With the official start of NBA free agency, news of the latest batch of ridiculous contracts has become public. As usual, it seems that NBA owners and general managers are happy to pay whatever it takes to sign someone, rather than thinking about how much the player is actually worth.
Let's start with Joe Johnson, pictured up top.
Johnson is a solid player, one who is a capable shooter and can handle the ball when needed. He's the best player on the Hawks, a team that won 53 games this year.
However, the playoff series against Orlando proved why Johnson isn't a real star. While his team was annihilated by the Magic in four games, Johnson was averaging 12.7 points and shooting 30 percent from the floor.
That didn't stop the Hawks from offering him almost $20 million a year for the next six years.
That's pretty staggering when you think about it. Your team is not a true threat to win anything with Johnson as your best player. So why are you paying him like he's going to carry you to the promised land?
Johnson would be a great addition to any team at a more reasonable sum, but that total will make it very difficult for the Hawks to make any significant moves in the near future. They're pretty much married to a core of Johnson, Smith, and Horford for the foreseeable future, a group that has yet to get past the second round of the playoffs.
Rudy Gay is another perfect example of throwing large sums of money at a solid but not elite player.
The Grizzlies won 40 games this year and failed to make the playoffs, despite Gay averaging 20 points and 6 rebounds.
Clearly that season of mediocrity was enough to commit over $16 million a year to retain Gay.
Is taking the Grizzlies from a low to mid 30's win total to around .500 really worth that massive financial commitment? Even that might be generous considering the Grizzlies didn't win 30 the previous two seasons with Gay as their star.
Again, this is not a knock on Gay as a player, but I have trouble seeing how he's really worth more than $12 million a year. That contract will make it far more difficult to keep the surprisingly decent front-court of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol together after this season, and furthermore, O.J. Mayo will be due for an extension in the relatively near future.
But hey, how could they pass on the chance to give $80 million to a small forward that can be aptly described as above average? Ask the Bulls how that has worked out with Luol Deng.
It's not just the second tier stars cashing in either. Drew Gooden, John Salmons, and Darko Milicic all signed for at least $5 million a year (Salmons signed for closer to $8 mil), even though none of them is likely to get those respective fan bases excited. Amir Johnson is signing for $7 mil a year even though he played only 17 minutes per game last year. How does that make any kind of financial sense?
These type of contracts are the reason that the next collective bargaining agreement will probably include drastic cuts in contract length and maximum contract value, punishing the players that actually deserve to get paid.
The NBA salary structure isn't broken, because LeBron James or Chris Bosh will get $17 million a year. Those guys will and should have a sizeable impact on the quality of their new teams and their ticket and merchandise sales.
It's broken because guys like Johnson and Gay get paid handsomely to carry their team to respectability, rather than real contention.
It's broken because basically any remotely competent big man will draw an offer of at least $8 million a year.
It's broken because bench players and average starters can easily draw salaries over $5 million a year, even if they aren't going to have a significant impact on your teams record.
It's wild spending like this that is putting so many teams in poor financial situations. A little thought about whether or not a player is truly worth it, rather than spending whatever it takes to keep a team together or get a marginal upgrade, would improve things quite a bit. Just because everyone else is overpaying for players doesn't mean you have to do it too.
But no, it'll all be blamed on the greedy players union when the CBA negotiations come up, when in reality it will be about protecting the owners from themselves.