Be Thee Not Unspoken

Sorry I haven't been my usual babbling self about this draft. To be perfectly straight about it, I don't want to guess about this class of draftees—I want them to hurry up and get in the league. I firmly believe that, after a down-year, the NBA is positioned to come clanging back more boisterously than before. The injuries will be gone, the new blood will be streaming through the league, movement might happen, and there will be a ton of chips floating around out there. At the risk of jinxing us all, I'll hold off on particulars until the moment is near. Suffice it to say, however, that this year the draft sort of just feels like making us wait for something grand and actual.

But what I really came down from the hills after my. . . three day?. . .hiatus for was to speak on the dreaded "R word." Shanoff sent me an email yesterday that really got me thinking about the utter relativity, subjectivity, deception, and futility of "rebuilding." Like we know that the T-Wolves have supposedly not been rebuilding, because Garnett wants to win. And yet the Celtics are, despite having Pierce, a young nucleus coming along, and being in a conference that lends itself to token success. It would seem that there are at these four variables at play, all of them sheltered by whatever the organization chooses to say officially on the matter.

No superstar wants to get rebuilt around. It's crass, ugly, and to some degree proves one's own failure. So instead, what goes on with the Lakers, or Wolves, or Celtics, maybe, is what one might better term "retooling." There's some truth to this muddle: in a league where LeBron can take out most of the Pistons himself, and Kobe can throw up fifty without even wanting to, a team is never completely out of the hunt if they're packing that caliber of single-axis talent. And certainly, it is the removal of said player that truly signals practical and psychological rebirth for a team.

But we have also seen time and time again that there a one-man team is ultimately limited, and that making the playoffs (in the East) is quite a different thing from contending for a title. In truth, all teams churned by a single imperial engine are on that slippery slope between rebuilding and "retooling," totally at the mercy of their GM's retlative incompetence. What they say in public is, primarily, to save face for the front office and the star. The star never wants to feel like the team has sunk so low, because it in part will rest upon his shoulder. And while management's expectations are relaxed when rebuilding is at hand, having squandered a playoff team is the kind of small-scale failure that gets heads flown in the lesser parts of the league.

I'm getting out of order here, but the question of "toward what" is the unseemly punchline of rebuilding. Like really, these teams think they can gun at a championship? Fat chance 'o that! Most teams would be content to make the postseason, and then hover around there regularly--a goal that only backfires if the team fails to crack through to the second round, or makes it too far into the depths (KINGS) without winning. Realistically, though, most teams are content to be known as "winners."

And then, the Wizard of Oz moment: the whole highly-politicized tap dance over whether or not a team admit its rebuilding. So find, the Lakers didn't tell Kobe that were doing that. What the fuck? THEY HAD NO TEAM. Bryant's not stupid; maybe he was counting on them to make a big move all along, or maybe it's just a saving face thing. Seems to me that there's the rebuilding of words and the de facto condition. Somehow, no one qualifies for the former, and everyone is very nearly consumed by the latter.


At 6/19/2007 9:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

KG is gonna finish the best player of his generation without a ring, huh?
That makes me sad. :(

At 6/19/2007 10:08 AM, Blogger Bo said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 6/19/2007 10:10 AM, Blogger Bo said...

I think Duncan is the best player of his generation, although one can certainly make a case for Garnett or Bryant. However, a ring should signify the success of a team, rather than a sign of individual accolade. Is there anyone who thinks that Robert Horry is better than Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Stockton/Malone, etc, etc?

At 6/19/2007 10:14 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

um, not to be a dick, but that's not really what my post was about. and these are some of the most played-out conversations you can have around the basketball interwebszzz.

am i the only person who finds the concept of "rebuilding" incredibly problematic and often misleading?

At 6/19/2007 11:03 AM, Anonymous Josh said...

Teams are in a tricky position for sure, becuase you have to give your fans to buy tickets and be at least semi-excited on a year-to-year basis, but sometimes that's just conducive to anythint other than prolonged mediocrity. still, most of these smaller or mid-market teams can't just say "see ya in 2010!" and just start back from square one w/o taking huge hits. I think it's interesting that one of the only teams that really pulled this off recently is the Bulls. They flat-out sucked ass for a few years while they were rebuilding in the genuine sense of the word, and now they're in a better position than almost anyone. But you have to remember that not only do they play in a huge market, they'd also bought up eons of good will with the Jordan era. Not everyone can pull that off. I have hope for my own Bobcats for just this kind of reason, simply b/c they're an expansion team and fans are generally showing more patience with them as they build than most fan bases would (Bernie had to go either way).

At 6/19/2007 11:06 AM, Anonymous Josh said...

"give your fans a reason to buy tickets" I mean; and also "that's just NOT conducive"...jesus, I'm sloppy.

At 6/19/2007 11:07 AM, Anonymous Jordan said...

A ring signifies the success of a team insofar as the "role players" are concerned. Why? Easy: a team is made up of 12 players, but they don't shoulder the same responsibility of around 8%.

Take the Spurs; the folliwng players would be respionsible of the team's success to the following extent:
Duncan - 25%
Parker - 15%
Ginobili - 13%
Finley, Bowen - 8%
the other 8 combined - 30%.

So, if Oberto wins a ring, it's the team and if he doesn't, it's still the team. If Duncan wins one, it is still the team, but it's more him than in the case of Oberto...

Hope that makes sense even a little bit. I'm tired and a bit hungover...

At 6/19/2007 12:33 PM, Blogger Matt said...

You're totally right, shoals; "re"building signifies the sacrifice of existing success, refactoring your current assets into a form that's more scalable to success. But if you don't have championship assets in the first place, it won't get you anywhere. Furthermore, rebuilding implies that pieces of your current squad are unsound and need replacement - when the Celtics say they're rebuilding, who's getting the axe beyond the ancillary pieces that aren't part of the main structure, like Bassy Telfair?

At 6/19/2007 12:36 PM, Blogger Bo said...

When a team is especially invested in a player, and has built around the player, as well as signed him to a max deal, I think the team feels somewhat responsible for the players' success, as well as the legacy of said player. It's awkward to try and go young when you have a franchise player in his prime, looking to win. The Lakers, the Timberwolves, and the Celtics all got themselves into such a situation, and it's funny because they don't really admit they're "rebuilding", and they can't really rebuild until they unload their franchise players' huge contract. Is that sort of what you're touching on?

At 6/19/2007 12:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Darkofan: Are there some successful "rebuild " examples that might show the difference between rhetoric and implementation of a strategy.

Is Chicago, a good example ?

Conceptually, it must mean deferring some short term gratification, at least in terms of casual fan appeal ( i.e., foregoing a popular ,and available, but aging scorer). It might also mean giving playing time to young players who show promise, and cutting the minutes of veterans nearing the end of there career.

Is it necessarily preceded by demolition of a still funcitioning team structure, as in the urban renewal debate ? In that case, the Jerry Krause (phonetic) Bulls would also be an example of failure -- deconstruciton followed by seemingly perpetual rebuilding .

At 6/19/2007 12:45 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

chicago proves how complex the whole "rebuilding" question is.

have they done so once or twice now? are they done yet? certainly, the "rebuilding" cries were louder the first time they did it, but obviously they've been much better--and, not coincidentally-more gradual with it this time.

all of which makes it strange that it's painted as a black/white issue.

At 6/19/2007 12:57 PM, Anonymous Andrew said...

Long time reader, rare time poster.

As much as anything, this seems to be an examination of what the word "rebuilding" means, especially when compared to a word like "retooling."

It seems like part of what's at stake is what, precisely, is being built. I think the only logical answer in the world of Right Way is a championship team. That's certainly what someone like Paxson would claim to be building, I think.

You also touch on that with the idea of teams that are playoff perennials with literally no chance of ever winning; those teams are treading water and keeping fans relatively happy. Were they built to do so? Or was the process abandoned haflway through? Or is the team a sort of annual Tower of Babel, reaching for a goal that was always impossible because the Gods (Duncan and Steel) were never going to let it happen?

At 6/19/2007 2:29 PM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

Maybe the NBA should have a long, hard look at the salary cap/salary structure and try to figure out why a team needs to essentially sacrifice a few years where they're guaranteed to be near the bottom of the league as part of being on the path to a championship. The Knicks are a prime example of a team that's never been willing to "rebuild" and is instead always in "retooling" mode, and they're perennially fucked for doing so. The best way for the Knicks to try to get to a championship has always been for them to blow everything up and try to dump all those salaries and be left with a bunch of nobodies for a year or two or three, and then once they're under the salary cap hope they can lure a big name free agent to MSG. But even though they suck every year and they keep missing the playoffs, they can't just tell their fans "see you in 2010" and expect the fans to keep paying those ticket prices.

The Lakers are in a similar situation. There's a great article on Forum Blue & Gold (via True Hoop) about all the options the Lakers have, and not one of them will lead to a title any time soon. The best scenario they had for the future of the Lakers involved trading Kobe and Vlad Rad to the Bulls for Deng, Ty Thomas, PJ Brown, Duhon and the 9th pick in the draft. While this would position the Lakers well for the future by loading them with young talent and freeing up ~$18 million in capspace next summer to go after big-name free agents; it doesn't make the Lakers any threat to win next year and really hinges their future title chances on a lot of luck.

I think this type of thinking for teams is overall bad for the league. In the other main leagues you get the feeling that any team could be competitive any year, but this is not the case in basketball. Is asking the fanbase of a team to wait a few years while the team sucks it up and "rebuilds" good for the sport? I'm not sure what the solution would be. Maybe shorter contracts or something (make contracts max out at 3 years maybe?). It just seems like yet another thing that's wrong with the league.

At 6/19/2007 3:47 PM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...

How many teams really rebuild (defined here as slowly trying to get back into the top 4 of the conference)? It seems like most teams end up panicking and throwing a bunch of money at a second-tier free agent to appease the fan base. As Shoals says, most GMs and coaches are so worried about keeping their jobs that rebuilding isn't a worthwhile proposition for them. It seems like rebuilding can only really work after a prolonged period of success, because then fans are less likely (or more likely, if you're in Boston) to care about instant success.

I agree with Yams wholeheartedly about the screwed up cap structure. Two bad signings in three years basically damns a team to inflexible summers and minor moves. Yes, there are stupid GMs, but free agents go for above their real worth in every sport and the rules should be changed accordingly. I like the cap--we don't want a baseball situation--but it needs some changes quick. The contract length limit is an intriguing idea, although that would probably create a really unstable league with different problems. It might just be as simple as making the luxury tax penalties less severe.

At 6/19/2007 3:59 PM, Blogger morgenstern said...

Well i think you're right, rebuilding is just a word and not one team situation is the same as another. The bulls had it easy also in a sense that wasn't just a front office decision, mike retired, pippen and jackson went away, and that was it, they basically didn't have a team anymore, at the time it made a lot more sense that imagining a bulls team with pippen as the main option or jordan withouth jackson. The lakers pulled it off, trading for shaq and drafting kobe, that gave them a great team instantly, and san antonio and cleveland just got blessed in the lottery but that can't happen to everybody.

At 6/19/2007 4:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To me, the NFL is less interesting because its like a random toss up every year who could be good. It's more of a crap shoot than having to build something good, and in so doing it loses flavor. Rebuilding in the NBA is part of what gives it flavor.
I recently read an article that decided the NFL was communism and the NBA was capitalism as far as the team structure systems are concerned. Capitalism seems less homogenous to me. So is rebuilding a necessity of a more capitalist structure?

At 6/19/2007 4:41 PM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

I think it's somewhat ill-advised to look to teams from 10+ years ago to show how rebuilding can be done quickly or anything like that. Things were very different then and the average player salary was much, much cheaper. At the same time, teams could re-sign players for anything they wanted, cap or no, so long as they'd been with the team for 3 seasons.

The Bulls have effectively rebuilt themselves, but let's be real: it took them 9 years to do it, and they're most likely still going to undergo massive changes between now and their next championship (maybe even between now and the start of the next season). Similarly the Lakers of the 90's went through a period of about 4-5 years of solid mediocrity or worse before they had the yard sale that netted Shaq and Kobe, and even then it took them another couple years of reshuffling before they found that championship mix.

In today's NBA, if you're not already a title contender, the hard truth is that you're going to need a few years to become one. While the Cavs did hit the lottery a few years back with LBJ and have rather quickly ascended the ranks to make this year's Finals, I daresay I still have a hard time thinking of them as "championship contenders" due to the fact that it's likely that 5 or more of the West's playoff teams this year could have beaten them with relative ease (after all, does anyone look back on the Nets from a few years ago as serious title contenders?). My guess is that Cleveland, like many teams in the league, are a couple huge moves away from really contending for the title. Even more depressing for Cleveland (as it is for many teams), the real path to the title may require that they get worse for a while (ditching some decent players to get rid of the killer contracts they have so that in a few years they could be a player in free agency). In other words, the Cavs may need to slide down to a team that gets bounced in the 1st or 2nd round for a couple years before coming back with some real solid support around LeBron that makes them really ready to make a run at a title.

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement is really just murderous on so many fanbases around the league right now. If your team doesn't have a brilliant or great GM, it's far too easy for your team to get mired in long-term mediocrity or misery due to one or two bad contracts that last for 6 years. Even having great players like KG locked up can hurt your team just because of how much the team has to have committed to them year after year. One might almost say that the best thing that a GM can do for a team is stay as uncommitted as possible to anything long term. This is why the Clippers were suddenly able to field a loaded team a year ago: simply because due to Sterling's desire to only have young players on rookie deals as a way to save money, suddenly he had young talent and lots of flexibility. This is why for the Lakers, trading Kobe for a bunch of young, talented Bulls who don't make a whole lot yet may be what's best for the team. Stink it up for a year or two, get some high draft picks and maybe be a player in the free agent market some summer soon. In the meantime though, the fanbase is left pissed off cause they don't understand what's going on, or because they don't want to pay top dollar to watch a team that's got no shot in hell of winning anything. Not a good way to raise and keep interest in your sport.

At 6/19/2007 5:19 PM, Blogger Steve said...

Some very good thoughts. But I'm not sure where any of this leaves us. Do we want NFL-style parity, where teams bounce from mediocre, to good, then back to mediocre in successive seasons? A large part of the NFL situation is non-guaranteed contracts- is that good for the game? For the players?

And even in the NFL, there are plenty of franchises that still don't get to see postseason play, and likely will not for awhile.

Realistically, most teams in any sports league are going to be mediocre, whether it's NFL, MLB, MBA, etc.

i think the worst sport as far as salary and personnel management goes is baseball, where certain teams have huge advantages over others due to market size, and no salary cap to even things out.

I think on the whole, the NBA system is better than average. The Knicks are just horrible, every time they make another desperate move you know its going to blow up in their face. No salary cap rules dictated that they actually try to pair Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis in the same backcourt. Ugh...

About the only thing I can suggest is increasing the frequency of those salary cap relief moves. I have no idea what it's called or how often teams get them. But I remember the Lakers being able to wipe Brian Grant's salary from their cap with such a move (while still having to pay Grant's salary.) Giving teams some more options like this would allow them to recover from bad signings or trades, yet still guarantee player salaries. On the whole I think a salary cap is a good thing, it just needs to be implemented really well.

At 6/19/2007 5:33 PM, Blogger Steve said...

RE the disadvantages of locking up star players to long-term contracts...I don't think having a KG or Kobe locked up at a max contract hurts any team, in that these sorts of marquee players are actually worth MORE than their contract- their contract is artificially capped by a maximum salary (another good thing, because it spreads the wealth around, at the expensive of a few million dollars to the elite players who have it pretty good anyways.)

It does make it harder to lure such a player to your city via FA, because you can't just throw more money at a guy than everyone else. You can only make the same max offer as other teams, and hope to impress the player on your city and organization.

In the end, it's not a sin that big market teams have to be run smartly and effectively to win, just like everyone else. If you somehow wanted to give big market teams an easier route to build winning teams, it would only come at the expense of the smaller franchises, and then you'd have something like MLB.

The big market teams ALREADY have enough in-built advantages as it is- the big cities tpyically have rich owners with lots of public exposure, marketing opportunities, etc. The Knicks continue to throw good money after bad, even though if they actually bit the bullet, they would have first dibs at superstars and coaches if they ever freed up some salary. And it Jerry Buss's fault that he can't keep a decent handle on his org and take some sort of action to try to build a winner, instead of relying on Kobe's marquee value to justify ticket price increases despite subpar seasons.

I would like to see the 'Allan Houston' rule continued (finally looked it up), so that every other year (or whatever) teams could remove a player's salary from the cap. The Allan Houston rule was apparently a 1-time deal, and actually only exempted a team from luxury cap implications (the waived player's salary still counted against the cap.) In any case, give teams a bit of wiggle room so 1 mistake doesn't kill your franchise for 3 years (basically a get-out-of-jail card.)

(Ironically, while the rule was named after Allan Houston, the Knicks ended up using their exception on Jerome James instead, not Allan Houston.)

At 6/19/2007 6:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Implementing a (semi)permanent Allan Houston rule would have terrible consequences. Guys like Webber, Artest, Francis, Kobe (?) that want a new venue would have the option of pulling a Vince Carter, playing like shit, getting cut, and then getting paid extra money to play somewhere that they want (a championship contender or NY/LA) while the team they left gets stuck with the tab.

At 6/19/2007 6:33 PM, Blogger Steve said...

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At 6/19/2007 6:35 PM, Blogger Steve said...

You might have some players play like shit on purpose, although they can do that now anyways since their contract is guaranteed.

But do you think any NBA player worth 10 cents (much less a Kobe Bryant) would jeopardize his reputation and manhood like that? You think a real contender would want to hire a cancer like that anyway?

Most mediocre players at the end of their contracts end up being pawned off as cap relief anyway.

The NBA salary structure is based on 3 key things-
1. Salary cap (soft, hard, semi-firm, whatever...it's a cap)
2. Guaranteed player contracts
3. Maximum limits on contracts

Granting an occasional Allan Houston exception to teams would let them dump the type of contracts they would love to dump anyways, without any tanking required by malcontents (who winning franchises don't take on anyway.) I don't see any other way of revising the current system without changing one of those big 3 above (which isn't going to happen anyway.)

At 6/19/2007 6:49 PM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

Honestly, no offense is intended by this Steve, but you're a good example of a fan who doesn't really understand how the CBA works in the NBA, and someone who has theories about what can be done or what moves you think teams should make which are impossible just because you don't know what you're talking about. I really don't mean that to be insulting, because the CBA in the NBA is insanely complicated, to the point that it's not realistic to expect 95% of the people who follow the sport to be able to make any sense out of it.

I'm glad that you corrected yourself about the Allan Houston amnesty rule, but really that didn't help teams vis a vis the salary cap or give them any additional flexibility whatsoever. All it did was save some owners money. For instance, the Lakers waived Brian Grant using that rule, and as such Jerry Buss no longer had to pay the $15 extra million a year he'd have owed to the league for Grant's part of the luxury tax; but the Lakers still had to pay Grant his salary and more importantly, that salary still counted against the salary cap, so as a result the Lakers got no cap relief whatsoever from waiving Grant. It could even be argued that from a team standpoint it might have been preferable for the Lakers to hold onto Grant because this past season they could have possibly used his huge expiring contract in a deal with someone else to get another big-name player, but by using the amnesty rule they were unable to.

Players like Kobe and KG are worth more than their contracts to the club they are with simply in a "how much the team spends on their salary versus how much they recoup from fans paying to see them/purchase their merchandise" standpoint, but that's very different than what I'm saying. Any player that makes as much as those guys do essentially guarantees a team that they will never be a player in free agency while that player is under contract, simply because they eat up more than half of the salary cap every year. This means a team has to get lucky with draft picks or trades, both of which are very risky propositions.

I would very much like to see something like what you're proposing though, where every year a team could pick a contract to void if they wanted to. Build into all player contracts that are signed for longer than 3 years a clause which allows the team to void it if they don't void anyone else's contract on the team that year and if the player doesn't meet certain requirements (number of games played or team wins or individual stats or something).

A team like the Knicks is an extreme example of exceptionally bad management for a surprisingly long period of time, and like I said earlier that comes from a perennial unwillingness to rebuild and instead trying every year to retool (and I suspect that's due more to ownership and less to do with Layden & Isiah), so NY shouldn't really be a part of this discussion too much. But for many many other teams out there with average (or even above average) management, they're essentially locked out of contending for a title for years at a time because of even just one bad contract. In the same way that the NBA fosters dynasties, it also fosters the same collection of title contenders year after year, based on which teams were lucky or smart enough to position themselves correctly cap-wise for a block of years. If you're not one of the 4-5 teams that have a legit shot at a title next year, you really have to just bide your time and hope and pray for a watershed offseason some year where you either have the capspace to be a player on the free agent market or you have a miserable season which lands you a lucky high draft pick.

In today's NBA where players can land contracts that pay them enough money in a few years to live a luxurious life forever, you never know if suddenly landing a $20-$120 million deal is going to make a player become complacent and lazy. Some players are only concerned with getting paid, and if you happen to be the unlucky team who ponied up the money for a Vin Baker or Shawn Kemp or Steve Francis, or even to a lesser extent an Adonal Foyle or a Travis Knight, or an injury-prone guy like Larry Hughes, your team's ability to legitimately compete is severely compromised until their contract is up. In the long run I can't think that having 60-80% of the fanbases in the league sitting around waiting in capspace-limbo-hell for 5 years at a time is good for the future of the NBA.

At 6/19/2007 7:52 PM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...

The NBA is never going to have the cap-mandated parity/league-wide mediocrity of the NFL for a few reasons. First, a single basketball player can dominate the game in a way that a single football player can't. The best quarterbacks and running backs still need offensive lines and help from the other skill positions; Barry Sanders's teams rarely were better than 8-8 and he's one of the two or three best running backs ever. NBA teams can stand out against others just by having a Duncan or LeBron. Second, there are 53 players on an NFL team and 15 on an NBA team. Even though the player/cap ratios are generally the same, you can make up a bad NFL contract at other positions pretty easily just because you have so many different places to spread the wealth around--it's not a huge deal to carry a poor third-string strong safety. Sinking a bunch of money into Larry Hughes is hard to make up for when you only have so many spots to fill. There are more reasons that I either forgot or don't want to write about right now.

So, fixing the NBA salary cap is about making the middle 10 to 20 teams better. Yams gets at this in his posts, but average teams/front offices are penalized for a few bad contracts to the point where it's not feasible for them to fix it. They appear worse at their jobs than they actually are. With changes, the best teams will be good anyway because they have Duncan, Nash, et al.--the superstars that make their teammates better and win regardless of situation. The terrible teams will probably get worse with changed rules, but they were gonna be terrible anyway.

Changing things up just gives the middle third or half of teams a better chance to succeed. Under the current structure, even teams that try to rectify their mistakes get screwed. Take, for example, the Warriors, my favorite team. Mullin realized that the Dunleavy, Murphy, Fisher, and Foyle signings were bad. So he traded Dunleavy and Murphy in a great deal, sent Fisher away for cap relief, and I frickin' hope and assume is trying to trade Foyle away in some deal right now. Even with all that, the Warriors are in a situation right now where they will likely have to trade Richardson (another overpay signing, but that was really only a couple million a year over his value) if they want to resign Monta and Biedrins to extensions. So the Warriors are being penalized for drafting well because of a few bad contracts that the GM has now done well to fix. Am I just being a homer here, or does that sound as silly to everyone else as it does to me?

Does anyone know if the luxury tax has levels to it now? If it does, I think it would be smart to make the first level penalties lower than they are now, and if there are currently no levels I think they should install them soon. That might make the salary cap insignificant, but as it is too many teams are being unfairly screwed for making three good moves and one or two bad ones.

At 6/20/2007 12:38 AM, Blogger Nate said...

It's not really about the system needing to be restructured as much as it is about the team's needing to do a better job at managing their salary cap situation and their draft picks.

If you draft players that are ready to contribute now, rather than players with a high ceiling, the CBA is set in a manner that allows you to keep that player for four seasons at an under market price. Yet GMs routinely waste their chance to draft players ready to contribute right away by selecting projects. Utilizing picks in a correct fashion is an easy way to become a good team without being strapped by the salary cap. The only teams that should EVER be taking a chance on a project are teams that are already title contenders. And even then I think it is ridiculous to waste a first round pick on a guy that is going to sit on the bench or play in the D-League for the first 4 years of his career, when you can bring in a guy that can help you out right away.

As well, GM's overpay for players all of the time. Here's a list of the guys that made $8M last season:

Joe Johnson $13M, Pierce $15M, Ratliff $11M, Wally Z $11M, Ben Wallace $16M, Larry Hughes $15M, Michael Finley $17M, Dirk Nowitzki $15M, Jerry Stackhouse $9M, Erick Dampier $9M, Allen Iverson $18M, Kenyon Martin $12M, Nene $10M, Rasheed Wallace $12M, Richard Hamilton $9M, Baron Davis $15M, Jason Richardson $10M, Adonal Foyle $8M, T-Mac $16M, Yao Ming $12M, Jermaine O'neal $18M, Elton, Brand $14M, Kobe Bryant $18M, Brian Grant $16M, Lamar Odom $13M, Eddie Jones $15M, Pau Gasol $12M, Shaq $20M, Jason Williams $8M, Mike Redd $13M, Bobby Simmons $9M, KG $21M, Jason Kidd $18M, Vince Carter $15M, Richard Jefferson $11M, Pedrag $10M, Tyson Chandler $9M, Desmond Mason $8M, Allan Houston $21M, Stephon Marbury $17M, Steve Francis $15M, Jalen Rose $17M, Maurice Taylor $10M, Shandon Anderson $9M, Eddy Curry $8M, Grant Hill $16M, Chris Webber $17M, Jamal Mashburn $11M, Samuel Dalembert $9M, Andre Miller $9M, Shawn Marion $15M, Amare Stoudemire $12M, Steve Nash $10M, Zach Randolph $12M, Raef LaFrentz $11M, Derek Anderson $10M, Jammal Magloire $8M, Darius Miles $8M, Mike Bibby $13M, Brad Miller $10M, Ray Allen $15M, Rashard Lewis $9M, AK-47 $12M, Carlos Boozer $12M, Mehmet Okur $8M, Antawn Jamison $15M, Gilbert Arenas $11M, Tim Duncan $17M, Tony Parker $9M, Manu Ginobili $8M

At least half of the players on the list aren't worth what they are currently making. As well, about half of them were paid not for what they had already done on the court, but for their future potential. The problem is that too many GM's extend guys contracts without even letting them go to market. Why extend a guy before his contract expires (especially off a rookie contract where the players free agency would be restricted) when the market hasn't even been set to dictate a plaeyers value? As well, why extend a guy to large dollar numbers when he hasn't even produced on the court yet. Lastly, if you're going to sign a free agent, why do you always have to pay him the full 5 or 6 seasons and give him raises in each of those seasons. Those are just maximum restrictions. It doesn't mean you have to give a 6 year contract with 10% raises to every single guy you re-sign or extend.

Guys that haven't made an All-Star team, All-NBA Team, or All-Defensive team SHOULD NOT BE MAKING $10M+ per season. The teams that continually pay these guys these kinds of salaries deserve all of their salary cap hell.

However, I will say that teams should be able to get salary cap relief from players that have injuries that significantly affect the way that player plays. I mean, some guys end up having to retire from injuries, but yet some guys still play and are never the same. Grant Hill was worth every dime he was paid until he got injured. Same with Chris Webber. But once they injured themselves they were never the same, so teams should have an out (Salary cap wise only...as I am not for being able to bail out on paying a player) for when a player stops performing because of an injury. I know it would be hard to determine which players would fall into this category. But I'm sure there is a method that would work for everyone. I mean outside of guys that were paid more for their potential than their actual on the court talents, most of the bad contracts are for players that have had major injuries. So there has to be something to help teams relieve themselves from unforseen circumstances, while not punishing players for injuries (like the NFL does) with non-guaranteed contracts.

But other than a method to ease teams from the salary cap burdens of an injured player, I really don't see anything wrong with today's system. It's more about teams needing to hire more GM's that have a sense of fiscal responsibility and an ability to draft for the NOW than anything else.

P.S. I love the extension Paxson gave to Hinrich. It starts at $11M and then decreases 5-10% each year thereafter. Why don't more GMs pull moves like this? Pay the max you think a player is going to be worth in his first year and then have his salary decrease every year thereafter. That way when the player is older and likely worth less, you're not stuck paying him over his actual value. I guess that makes too much sense for most GMs...

At 6/20/2007 12:41 AM, Blogger Nate said...

One last thing: The only time extending a player to a long term deal before their rookie contract expires can be justified is when you're signing a player waaaay below market. PHX was able to do this with Barbosa last off-season (he'll only be making 6.5M per season over his 5 year extension). Too bad PHX blew that great signing by giving Boris Diaw $9M Per and Marcus Banks $4M Per

At 6/20/2007 12:59 AM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...


In a perfect world, everyone would draft players ready to contribute, but how many players in a given draft are really ready to play immediately? Even in this admittedly great draft, the only guys who seem truly ready are Oden, Durant, maybe Horford, probably Brewer. Is there anyone else? Now, that's the case because GMs have proven that they're willing to draft projects and guys come out early, but is it realistic to think that changes any time soon? At this point in the NBA's history, getting players ready to contribute through the draft seems to involve luck or Spurs-level scouting of Euros, which doesn't seem like a fair standard to hold the majority of NBA teams to.

Your recommendations make sense--I just think things are too deep now to consider those suggestions.

I hadn't seen (or maybe I forgot) the Hinrich contract structure. That's a pretty great idea and it should probably be used more. Seems odd for a young player though; Hinrich will presumably be in his prime as his salary decreases (er, he's 28 already, huh?).

At 6/20/2007 1:12 AM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

A couple of thoughts on the comments: One, Nate is right - I'm fine with the system as it is. It's the GMs that aren't too savvy. At first I figured because this was a new system, and it would take 5-10 years for the GMs to sort out the nuances of it. Well, it's been over 10 years now of salary caps, and yet very few GMs have figured out the nuances yet. Nate's Paxson example is great - I, too, appreciate that both Wallace and Hinrich have declining contracts, and wrote that the Knicks should do the same if they get Rashard Lewis via a sign and trade... it's just clever GMing.

Wild Yams - you make some great points, but something from the beginning bothers me... you suggested that teams should take a note from the Clippers, and suck and pile up young cheap talent. Well, one - I don't like seeing my team suck for years, and two, the Clippers, even that year they were good, weren't really contenders. So how is that better than being permanently .500, like the Pacers up to this year? At least they made the playoffs every year, and you can't help but wonder if this year would be the year they would draft the missing piece... at least that was the case up until last season or so.

The same applies to Ty Keenan - sorry, but the Warriors aren't contenders just yet. When they become legit contenders I'll give Chris Mullin some props, but to this point he offered up some awful contracts, and finally got very lucky when he dumped them for someone else's headache, and it worked out for them. Not unlike Rasheed Wallace in Detroit. Taking gambles sometimes works - that's why Simmons once suggested something like trading Francis for Iverson every three months or something like that.

Anyway, my point is that most teams aren't screwed over by one bad move - look at the bad teams, and the bad moves almost always outnumber the good - the Knicks, 76ers, Hawks, T-Wolves, Celtics et al all either have GMs that are really bad or did until recently.

You want to see how easy it is to "rebuild" a team? See what Colangelo has done in Toronto, or did in Phoenix. See what Thorn did in New Jersey. Toronto is this close to becoming a contender. Phoenix and the Nets were top-3 teams in their conference for most of the last 3-5 years. Detroit became a contender because Dumars made some great moves. The Heat did, too - they rolled the dice paying for Shaq when few people bid as heavily as they did for him, then built a team around him and Wade with role players like Jason Williams (someone else's trash), Gary Payton (washed up), Antoine Walker (washed up), and Alonzo Mourning (washed up twice). Nash was a risk when the Suns signed him. VC was a risk when the Nets traded for him. Rasheed Wallace was a headcase, Billups was trash, Rip Hamilton was an unknown.

Point is 80% of rebuilding is getting lucky with someone else's trash, and turning them into a valuable role player. Not having lottery picks, not having loads of salary cap room. You are not going to get a top-3 player in the league via free agency unless someone messes up badly (see Kobe 2009, or LeBron 2011, if either even happens). Tim Duncan never made it to free agency. KG never did. s

At 6/20/2007 1:38 AM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...


Warriors definitely aren't contenders yet, and I didn't mean to suggest they are. My point is that even after a series of good things (bringing Nellie back, drafting Monta, luck of Biedrins blossoming, bringing in Harrington and Jax and having it work out), the team is still paying for the mistakes of three years ago. My opinion of this as a bad thing is obviously colored by my fandom, but I still don't think it makes sense. Mullin made four bad signings and has fixed three of them. Now he has to maneuver everything around because he drafted well. That doesn't seem to reward those good moves.

The only other sport I can think of where stuff like this happens often is in football when longtime contenders hit cap trouble because they signed so many solid veterans (like the Carmen Policy 49ers of the 90s). But those tend to involve good teams hitting the inevitable wall, not bad ones trying to get better. Are football executives that much smarter than basketball ones?

At 6/20/2007 1:53 AM, Blogger Steve said...


No offense taken. I know the cap is far more complicated than I made it out to be. I don't study the minutiae because, well, I have a family to raise and no GM listens to me anyway. And I'm not the type of guy to run stupid trade proposals through the checker at RealGM.

But yeah, I'm glad you got my basic point- the Allan Houston rule didn't make problems go away for teams (especially since it only relieved them of luxury tax and not actual cap space.) But something along those lines might provide some sort of recourse for teams struggling in cap hell.

Your point about needing to be lucky is also good. No one with a major star is likely going to have cap room to sign any prominent free agents (besides MLE), unless the rest of the roster is trash. Come to think of it, the MLE already gives some cap relief by allowing capped out teams to sign decent players at all.

I am pretty much fine with the current system. But I do have one thought- when many players in the league are valued for their EXPIRING contracts rather than their actual skills on the court, I think something is amiss with the system. Or when teams have to engineer these huge player swaps, just so the salaries match up (though I understand the rationale for making cap-strapped teams match salaries in trades.)

I agree that teams need to manage personnel better, but its sort of a surreal situation when a crappy player is totally untradeable for 3 or 4 years, then suddenly becomes a 'cap asset' in the last year of his contract. I understand WHY that is, but wonder if that's how we want NBA teams to be run. Maybe its actually just be a necessary evil (a minor one at that), kind of like carbon credits or something like that...instead of monetizing pollution, the NBA is monetizing GM stupidity.

At 6/20/2007 1:58 AM, Blogger Nate said...

Here's another little blurb I wrote about NBA contracts, GM's and such during the 06 season:


At 6/20/2007 2:12 AM, Blogger Nate said...

Ty: Which four signings do you think were bad on Mullin's part? IMO Mullin made four bad signings (Foyle, Richardson, Dunleavy, and Troy Murphy) So that means he's only gotten rid of two of the bad contracts so far. Foyles is the worst of all of them because hasn't even really gotten off of the bench in the last two seasons. Anyone that decides to give 75% of his salary cap to Foyle, Dunleavy, Murphy, and Richardson deserves to be in the position the Warriors are in.

At 6/20/2007 2:32 AM, Blogger Steve said...

"I hadn't seen (or maybe I forgot) the Hinrich contract structure. That's a pretty great idea and it should probably be used more. Seems odd for a young player though; Hinrich will presumably be in his prime as his salary decreases (er, he's 28 already, huh?)."

It actually makes so much sense, that I'm not surprised it isn't done more-

1. Hinrich gets his money sooner, which basically increases the NPV of his contract, or however you want to put it.

2. The Bulls have the cap room now to pay him more early, then anticpate becoming good and needing to save cap space down the road.

It's something that any young, promising team can do to try to make future success more cap-manageable (although this probably can't be used with max contract type guys.) And since the player is getting the same total over the length of the contract, there's no reason not to get paid sooner than later.

At 6/20/2007 2:34 AM, Blogger Steve said...

Sorry, my point was assuming that the Bulls and Kinrich negotiated a total contract length and value first (say 6 years for $60 million.) But instead of paying $10 mil a year every year, or start at $8 and gradually increase to $12, the Bulls offer to front-load the contract. In their situation, it's a win-win since they have cap space now, and anticipate needing more room later.

At 6/20/2007 2:37 AM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...

The four: Fisher, Dunleavy, Murphy, and Foyle. Richardson was fairly bad but he actually produces (although he's definitely overrated by most GSW fans), so I'm more willing to deal with the extra few million. Plus he really cares about the team/city and seems to be loyal. (That's why I'm worried we'll get karmic retribution after we trade him, even if it makes fiscal/basketball sense.)

Point taken on the 75% deal. I think I'm just a believer in getting some relief when you realize mistakes and do your best to fix them (plus I'm a Warriors fan and I'm biased). Again, I don't think NBA executives are this much stupider than NFL executives. As many have said, the best way to build in the NBA is through the draft, but there are just a few prepared players every year and you're only drafting in two rounds. Compare that with the NFL, where there are more prepared players and you're drafting in seven rounds. Obviously, the NFL has more positions to fill and that's why there are more rounds, but you're much more likely to get a decent player through the draft that you don't have to pay a ton (unless you're in the top ten or so). The drafts are so different that I think the general salary cap rules need to be different. I realize that the NBA has more loopholes, I'm just arguing for more.

One more idea: if NBA teams are drafting so many projects, why not extend rookie contracts to five years so that teams will actually get returns on their picks at some point.

As I said before, I think your points make total sense, they're just a little idealistic for my tastes.

At 6/20/2007 10:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Point is 80% of rebuilding is getting lucky with someone else's trash, and turning them into a valuable role player. Not having lottery picks, not having loads of salary cap room. You are not going to get a top-3 player in the league via free agency unless someone messes up badly (see Kobe 2009, or LeBron 2011, if either even happens).

As a Cavs fan, I agree with this in principle (though, the major caveat is that the Cavs would still suck if they hadn't won the lottery, but that's not really my point, because for every LeBron there's also a Trajan Langdon, DeSagana Diop, Chris Mihm, good god this is depressing).

They had cap space two summers ago, and knew they needed to put another "good" player around LeBron.

But, the rules prohibit them from offering more money to guys like Michael Redd or Ray Allen than that player's current team (I generally have to punch my cat when I ponder how much better the Cavs offense would be with Redd instead of Hughes).

As Yams has pointed out, most fans aren't students of the CBA, and I lump myself into that group. But my basic understanding of the rules is that the "home team" has every chance to sign a player and keep him from being a FA simply from the ability of being able to offer an extra year and thus more money. (Please feel free to correct/belittle me if I'm wrong here.)

While that rule is great for the Lakers and Cavs (Kobe/LeBron), it also can limit other teams with cap space (Cavs not really having a shot at Redd and Allen, and settling for Hughes... a 4th banana in Washington that somehow worked his being the "best" player on the market who wouldn't get resigned by his team into a max deal) AND it can become a trap for teams who don't want to piss off their fans by letting their best players walk (is Milwaukee worse off financially/personnel-wise having Redd maxed out vs. would Milwaukee have lost fans if they'd let him walk).

For the Cavs, should they have paid Ilgauskas as much as they did? No. Did they have another option? Not really. What would fans have thought if they'd let their only inside scoring threat walk away, just as the team turned a corner?

So, the Cavs are stuck with Hughes and Ilgauskas--both for four more years with Hughes at $13.4 and Z at $9.4--because they attempted to buttress LeBron and get their fans to believe they're trying to win.

Well, they won a crappy conference and got housed in the Finals. Are they now stuck and blocked from trying to realistically take that next step for 4 more years because of those deals?

Granted, I don't know what the answer is, but I know as a Cavs fan that they need *something* else to realistically have a shot (though one thing would be an "offensive coordinator") at winning, and they probably can't do so because of Hughes' and Z's contracts.

At 6/20/2007 11:45 AM, Anonymous R. Friday said...

As a Bucks fan, I just have to say that the Redd contract is different since in his previous deal he made only 3 million a year so his cap hold was something like 6 million so it made sense to sign him to the big deal and then sign someone else, who ended being Bobby Simmons.

At 6/20/2007 11:59 AM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

The "home" team does have an advantage, which was sort of my point. Too many GMs (or fans, at least) think having "cap space" is the goal; isn't that often the main criticism of GMs? Mullin - too many bad contracts. Isiah - too many bad contracts. Etc.

But the reality is that cap space is overrated. For example, what would you do with cap space this offseason? Make a play for Vince Carter, and overpay him? Rashard Lewis? Gerald Wallace? Even Billups? Every single one of them is going to get overpaid.

Cap space is great, but only in one of those years when everything lines up properly, like maybe 2009 and 2010 (all the big free agents, if they make it to the market). But in most years having cap space is not only not a way to rebuild, it can be detriment if you have an impatient GM - see Cleveland, spending their money overpaying Hughes and crew.

By the same token, teams are unwilling to roll the dice on other team's "headaches". The Heat trading for Shaq seems great now, but at the time people were scared off by Shaq, and the Heat ended up getting him for pennies on the dollar. You think that doesn't happen today? Someone's trash - maybe Ron Artest - will become the key to the next championship team.

And look at the Kobe situation. Bulls fans (catching cues from writers like Sam Smith) are actually suggesting that trading for Kobe would be bad! What, are you kidding me?!? You don't want the best player in the league on your team? Oh, wait - it might cost you Ben Gordon (not a top-10 SG who becomes expendable with Kobe around) and such proven assets as Tyrus Thomas and/or the #9 pick. Oh, maybe it'll also cost Luol Deng... that's too much for the best player in the league. Never mind that Deng isn't a top-10 SF yet (sorry, call me when he's an all-star, or better than any of these guys:

Remember that if Kobe gets traded somewhere other than Chicago. He won't get traded, but you get the point... every season someone who is too "risky" for half the league ends up becoming a key player somewhere else. That's why I would rather see NBA GMs roll the dice on trades more, and less on draft picks (where you should go with the "safe" pick more often), and less on contracts and resigning players for huge amounts. Look at Nate's list again....

At 6/20/2007 12:07 PM, Blogger Steve said...


Yes, there are many teams with tough situations. But a salary cap forces teams to make decisions, rather than sign everyone. A team might not be able to offer as much to a FA as the player's original team, but the point of that rule is so the Cavs have a better shot of retaining LeBron (basically, you can't have it both ways.)

I think ultimately we are talking about what's the proper middle path, so all teams can compete with smart management, yet there is also room for continuity within franchises. What allows well-run teams to have a shot at keeping a team together can work against other teams trying to build a winner (especially if they haven't managed their payroll.) We can all point out various examples for why it 'works' or 'doesn't work'.

I think the NBA has done a good job ON THE WHOLE. They tinker and try to make things better as they go, which is partly why the CBA is so complicated. But each of their rules really has a purpose, everything from luxury tax to cap rules (you can do some things but not others), to MLE's, to rookie contracts, etc. The devil is always in the details.

At 6/20/2007 2:06 PM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

SML, I agree with a lot of what you're saying, but I wanted to clarify one thing: I don't think teams should be taking cues from the Clippers (they're arguably the worst run team in sports over the last few decades). I was saying that the Clippers happened to luck into a scenario where they had a bunch of good players who were all underpaid because they were on their rookie contracts, so they also had capspace and this is what allowed them to become competitive all of a sudden. Keep in mind, they came very close to signing Kobe a few years back, and you can imagine how good they would have been if they'd done that.

You're definitely right about taking on other team's "garbage" though. That's what capspace is for, IMO. And you're absolutely right about teams needing to take more chances with trades rather than just with the draft.

At 6/20/2007 2:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can't make the middle 10 to 20 teams better. For every team that gets better, another team has to get worse. When one team wins another loses, you cant just have 10 teams win more without other teams winning less. An astute gm is crucial in the nba. And, bad contracts don't always screw a team. The mavericks had horrible contracts four or five years ago, (just finishing off some of them now - note finley, sean bradley, that arabian guy, antoine walker, antawn jamison, etc etc) yet Donnie and Cuban managed to actually use overpriced contracts to their advantage in building the team. Overpriced contracts allow a team to perpetually circumvent the salary cap if the owner is ok with paying the luxury tax. You only forego the direct free agent market of large contract guys (over the 5 mil exception) , while giving yourself more flexibility in trades and sign & trades - which have become a large part of free agency.

The knicks are not burdened by salary cap issues, they are burdened by their own incompetence all the way from the owner down the chain to the coaches and players and everyone in between.

At 6/20/2007 2:55 PM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...

SML's point about teams needing to trade more is right on the money. I think part of the reason teams might not do it more (and this is admittedly not the main one, which is that people are scared to fuck up) is that contracts always have to match. Would it be feasible to have cap deadlines in the offseason instead of always having to beat the cap in every trade. It would give teams temporary flexibility that they otherwise wouldn't have.

Anon. makes a good point about owners not willing to pay the luxury tax. I can't understand why these guys who're already sinking so much money into a franchise can't shell out a few more for a better chance at a championship (SUNS), which will probably make them money in the long run. I wish more owners treated the job like Cuban, even if he's a pain in the ass.

At 6/20/2007 3:28 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

It doesn't surprise me that "rebuilding" would be a particularly FD fascination.

Look at the winners of the LOB going back, well, at least to the 80's. With the exception of the 2004 Pistons, every one of them had at least one player who was on the Top 50 of all Time roster, or who would probably be added to it now or in the not-too-distant future.

Only a couple of teams at any time have such a player. Thus, the odds of rebuilding with the goal of winning a championship are extremely long. But every team that talks about rebuilding does so with the implicit promise of trying to win a championship, as that is the Right Way measure of success.

The problem is the measure. I generally agree* with Shoals about not caring who wins the championship, as long as the play along the way entertains me and gives me something to analyze and daydream about. If rebuilding teams accepted that they simply have to wait their turn until they land a legendary player and shifted the measure of success to entertaining the fans of League, then the whole approach to rebuilding changes. Then they could, without reticence or embarrassment, embrace an FD approach emphasizing players of psychology and a style of fun, and the whole of the NBA would be the better for it.

* Exception for rooting against the Spurs because they ensure that I won't get what I want out of the playoffs.


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