Despite the 2011 NBA lockout, it still seems general managers have yet to learn the danger of signing players who are not superstars to long-term, lucrative contracts.
Two teams recently were insane to match such offer sheets for their players.
The NBA offseason has become a season of its own. Only in the offseason, it's not the players playing the games, it's the general managers.
Restricted free agency (RFA) has developed into an important offseason aspect. Players who are RFAs can choose either to re-sign with their current teams or sign offer sheets elsewhere. Such players' current teams have the ability to match the offer sheets of pursuers.
This can cause tension because sometimes the player does not want to be re-signed by his current team.
Opposing general mangers can also sign RFAs to offer sheets with the sole purpose of bumping up the prices of players.
For example, when the Toronto Raptors were recently pursuing former Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash, they knew their biggest competitor at the time was the New York Knicks.
The Knicks could only execute a sign-and-trade for Nash because of their limited cap space. One of the players the Knicks were planning on sending in a sign-and-trade deal was Landry Fields, a so-so shooting guard whose three-point-shooting percentage went down the toilet in 2011-12.
In order to botch the trade, the Raptors signed Fields to a three-year, $18.7 million offer sheet, knowing the Knicks would likely not match. The deal is ridiculously high for someone who's a role player at best, but the Raptors didn't care.
They were fine paying Fields that money as long as they also acquired Nash.
It's funny how things play out, though—Nash was dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers, and both the Knicks and the Raptors lost out. The Knicks lost a fan favorite and an important role player. The Raptors are now stuck paying Fields more than $6 million for each of the next three seasons.
This summer has been the most exciting (or annoying) restricted-free-agent period arguably ever.
There was the non-matching of Jeremy Lin by the Knicks, which has become a polarizing topic on its own.
The New Orleans Hornets matched the Suns' offer to Eric Gordon. The Hornets had to—Gordon is the main piece the team received back in the Chris Paul trade last winter. Gordon is also the team's best player.
Then there are two other teams which matched offer sheets to important players on their rosters. Both players are solid NBA players, but with the way they're being paid, you'd think they were NBA superstars.
Nope, just good starters. At best both of them are non-starting All-Stars.
Here are two teams that were insane to match the offer sheets for their players:
Team No. 1: Portland Trail Blazers
Restricted Free Agent: Nicolas Batum
Contract: four years, $45 million
The consensus on Nicolas Batum is high.
Everyone loves his game—he defends multiple positions, knocks down three-pointers, has a high basketball IQ and has shown improvements each season. There's no reason to believe Batum will regress in the years to come.
Batum is a great player to have on your roster because he does multiple things on the court. With the current direction of the NBA, teams have to have athletes to compete.
How else do you plan on beating Kevin Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder or LeBron James' Miami Heat?
Athletes. Batum is just that.
What Batum is not worth, though, is a contract that averages to be worth more than $11 million per season for four years. Being a small-market franchise, the Portland Trail Blazers cannot afford to mess up with any player contracts.
Batum has been great in his four seasons with the Blazers, but has he done anything to warrant over $11 million a year?
Since there's limited talent each year in the free-agency pool, many above-average players get paid as if they are superstars. It was one of the reasons for last year's NBA lockout. It's not the superstars like Kobe Bryant who are overpaid. It's above-average players like Andre Iguodala, Rudy Gay and now Batum.
Yes, Batum is a fine player, but the Blazers aren't winning a championship anytime soon with him as their second best.
Batum also made it known that he would have rather played with the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team that signed him to the original offer sheet. The Wolves would have been a nice fit for Batum, but the Blazers said they were re-signing him since day one.
Batum has said all the right things since being re-signed, similar to Gordon with the Hornets. But if Batum is simply wearing a mask and saying that he's happy to be back just to mend fences, then that's worrisome.
Bad blood builds easily in negotiations. If the Blazers don't show improvements this upcoming season, will Batum still be happy? We'll wait and see.
The reason it was insane for the Blazers to match the Batum deal isn't because Batum's a bad player by any means.
He's just not an $11 million-a-year type of player. Who knows, though, maybe this season Batum will step up and justify his contract.
If not, the Blazers could be saddled with an unfriendly contract for the long term.
Level of Insane: Medium
Team No. 2: Indiana Pacers
Restricted Free Agent: Roy Hibbert
Contract: Four years, $58 million
The days of the big men dominating the NBA is truly dead.
If Roy Hibbert can get a four-year, $58 million deal and not draw much criticism, then it shows the poor-market status of big men in the NBA today.
Before we go much further, let's identify the top five centers currently in the NBA in some order:
- Dwight Howard
- Andrew Bynum
- Tyson Chandler
- Marc Gasol
- DeMarcus Cousins
You can make an argument that Hibbert is better than Cousins, but going forward, who would you rather have? Cousins without a doubt.
Considering the fact that Hibbert is 7' 2", he should dominate the boards. But in 2011-12 Hibbert averaged only 8.8 rebounds per game.
That was good for 19th in the league.
Some players that averaged more rebounds than Hibbert in 2011-12: Marcin Gortat, Ersan Ilyasova, Pau Gasol, Marcus Camby and David Lee.
It's not as though Hibbert blew the league away on the offensive end of the floor, either.
In 2011-12 he averaged 12.8 points per game and shot 49 percent from the field. In the playoffs Hibbert struggled to stay on the court against the Heat. He had the big Game 3 in which he scored 19 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, but that game was more of an aberration than anything.
The next three games, Hibbert averaged less than 10 rebounds against a Heat team without Chris Bosh.
Hibbert's not a top rebounding or scoring big man. He can block shots but is not necessarily a world-class defender, either.
Why is he worth four years and $58 million, again?
Like Batum, this isn't a bashing on Hibbert. Hibbert is an above-average center, and the reason he's paid so highly is the lack of quality big men in the NBA.
Think about it this way: Hibbert isn't overpaid in terms of the center market; Hibbert is overpaid in terms of bringing your team closer to a championship.
If Hibbert isn't going to get your team closer to winning a championship, why match the Blazers' offer for that much money?
Hibbert's contract now takes a huge chunk out of the Pacers' cap space. As Grantland's Bill Simmons said on his NBA podcast, now Paul George has to become an All-Star-level player, or the Pacers will be stuck in mediocrity for the next few years. Good enough to make the playoffs but not good enough legitimately to compete for a championship.
If that's the Pacers goal, then that's great.
But if their goal is to win a title, which it should be, then matching the Hibbert offer sheet is truly insane.
Level of Insane: High