CJ McCollum has agreed to wear a Portland Trail Blazers uniform until at least 2021, thanks to a maximum extension of his rookie contract earlier today. Here are five things every Blazer fan should know about this new deal:
1. McCollum's contract has little impact on the Blazers' ability to sign new players, but does affect their luxury tax status
After signing Allen Crabbe to a $70+ million contract last week, the Blazers all but guaranteed that they will have no cap space next summer. Even without McCollum's extension on the books, Portland has $89.2 in guaranteed contracts, plus a $3.5 million team option for Noah Vonleh, and $13.8 million in cap holds for Mason Plumlee and McCollum. That brings the Blazers to a payroll of about $106 million before even considering the non-guaranteed deals of Festus Ezeli and Pat Connaughton. The 2017 salary cap is predicted to be set at $102 million. So the Blazers would have been above the cap line with or without McCollum's extension, meaning this deal did not compromise the team's flexibility in regard to signing new free agents.
McCollum's extension does, however, bring the team perilously close to the league's luxury tax estimate of about $122 million for the 2017-18 season. With McCollum's deal, the Blazers' payroll will be at about $112 million before factoring in more than $10 million in salary for Ezeli and Vonleh. In short, unless there are major changes to the way the NBA calculates the luxury tax threshold, the Blazers will likely be taxpayers two years from now.
2. McCollum's maximum deal is for four seasons and 25 percent of the salary cap - less than Damian Lillard's five year, 27.5 percent extension
Each NBA team is allowed to offer a five-year contract extension to only one player at a time - also referred to as the team's "designated player." Because President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey offered Lillard a five-year extension last summer, McCollum was only eligible for a four-year extension this summer.
Note that league rules do allow teams to trade for one additional designated player, so Portland could still acquire another player who has already signed a five-year extension with another team (insert "Trade for Anthony Davis?" joke here), even though they can't offer five years to McCollum.
As a player with under six seasons of experience, McCollum's maximum contract will be limited to an annual salary of 25 percent of the team's salary cap. Lillard's contract is worth 27.5 percent of the cap because he triggered the Derrick Rose Rule by making two all-NBA teams while on his rookie scale contract, allowing him to earn additional salary beyond the standard 25 percent limit. McCollum did meet that criteria and was not be eligible for the bonus, unless he wins the NBA MVP award, and it's stipulated as part of negotiations.
3. The Blazers have a lot of confidence in the McCollum/Lillard backcourt
From a team chemistry standpoint, agreeing to an extension this summer sends a message that the front office is all-in on the McLillard tandem. Locking in their two best players for five years guarantees that they have a cohesive core and gives them a foundation around which to continue building the franchise. The bottom line is that teams need two All-Star caliber players to be contenders in the NBA - guaranteeing that you have those two players for the next five seasons would automatically put the Blazers ahead of several other rebuilding franchises.
The contract should also assuage any fears of injury risk or talent plateau surrounding McCollum. If the Blazers were worried about McCollum's injury track record, or concerned that his development might stall, then they would have waited until next season to make this offer to McCollum. A max deal after only one season of exemplary performance signals that the franchise is extremely optimistic that McCollum has room to continue growing on the court and that his injury woes are behind him.
4. Lillard and McCollum are now on the same timeline
it's important to note that McCollum's new contract will expire the same year as Lillard's. Olshey has shown a preference in the past toward lining up contract expirations of key players so as to give the team a firm "reset" date (i.e. Robin Lopez, Wes Matthews, and LaMarcus Aldridge). As such, the McLillard era of the Blazers will likely be seriously re-evaluated in 2021.
5. Trade rumors surrounding McCollum have been nearly silenced for the next 12 months
McCollum's extension turns his contract into a "poison pill" for the next season, making him nearly untradeable. Details here. If the Blazers did wish to trade him, they would only be allowed to take on $3.2 million in salary (McCollum's contract next season), but their trade partner would need to have in excess of $21 million in cap space (McCollum's average salary over the next five seasons). That trade would be impossible for a team at or near the salary cap line - only teams with significant cap space AND a marquee player on a rookie contract would be feasible trade partners.
Now you're all caught up. Do you have more CJ questions? Leave them in the comments below!