The San Antonio Spurs signed forward Keldon Johnson to a four-year, $80 million extension on Friday. Entering his fourth season, he has shown steady improvement every year, become a regular starter, and is in serious consideration to be handed the keys to the franchise.
Based solely on money, this puts Johnson on the same tier as Lonzo Ball, Jerami Grant, Jarrett Allen, and Fred VanVleet. With the exception of VanVleet, no one on that list can reasonably be expected to be a multi-time All-Star, and no one at that level will be a franchise player on a real winner.
Johnson may be the exception. At 22 years old, he has added a 3-point shot and is still a force in the paint. He's also a solid defender who is an ideal all-around wing in the modern NBA.
Was extending Johnson for $80 million the right call?
Johnson is owed $20 million per season until 2027, and I think there are certain things to consider with his contract. First of all, the Spurs could have offered him more money. Not only is he a better player than Ball, Grant, and arguably Allen, but he is younger and has more room to grow. By the time his contract is up, he will almost surely be the best player on the team and hopefully an All-Star.
It is my assumption that the Spurs offered Johnson this contract while telling him he is their guy and that they'll be building around him. They also probably told him that by settling for a mid-tier NBA contract, the Spurs will have the money to bring in the guys he could want to play with, like Myles Turner or John Collins, down the line.
At the moment, Johnson is a $20 million per year player, but fans know he won’t last long at that level. Soon, he will be playing like a $30 million player, so the Spurs were lucky to get him signed to a long extension now.
When his contract is up, he will be 27, in his prime, and ready to win. He will also be ready to get paid, and after taking this cheaper deal, the Spurs will owe it to him to give him as much money as possible.
With Joshua Primo and other lottery picks around him, Devin Vassell at the wing, and an excellent young center around him (whoever that may be), Johnson will be the man when the Spurs get good again, and the man should get paid.
For now, the Spurs can use their excess cash to spend and build, but at a certain point, Johnson will come for what’s his, and frankly, he deserves to do so if all goes well. The Spurs got a steal when he signed the extension, now they need to make the best of this massive advantage.