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Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Inside Collison's unique contract extension

By Marc Stein

Leave it to Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti to conceive a contract extension for glue-guy forward Nick Collison that forces me to consult every salary-cap reference book I can find.

This is a fun one.

Sources with knowledge of the contract specifics told ESPN.com that the value of the four-year extension that starts in the 2011-12 season is a modest $11 million and change. Highly favorable numbers for the Thunder.

However ...

The Thunder -- as a team slightly more than $6.5 million under the salary cap before re-signing Collison -- took advantage of that below-the-cap status to unexpectedly award Collison all of their space as a signing bonus that takes his 2010-11 compensation to a whopping $13.3 million.

Signing bonuses in extensions are usually pro-rated through the life of the contract. Teams under the cap, though, can apply the entire signing bonus at the time the extension is signed, as long as the bonus doesn't exceed the available cap space.

So Oklahoma City's motivation here is fairly obvious, no matter how out of place it looks to suddenly see All-Star dollars attached to Collison's name in this season's NBA salary documents ... and then a smaller figure for the next four seasons combined.

This is OKC's thinking:

With Nick Collison now scheduled to earn $3.3 million in 2011-12 -- and with his salary descending all the way to $2.2 million in 2014-15 -- Oklahoma City has secured a valued member of its rotation at a very cap-friendly price. That will put the smallest possible drain on its payroll in coming seasons when the Thunder have to accommodate the extension raises due to Kevin Durant as well as future extension recipient Russell Westbrook (and possibly Serge Ibaka).

Flush with other assets to use in potential trades, Oklahoma City made the determination that it couldn't do anything better with that $6.5 million in leftover cap space from the summer before the space vanishes June 30.0, when the space vanishes. It remains to be seen how risky the strategy of giving Collison such a hefty bonus is, since the cap space could have been offered up to other teams in trade discussions between now and the Feb. 24 trading deadline, but OKC isn't known for its gambles and is surely convinced it didn't really take one here. (Don't forget that Presti will always give nearly as much consideration to how a player fits into his team's culture as the player's skills.)

Collison, meanwhile, naturally couldn't resist opting for long-term security in these uncertain times. He can now face the prospect of a lockout this summer and potential contract rollbacks in a new CBA knowing he not only has that security but also the added bonus of getting a substantial safe-from-rollbacks chunk of extra change immediately.

The Wizards actually (and quietly) did something similar when they extended Andray Blatche's contract in September, but the jumps in Blatche's deal weren't nearly as dramatic as the notification teams received Tuesday that Collison's salary-cap number for the 2010-11 season is now $13,270,000.

And if you're wondering why the Thunder did this with Collison as opposed to one of their more prized youngsters, it's simple: He's the only player they regard as a definite keeper who is currently eligible for an extension.

Jeff Green's window for an extension, remember, closed Oct. 31. And Westbrook won't even be eligible for an extension for the first time until July ... and only then if there's no lockout.

The precise year-by-year breakdown:

2010-11: $13,270,000 (Upped from $6.75 million with a signing bonus of slightly more than $6.5 million)
2011-12: $3,272,997 (First year of extension)
2012-13: $2,929,332
2013-14: $2,585,668
2014-15: $2,242,003

*Extension totals $11,030,000 over four years