Kenneth Faried signs big extension in a changing league
The timing of Kenneth Faried's reported four-year, $50 million extension worked out perfectly. For Faried, this deal was finalized based on some six months of compelling evidence: A big finish to the regular season (Faried averaged 18.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game after the All-Star break) followed by an awesome, All-Tournament showing for Team USA at the FIBA World Cup. For the Nuggets, a lucrative, long-term extension comes just after the announcement of the NBA's new TV rights deal—a device set to radically change the league landscape by way of a much higher salary cap.
Fair value, then, is immaterial as it relates to Faried's extension. The price points assigned to various types of players will reset in due time, and no one can say with any certainty what Faried might have commanded in that brave new world. Those risks implicit in extending Faried, however, are mitigated by the prospect of a vaulted salary cap. What results is a deal that’s clearly the product of this particular moment in time: One in which Faried is obliged in his desire to be regarded and paid as a core piece of the Nuggets, and Denver is able to earmark perhaps as much as $52 million (with incentives) for an incomplete player under muted liability.
In the NBA's current economic climate, Faried makes for an awkward building block. His most convincing displays of shot creation came in a late-season burst of post play for a lottery-bound team. Otherwise he's not much of a passer and can't at all space the floor—both impediments to the pursuit of fluid offense. That limited offensive range is especially inconvenient in that Faried also lacks the height and reach to play center. He needs size alongside him for his team to be effective and yet Faried has neither the jumper nor the ball skills to best complement another traditional big. Further complicating matters is Faried's defense, which has thus far proven insufficient in both individual matchups and a team setting. Faried can't protect the rim, doesn't have the size to defend the post and doesn't have an intuitive feel for handling pick-and-roll play.
Accounting for all of those limitations under the current salary cap would demand more than just front office finesse. Denver would need access to an elite defensive center with the ability to contribute outside the paint on offense—perhaps the most valuable player by type in the contemporary NBA. Bigs with that skill set rarely become available. Many alternative strategies, though, would run aground by Faried making a significant, eight-figure salary alongside other sub-elite players who draw the same. Building a contender in those confines would be tricky to say the least, and would allow the Nuggets very little margin for error in addressing a mass of apparent needs.
Fortunately, Denver will only be subject to that plight for a single season. Faried will play out the 2014-15 campaign at the rookie-scale wage of $2.3 million. His extension will kick in the following season, after which the Nuggets' cap sheet goes bare just as the cap itself could leap to $80-90 million. That kind of figure would be transformative. As it stands today, Denver's only hard salary obligations for the summer of 2016 would be Faried and Ty Lawson ($13.2 million)—leaving enough room around them for multiple max-contract players.
Faried makes the most sense within that context. To pay and feature him as a central star would make Faried a teambuilding problem and pull his weaknesses as a player into focus. If Faried could eventually play alongside Lawson and two other star-quality players, however, the warts of his game might be masked by sheer talent. We've seen what Faried has to offer when afforded the chance to stay in his lane. If alongside high-level scorers and a rim protector—as was the case with Team USA—Faried can shape games with his singular energy.
No big in the league runs the floor quite like Faried, which in itself exerts a lot of pressure on an opponent's transition defense. That Faried is getting better at using those runs to get into deep post position also creates an inlet for secondary offense, bridging the fast break and half-court in a way that keeps a defense scrambling. Every shot attempt also requires an opponent's full commitment when Faried is on the floor, as even a perfect box out can't fully prevent him from slipping through. Faried understands the angles and can beat almost any big to a given spot. He's a leaper with great timing and a certain abandon. In all, Faried stands as one of the most formidable rebounders in the league—as insuppressible as board-chasers come. Any talent of that kind has its place, provided that it's supported in particular ways.
On the right team, Faried's budding post game is a weapon to be used when needed rather than over-exposed in its one-move, one-handed simplicity. With players around him who project as imminent scoring threats, Faried will be free to exploit every bit of open space as opposed to clogging his team's operations. Alongside a strong help defender, Faried's quickness could be weaponized in coverage and his matchup problems controlled. Much of Faried's value is contingent on having the right kind of framing. The possibilities established by a thriving league (and the rocketing salary cap that results) make it all the more attainable.
The NBA sits at a threshold. Every bit of player business from this point forward will be shaped in some way by the implications of the 2016 bump, making Faried's extension perhaps the last of its kind.