If there’s one positive thing diehard NBA fans can take away from the lockout-plagued season, it would have to be the seemingly nonexistent waiting period from the end of the finals to the beginning of the offseason.
Most years, there is a dead period of basketball. Other than some last minute high school recruits making their decisions, there is really nothing to watch for in the NBA or college.
This year, the draft lottery took place during the finals, the combine and rookie workouts followed, and the inevitable NBA draft took place shortly after. Now that the first round picks have likely found their homes for this upcoming season, free agency is in full swing.
Deron Williams has decided to stay in Brooklyn, Dwight Howard is has been dealt to LA, and Tim Duncan, in a shocking turn of events, has decided to re-sign with the San Antonio Spurs. Williams and Duncan are set for a long time, Howard not so much; despite his apparent refusal to sign an extension, it's safe to say he's a happy camper. With those three, there is little controversy. With most others, even some of the most coveted and sought-after free agents out there, questions arise from the media, fans, and even other executives from time to time. The examples, even at this point in the offseason, are countless.
We’ll start with the most talked about player for the months of February and March of this past season: Jeremy Lin.
A month and a half’s worth of outstanding games earned Lin a stay for the long haul in the NBA, or at the very least, a nice new contract for the upcoming season. That happened when Houston offered him a 3 year, 25.1 million dollar deal that the Knicks reportedly won’t be able to match. The one aspect of this deal that has been documented the most is how much Houston is going to be paying their new point guard in that final third year; a staggering $14.9 million. Obviously that is some serious coin for a guy with a minimal track record to say the least.
Next, Nicolas Batum. A 23-year-old restricted free agent with Portland, Batum was a key item in free agency that had a lot of interest coming from numerous teams with numerous different situations around the league. There may not be another free agent (other than maybe Roy Hibbert) with more potential this summer than Batum. The Timberwolves were able to grab his attention right off the bat, and he agreed to sign a 4 year, $45.5 million offer sheet with the Wolves.
Despite more than a number of attempts by GM of the Wolves, David Kahn and company to work out a sign and trade to ensure Batum’s arrival, Blazers’ GM Neil Olshey has remained persistent to the fact that they will match any offer to Batum. While he is definitely a coveted player in this year’s market, $11.5 million per year is still a very large number, especially for someone who averaged a lick under 14 points per game.
Lastly, centers. Seven footers.If you are seven feet in today’s league, and have some game, you will get paid very nicely.
Going back a season ago, Kwame Brown, one of the ultimate blunders in the history of the NBA draft, managed to get a higher salary than the likes of Jamal Crawford, J.J. Barea (mentioned simply because of his heroics in the NBA Finals from 2 years ago), and many others who showed a lot of promise and had much better track records. He got a 1 year, $7 million deal.
While there haven’t been any travesties quite that bad this year, there have been some questions. JaVale McGee getting a new deal with Denver, making $10 million per year. Roy Hibbert got a max deal offer sheet from Portland, that was quickly matched by Indiana. Brook Lopez got a max deal with Brooklyn. Even Kevin Garnett, while obviously one with a very storied career, got over $10 million per year on what is almost definitely his last deal.
Those aren’t all the deals that have been brought up this summer. There have been many more in the past, and this pattern will not stop anytime soon. People will be overpaid for different reasons for different teams as long as the new, current collective bargaining agreement stays in place.
The only real question left is, why?
Teams have crippled themselves with contracts like these in the past (see: Rashard Lewis), but why do teams go ahead and sign these guys for way more than they're worth? Why is it that when a player gets signed for their actual value (see: Jason Terry’s contract this year with the Boston Celtics, going for the mid-level exception), it is considered getting them for a ‘bargain’?
It’s actually pretty simple. It really all depends on the team, and their situation.
There’s a reason you rarely hear about the Lakers or Boston signing fringe stars for the max, or unproven guys with a gobs of potential to deals way above what they are worth. That reason is players will go there without much convincing. The players that want to play in markets like that want to go to the big cities for that reason alone: the market. Amare Stoudemire isn’t a selfish man, but if anyone thinks that he left Phoenix for the Big Apple because of the young, pre-Carmelo core that they had, you are mistaken.
That’s just one aspect though, and doesn’t reflect every player. Some players want to go where the stars are. In 2008, that was Boston. Now, it’s Miami. In a couple years, it could be OKC, or it could be somewhere else. There is truly no way of knowing at this time, but the idea will remain the same. I would be shocked if Grant Hill would even consider the Clippers at this point if Chris Paul had never been dealt there. Players go where the wins are guaranteed to happen. It’s that simple.
Now look at the teams going after guys like Batum, Hibbert, Kyle Lowry, Eric Gordon (not a FA, but was on trade Market), and countless others. All these guys are excellent players, and a couple of them will probably be All-Stars down the road. For all of them though, their price tags are exceedingly high, and it’s the low market teams that are making this happen.
Teams like Minnesota, Toronto, Portland, Indiana, and Brooklyn will make moves for players like these. It’s not because their front offices are necessarily inept, it’s because that is the cost for them to get their teams back on the map. Some might say it isn’t the best method to get them back into championship contention, but a lot of the players mentioned these days are young, and some even have the potential to earn the paychecks they will be receiving.