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Good Gamble: Hornets Lock Up Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

If you’re a Charlotte Hornets fan, news of forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist signing a four-year, $52 million dollar extension has to be music to your ears. Yes, it’s a bit of a gamble (which we’ll get into momentarily), but as it stands, the pros seemingly far outweigh the cons.

For starters, given that he’s already been in the league for three seasons, it’s easy to forget Michael Kidd-Gilchrist doesn’t turn 22 years old until late September. Kidd-Gilchrist’s age, on it’s own merit, makes locking him up for the near-future a wise investment on Charlotte’s part. There’s plenty of reason to believe a yet-to-be-22-year-old has room to expand and round-out his game. And to think, he’s already an elite defender.

The defense is MKG’s calling card, and its what’s made him somewhat of a darling amongst many a writer / blogger. I know I’ve expressed my affection for his game before, and it stems almost entirely from what he brings to the table from a defensive standpoint. There are few players more fun to watch play defense. There are few players who can go from guarding Kevin Durant to guarding Stephen Curry. His versatility is to die for.

Of course, the defense alone makes signing Kidd-Gilchrist at $13 million dollar per year. Especially considering that in the coming years, the average salary of starting players will be approximately $15 million. What also makes this extension worthwhile is that by proactively hammering out a deal, Charlotte avoids the type of situation we saw unfold in Chicago last season with Jimmy Butler.

As you might recall, Butler famously bet on himself last season after contract negotiations between Butler’s reps and the Bulls stalled out prior to the start of the 2014-15 campaign. And depending on who you believe, talks bottomed-out whilst the two sides were supposedly only a couple of million dollars apart annually. In the long run, the Bulls wound up paying Butler $95 million rather than, say, $45-$55 million. Obviously, at this time a year ago, Jimmy Butler was not worth a $95-million dollar contract. But as of today, he most certainly is.

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Kidd-Gilchrist’s defense alone makes this a worthy investment for Charlotte.

Using the case of Butler and the Bulls illustrates why, in certain instances, it’s smart to avoid those wait-and-see predicaments if given the option to. Having to pay for a known commodity is fine, but contracts aren’t handed out based on past production, they’re determined on future projections, and MKG’s future is exceptionally bright. Additionally, had Kidd-Gilchrist hit restricted free agency next summer, you can guarantee he would have fetched a far larger contract than the one he just signed with Charlotte.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that just about every team in the league would offer MKG a four-year, $52 million dollar deal. Plus, this contract clearly benefits both parties. From MKG’s perspective, he’s 21 years old, and $52 million is generational money. And from Charlotte’s perspective, they’ve got a few contracts (Kemba Walker, Spencer Hawes) and a few cap holds (Cody Zeller, Jeremy Lamb) on the books for next season, but otherwise they’re in the clear. Meaning, it looks like Charlotte will most definitely have the money to spend in free agency next summer.

Obviously MKG isn’t a flawless basketball player. He’s still in the infant stages of developing a very iffy jump shot. If that jumper never develops, it’s worth questioning whether or not Kidd-Gilchrist is the type of player a franchise can build behind. It’s almost unthinkable to imagine a scenario where a team’s best/highest paid player — who isn’t 7-feet tall — isn’t able to hit 18-footers with any sort of regularity or consistency. One day MKG may be that player, but by extending him now, Charlotte’s banking on him balancing-out his game as an absolute bargain.

To be sure, there’s also some valid concern over MKG’s durability. Kidd-Gilchrist has missed 47 games over the past two seasons, and there was concern his foot injury (basketball players and foot injuries are never a good thing) could become a stress fracture. Luckily, it never did, and we can only hope MKG experiences the best of health from this point forward.

Ultimately, it’s hard to concoct a viewpoint which doesn’t praise the Hornets for this deal. Even if you’re of the belief MKG will never fully develop a complete offensive game, his current status as an incredible defender on a below market-level price tag is too good to walk away displeased. In Charlotte’s mind, I’m sure they hope to pay MKG as elite player some day. Wisely, they’ve bought themselves the time and blocked off the external pressures of free agency before having to pretend he’s an elite player prematurely.

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