By Ben Golliver
Sooner or later, there could be some buyer's remorse on this one.
The Toronto Raptors have reportedly agreed to sign guard DeMar DeRozan to a four-year contract extension worth $40 million, according to Yahoo! Sports and USA Today. The deal reportedly could be worth up to $42 million with incentives. The two sides faced a midnight deadline to reach an agreement, otherwise DeRozan would have proceeded towards restricted free agency next summer.
DeRozan, 23, was the No. 9 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, and he joins classmates James Harden, Ty Lawson and Stephen Curry in inking extensions this week. Unlike that trio, though, DeRozan still has more questions than answers as he enters his fourth NBA season. Fittingly, his contract is the smallest of the four. It still might not be small enough.
A full-time starter since he was a rookie, DeRozan averaged 16.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 35 minutes per game last season. That seems like solid production at first glance, but his shooting numbers leave a ton to be desired. Last year, he shot just 26.1 percent from deep and that was significantly up over his 2010-11 season, where he attempted just 52 threes all season and connected on just 9.6 percent. It's a good thing that he's an explosive athlete, otherwise he would be wholly unable to contribute the perimeter scoring the Raptors need from him. He does most of his productive work at or near the rim, and he's one of the league's best leapers; he also averaged more than five free throw attempts a game last season. The highlights are great, but this is an incomplete player; DeRozan ranked No. 43 among two guards in PER last season. His efficiency was that of an average back-up, not a full-time starter being paid eight figures a year.
This is far from the first questionable contract handed out by Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo. In recent years, he's paid Landry Fields $18 million over three years, Amir Johnson $34 million over five years, and Linas Kleiza $19 million over four years, among others. Compared to those deals, perhaps DeRozan's looks downright prudent.
The Raptors have missed the playoffs for four straight seasons and have been churning since franchise forward Chris Bosh departed for the Heat in 2010. For Colangelo, extending DeRozan represents an element of continuity during an uncertain time for the franchise. DeRozan was the team's second-leading scorer last season, and the third and fourth leading scorers, Leandro Barbosa and Jerryd Bayless, have both departed. The future under coach Dwane Casey seems brighter, with rookie center Jonas Valanciunas on board, and DeRozan, who went one-and-done at USC, certainly has plenty of unscratched potential.
In addition to the consistency factor, this deal winds up being a bet from Raptors management that he will round out his game, improve his range and shooting efficiency, and become a consistent night-in, night-out perimeter scoring threat. Should that happen by year two of this deal, it could wind up a bargain. If DeRozan plateaus or finds his production hampered by new additions like Valanciunas and Kyle Lowry, he will wind up as a very expensive floor-crowding wing. Over-performing and under-performing this contract are both possibilities here. Finally, perhaps the best explanation for this extension is Toronto's fear that a breakout season for DeRozan would have dramatically increased his market value. Indeed, the Hornets were forced to match a four-year max offer sheet wroth $58 million for guard Eric Gordon, a player with a better, more consistent all-around offensive game than DeRozan, but one who missed virtually all of last season with a knee injury. Paying DeRozan $10 million a year now certainly prevents the possibility of being forced to match a $14.5 million per year offer next summer. But does that justify the valuation? That will depend entirely on DeRozan becoming a significantly better player than he's been so far during his career.