Pondexter's potential got him an extension, now he has to earn it
Memphis' trade to get Quincy Pondexter was both a success and a mistake. It was a mistake because of the price paid - to obtain QPon, the Grizzlies traded away Greivis Vasquez, their first round pick only one season before, after an indifferent rookie season. Vasquez has since gone on to break out and lead the NBA in assists. Pondexter will surely never lead the league in anything.
That said, the price paid to acquire someone via trade should stop mattering the day after the trade is made. Thereafter, it must matter only how that player produces. There, we find some better news. Pondexter has sprouted into a useful role player at a position of need - in this respect, then, his acquisition has been a success. And in tying him down to an extension, Memphis is looking for at least more of the same.
Last season, Pondexter added one notable piece to his game. Hitherto a mediocre outside shooter and inefficient, low volume scorer, Pondexter added a 39% three point stroke on a much increased number of attempts, making himself into a good spot-up shooter and suddenly finding an identity to his floundering offensive game. Combined with his decent although improvable defensive play, Pondexter found his spot on the rotation of a playoff-caliber team as a three-and-D specialist, which is exactly when an extension for him became a viable and desirable option. The only question was whether the four year, $14 million deal he has signed is a fair price.
Nobody can be too overpaid at $3-4 million a season, and this extension for Pondexter is within an acceptable price range for him. It is, however, on the higher end of that range at the moment. Solid as he is, Pondexter is still merely a sufficient role player, an 8th man, a player who helps a team when the team is already good and playing well but who ultimately has slightly greater value than Mr Generic Replacement Player.
Price tags for comparable three-and-D players include the three-year, $11,287,500 deal San Antonio signed Danny Green to, the five years and $26,836,600 Portland gave Wesley Matthews, the three-year $9,406,000 contract Shane Battier got from Miami, and Martell Webster's new four-year, $21,990,500 contract from Washington.
Pondexter ranks below these players in ability (Spurs blog Pounding The Rock produced a useful analysis of three-and-D specialists over the summer, in which Pondexter scores surprisingly badly), yet with this extension is now comparable to most of them in terms of salary. He is now earning the going market rate for the style of player he figures to become, without yet being the appropriate caliber of player. Pondexter's improvements bode well for the future, yet of all the teams needing to penny pinch as much as possible, the tax-threatened Grizzlies, with their multiple big salaries in place, need fiscal responsibility as much as anyone so as to minimize wastage. They need the development of Pondexter to help them with that.
Regardless of this, Pondexter will help the team for the four seasons that he is signed. He has proven a small but determinable degree of effectiveness on both ends of the court enough for that to be a safe assumption. Giving backups four-year contracts is always a dicey business - however, there is a chance that, with further improvement, Pondexter starts. Memphis now has 10 years committed at the small forward spot to Pondexter, Tayshaun Prince and Jon Leuer, and as of today there's not a starter among them. The unnecessary addition of Prince hasn't worked out, and thus the starting small forward spot is certainly winnable. With further development, Pondexter can win it.
Improvement in Pondexter's game are no doubt assumed to be forthcoming in giving him this extension, yet are also necessary. To be a three-and-D specialist worthy of this paycheck, the 39% three point shooting from last season must sustain, the handle must improve enough for straight line drives to be regularly feasible, and the defense needs to improve. The Grizzlies are a team built around strong defensive play and in dire need of more three point shooting - in theory, then, Pondexter is an ideal fit and a big help to this team in the way Prince has proven not to be. Pondexter is paid to be that which he could, should and must be. Now he needs to become it.
He can, though. There's nothing to suggest the 39% shooting was a fluke - Pondexter is a shooter now. And to be fair, at this point, he's probably already better than Prince.