For 4 rising NBA stars, about $1 billion in extensions leads to rising expectations


Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton got questions about the same topic more often than he could remember this summer: The money, the money, the money.

As NBA salaries grow, so too does the spotlight for those who get the biggest paychecks — a club that players like Haliburton, Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards, Charlotte’s LaMelo Ball and Memphis’ Desmond Bane will soon be entering for the first time as their rookie deals wind down.

Those four players all signed extensions this summer that will kick in next year; the deals for Haliburton, Edwards and Ball are guaranteed to be worth at least $205 million with a chance of reaching around $260 million if they qualify for supermax-level paydays. Bane’s is guaranteed at around $198 million, with about $8 million more available in incentives. Add it up, and those four players might be making about $1 billion combined during the span of those new deals.

And now comes the next challenge: Living up to the expectations that come with that much money. There are players with bigger salaries, even players with larger extensions — for example, Boston’s Jaylen Brown signed one that could be worth $304 million this summer. But for players like Haliburton, Edwards, Ball and Bane, this is a new chapter.

“When I got the deal, you’re like, ‘What’s next?’ and you realize you’ve got to prove it,” Haliburton said. “The Pacers organization has invested a lot in me, a lot of time and obviously a lot of money. The only way for me to repay that is to make them believe they made the right choice, both now and 20 years from now.”

To put the rookie extensions of this era in perspective and how much salaries have soared, consider that Stephen Curry’s first extension after his rookie deal was worth $44 million — total. Haliburton, Edwards, Ball and Bane will average about that much in annual salary for the foreseeable future starting in the 2024-25 season. (Edwards will make about $13.5 million this season, Ball about $11 million, Haliburton about $6 million and Bane around $3.9 million.)

Making that amount of money — contract values around the league have soared in recent years thanks to the billions pumped into the league’s coffers annually through the media rights deal, and the expectation is that salaries will keep rising for years to come — surely comes with pressure. But they say they don’t feel any new pressure; at least, not yet.

“I never really worry about that kind of stuff,” Ball said. “Growing up, my pops always said pressure was like finding your next meal, finding where to sleep, stuff like that. I’m pretty much blessed. I just have to worry about playing good. I’ve really got no problems.”

All four players seem like they’re coming into their own. Haliburton and Edwards played for USA Basketball at the World Cup this summer and will be considered for next summer’s Olympic team. Haliburton, Edwards and Ball have already been All-Stars, and combined, the four players averaged 22.7 points, 6.5 assists and 5.2 rebounds per game last season.

Bane is the only one of the four who wasn’t a lottery pick; he was the last selection in Round 1 of the 2020 draft. And he just keeps getting better, Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said.

“The league teaches you a lot of things on and off the floor and he’s willing to ask questions,” Jenkins said. “Doesn’t matter what the dollar signs are for his contract or what his stat line is. He’s always trying to get better because at the end of the day he wants to win at the highest level.

The extensions do not represent life-changing money. They represent lives-changing money. Edwards looked at his family when asked about the enormity of the deal he agreed to this summer, saying “they’re probably more excited than I am.”

Edwards made one thing clear: His goal was always to take care of his family. Now that’s covered, and the Timberwolves fully believe he’ll take care of the team as well.

“At this level of commitment, it’s more about the person than the player,” Minnesota president Tim Connelly said this summer when announcing that Edwards signed his extension. “You don’t do this unless you trust the person. And he’s everything we want to be. His positivity, his energy he brings to his teammates, to us as coaches and scouts, it’s invaluable.”

Haliburton insists he won’t succumb to the weighty expectations. He wants the burden that comes with such a big deal, and the pressure that comes with being the face of his team.

“I’ve earned this. I won’t say I haven’t,” Haliburton said. “I just want to prove my people right, prove doubters wrong and the most important part is to prove myself right. I always wanted to be here and now that I am here, I have to prove it now. I want to be an All-Star again. I want to be All-NBA. I want to win in the playoffs. And I believe it can all happen.”

Image credits: AP

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