CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Anyone who's opened a 401k statements the past three years understands why the world seems more risk-averse these days. And the NBA is no exception.
The rookie pay scale -- a system that pre-determines what first-round picks will make and how long they make it -- was a great idea. It avoided holdouts in return for guaranteeing the top 30 selections in each draft at least two years salary.
But it's not perfect. And teams no longer automatically pick up a player's third- and fourth-season options, as they once did.
It won't come as a surprise to Bobcats fans that now-Dallas big man Alexis Ajinca isn't getting next season guaranteed by the Mavericks. Ajinca was a huge disappointment here before being thrown into the Tyson Chandler-Erick Dampier trade. The Mavericks are cutting their losses, opting not to pay Ajinca about $2.2 million next season.
Decisions such as that are far more common now than five years ago. For instance, Portland has decided to let Greg Oden reach restricted free-agency, rather than sign him to a big contract extension right now.
It's rare for a former No. 1 overall pick not to get that pre-emptive contract extension at the end of his third season. But considering all of Oden's injuries, it's good business to wait.
The Trail Blazers and Oden's agent have agreed it's not realistic right now to establish what he's worth going forward. But mostly, that's a risk the Blazers don't need.
I've heard fans suggest that teams choosing not to pick up a third- or fourth-season option is impatient or cheap. I don't buy that. Frankly, I think teams sometimes exercised those options to save face. They found it uncomfortable to admit a draft mistake, and not paying a rookie-scale salary is admitting a mistake.
For instance, how much better off would the Bobcats have been had they just cut ties with Adam Morrison, rather than exercise that option on the rookie scale? They added about $5 million in obligation to a non-performing asset. They ended up trading him to the Lakers when the better path would have been avoiding that guarantee in the first place.
There's a lesson in that, and I think the Bobcats get it. I found it constructive to hear owner Michael Jordan admit publicly they've made drafting blunders. They've never been strong drafters, but they've traded well and have had some limited success in free-agency.
If you know your strength is trading for veterans or signing veterans, why feel a special obligation to rookies who might have been the wrong selection to begin with?
Paying millions out of misguided pride is silly and expensive. Good to see NBA teams figured that one out.