The NBA is a worldwide billion-dollar machine. Plain and simple.
You can argue that team owners have been losing money faster than they ever have resulting in teams being sold, moved and bailed out by the NBA and it would be true, but that doesn’t change the fact that the NBA brings in billions of dollars into the system year after year. From merchandise sales, to worldwide broadcast deals, bums on seats and everything else in between, the NBA is all about the $$$…and here we all are thinking it was about entertainment.
Here is an analogy if I have ever seen one…Money makes the world go round, makes it go up and makes it go down and the NBA is no different. The worlds economies aren’t the same. You have bigger countries and smaller countries, richer countries and poorer countries. Countries that make good economic decisions and countries that make terrible economic decisions (hello Greece, have you met Spain?). The same can be said about the NBA…. right from top to bottom.
We lost a quarter of last season because of it. Teams locked their players out because of it. Owners lost, players lost and most importantly, the fans…you and me, we lost and rather than watching the game we love got a circus instead. This article isn’t about the lock out, we have read countless pieces on what happened as we waited for a resolution and then the decision about how the money was spent was finally made. Everyone seemed happy enough and basketball was back.
But did anyone really learn anything? I reckon it’s a simple answer. 2 letters, one syllable..NO. Sure, we got basketball back, owners got their teams back on the court making them money and players started getting paid again, but here we are a season later and nothing has seemed to change. Teams are still making some pretty stupid economic decisions when it comes to player contracts. It’s without doubt that a team needs top-drawer players and to get them, you gotta pay for them. But for every Kobe, LeBron, Garnett, Nowitzki and Durant there seem to be an ever growing list of teams throwing huge money at players in the hope they turn into a superstar or at least keep up the momentum prior to the big bucks and go onto bigger and better things. I’m certainly not saying this is across the board. Plenty of teams have had fantastic off season’s and picked up some great players at both bargain basement and top-drawer prices, but as usual, plenty of teams have hit the panic button and looked to keep key players and overnight made them filthy stinking rich.
This is nothing new and throughout the history of the NBA, teams have made some ridiculous contract decisions and paid rising players, aging stars and well, players that never really deserved it in the first place money that certain European countries can only dream they had.
So…here we go. Two lists.
The first is a list of what I think are the biggest blunders in the world of modern player contracts. You can’t blame the players here. These are some pretty sparkly carrots being dropped into their laps, but looking back, you got to wonder…what were they thinking?
1 – Jermaine O’Neal – $126.6M 7 years – Indiana Pacers
Season Stats pre MEGA contract – 20.8PPG / 10.3 RPG / 2.3BPG – 2002/03
Last Seasons stats – 5.0PPG / 5.4RPG / 1.7BPG
This was one massive contract and if Jermaine O’Neal had continued with the form that saw him earn All Star Selection, All NBA team selection and this epic new contact with the Pacers at the end of the 2002/03 season then things would be completely different and we wouldn’t be laughing, but as we know it didn’t work out that well for them. There is no doubt that Jermaine O’Neal was a dominant big man during the early 2000’s but injuries, attitude and a certain game against the Detroit Pistons in November of 2004 saw everything start to fall apart. One year into the 7, Jermaine O’Neil began to struggle and he never regained the form deserving of such a salary. It took a further 4 mediocre years for Indiana to swallow their pride and O’Neal was traded to the Toronto Raptors. All in all, this was a terrible decision by the Pacers and one they probably still regret. For Jermaine though, he is still smiling cause he still got paid.
2 – Rashard Lewis – $118M 6 years – Orlando Magic
Season Stats pre MEGA contract: 22.4PPG / 6.6 RPG / 2.4APG – 2006/07
Last Seasons stats: 7.8PPG / 3.9RPG / 1.0APG
This was one of the most perplexing and ridiculous player contracts in recent memory. Here is his story. He was selected by the Seattle Supersonics in the 2nd round of the 1998 Rookie Draft and played the next 9 seasons with the Sonics. He was a quality player and was selected to the All Star team in 2004. He held the record for the most 3 Pointers made at the Sonics and was an important member of their team. Then comes the contract. In 2007, Orlando made an offer too good to refuse….a 6 year deal worth $118,000,000.00 with the final 2 years guaranteed at $21M. How could he say no. So he joined the Magic and continued with his mediocre form. He did make one more All Star team in 2009 and the Magic did go the NBA Championships the same year, but for a player earning the most, out of any player in the completion he never, ever earned it. The Magic realized this too and in 2010 traded Lewis to the Washington Wizards for Gilbert Arenas and has bounced around the league since. Wait, what? The Magic traded him away for Gilbert Arenas? Some people never learn. See below.
3 – Gilbert Arenas – $111M 6 years – Washington Wizards
Season Stats pre MEGA contract: 28.4PPG / 34.5RPG / 6.0APG – 2007/08
Last Seasons stats: 4.2PPG / 1.1RPG / 1.1APG
As talented as Gilbert Arenas is (was), he has to appear on this list. Regardless of his early career stats from 2001 that saw him nearly average 30 points a game, his competiveness, the fact he was a 3 Time All Star, picked in All NBA Teams on 3 occasions and the fact he once scored 60 points in a game against the LA Lakers, he appears on this list for the simple fact that once he signed this ridiculous contract in 2008, he became a completely different player. Some might say that he “took the money and ran”, well, mentally at least. It was all down hill from here. Injuries plagued him, but it was his attitude that we will all remember. From loaded guns in the locker room, threats against his teammates and mass suspensions have completely ruined any chance of him being remembered in a positive light. 2 years into his massive contract, the Wizards had enough of his attitude and seeming lack of care and traded him to the Orlando Magic for Rashard Lewis (doh!). 1 year later Arenas was sent packing from the Magic. He was never the same player after the signature went on the contract. He is now playing at the Memphis Grizzlies and still getting paid…somehow.
4 – Joe Johnson: $119M 6 Years – Atlanta Hawks
Stats before MEGA contract: 22.3PPG / 4.7RPG / 4.9APG - 2009/10
Last Seasons stats: 18.8PPG / 3.7RPG / 3.9APG
This is a tough one, cause I am actually a fan of Joe Johnson. Johnson has been in the league since 2001 and has played for a handful of teams. He was drafted by the Boston Celtics with the 10th pick in the 2001 but was traded in his first season to the Phoenix Suns. He spend 3 seasons at the Suns before requesting a trade to the Atlanta Hawks in 2005 where he then spent 8 years growing as a player. Since 2007 he has appeared in every All Star team announced, has played for the US national team and has been a very important player for the Hawks and their organization, so in 2010, the Hawks rewarded Johnson with a max contract and offered him a 6 year contract worth a whopping $119,000,000.00. The Johnson family had smiles all round. But here is the clincher. Regardless of being a perennial All Star and a top quality player, Joe Johnson was never going to lead the Atlanta Hawks to a championship. He is just not that type of player. 2 years into this contract, the Atlanta Hawks realized this too and decided to swallow their pride and sent Joe Johnson, a player that only 2 years earlier they deemed worthy of being the highest paid player in the competition to the Brooklyn Nets for a bag of bit players and one single draft pick…ouch. Unlike the others above, Joe Johnson is still a great player and over the next 4 seasons should help the Nets get close to regular playoff appearances….whilst continuing to smile remembering how much $$$ is in his bank account.
There are plenty more and I could have gone on forever. Notable and infamous exclusions are Stephon Marbury, Tracy McGrady, Carlos Boozer, Ben Wallace, Juwan Howard, Jayson Williams…I could go on, but it hurts my brain to even think of them.
But it doesn’t end there.
Regardless of what went down at the start of the season with the lockout, it appears that team management didn’t really learn anything at all and have decided, as they do every year to do it all over again.
Sure, there are plenty of players that absolutely deserve to be paid the big $$$ as they are the ones that bring in the most for their team on and off the court. Players that put bums on seats, sell the most merchandise and are consistently being picked in All Star teams deserve their rewards. The players below though, in my opinion hardly deserve the world thrown at them just yet.
1 – Roy Hibbert – $58M 4 Years – Indiana Pacers
Career Stats: 11.1PPG / 6.4RPG / 1.6BPG
In the last couple of seasons, Roy Hibbert has broken out of mediocrity and has landed slightly higher up in the pecking order. He made his first All Star team this last season and should continue to get better. Does he deserve a max contract? Probably not! He has never really put up spectacular numbers and isn’t as agile or athletic as other big men in the competition. They only reason he gets this new max contract is because the panic button was pressed, not only by the Pacers, but by the Blazers who started this whole mess forcing the hand of Pacer management to match it. Quality big men are deemed priceless in this league, but there really are only a handful worthy of such a big contract. I hope that Hibbert proves me wrong and can continue to improve and not end up on the biggest bust list above.
2 – Brook Lopez – $61M 4 years – Brooklyn Nets
Career Stats: 17.4PPG / 7.5RPG / 1.6BPG
Another panic button max signing! With the Nets acquiring Joe Johnson from the Hawks and resigning one of the best guards in the comp in Deron Williams, the Nets were extremely keen to lure one of the best big men in the league in Dwight Howard to their roster and they tried everything in their power to do so. When it looked unlikely that D12 was coming to Brooklyn, the panic button was pressed and they turned their attention to making sure their current center, Brook Lopez would resign with them otherwise a very big hole would have been left in the middle. To ensure this, the Nets offered Brook Lopez a 4 year Max contract at $61M. Even more than Roy Hibbert. The thing is, Brook Lopez’s numbers don’t add up to equal such an offer. Sure, people could certainly argue “the for” for him, but when you take a good look at his stats, well, the future doesn’t look all that bright for him considering his current team would still move him in an instant if it meant a certain spoilt brat from Orlando walks in through the back door.
3 – Eric Gordon – $58M 4 years – New Orleans Hornets
Career Stats: 18.21PPG / 2.7RPG / 3.3APG
It’s allot of money to pay a player that stated he didn’t want to play for you and that “his heart” was with the Phoenix Suns, especially considering he only played 9 games for you too during an injury plagued season. Gordon was a restricted free agent and the Phoenix Suns came knocking when Steve Nash left for LA. To entice him to the Suns, and in the hope that the Hornets wouldn’t match, they offered him a max contract worth $58M over 4 years. But the Hornets had other ideas and the offer sheet was matched which meant Eric Gordon had no choice but to stop looking at property in Phoenix and return, tail between his legs to New Orleans. Is it going to work out? I really don’t know. Gordon is a quality young guard but he has some stiff competition at his position if he is ever to be an All Star. We are yet to see if he has decided to actually bring his heart back to NOH and play at a level worthy of such a contract. Only time will tell.
4 – Landry Fields – $20M 3 Years – Toronto Raptors
Career Stats: 9.3PPG / 5.4RPG / 2.2APG
I know this is far from a max offer, but as a New York Knicks fan, I had to include this one. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Landry Fields. He was a great asset to the New York Knicks since his breakout rookie season 2 years ago and is a solid player. But with an offer from the Toronto Raptors such as this and the reasons behind it, I wish him good luck in Canada and chuckle under my breath thinking Toronto really stuffed up this one. Here’s how it went down. Toronto and the Knicks were seemingly in a 2 team race to sign Steve Nash. The Raptors, knowing that the Knicks had very little money to play with made an offer to Landry Fields. An offer of $20M over 3 seasons, to a player who in his only 2 seasons in the NBA has been little more than a role player and facilitator. The reason for the offer, well, Toronto hoped that the Knicks would be forced to match as Fields, who was seen as an important member of Knicks roster. This would have meant they could no longer afford to go after Nash, thus allowing Nash to walk through the front door of Raptors HQ to much pomp and ceremony. But we know what happened. Nash pulled one out of the hat and ended up in LA and they both missed out. The Knicks knew that Fields wasn’t worth the money and allowed him to walk through the front door of Raptors HQ to the sounds of, well…nothing really. The Raptors now have a player on the books they are paying twice as much as they should be. Poor Raptors. Nice try though.
It’s a funny old game isn’t it? Money still talks and I bet there are a few teams and their owners that wish it did grow on trees. Players, no matter how much money they get paid will always want a bigger cut of the pie and revenue they feel they bring into the league and with all signs pointing north, management will continue to throw extra bills on the table.