By Ben Golliver
This week's round of extensions for 2009 draft picks saved its most blase for last when, just minutes before Wednesday's deadline, the Sixers inked point guard Jrue Holiday to a four-year deal worth $41 million. Had he not signed the deal he would have proceeded towards restricted free agency next summer.
The deal lacks the "wow" factor of James Harden's five-year, $80 million extension, which followed a blockbuster trade. It lacks the savvy "taking care of business" vibe of Ty Lawson's four-year, $48 million extension. It lacks the injury risk apprehension associated with Stephen Curry's four-year, $44 million extension. It lacks the buyer's remorse that will likely follow DeMar DeRozan's four-year, $40 million extension. Finally, it lacks the title contention implications of Taj Gibson's four-year, $38 million (with incentives) extension. This one boils down to a slightly above-average team believing it has a point guard who will develop into an above-average player and deciding, in turn, to compensate him at an above-average rate.
To be clear, Holiday, as a player, isn't boring. At 22, he brings solid athleticism, upside, a proven ability to get his own offense and a career 37.4 percent three-point shot. His assist-to-turnover ratio leaves much to be desired, but he's started for the vast majority of his three-year NBA career, visiting the playoffs twice. His overall efficiency numbers, so far, leave a lot to be desired: he ranked No. 37 among point guards last year, making him an above-average backup in that metric rather than a must-keep starter. Sixers coach Doug Collins famously doesn't care for advanced statistics, though, so that likely did not play a factor here, which could wind up being an issue. Holiday's averages last season: 13.5 points, 4.5 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.6 steals on 43.2 percent shooting. Perhaps his best asset is his durability, as he's missed just one game combined over the last two seasons.
The Sixers' calculus was likely something along these lines: the most likely core players over the next few years are Holiday, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young and Andrew Bynum. Losing Holiday outright next summer would set the Sixers back to square one at a key position. Matching to retain him next summer could have winded up being costlier than this deal if his numbers saw a big uptick with Lou Williams and Andre Iguodala no longer around to command shots and provide scoring. The money issue matters, because Bynum will be expecting a max pay day. Take care of Holiday now and the benefits include: enjoying a steady ship this year, keeping the core intact for the foreseeable future, benefiting from Holiday's expected growth through his mid-20s, avoiding a situation where you're forced to overpay next summer to keep Holiday or to replace him, and to be ready to retain Bynum, the franchise guy, when it comes to that next summer. That's a defensible plan, but Holiday will need to improve, particularly as a distributor and as a decision-maker to prove it wise.
The counter-argument here seems stronger. The Sixers eased Holiday in as a rookie but played him as a full-time starter for the last two seasons. During that time, his per-minute numbers were fairly similar, and there's a good chance they will scale if Collins leans on him more heavily this year. They simply aren't extraordinary, borderline All-Star or even future borderline All-Star worthy, and that's what you would like to see, or see hints of, from an eight-figure per year investment. Replacing Holiday could have proven difficult but it wasn't likely to be impossible; retaining Holiday could have proven to be expensive but monster outside offers were far from a guarantee. The fact that next summer's free agent class is generally weak could have played a role in Philadelphia's calculation; a young scoring point guard with playoff experience would draw interest. But with the market set by guys like Lawson and Curry, it's unclear who would have reached to pay Holiday a true premium in an effort to lure him away. Locking him up, at a real value, was the ideal play for Philadelphia. At this price, they didn't do that. Waiting it out, then, would have been the preferred backup plan. The good news for the Sixers: Holiday has every opportunity now to prove their faith in him was well-placed.