Eric Gordon and Young NBA Players Who Don't Deserve Max Contracts Yet
Max contracts are all the rage in the NBA these days. The new collective bargaining agreement has made it easier than ever for teams to lock up their young stars from here to eternity while still allowing free agents to get their fill, albeit not quite as easily.
But with the proliferation of big-money contracts to stars like Deron Williams, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and Russell Westbrook, there has been a veritable feeding frenzy for beaucoup bucks among young stars with lesser credentials.
And, not surprisingly, there's a greater willingness among teams with financial flexibility to dispense such expensive pacts, whether the recipients deserve such lavish compensation or not.
Chalk it up to whatever you like—unwieldy market forces, weak-willed general managers, ignorant owners or greedy agents—but the latter trend seems set to continue for the foreseeable future, with these youngsters looking to cash in.
Even if they haven't earned the privilege just yet.
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If the awarding of max contracts were based on talent alone, Eric Gordon would encounter no argument against him getting his.
At 6'3" and 222 pounds, Gordon is a strong-yet-smooth athlete with the sheer physicality and athleticism to attack the basket and the sweet shooting stroke to torch defenders from well beyond the three-point line.
And, at 23, Gordon has plenty of room for improvement and time in which to achieve it.
Trouble is, the kid's rap sheet is already replete with injuries. Most recently, Gordon spent all but nine games last season sidelined with knee problems.
Of course, that didn't deter the Phoenix Suns from throwing a four-year, $58 million deal at the restricted free agent. The offer probably won't prevent from the New Orleans Hornets from matching, even though Gordon would prefer some new scenery.
If Gordon's healthy, he'll provide either of those teams with 20 points per game and a perennial presence at the All-Star Game.
But that "if" is a big one—almost as big as the dollar figure that's soon to hit Gordon's bank account.
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To match or not to match? That's also the question for the Indiana Pacers, who stand to lose Roy Hibbert in free agency if they don't go toe-to-toe with the $58 million offer sheet put forth by the Portland Trail Blazers.
Though, judging by a report by Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News on the thriftiness of Pacers owner Herb Simon, it wouldn't exactly be a shock if Indiana lets him go.
Not that they necessarily should. After all, it's not every day that a team gets its mitts on a 7'2" center who's just 25 years old and has worked diligently to improve his game every year. Hibbert's selection to the 2012 All-Star Game stands as a testament to that.
That being said, the fact that Hibbert stands to earn 10 figures starting next season says more about the state of big men in the NBA than it does about his particular merits.
Teams are so willing to overpay for seven-footers simply because they're so difficult to come by—especially those who can walk and chew gum at the same time, so to speak.
Hibbert can do much more than that, though. As he showed in the Pacers' playoff series against the Miami Heat, he's hardly a dominant talent worthy of the money to match.
The Blazers' extensive track record of failure with big men is particularly troubling, with Greg Oden carrying that dubious torch in recent years. It'd be much more of a shame to see Hibbert's talents go that way, though, than it would be to see him get paid.
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In a way, Brook Lopez's case is something of a hybrid between Roy Hibbert's and Eric Gordon's.
On the one hand, he's a talented big man who's going to get paid as much for being seven feet tall as for being a gifted ball player, which Lopez certainly is—more so than even Hibbert. He's an excellent frontcourt scorer, as proven by the fact that he's already averaged better than 20 points per game over the course of an entire season.
By the same token, though, Lopez doesn't exactly cut an imposing figure up front, as he's yet to crack nine rebounds per game in any given campaign.
More troubling is the way in which he parallels Gordon. Like E.G., Lopez spent the vast majority of the 2011-12 season in the training room while recovering from a debilitating foot injury.
Ask Bill Walton and Yao Ming what bad feet can do to a center's basketball career.
Lopez isn't likely to get max money given his questionable health and a limited list of suitors. The Brooklyn Nets have the right to match any offer for Lopez and might opt to use him as sign-and-trade bait for Dwight Howard, whether he likes it or not.
Chances are, though, that he'll have to "settle" for something in the range of $40 million to $50 million due to concerns with his foot.
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Five years ago, many likely expected O.J. Mayo to have earned a max contract by now. He was a superstar prospect coming out of high school and went on to a productive freshman season at USC, after which he was taken third overall in the 2008 NBA draft.
"Juice" still stands to break bread aplenty this summer, but he has failed to live up to the lofty expectations set before him, not to mention the heights achieved by his draft classmates.
While Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love and Roy Hibbert have gone on to be All-Stars, All-NBA performers and MVPs, Mayo has been relegated to super-sub status, even after averaging 18.0 points per game over his first two seasons.
To be fair, Mayo never quite fit with the Memphis Grizzlies, hence the team's decision to let him go rather than extending a qualifying offer to maintain their right to match any offer he receives.
As such, it's possible that Mayo, at 24, still has elite potential and is simply waiting for the right opportunity in which to unleash it. Maybe a starting role in a new city will allow him to flourish into the superstardom for which he seemed destined all those years ago.
Be that as it may, no GM in his right mind should gamble $58 million on the "potential" of a dude in his mid-20s. Luckily for fans of salary sanity, neither the Boston Celtics nor the Indiana Pacers—Mayo's most enthusiastic suitors—appear likely to show him max money.
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As far as next year's candidates are concerned, no player seems destined to receive such flagrant financial support as Serge Ibaka.
Much has been made of the Congolese forward's supposed defensive prowess after leading the NBA in blocks. So, too, has Ibaka garnered praise for improving his offensive game, as well he should.
But for the love of basketball humanity, can someone make sure that Ibaka doesn't get paid like his superstar teammates in Oklahoma City?
Not that there isn't plenty to like about Ibaka's game. And at the tender age of 22, he's still tremendously raw and figures to improve considerably in the years to come.
Under no circumstances, though, should a guy who's never averaged double figures in anything other than minutes per game be considered in the same compensatory category as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook or even James Harden.
Ibaka is a fine role player, to be sure, but no role player deserves to be paid like a superstar.
Not that some other team—with more cap space than it can comfortably handle—won't come along with some ludicrous figure with which to force the Thunder into a decision they'd rather not have to make. If/when it happens, keep your ears open for a loud ripping noise.
That'll be the sound of owners tearing up the collective bargaining agreement as they once again claim that they're helpless to stop themselves from spending recklessly.