As the Sacramento Kings begin to establish Monte McNair's vision for this franchise, one upcoming decision looms larger than any other: the future of De'Aaron Fox in Sacramento. Once the 2020 offseason officially begins, the Kings only good, young, proven player will be eligible for a maximum rookie contract extension. According to James Ham of NBCS, Fox expects to be offered every dollar available, an understandable position for a player of his caliber seeking his first big payday.
The term “max contract” often elicits strong emotions and heated discussions within any fan base. Debates center around whether certain contributors are “worth a max deal”, as one only needs to look back on the DeMarcus Cousins' supermax arguments for a perfect example. But that sort of verbiage is far too simplistic for such a complex matter. Not every max deal is equal in a monetary sense, nor is every player’s situation replicated from team to team. The conversation must extend far beyond what a player should be paid and advance to what a player would be paid in the open market.
The Kings and Fox have a few options are available, some of which are wise and some of which would start an entirely new era of KANGZ in Sacramento. The first path that Monte McNair can take is to do absolutely nothing. Like any player coming off of a first round contract, De’Aaron Fox will be a restricted free agent at the end of this coming season, and the Kings will be allowed to match any offer thrown his way in the summer of 2021, but that sort of strategy would be the epitome of foolishness. It’s almost a certainty that at least one smart General Manager would toss a max deal Fox’s way, and while such a circumstance would save the Kings a tiny bit of cash (about $800,000 per year due to the 5% raises in free agency versus 8% raises in an extension) when they inevitably matched the offer, that level of savings isn’t nearly enough to risk upsetting their only hope of a franchise cornerstone.
Instead of sitting stagnant and frustrating Fox, the Kings can also look into four-year deals, although those aren't likely to be accepted either. If the front office goes below the full max, as they did with Buddy Hield last October, Fox will simply decline, enter restricted free agency, and follow the path listed above. There’s no point in the Kings embarrassing themselves by such an offer. In the same vein, if Monte McNair only offers a four-year maximum extension, he’ll actually be cutting himself short. Instead, management should be looking at a Designated Rookie Extension.
The Designated Rookie Extension is an exception that is offered to every NBA team and is limited to two players at any given time. The starting salary of a traditional, four-year max and the DRE are actually the same: 25% of the salary cap; however, the Kings would be able to tack on a fifth year with the same 8% annual, non-compounding raise if they went the route of the DRE. In fact, the Designated Rookie Extension requires teams to offer the full max. Sacramento couldn't offer a five-year deal at a lower percentage. While the exact amount of the 2021 salary cap is unknown, and will be for quite some time, here's what the contract may look like, depending on different cap projections:
|Season||Fox Age||$110M Cap||$115M Cap||$120M Cap|
Those amounts may seem incredibly large when looked at as a whole, especially for a player who has been projected as a franchise cornerstone despite not quite proving himself worthy of that mantle yet, but it’s important to remember that Fox is almost certainly getting the four-year max at those same salaries anyway. The only difference is the fifth year at $36 - $40 million, and if the Kings are committed to De’Aaron for four years, they may as well commit for five, especially when considering the fact that he'll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of his next deal. For a small market team like the Kings, locking up young talent for as many years as possible should always take precedence over cap flexibility.
If the Kings are hesitant to ink their only potential superstar to a long-term deal in the coming weeks and months, their only other practical option is to explore the trade market for Fox, but that possibility doesn't feel particularly realistic. It's difficult to envision Monte McNair winning the GM job by pitching a Fox trade, especially given the current financial situation of the team and De'Aaron's marketability within the fan base. He's almost certainly sticking on the roster for the next few seasons.
Assuming the Kings plan to keep Fox around for the long haul, offering him the Designated Rookie Extension is the best and most obvious path moving forward. While the temptation exists to get the best deal possible and cut a few dollars here and there, as is usually the case in contract negotiations, Monte McNair simply can't afford that luxury when it comes to his primary building block. De'Aaron Fox is going to receive a maximum contract offer; it's up to the Kings to leverage that reality into five more years of Fox in a Sacramento uniform.