Sunday Musings: The Jimmer Fredette Dilemma

Jimmer-Autograph-Pic

You can feel the pressure bubbling to the surface.  For two seasons, Jimmer Fredette has been on an unpleasant ride to nowhere.  His first NBA summer was derailed by a lockout.  Seven games into his rookie campaign, Paul Westphal was relieved of his coaching duties and Keith Smart took over.  A season later, Smart met the same fate after a combined 48-93 record. Dilemma.

Amidst the coaching changes, Jimmer found inconsistent minutes.  Those are inconsistent minutes on an inconsistent team with inconsistent management and inconsistent owners.

For a third straight season, Jimmer is starting over with the Sacramento Kings.  And this time around, everything is brand new, including the folks who will be making the decision on what happens next with the former collegiate player of the year.  Pete D’Alessandro and his staff have until Oct. 31 to make a decision on the $3.1 million fourth-year extension on Jimmer’s rookie deal.  If they choose not to pick up the option, then he becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

That wouldn’t mean that his career with the Kings is over.  The team retains Jimmer’s “Larry Bird Rights,” meaning they can exceed the salary cap to re-sign him.  But due to strict guidelines regarding rookie scale contracts written into the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, Sacramento can only offer up to the $3.1 million he would have earned under his previous contract.

Yes, all of this is confusing and we aren’t even going to touch on the possibility that the Kings could trade Jimmer and his Larry Bird Rights to another team during the season.  It is complex contract mumbo jumbo that far exceeds what the normal NBA fan wants to know.

What is safe to say, is that the Kings have options with Jimmer that don’t end when Oct. 31 rolls around.

But the question that the Kings have to answer between now and Halloween is whether Jimmer Fredette is more valuable to the franchise as a $2.4-million expiring contract or as a player locked in for next season at $3.1 million?

With most players, this decision would be left to the numbers.  And when we say “the numbers,” we aren’t just talking about points, rebounds and assists.  Sure, Jimmer dropped in 23 points and handed out five assists in 32 minutes during Thursday night’s preseason win over the Phoenix Suns, but there are a lot of factors to consider with any player, and perhaps even more numbers to consider when it comes to Jimmer.

First up, the Kings have Marcus Thornton under contract next season at nearly $8.6 million and rookie Ben McLemore earning another $3 million.  That means the Kings already have $11.6 million locked in for both a starting shooting guard and a reserve next season.  Under those constraints, keeping Jimmer makes very little sense.  If Thornton were to be moved to another team, then such a discussion would probably become irrelevant.

Secondly, the argument could easily be made that Jimmer hasn’t performed to a $3.1-million salary level.  There are reasons why that argument can be heard, but it doesn’t excuse the reality.  Jimmer’s per 36-minute numbers are excellent.  He averaged 18.4 points and 3.4 assists, while shooting 41.7 percent from 3-point range. If those were his actual numbers, then we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

Instead of those quality numbers, Jimmer averaged just 7.2 points and 1.3 assists in 14 minutes per game off of Smart’s bench.   There are a lot of fans who blame Smart for the way that Jimmer and others were handled over the last two seasons and to some extent, that blame was warranted.

There was more than one occasion when Smart complimented Jimmer’s play and promised to give him more time, only to reduce his minutes further.  All in all, Jimmer sat through 13 games in the 2012-13 season without having his number called once.  And down the stretch that season, 27-year-old journeyman Toney Douglas received the lion’s share of the reserve guard minutes, with Jimmer sitting idle in a very expensive seat.

In Smart’s defense, Douglas brought a defensive mindset to the game that Jimmer was not equipped to match.  But in a 28-win season and with Douglas playing out the final year of a contract, it would have been nice to see Jimmer get more time to develop on the court.

Lastly, there is another aspect to having Jimmer on your roster that has nothing to do with wins and losses.  In fact, it’s hard to quantify this last piece to his game without dancing on a fine line.

When I think about Jimmer and his effect on the fans, I’m reminded of a great line from Billy Joel’s Piano Man.

“It’s a pretty good crowd for a Saturday, and the manager gives me a smile, ’cause he knows that it’s me they’ve been coming to see to forget about life for awhile.”

It feels like each and every night, half of the building is there to watch Jimmer hit a 3-point shot.

Lost in all of the new ticket sales for the Sacramento Kings, there is a number that can be directly attributed to Jimmer Fredette.  The same can be said about jersey sales and television viewers.  Jimmer has a following and a brand that transcends sports.  He is a flat-out moneymaker for the Kings, but for many, the Jimmer effect is polarizing.

But it shouldn’t be, because there is yet another layer to Jimmer’s popularity.

Love him as a player or not, love his fans or not, the effect that this kid has on a crowd is different than almost any player in the league.  Every time no. 7 pulls up from 24 feet out and drops in a 3-ball, the crowd goes nuts.  While he quietly goes back to the other end of the floor, the fans are pining for more and you can feel the energy in the building change.  You don’t have to be a Jimmer fan to appreciate the way he can change a game.

When you’re a 28-win team, you need every advantage you can possibly get.  If an NBA crowd truly means anything to the outcome of a game, then you can add yet another aspect to the game that Jimmer has an ability to impact.  He is a bonafide momentum changer and because of who he is off the court, his impact on the fans will follow him regardless of what city he plays in.

So again, the basic question is a tough one.  Is Jimmer worth $3.1 million in salary and cap space next season to the Kings, or is he worth more as an expiring contract?  It is a decision that has many layers and one that I am personally glad I don’t have to make.

The discussion surrounding this decision is bound to get heated, because this isn’t your typical NBA player.  And for what it’s worth, Jimmer hasn’t asked for any of the fuss that follows him.  He is a respectful, intelligent young man trying to make his way in the chaotic world that is the NBA.

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About: James Ham

James Ham is co-owner and senior editor of Cowbell Kingdom, providing extensive Kings coverage through news analysis, in-depth interviews with players and staff and daily coverage of breaking news. Along with providing original content for the site, including the Cowbell Kingdom Podcast and his weekly Sunday Musings column, James also provides game day coverage for NBA.com and is one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary "Small Market, Big Heart".