Madonna and Mancub
Let me preface this by being straight and saying that I don't really understand money. I earn a meager stipend as a grad student, make a little more when I help teach, and pick up a tiny bit on the side for small freelance writing gigs. I never cook, so I spend the majority of my money on overpriced food and eating out...I buy a million plane tickets, rack up huge cell phone bills, and pay my rent in a moderately priced Chicago apartment. I feel like I'm always doing "fine," but am never really on the come-up. And I'm never really on a downslope. Like, this could go on for the rest of my life, and I think I'd be alright.
So, outside of my personal life, I obviously don't understand how money works either. NBA money, the obvious topic at hand, never seems to translate directly into wins. All the wrong people have too much of it. MLEs, LLEs, the "Allan Houston" rule...it doesn't seem to be helping anybody or providing any real sense of parity. NBA money at least makes more sense to me than NFL money, but the way the L is operating right now seems completely absurd. And whats more, money seems to be redefining the star system as we know it. Observe:
Yes, I am late to the party here, but I do not understand how Rashard Lewis pulled down $121 million or whatever. I don't understand where that money comes from. I do understand that in a weak Eastern Conference, a Dwight Howard-led team with any semblance of a legit second option could probably make the finals given the right seeding. But I do not understand how Rashard Lewis, a pretty good dude and a flashy player, is making more, than say, Ichiro Suzuki. Clearly cross-sports comparisons don't work for a host of reasons, but the fact that baseball lacks a salary cap means that Ichiro could have made even MORE than the approximate $90 million dollars he recently received. Ichiro is perhaps the best pure hitter of all-time, an MVP winner, a cultural icon. 'Shard is a cool guy with a solid, flashy game.
Max contracts do not become self-fulfilling prophecies. Keith Van Horn is the paradigm, and the concrete example is that Michael Finley will be making the second most cash in the league this year (sandwiched right between KG and Shaq). What 'Shard's contract does is that it degrades the definition of "star." Big-money guys like R.Lewis...Joe Johnson...Antawn Jamison are some of our favorite players, yes, but is that what the OJ Mayo's of tomorrow are aspiring to be?
Exhibit B: Mo Williams' new contract with Milwaukee. Bucks' fans as far as I know are extremely happy. Zo Mourning has expressed some vague disappointment that Williams did not choose the Heat. And at the end of the day, a guy who has topped 68 games played ONCE in his career is pulling down almost 9 million a year. I know how much he meant to the Bucks last year, and yet, the team finished with 28 wins. Williams was considered the top PG on the free agent market, so by all reasonable accounts, this is a good deal for the Bucks. Furthermore, I don't know what else they were supposed to do. Let Boykins lead them to glory? More than anything, I guess I am disgusted by the fact that given the current state of the league, this huge signing makes sense. Like, OVERspending is just expected of a team if it wants to stay competitive.
So the first problem is that neither Shard or Mo Williams are stars and both are being treated as such. But furthermore, Shard and Williams are not $60-70 million apart from each other. This obscures the very set of principles for who gets to become a star.
And then there is the sad story of Steve Francis. The most confounding case of all. First of all, I will stick by my guns and say that a Marbury/Francis-helmed team could very well have worked (just not a Marbury/Francis team that also requires Nate Robinson, Q-Rich, Channing Frye, Curry, and Crawford to get touches). But because it didn't work and because it wasnt quite working in Orlando, that is no reason that you pay him 30 fucking million dollars not to play. This is absurdity. I respect the Blazers for trying to change their image, and to cultivate a strong character amongst their young players, but are you kidding me? 30 MILLION DOLLARS is STILL on your payroll. At least try to shop the guy. This is still Steve Francis.
Call up Dallas, Indiana, Los Angeles...at least try to get some muscle in return. I mean, I'm sure Stevie is happy as shit to be let go for free, but you are disrespecting the very notion of what it means to be a star when you cut a guy loose like that.
Most people will say, Steve Francis was never a star. I say, he--like Baron Davis from 2005-January2007, Lamar Odom, like Kirilenko, and like Sam Cassell for so many years--is being misused. Bill Simmons a few months back thoughtfully wrote that the reason why the powerhouse Laimbeer-Isiah-Dumars-Rodman/Bird-Ainge-Parish-McHale/Abdul-Jabbar-Magic-Worthy-ByronScott teams have disappeared was due to expansion. Now all of the talent has spread too thin. Although there is some truth to this, ultimately I disagree. The bigger problem is that there is a star identity crisis throughout the league--that the misuse of money has contributed to--that must be resolved by clearly defining what constitutes a star once and for all. Whatever the resolution makes no matter to me, just as long as I know whether or not to be surprised when Caron Butler is named to the all-star team.
The GS Warriors of this past year's playoffs stood up, and said, WE ARE STARS. And on paper, J-Rich, B-Diddy, Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson look just as menacing as Nowitzki, J-Howard, Terry, and Dampier. Or nearly as menacing as Duncan, Oberto, Parker, Bowen, and Ginobili. We are in the midst of star anarchy, and whereas I once thought this system was refreshing, it cannot sustain itself for much longer.