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Kings Would Be Foolish to Extend Spencer Hawes's Contract in 2010

With the end of Spencer Hawes's third season as a King comes a bit of uncertainty about his future here. This summer, beginning July 1, Hawes is eligible for an "early extension" of his rookie scale contract. Such an extension would take effect for the 2011-12 season. No matter what, Hawes is under contract for $2.97 million for the 2010-11 season, quite a bargain for a starting center, and even a fair salary for a rotation center.

The question of whether to extend Hawes has no bearing on his presence next season. The Kings have jumped on early extensions in the past, signing Kevin Martin to a five-year, $55 million extension after his third season and inking Francisco Garcia to a four-year, $23.2 million extension (with a fifth year team option at $6.4 million) before his fourth season. Martin's extension worked out great -- Kev continued to improve as a player, and was and is still seen as a relative bargain as a low eight-figure player. Garcia's has been less of a success; while the 2009-10 season is the first under Garcia's new contract, there's no doubt that if the Kings would have allowed El Flaco to reach restricted free agency in the summer of 2009, he would have ended up with a far smaller committment than $23 million over four season. (Add in that due to injury, the resurgence of Beno Udrih, the beautiful rookie campaign of Tyreke Evans and the plethora of mid-level small forward talent, he hasn't been too important to the team's success this season.) The Kings' experience in this realm fits with the NBA standard: some early extensions, particularly for really good players, works out, while some early extensions, particularly those for mid-level talent, don't work out.

Re-read that sentence, and tell me straight off the bat whether Hawes should get an extension offer this summer.

Beyond that basic assessment -- Hawes isn't productive enough to justify an eight-figure annual contract -- there are myriad extenuating circumstances lining up against an extension.

  • It's unlikely Hawes will be unchallenged as the team's starting center. In other words, he will be challenged for that starting spot. He was challenged this season, with the team short on big men -- Sean May opened the season as the starting center, Jason Thompson had a stretch of usurption, Jon Brockman earned a couple starts. The Kings will have a top-7 pick, and this is a draft of big men (whereas last season's draft was full of point guards). DraftExpress's current mock lists eight of the top 14 picks as centers, power forwards or combo bigs ... and that doesn't include the combo forwards like Wes Johnson or Al-Farouq Aminu. If Hawes ends up as the first or second big off the bench, you don't want to be left holding the bag on a sizable contract.
  • The 2011 collective bargaining agreement is sure to decrease salaries, which makes any contract which is signed this summer dangerous. If somehow the cap shrinks dramatically, or even worse becomes a hard cap, salaries could fall sharply in 2011 (assuming there's no lock-out). Given that no matter what Hawes will be a $2.97-million Kings center next season, there's little risk in waiting. Even if Hawes breaks out next season and becomes worthy of a big salary, contract size is expected to fall in the new CBA. Signing him now ignores all that.
  • The Kings seem to have mixed feelings about Hawes. The franchise's front office and coaching staff were truly upset Hawes didn't make Vegas Summer League last July. Don't underestimate the impact that had on Paul Westphal's relationship with Hawes, further manifested in that February blow-up between the pair. You can hear it in Truck Robinson's criticisms of Hawes, too -- that he talks back, that he thinks he knows better than the coaches. Last fall, an NBA source told me Hawes continues to have more value around the league than Thompson, primarily because of his age and skill level. By midseason, that had flipped completely: if offered either in a trade, most teams would now take Thompson. The Kings might agree.
  • The knee. You hate to use this as a reason to delay someone's payday, but Hawes's knee continues to loom. He will have missed seven games this season due to the knee, as well as the final game of last season and the first month of his rookie season. He's had four surgeries, and he's only 21. On the whole, chronic injury concerns are overstated in the NBA -- Martin's broken thumb has nothing to do with his strained groin or ankle bone spurs, for example. But Hawes's knee has been the source of much consternation.

It kills me to say it, because I'm a big fan of Hawes, he's been good to the site (see: Peaches t-shirt), his defense has improved dramatically, and he's still on a good path in terms of future production. But the team has been too generous with these early extensions in the past, refusing to use restricted free agency as a weapon against the players. It's time that ended. There's no reason to extend Hawes this summer.