When the clock strikes midnight, Robert Covington will be eligible to sign a contract extension and finally begin earning what he's worth.
The timing couldn't be better. Covington, who the Sixers certainly already valued highly, scored a career-high 31 points Tuesday night in Los Angeles, drilling a crucial three with 33 seconds left then making four free throws to close out the win over the Clippers.
It was yet another stat-stuffing performance for Covington — 31 points, 9 of 12 from the field, 5 of 8 from three, 8 of 8 from the line, six rebounds, four assists, four steals. And all of this from a guy who makes his biggest impact on the defensive end.
He just keeps getting better and better, growing into one of the best possible versions of a 3-and-D player.
Covington is going to make some serious coin. Just how much?
The idea has been floated around that the Sixers could use some of this season's cap space (approximately $15 million) to give Covington a significant immediate raise as part of his new contract. It would help the Sixers down the road to pay Covington a lot now because it could allow them to pay him slightly less when they're closer to the salary cap.
The widespread expectation: Roughly $15 million immediately injected into Covington’s 2017-18 renegotiated season to set up a slightly reduced figure in subsequent extension years— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) November 10, 2017
If the Sixers do give Covington that 2017-18 raise as part of his reworked contract, by rule, he cannot see more than a 40 percent decrease in next year's salary. So, as pointed out by the Sporting News, if the Sixers use all of their remaining cap space this season to give Covington his immediate raise, they would have to pay him a minimum of $10 million next season. Which they would anyway.
Here are some current contracts for forwards somewhat comparable to RoCo:
• Khris Middleton: 5 years, $70 million
• Kent Bazemore: 4 years, $70 million
• Serge Ibaka: 3 years, $65 million
• Danilo Gallinari: 3 years, $65 million
• Tobias Harris: 4 years, $64 million
Covington is by far the best defender of this group. From a skill set perspective, he's most similar to Bazemore, an above-average defender who can rebound and hit threes.
These contracts are provided simply for context. A lot of it depends on the team, the fit and the cap space. Covington is a better all-around player than Gallinari (and significantly more durable) but that doesn't mean he's going to exceed the $22 million average annual salary.
This season, Covington is making just under $1.6 million. If the Sixers raise that to, say, $15 million, then sign him to a contract worth four years and between $52-56 million, the end result would be approximately five years, $70 million. That seems about right for Covington. Maybe slightly low.
The possibility exists that Covington chooses not to sign an extension and instead tests the unrestricted free-agent waters after the season. At the end of the day, every player does what's best for himself. But it would be pretty tough for Covington to turn down tens of millions of dollars given how underpaid he's been to this point. And could you really see him leaving Philly after years of building this thing up over a few million dollars through the life of a four-year deal?
Another thing to keep in mind is that if Covington were to wait it out, there just aren't many teams positioned to pay him top dollar or exceed what the Sixers can offer. As it stands right now, only the Lakers will have more cap space next summer than the Sixers, but L.A. obviously has its sights set on superstars like LeBron James and Paul George. The Sixers are just behind the Lakers, and then the only teams currently within even $20 million of the Sixers' 2018 cap space are the Bulls, Mavericks and Hawks.
Covington could certainly hold out in hopes of landing a bigger deal from one of those three teams, but the risk would seem to outweigh the reward, especially if winning is a priority for him after years spent on cellar-dwelling Sixers teams.
This is a deal the Sixers will want to complete sooner rather than later and it would be no surprise if it's announced later this week.
The week the Sixers traded Nerlens Noel to Dallas last season, I wrote about how that deal essentially meant the Sixers were choosing Covington over Noel. That decision now couldn't possibly look better.