Bill Simmons makes the case for Luka Dončić refusing his $195 million rookie extension

Bill Simmons makes the case for Luka Dončić refusing his $195 million rookie extension

A video of Luka Dončić yelling at Rick Carlisle from Game 6 went viral. In the video, Luka is obviously frustrated with his coach and yells, ‘You take a time out when you don’t need it!!‘ Given that many will probably say the Mavericks lost this series in Game 6, questions about Rick Carlisle’s job security appeared soon after yesterday’s loss. Mark Cuban immediately addressed them. 

Cuban made it clear – this is not on the coach. Despite the fact the Mavericks were up 2-0 and 3-2 in the series and still lost, Carlisle did everything he could with the roster he was given. He tried all sorts of lineup combinations, mixed up man-to-man and zone defense, and put out guys that can maximize Luka’s talents, but it just wasn’t enough. While it is reasonable to expect some internal improvement – Luka’s free throw shooting, for instance, it’s obvious it won’t be enough to put the Mavericks into Finals consideration. If it’s not the coach, and it’s not the players, then it has to be the front office. Here’s the Mavericks salary cap for ’21/’22.

Player’21/’22 salary
Kristaps Porzingis$31,650,600
Josh Richardson$11,600,000
Dwight Powell$11,000,000
Luka Dončić$10,174,391
Maxi Kleber$8,750,000
Willie Cauley-Stein$4,200,000
Dorian Finney-Smith$4,000,000
Trey Burke$3,333,333
Josh Green$2,957,520
Jalen Brunson$1,802,057
Tyrell Terry$1,517,981
The projected NBA cap and tax levels for ’21/’22 is $112 million and $136.6 million

Similar to having a great quarterback on a rookie scale deal, ’20/’21 is the last year the Mavericks can sign someone meaningful in free agency or add someone in a major trade. Given the fact Luka will surely be on the First Team All-NBA, the Slovenian wonderboy will be eligible to sign a five-year $195.6 million extension. No player in NBA history refused a Designated Rookie Scale Player Extension. Once Luka signs on the dotted line, the Mavericks room to maneuver will be significantly reduced. 

The only problem is, there are not many amazing free-agent candidates this summer, and the only major trade chip the Mavs have – Kristaps Porzingis – seems untreadable. If they could move Porzingis, it would at best be a lateral move for the Mavericks. So if it’s not the coach, internal development is limited, and the roster construction is not very flexible – what gives? Bill Simmons has a wild proposition. 

“We’ve never seen a player do this before. Luka’s three years in; normally this is where they say, ‘Here’s this giant extension, you should sign it.‘ Year 5, when you’re supposed to be making $13 million, you’ll gonna be making $31 million, or whatever it is. Obviously, nobody turns down $20 million [more]. If I’m Luka, I’m not signing it. I’m playing it out. Why not? I think Zion’s the other one to do it. We’ve never seen it – this would be the logical last chapter of the player empowerment era. This is the one thing we’ve never seen a player do.” 

Bill Simmons, The Bill Simmons Podcast

We’ve never seen a player do it because the rookie scale salaries were meager. The current CBA changed that, so as the 3rd pick Luka signed a 4 year $32 million contract – nothing to sneeze at. Add to that the fact Kevin Durant got a max with a torn Achilles, so players of Luka’s caliber know that even with a devastating injury, they can get a max contract in free agency. The money he already made is significant, the risk of injury ruining his max contract potential is almost none, and Dončić would get a lot more freedom a lot sooner. 

If he decides to refuse the rookie extension, Dončić would have to do it before his fourth year in the league – meaning before the start of the ’21/’22 season. Even if that happens, it wouldn’t mean he is 100% leaving Dallas. This would be a way to sign a full max sooner, and probably more importantly for Luka, put a lot more pressure on Dallas to build a competitive roster around him.

I don’t think this scenario is likely, but I’ll give Simmons this. The combination of player empowerment, large rookie-scale contracts, and almost no financial injury risk make a move like this more probable than ever before. 

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