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Andre Drummond and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Basketball Needs

David Blair/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

Andre Drummond has apparently informed Stan Van Gundy that he wants to resume contract negotiations for next summer. It’s not because the two parties are having some kind of confrontational difference in opinion over the worth of Drummond. The world would be shocked if he were to get anything less than the max. So this contract “negotiation” isn’t about money at all. What makes it compelling, though, is how it impacts the course of free-agent negotiations.

Most of us are aware of the exorbitant amount of money that’s going to be spent next summer. The chunk of change that Mr. Drummond stands to pocket is massive. In the first year, he’ll be entitled to at least 25 percent of the cap, which is projected to be around $89 million. So he’ll get about $22.25 million in year one, and in each of the next four years he’ll get a $1.669 million pay raise (7.5 percent.) Ergo, over five years he’d make roughly $128 million.

Say what you want, but you can afford to spread pretty good jam on your bread with that kind of cash. And this raises the issue of what I’d like to call “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Basketball Needs.” The days of “getting yours” are more or less a thing of the past. Pretty much any player with a 10-year career is going to retire having made $75-100 million in his lifetime. And then it goes up from there. In short, if you’re good enough to have multiple teams bidding on you, you can make enough money to be set for life.

And I don’t mean “set for life” in that “live responsibly” sort of way. I mean set for life in that “sipping drinks on the sunny shores of Tijuana just because it’s Saturday” kind of way. We’re talking, the rest of your life is a vacation, and all you have left to do is spend money. You only “work” if you want to, not because you have to.

If you’re not familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it’s a pyramid of needs, each which must be fulfilled before the next can be. The bottom of the pyramid is physiological needs, which consist of things like food and water. Pretty much if you’re starving to death, you’re not worried about learning a second language — unless that’s going to land you some food. You do what you need to meet the most needs.

After the physiological needs, there are different levels of needs that need to be met. Safety (job, health, etc.) comes next. Then “Love/Belonging” where you can develop truly intimate, loving relationships, then Esteem (confidence, self-respect, etc.) and finally Self-Actualization is the top. There appears to be an “NBA Equivalent” of this chart, with the “Self-Actualization” portion being something Andre Drummond is hitting on in offering to suspend negotiations.

In the NBA, superstars are getting enough money that they’re not worried about their next meal. Physiological needs are met the day they ink their name. That’s a given.

The “Safety” comes into play once they get that first guaranteed contract. Look, Derrick Rose can afford to think about his son graduating because, financially, he’s at that place. Don’t despise him for it.

The third stage, Love/Belonging, comes from the team wanting to give you a max contract. Hey, let’s be real. Nothing says “I love you” like a five-year, $125 million job offer.

Esteem comes from the accolades of reaching All-Star Games, getting named to All-NBA teams and the like. While, at present, Drummond’s lone “award” is a Second Team All-Rookie selection, there are plenty coming his way He’s a veritable lock to make the All-Star Game this February.

So that leaves this last bit about Self-Actualization, and a growing number of players are reaching that stage. Literally, the only thing they have to contemplate is their legacy. Drummond is reaching it sooner than most because he’s getting paid sooner than they did. And legacies, more than ever, are becoming defined by winning.

Look at Chris Paul and the criticism that he’s taken for never getting a team to the conference finals. Whether that’s fair or not is moot. The criticism exists, and the players see it.

If you’re talking about on-court performance and statistics, it’s almost impossible to make an argument for Kobe Bryant over LeBron James. But five is greater than two, and that’s all that will ever matter to some. That’s not to drive the billionth Kobe vs. LeBron debate; I don’t care anyway. But what’s in the players’ heads? What are they thinking? I can have another zero in this bank account, but so what?

When all is said and done, Dwyane Wade may have given up $100 million in salary to play with James and win two more rings. Carmelo Anthony chose to go the money route. But when Wade and Anthony — who are close friends — go out, do you think Anthony has to pick up the tab? It’s not like Wade is “feeling” that $100 million he left on the table. And do you think they spend more time discussing Anthony’s money or Wade’s rings?

Players see these things. Don’t think they don’t. They see the criticism that Anthony took for forcing a trade that hollowed out the Knicks and gutted their future. That’s why Kevin Love gave a list of teams that could still have talent in place after he arrived. And they see the credit that Kawhi Leonard got for taking the max, but waiting until the next summer to do it so that the Spurs could have that little extra money to ink LaMarcus Aldridge.

Becuase now players know: Ultimately, history will judge you by whether you won.

And that’s what makes the fact that Drummond asked to table contract talks until next summer so remarkable. He’s not doing it for the money; he’s doing it for the team. And that kind of “Player Self-Actualization” could mark a continuation of a sea change in the course of the NBA, as players work with not against front offices to build teams around them. We saw it with Wade in Miami, with James in Cleveland and now with the much younger Drummond in Detroit.

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