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The $20 Million Dollar Man Nearing Extinction

Did Jason Kidd really ask for a $24 million extension a few weeks ago? According to one report, yes. Other reports suggest that Kidd instead wants $13 million in 2009-10, the year after his current contract expires. The Nets reportedly countered with an $10 million offer. Talks appear to be ongoing.

Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Kidd certainly is eligible for $24 million--actually about $23.6 million, but it's more likely he is angling for the lower figure, and perhaps a two year extension. One year extensions can be offered in mid season, two year deals must wait til the off-season under the CBA's Over-36 rule.

And with owners increasingly anxious about committing big bucks to older players--and with players willing to sacrifice short term bucks for long term security, it’s unlikely Kidd will see anywhere near that $24 million figure…and he no doubt knows it.

That combination points to trend among superstar contracts. In the past several months, three superstars--Vince Carter, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan--all opted for security over big contracts, agreeing to less money than they were eligible for, taking longer deals instead. Allen Iverson is talking the same game in Denver.

Moreover, the record suggests that the league’s owners are growing less and less enamored of big new contracts, whether free agent signings or extensions—Rashard Lewis’ recent deal with the Magic being the exception.

In 2008-09, the year Kidd’s current deal expires, there will be a record nine players making $20 million or more: Kevin Garnett at $24.0 million; Stephon Marbury and Allen Iverson at $21.9 million; Kidd and Jermaine O’Neal at $21.4 million; Kobe Bryant at $21.3 million; Tracy McGrady at $21.1 million; Tim Duncan at $20.5 million and Shaquille O’Neal at $20.0 million. Of that total, perhaps six will be worth those big bucks, based on their combined performance and gate appeal: Garnett, Iverson, Kidd, Bryant, McGrady and Duncan. Of the other three, Marbury is a disaster, and the two O’Neals are only marginally better. A case can also be made that McGrady, with his dismal playoff record and bad back, isn’t worth that kind of cash either. McGrady, however, is the youngest of the nine.

After 2009-10, the number of "$20 Million Men" drops off. Salary limits in the current CBA and the owners’ new frugality will reduce their number dramatically. There will be five in 2009-10: the two O’Neal’s, Duncan, Bryant and McGrady; two in 2010-11: Bryant and Lewis; then three in 2011-12: Duncan, Lewis and Dirk Nowitzki. It’s entirely possible that the Big Four of the 2003 Draft: Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade will break the $20 million barrier, but that can’t happen til 2012-13 under the current CBA…and none of them can make more than Lewis that year, who will be earning $23.8 million.

Also it should be noted that two $20 million players were bought out in recent years, further making owners anxious about committing so much money: Michael Finley and Chris Webber. Finley, in fact, will make $21.7 million this year: $18.6 from his Dallas buyout and $3.1 million from his Spurs’ salary. If Webber signs with the Pistons, he too will make more than $20 million, $19 million from his Philadelphia buyout and $1.6 million from Detroit. (Dikembe Mutombo came close in 2003-04, combining his Net buyout with a Knick salary.)

Things do change in the NBA…as they do in the economy. It’s entirely possible that Kidd will get what he wants, but not in New Jersey. The Nets could trade Kidd, with or without an extension, leaving the decision to his new team.