Portland Trail Blazers star LaMarcus Aldridge will be one of the most coveted free agents when he hits the open market this summer.
While teams with cap space will surely try to pursue him, Aldridge has given every indication that he would like to stay with the Trail Blazers for the foreseeable future.
No matter where he wants to play, his best option may be to sign a one-year deal this summer and become a free agent again in 2016.
Not only is the NBA’s salary cap going to spike in 2016 — creating larger salaries than the league has ever seen — but Aldridge will hit a career milestone that will help him earn even more money than he could make now.
In the NBA, maximum salaries are tied to time spent in the NBA. As Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ breaks down, players with zero-to-six years of experience get maximum contracts that are 25% of the salary cap, players with seven-to-nine years of experience get maximum contracts that are 30% of the salary cap, and players with 10 years or more get 35% of the cap.
Aldridge is in his ninth season in the NBA. After 2016, he’ll have 10 years of experience, meaning he’ll be eligible for the maximum contract possible.
Instead of making 30% of the $US66 million cap this summer, Aldridge could make 35% of the $US88-92 million cap in 2016 and beyond.
As ProBasketball Talk’s Dan Feldman broke down in detail, if Aldridge signs a one-year deal this summer — worth about $US19 million in the 2015-16 season — he could become a free agent in 2016 and a sign a much larger long-term contract.
The Blazers would have the advantage here, as they own Aldridge’s Bird rights. They can offer him a five-year deal with 7.5% annual raises, whereas other teams can only offer a four-year deal with 4.5% raises.
If Aldridge re-signs with the Blazers on a max contract in 2015, he would be looking at a five-year, $US109 million deal running through 2019-2020.
But as Feldman points out, if he signs a one-year contract in 2015 worth $US19 million, and then re-signs with the Blazers in 2016 on a max deal, he could earn $US189 million through 2020-21 — an $US80 million difference!
Even if Aldridge chooses to change teams in 2016, he could still get a four-year deal worth $US145 million elsewhere.
There are inherent risks with this type of move. If Aldridge doesn’t commit long term this summer, he’d be taking a gamble on himself that he’ll still be considered an elite, maximum player in 2016. Aldridge turns 30 this summer, a serious injury next year could wipe away the opportunity to sign a max deal when he’s 31 in 2016.
He’d be one serious injury away from ruining his chances at a big contract in 2016, but turning down the opportunity for $US80 million more could be too tough to pass up.
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