Philadelphia 76ers player K.J. McDaniels has been the biggest surprise of the loaded 2014 NBA Draft.
The Sixers picked him 32nd overall, but he has outplayed almost everyone taken in the first round. He’s ranked third among rookies in points per game, behind only Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins. He’s fifth among rookies in PER — an advanced metric that measures a player’s efficiency and total impact on the game.
On a Philly team that has been one of the worst in NBA history (on purpose), he has been a bright spot.
The Sixers are in complete tanking mode, but McDaniels is the type of young player they’d be wise to hang on to for the future.
The problem is that McDaniels has one of the more unusual contract situations in the NBA. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo reported before the season that the Sixers offered him a four-year deal, with the first two years guaranteed and the last two years non-guaranteed. If McDaniels had signed that deal, he would have made more than $US1 million no matter what, but he also wouldn’t have been able to enter free agency until 2018. The Sixers have offered this same deal to other second rounders, Woj reports, and the players typically take it.
McDaniels didn’t take it.
Instead, he signed a one-year deal at the league minimum of $US507,336 with $US0 in guaranteed money. It’s the cheapest contract he could have possibly signed under NBA rules. Right now he’s the 398th highest-paid player in the NBA (out of 401 current players).
It was a huge gamble. The Sixers could have cut him in training camp and he wouldn’t have earned a dime. But if he has a monster rookie year, he’ll become a free agent next summer and make way more money than the team originally offered him.
Grantland’s Zach Lowe says he’s going to cash in if he keeps playing well:
They can make McDaniels a restricted free agent with a one-year, $US1.2 million qualifying offer — guaranteeing themselves the right to match any offer McDaniels receives from another team. If McDaniels blows up, the Sixers can match such an offer or just re-sign him into their cap space. If he doesn’t, McDaniels could just sign that $US1.2 million qualifying offer and enter restricted free agency again a year later.
This is a negotiating loss for Philly, and a win for players who want control of their futures. More second-rounders picked in the 30s should at least think about this route, though it can be scary, especially for players with urgent financial needs.
Right now it looks like this gamble is going to pay off. The Sixers have the cap room to keep him, but it will be at a higher number than they expected.
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