The greatest puzzle of the NBA might just be how Marko Jaric, a career seven point, 3.6 assist-per-game player, was slated to make $7.1 million in salary last season. The lavish contracts for sub-par players is indeed a head scratcher.
Rich Bucher's recent column, "Why are NBA Owners Spending So Much", was intended to shed light on this topic. According to his inside agent sources, GM's were more willing to overspend because of the imminent NBA lockout. According to them, GM's were okay with these insane contracts now because a) they may not be obligated to pay them in full later (after the lockout) and b) they wanted to generate fan interest when they have money now rather than later (after the lockout) when they might not.
Unfortunately for Bucher, overspending is a timeless issue. Any valid explanation for GM spending must also account for:
Jerome James - $6,600,000
Dan Gadzuric - $6,745,000
Jarred Jeffries - $6,466,600
Nazr Mohammed - $6,466,600
Brian Cardinal - $6,750,000
and a whole host of other horrible, overpriced signings that were made years before the upcoming (potential) lockout was ever a concern. The fact is - overspending has been a long time phenomenon. And Bucher's explanations are more akin to the type of rationalizations that a binge eater (like myself) makes to console himself after downing eight slices of stuffed pizza, 10 buffalo wings, two cans of soda, all topped off with some mozzarella sticks.
When In Doubt, Turn to Stern
So why do owners tend to overspend? As usual, David Stern offers a very compelling answer. It's the system stupid. Simple as that.
"Our owners spend within the system," Stern said after an owners meeting in Las Vegas last month. "They're encouraged, praised, and otherwise driven to improve their teams. Of course they have that capacity. It winds up driving them to unprofitably. They want to change that system so when they get driven to it, whatever they do, there won't be losses. That's all."
Owners overspend in a system that encourages overspending. In the NBA, players are entitled to a fixed percentage of all revenue. And while teams can save their cap space, it takes an inordinate amount of Sam Presti-like discipline and focus that the majority of GM's do not have. Most teams desperately want to compete and overspending is an easy way, albeit not always the smartest way, to do so.
Not All Spending is Good Spending
As attractive as Stern's explanation is, changes to the old CBA may not necessarily break bad habits until key changes in mindset are made. Owners need to stop blaming the system and take ownership over their mistakes. If there are some GM's who can exercise fiscal constraint, more can do the same. The sooner this happens, the better off the NBA will be.