The lynchpin of the Grizzlies team-building over the coming weeks will be a new contract for restricted free agent center Marc Gasol. With matching rights in hand, no-one believes the Grizzlies are willing to lose Gasol, but how much it takes to keep him will be determinative: With the team likely to be roughly $17 million under the luxury tax line — factoring in nine players on guaranteed contracts and rookie Josh Selby — before re-signing Gasol, the starting salary on his new contract will likely govern whether the Grizzlies have enough space left to pursue a (semi-) significant free agent (or, less likely, retain their own in Shane Battier) or whether the remainder of the roster will have to be filled out via minimum-range contracts.
What will a Gasol contract look like? Here are five possibilities:
A maximum contract for Gasol under the new collective bargaining agreement with start at 25% of the salary cap (expected to be around $58 million) and could extend for five years with 7.5% annual raises. The Grizzlies certainly hope this isn't necessary, but this is the ceiling on what Gasol's deal could be.
Contract: $14.5, $15.6, $16.8, $18, $19.4 = five years, $84 million
The Realistic Minimum
There was a Twitter report yesterday referencing a Spanish media report that Gasol would be seeking a deal averaging $9 million a season. This would mean a five-year, $45 million dollar deal. I don't think anyone seriously believes that's going to happen. But let's give the report the benefit of the doubt and assume the intention was a deal starting at $9 million. That seems more like the low end of reasonable and, with 7.5% raises allowable in the new CBA for free agents re-signing with their previous teams, that deal would look like this:
Contract: $9, $9.7, $10.4, $11.2, $12 = five years, $52 million
Gasol is a good, young center but not quite an all-star yet. Most neutral observers would put him in the same tier of player as Chicago's Joakim Noah and Atlanta's Al Horford, both of whom signed extensions last summer worth $60 million over 5 years.
Contract: $10.3, $11.1, $12, $12.9, $13.8 = five years, $60 million
Contrary to popular belief, the Grizzlies didn't give Rudy Gay a maximum contract. A maximum contract from the Grizzlies would have included another year and an extra $20 million. Instead, the Grizzlies essentially slightly outbid an expected outside max offer, with the same starting salary and number of years as another team could offer but with annual raises in-between what other teams could offer (8%) and what the Grizzlies were allowed to offer (10.5%) — Gay's deal seems to operate on something like 9.5% raises. If that pattern holds for Gasol and the Grizzlies anticipate a four-year max offer from another team (which would be roughly 4 years, $62 million), then they could give the same deal but with raises in the middle of what the Griz are allowed (7.5%) and outside teams are allowed ($4.5). Using 6% raises, that deal might look like this:
Contract: $14.5, $15.4, $16.3, $17.3 = four years, $64 million
The Best Guess
Ideally, the most reasonable place for Gasol's deal to land is on “The Precedent,” and perhaps even a little lower based on the lower player BRI and lower annual raises in this CBA. But the last three major deals that Grizzlies inked all came in higher than most of us expected, so I think it would be prudent to brace for something similar here. Splitting the difference between “The Precedent” and “The Rudy,” let's say an $11 million starting salary with full length (five years) and raises (7.5%). That kind of contract might look something like this:
Contract: $11, $11.8, $12.7, $13.7, $14.7 = five years, $64 million
So the range for a Gasol deal should be between $9 million and $14.5 million for a starting salary. The former would leave the Grizzlies roughly $8 million under the tax line and give them plenty of flexibility in regard to the final 2-4 roster spots. The latter would leave the Grizzlies only a couple million under the tax line and make it very difficult to finish out the roster without paying the tax, so where the final deal falls for Gasol will be very important. Chances are that Gasol's contract will come in somewhere between these two poles.
Up next: I'll plug these different Gasol scenarios into the team's cap figure and speculate on what the team might do regarding the final few roster spots.