Point Guards and Supermax Contracts Don’t Mix

The 2019 All-NBA teams came out Thursday, and the biggest winners out of all 15 players included on the list were Damian Lillard and Kemba Walker.

By virtue of their second and third-team selections respectively, both are now eligible for the NBA’s “supermax” extension in their next contracts.

If your first reaction to the term “supermax contract” is “oh gods, no”, then you’re probably a Wizards (John Wall), Rockets (Chris Paul), or possibly even a Thunder (Russell Westbrook) fan.

Each of those players will be making well over $40 million by 2023, and each one of those players has either already turned 30 or will next season.

And if we’ve learned anything from the NBA over the years, it’s that point guard is one of the first positions that gets ravaged by aging, as quickness—the biggest attribute a shorter player has—starts to go before strength or athleticism, and let’s face it, the reason Robert Parish and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played past 40 wasn’t because they were quick, it’s because until you’re old and gray, you don’t get any shorter.

Sure, there are exceptions to this rule; John Stockton was 40 when he retired, and Jason Kidd was also 40, but neither of those guys used quickness and explosive moves to be effective. They were assist machines in old-school guard-dominant offenses with a lot of pick-and-rolls.

Westbrook is an assist machine too, although we could argue all day about his counting stat gunning. But his shooting’s already gone off a cliff.

Wall can’t stay on the court; he’s played just 73 games combined in the past two seasons.

And Chris Paul has missed 20 or more games due to injury five times in the last eight seasons and just turned 34.

If all of this is making the Blazers and Hornets fans in the audience rethink their life decisions about wanting to keep Lillard and Walker, that’s the point.

Yes, Lillard is one of the best point guards in the league. His playoff heroics finally got his team to the conference finals, and there’s no shame in getting your butts kicked by the Warriors. Everyone gets their butts kicked by the Warriors.

But Lillard is also about to turn 29, and if the Blazers are truly serious about extending him with a supermax when he’s already making a Rose Rule extension after his rookie deal, he’ll be an NBA pensioner making around $50 million just like those guys already mentioned.

The Blazers could get another chance to pick a center first or second overall who turns into a massive draft bust or can’t stay healthy (LaRue Martin, Bill Walton, Sam Bowie, and Greg Oden, anyone?) once Lillard’s in street clothes most of the time, the team is capped out, and they can’t make any real moves in free agency.

And that’s before we consider that whoever voted to put Kemba Walker on an All-NBA team had to have been smoking something from Tyreke Evans’ secret stash.

Walker, one of the worst clutch players in NBA history, is eligible for a truly ridiculous contract at a time when over in my other capacity as a Pacers fan I’ve been all over Twitter trying to talk my fellow Indiana diehards out of calling for the Pacers to acquire Walker at any price this summer, never mind a supermax price.

He is, very simply, going to be an albatross.

Sure, Stephen Curry’s doing just fine on his supermax extension in Golden State, but that’s less because Steph isn’t running into the same issues all these over-30 point guards do—Steph has missed 44 games in the past two seasons and hasn’t been consistently healthy since he got hurt during the 2016 playoffs, and he’s 31 years old—and more because the Warriors have become the destination for midlevel exception ring chasers and ring chasers of a slightly more expensive stripe in the form of Kevin Durant.

Curry will make nearly $46 million in 2021-22, but does anyone seriously expect a 34-year-old Steph to be worth anywhere near that kind of money? He might be out of the league by then if his ankles finally give out for good.

Mike Conley, before there was such a thing as a supermax deal, got as much money as Memphis could give him in 2016. The 31-year-old (he’ll be 32 in October) has since missed a season and a half’s worth of games, seen his team completely collapse around him, will go down as one of if not the best player never to make an All-Star game, and oh by the way will still make $32.5 million next year.

He’s another guy that Pacers fans should be fearing, not embracing, as should every other team that might try to acquire him. Unless Memphis is willing to take the 18th pick for Conley, the Pacers should run not walk away.

How much more evidence do you need that you should not, repeat, absolutely should not give a supermax contract to a point guard?

If your team does this, you might have a good year left, maybe two, before your capped-out mid-aughts Knicks mess of a franchise is tanking for a piece of that 14 percent goodness in the draft lottery.

Don’t be surprised if the supermax is the reason owners end up locking out the players when it’s time for the next collective bargaining agreement, and don’t be surprised if all these names come up again when the media sides with the owners.