Wednesday is the deadline for teams to agree to contract extensions with 2008 first-round picks or “risk” watching them enter restricted free agency this summer. The word “restricted” is the most important one in this discussion because teams have the right to match any offer for such players, provided they first tender a one-year qualifying offer — a no-brainer decision in lots of cases.
The headliner here is Kevin Love, with the Timberwolves reportedly dithering over whether to offer him a four-year $60 million contract — right around the maximum money for a deal of that length — or a package with a fifth year, a bonus only Minnesota can offer under the new collective bargaining agreement. The clause in question is called the “designated player” rule, which allows teams to offer a special five-year, max-level deal to a player coming off his rookie contract. Teams can have only one such player on their roster at a time, meaning the only major deterrent from the Wolves’ perspective (unless they don’t think Love is worth the max) is that assigning him the “designated player” label means they cannot give it to Ricky Rubio down the road.
I addressed the Love contract issues in depth last week, so I won’t belabor the point: Love is worth a max contract, but the Wolves are well within the bounds of reason in testing whether they might be able to retain him at something less than a five-year, max-level deal. This is the point of restricted free agency and matching rights. If another team pursues Love in restricted free agency, the Wolves know they will be able to keep him anyway. The only risk for Minnesota is in Love’s signing a shorter offer sheet with another team — which the Wolves would then match — or doing the unthinkable and signing a one-year deal for the amount of the qualifying offer, a decision that would allow him to enter unrestricted in the summer of 2013. That move would also involve Love’s taking something like an $8 million pay cut for the 2012-13 season, which would be essentially unprecedented.