Recently, the San Antonio Spurs re-signed a key part of their talented young core to a long-term deal. Aside from the $146 million price tag that drew plenty of attention and the length of the deal, the Spurs managed to extend their second-best player in a clever way.
The Spurs used a lesser-known provision of the new collective bargaining agreement to sign Devin Vassell to a 5-year extension. This is despite Vassell not qualifying for a rookie max extension. Teams having the option to extend any player on a rookie-scale deal for an extra year is a great way to save money in the long term. Still, many teams, as well as players and their agents, might decide against it. After all, signing young players to long-term deals is risky for each side.
Teams may get sticker shock by paying a player that they like an additional year. Then there are the players and agents who may not want to be locked into a five-year deal. Especially when the cap space is expected to jump by around 10% every year for several years after the next TV contract takes effect.
The Spurs chose to pay Vassell now and reap the benefits later.
What is so interesting about Vassell’s extension is that the Spurs not only paid him less than the going rate for up-and-coming guards and wings, but they also got him to agree to an extra year with no player option.
While they did add $11 million in incentives, that would only put him around $30 million a season, comparable to RJ Barrett, Jordan Poole, and Tyler Herro’s recent contract extensions. Factor in that his new extension won’t actually kick in until the 2024–25 season, and they just locked up their second-best player for more than half a decade.
The value of the contract can’t be understated for several reasons. For one, had he been drafted two years later, the cap wouldn’t be $136 million but around $164 million. And instead of signing him for around $30 million annually with incentives, Vassell’s extension might have averaged around $37 million per season. Were that the case, the Spurs would be paying around $40 million more than they are set to pay him.
That is especially important because 2023 number one pick Victor Wembanyama may be eligible for an extension that could be worth up to 30% of the projected $200 million salary cap, which will start in the 2027–28 season. The Spurs know that they will likely have to pay him around $60 million a season, so they wisely locked up Vassell at far less than he could have earned.
That should help to offset the cost of Wembanyama’s next contract. Not just that, but the Spurs will also have plenty of picks that they can use to draft young, cheap, and talented players to four-year rookie-scale deals. Those things bode well for San Antonio and should help them build a (relatively) affordable team around Wembanyama for years to come.