Culture of Hoops

Isaiah Thomas’ value is in the eye of the beholder

Image courtesy of RMTip21 | Flickr

Image courtesy of RMTip21/Flickr

After three years of fighting for a place atop the Sacramento Kings’ depth chart, Isaiah Thomas seemed to solidify himself as a starting NBA point guard by the end of the 2013-14 season. But, despite his 20.3 point, 6.3 assist per game campaign, Thomas is apparently still trying to prove himself to Kings management.

Last month, Sacramento extended to Thomas a qualifying offer, making him  restricted free agent, thus giving the Kings the option of matching any offer another team makes to Thomas.

The Detroit Pistons are reportedly interested in offering Thomas a three-year, $24 million contract, putting the pressure on the Kings to open up their wallet, something they’ve been seemingly reluctant to do. In a recent column, the Sacramento Bee’s Ailene Voisin suggested that the Kings front office isn’t willing to go over $6 million a year for Thomas.

If we’ve learned anything from the new regime it’s that they don’t mess around when it comes to contract negotiations. Last summer the Kings pulled an offer from the table for Andre Iguodala when they felt like he was using them as leverage; they felt DeMarcus Cousins was worth a max-contract, so they extended his in August rather than waiting for this summer to negotiate; and most relevant of all, they had a hard-line figure in mind for fan-favorite and former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans, who got a better offer from the New Orléans Pelicans and was subsequently traded.

Pete D’Alessandro, a former agent, has a strict approach to negotiations and seems to have a vision of how he wants to allocate cap future cap space. If he thinks Thomas isn’t worth more than $6 million a year, he’ll have no qualms about cutting ties.

The Kings supposedly want to use Thomas as a shot of espresso off the bench rather than as a starter, which is why they seem reluctant to pay him a salary in the range of $8-10 million per year.

Last season, in the 18 games he played spelling Greivis Vasquez (before gaining the starting role after the latter was traded), Thomas played at an elite-substitute level. He averaged 17.8 points and 4.9 assists in 27.4 minutes per game. He only finished with single-digit scoring twice.

If Thomas comes off the bench for an entire season, he’ll be in the discussion for Sixth Man of the Year.

With that in mind, how much is Thomas worth?

Over the last 10 seasons, the average salary of winners of the Sixth Man of the Year award is just over $6.1 million. These figures fluctuate depending on a number of factors, including what phase of their career the winners were in as well as what kind of budget their teams had. But from that perspective, the Kings seem to be in the ballpark for what a top sixth man should pull in. Also consider that the Kings aren’t championship contenders, which means it’s harder to justify paying a bench player $8 million or more.

Of course, all of this assumes that Thomas is a bench player to begin with. He had a tremendous season and was consistently a dynamic force as a starter.

If reports are true, the Kings seem to have pegged Thomas as a substitute rather than a starter, which, while it justifies their reported offer, puts them in a whole different race than teams that are presumably looking at Thomas as a starting point guard.

The Kings already agreed to terms with Darren Collison, almost certainly numbering Thomas’ days in Sacramento. Collison, though, seems like a downgrade, albeit a cost-effective one; whether it’s worth it to enlist Collison at about $2 million a year less than Thomas is questionable, however.

One way or another, though, Thomas will win. He’ll likely get the $8 million-a-year figure he’s looking for from some team, which will just as likely value him as a starter.

The last three years Thomas has spent fighting to establish himself in the NBA may not have convinced the Kings, but he caught the rest of the league’s attention.

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