concern would be: why would Kevin Martin sign it? The direction of the Kings as a team is 100% bizarro at this point." My response: I'm told he just closed on a house here in July, and he genuinely seems to like the town and his young teammates.