For NBA executives, timing is everything,
Each franchise's top brass walks a proverbial tightrope during contract negotiations and too often slips into the land of overpaying in bad deals. The goal is an impossible balance between satisfying a player and simultaneously keeping them hungry.
Handing out dollars and years like Snickers on Halloween doesn't accomplish that goal and can often lead to a disturbing trend. Fat new contracts are sapping some incentive out of star players.
The general idea is that in a contract year, a player will raise his game. He should feel a necessity to play well consistently because that is the final résumé builder when going in to negotiate his new contract.
However, the opposite of that is the year after the deal is signed. Certain players right now appear to be resting on their guaranteed money and don't feel the incentive to play as hard as they did a year ago.
Probably the greatest current example of incentive being drained out of his game is Deron Williams.
The Brooklyn Nets' "face of the franchise" was given a five-year deal worth over $98 million during the offseason. The Nets obviously made the hard sell and would have done just about anything to keep Williams in their transition year from New Jersey. That includes taking on the Joe Johnson contract as an appeasement.
Before this deal, Williams had been playing on a rookie scale extension he signed with Utah back in 2008. The incentive was always there for the young star to get that max contract. Now that Brooklyn thought he earned it, he is having a subpar season.
Normally, 16.7 points and 7.7 assists would be considered very good numbers. However, for Williams, after signing this contract, this is fairly disastrous. He has only recently been able to elevate his field goal percentage over 40 percent, which is where it sits now. His three-[point shooting has been suspect as well, teetering around 32 percent right now.
With Brooklyn in a tailspin throughout December, Williams was able to do nothing. The Nets did not beat a single decent team during their 5-11 month. Their star point guard showed some major inconsistencies as well. The Nets have since turned things around slightly, with four straight wins in January, including a victory over Oklahoma City.
There was little promising as to how this all went down over the offseason. Williams laid out his demands and Brooklyn went out of their way to meet them. They gave a king's ransom to make sure he stayed and they could market around a recognizable name.
But has that recognizable name worked just as hard as he did when that rookie contract was on the table? Before he had cool $21 million coming his way in 2015?
Another great example of turning an incredible contract year into a fat contract, the Indiana Pacers were forced to reward Roy Hibbert for a great 65 games, plus postseason.
The facts are facts: Hibbert was a dominant force in the 2012 postseason. That meant that the last thing in the minds of league executives before negotiating time was his 11.7 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game in the playoffs. One game—a 19-point, 18-rebound, five-block performance in Indiana's win that gave them a 2-1 series lead over Miami—may be responsible for his current deal.
After being heavily courted in the offseason, the Pacers needed to lock him down. They did so with a four-year, $58 million deal.
Up until this point, Hibbert made maybe $7 million over his entire career. In 2012-13, he is hauling in nearly double that.
Unfortunately, that same player who dominated the Miami Heat last May can no longer find the basket. Hibbert was shooting well under 40 percent to open the season and hasn't gotten higher than there since. He is averaging just 9.7 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, and has seen his free-throw shooting drop to a career-low 66 percent.
Indiana saw the market shape and how in-demand a talented 26-year-old center was and were forced to offer up a nice big contract to keep Hibbert around. This deal isn't something they will regret immediately, as Hibbert is still setting a solid tone in the defensive paint, but dropping a full 10 percent in shooting is fairly worrisome.
Does Hibbert have the same drive to work on post moves as he did coming out of Georgetown with nothing?
If all Michael Beasley wanted to do was pick up a couple sweet checks before exiting the NBA, he is doing a fantastic job of it.
The small forward is just 24 years old, but doesn't have a great reputation and is now proving his caliber as a player is significantly lower than expected. Despite bouncing around and all that came with it, Beasley still put up good numbers in Miami and Minnesota. Enough that Phoenix wanted him.
The Suns were willing to give Beasley a three-year deal worth $18 million. He has made out like a bandit, as his numbers dropped like a stone as soon as he hit Arizona soil. He lost his starting gig after 20 games and has now picked up two straight DNPs. All this is courtesy of his 37 percent shooting, which has led to just 9.6 points and only 3.5 rebounds per game.
These numbers are all career-lows for the former second overall pick. The 2008 NBA draft seems a long time ago now, for both Beasley and the Phoenix Suns organization. They were seemingly duped into offering up a sizable contract for next to nothing.
At $6 million per year, this is the most Beasley has made in his career. Is he working just as hard to get to that next level, or is he satisfied here?
Who is the worst 2012-13 offender of this trend?
There are a great many other players on the brink of entering this scary place. Guys like Kris Humphries, Jeff Green, Jeremy Lin and Ersan Ilyasova all signed big deals in the offseason and have underperformed. Even that is just a small portion of the players falling victim to this trend right now.
Thankfully there is a group of players who seem to want to prove they are worth the money they received. Omer Asik, Brook Lopez and Lou Williams fall into this category.
This is a disease with few cures. One way to stem the disturbing course is to get to star players early. The Celtics were able to keep Rajon Rondo on a smaller deal for longer because they got the extension done early. This is the opposite case of Hibbert in that the Pacers waited until after he had a mammoth postseason to get something long-term done.
The trouble with granting these massive deals to players who have won nothing of substance, is that incentive is siphoned with each loss and paycheck.
Bad games don't take the same toll on players who drive home to their mansion that night in their Maserati.