Displaced Bills

When the Magic decided to throw ridiculous gobs of money at Rashard Lewis this summer, Otis's fiscal responsibility was questioned by just about everyone. But somehow obscured by the ludicrous contract was the fact that the move made terrific basketball sense. That the awesomeness of this pairing should be surprising to some people came as a huge surprise to me. I'd have thought it would be too cliché to make mention of "winning formula" and "tried and true strategy" in this space, but the fact that all but a few were too distracted by the number of zeros to catch that Orlando had made the leap makes me reconsider.

Know the number of guys in the league who are scoring as much as Rashard right now while shooting as high a percentage from outside? Just four: Caron Butler, Manu Ginobli, Kevin Martin, and Deron Williams. And of that group he's shooting at by far the highest clip. Maybe those stats are sort of cherry picked, but the point stands that he's an extremely rare player who was easily the most talented free agent to switch zip codes this summer. That's not to mention the opportunities his shooting ability creates for the man-child inside who should make a legitimate MVP push because of his aid. While Orlando paid way more than they should have had to, and the $23m owed in 2012 is going to hurt, what is relevancy in the NBA for the next half decade actually worth? Rashard for that team is the difference between sneaking into the playoffs and making perennial runs at the Finals. Couple that with the fact there was no other option available that would have provided this kind of boost and it seems clear that the initial consensus of the signing needs some reevaluating. But my guess is that even if the Magic can sustain this early success, Rashard will continue to fail to live up to the burden of his contract.

I'm not arguing that cap space is irrelevant, but that fans and analysts tend to worry about it way more than is needed. When considering whether or not a player is being paid too much, we rarely fully consider the alternative on which the funds would have been spent. In Rashard's case, the big knock was that it prevented them from keeping the Serbian Gangster. But does this team really have a need for more rebounding or interior defense? The fact that Dwight is pretty much constantly surrounded by four guys who can hit it from outside is not a bad thing, and the Bogans of the world can almost always be found for cheap. So while they probably could have had Rashard for less, I just don't see it hurting them that much, for a while at least. In five years when their entire cap is eaten up by 3 players we can talk again. But for now, this team has the pieces it needs to make it work, so why worry that much if one dude's making a little more than others of comparable skill?

Given his successful circumstances, I'm hoping that Rashard can escape the fate shared by those attached to similarly bloated contracts. A player shouldn't be viewed as worse than they actually are just because a suit was willing to dole it out for him. To a certain extent, I can understand frustration with players who fail to perform up to their contract as salaries are often a shorthand for expectations. If you think someone's not living up to his potential, that could be a valid complaint, but if you're just pissed that he's making mad money, then your beef is with someone upstairs and not the guy on the court.

At a certain point, however, fans need to close HoopsHype and quit playing GM. If Dallas can deal with paying Finley $18m to win rings elsewhere, it's not the ten million a year owed to Troy Murphy for the next decade that's the reason your team will continue to suck -- Troy Murphy, on the other hand, might be. Overpaid players can win you games just as easily as underpaid players can lose 'em (see: Parker, Smush). Rashard Lewis might never deserve his $110 million, but when all's said and done, he'll have been worth it.


At 12/06/2007 9:19 AM, Blogger Brickowski said...

The Jones Boys weren't the only ones who saw this coming.

At 12/06/2007 9:36 AM, Blogger Kirk Krack said...

well said

At 12/06/2007 9:45 AM, Blogger Doctor Dribbles said...

No--unless Rashard helps get the Magic a conference title (or two), he won't have been worth it.

Worth is certainly relative; I might value a certain car at $30k, you might be willing to pay $60k. In part, our decision-making is based on the resources available to us--maybe you have deeper pockets so an extra $30k is negligible, whereas I might value the goods and services that surplus can buy over the purchase of the car. I'm sure you know this better than me, since the Plissken guys had some econ experience...

Given that the NBA has a pseudo-salary cap, thanks to the luxury tax, bestowing huge deals does carry a cost, and players absolutely should be judged on their performance against their contracts. As you noted, that $110 million isn't awarded in a vacuum; nor is performance locked in the moment a player signs a deal. What happens if Rashard breaks his leg next year or Dwight gets microfracture in 2009? Worst-case scenarios, but the bad contract that a healthy, winning team is willing to live with can quickly become an anchor for a squad that has to unexpectedly retool.

So, good for the HoopsHype folks for excoriating bad GMs. Sure, Lewis is a great fit--not completely unexpected--but the front office's job is to acquire the best collection of talent while retaining the most flexibility; since the Magic were only bidding against themselves, Otis Smith blew it, big-time.

The ideas you raise on expectations/perceptions versus play is definitely intriguing, but a separate issue.

At 12/06/2007 10:17 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

The Magic will be just fine. When Rashard is owed the $23 mil, Isiah (or whoever's running the Knicks at that point) will trade two future hall of famers and eight first round draft picks for him. Central Florida can exhale.

At 12/06/2007 10:44 AM, Blogger berts said...

The point, Dribbles, is that we should leave our paradigm of value as a function of the economic-cost/benefit-ratio at the door when we evaluate players.

The infiltration of this bull-shit neo-con fantasy of some kind of Hobbesian LIbertarian Ultimate Capitalism (embodied in free trade and global economists) into every realm of discourse is becoming really alarming.

Great post, Carter.

At 12/06/2007 10:58 AM, Blogger Ghost Deini said...

That pig really freaks me out. What is going on there?

I figure as long as they're winning and Howard continues to do his best young Shaq impression, all that money business is conveniently forgotten about. Call it the J.D. Drewian effect.

But if they start losing, Lewis is going to come under some Jerome James-esque scrutinizing and criticism.

At 12/06/2007 11:02 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I started out against the contract, mostly because of the Gerald Wallace thing. Imaginary blood is thicker than theoretical constructs. But as the link above indicates, I soon saw how striking this team could be.

The one question, I guess, is whether there's an issue of panic or rushing here. Was Rashard Lewis the absolute perfect fit for this team, or did he just happen to be the best available dude? Given the way things are going, and Carter's post, I'm tempted to think it's the former.

Contrast that with, for instance, Larry Hughes in Cleveland.

At 12/06/2007 11:18 AM, Blogger MC Welk said...

It is time to close HoopsHype … and open up ShamSports!

At 12/06/2007 12:20 PM, Blogger Doctor Dribbles said...

Berts and Shoals, I disagree with respect.

B-Clearly, you're not a T-wolves fan, where bad contracts prevented the team from getting help for KG. Or a Sixers fan, hamstrung by their own awful deals. Or a Webber/Howard-era Wizards fan, and so on.

Look, I hear you--Carter's point about looking past the dollars and focusing on performance is a nice idea, if idealistic. But noting that the Magic made a bad deal--adding one year and 25%-100% more salary than they needed to--doesn't require some inappropriate channeling of Freakonomics or applying some crazy basketball statistics. It's just common sense.

Unless you're only a super-casual fan who cares just about the product and nothing about a team's fortunes, there's no way to wholly separate a player from his contract. Lewis is indeed a great on-court fit, but since NBA teams can't ape the Yankees/Red Sox win-at-all-costs strategy, spending so much for him was idiotic.

S-That's a good point; Cleveland couldn't spend its free agent dollars fast enough, after Michael Redd and Ray Allen passed. But Larry Hughes wasn't a natural addition from the start--his slashing game doesn't mesh with LBJ--whereas plenty of folks thought Lewis was made for the Magic. That doesn't make blindly overpaying him for a good decision, though.

At 12/06/2007 1:06 PM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

I'm a guy who has long believed that with the current Collective Bargaining Agreement that any player in the NBA who is overpaid is a detriment to their team, even if that player is Kobe or Shaq in his prime or LeBron or whomever. The KG-led T-Wolves are a prime example of this, because as good as KG was he wasn't a one-man team, and with that huge contract he needed help his team couldn't afford. If a team has unlimited resources in the NBA, that doesn't matter either (observe the Knicks).

Any player who is overpaid harms his team because he eliminates that last-ditch way to squeeze something out of him by trading him away. As good as Shaq was, look at what his salary did to the Lakers when they tried to get rid of him. They had lost two years in a row with Shaq and Kobe (and one year with Malone and Payton to boot), so the Lakers had to make a change, but because Shaq was making close to $30 mil a year there was no way to trade him and get back championship pieces, just like there was no way to keep him and acquire an X factor that could push them over the top.

With the money Rashard is making he has to play so well that they don't need to add any more major players while he's there because they simply won't be able to under the CBA. It won't matter if with him they're good enough to make it to the Conference Finals, because it's real tough to get over that hump and win titles when you're capped out beyond belief. That forces you to have to either keep trying with the same group of guys who couldn't get it done the previous year, or you gotta blow it up and start over from scratch.

Look at the Cavs and how they're not going to be able to add the right pieces to make them a championship contender due to their cap situation. Because the contracts are guaranteed and are for long years, if you sign a bad one it can kill your team for a half decade. One of the main reasons the Spurs have been at or near the top for the last decade is their handling of their salaries. Every single player should be looked at based on what their trade value is worth compared to what they're getting paid; because when you're trying to win titles no players should be untouchable, and in this day and age when virtually every team is over the salary cap the only way to make adjustments is by trading pieces, even key pieces. If you're not flexible financially, you have to hope you're so loaded with talent that you're a dynasty already, cause otherwise you're just gonna come up short year after year with the same old roster.

At 12/06/2007 1:42 PM, Blogger Mr. Six said...

I think many regular readers (myself included) put product first (not "just") and care about team fortune primarily as it correlates with quality product. Yet they probably don't consider themselves casual fans.

If Shard's move to Orlando results in a few years of transcendent basketball in central FL, for the liberated fan, then the move made sense, regardless of cost. If his contract, a few years out, prevents the Magic from maintaining that level of quality, then it's a lost opportunity for quality product, and it potentially means years of D. Howard doing a KG/Iverson-esque toil in limbo, but that doesn't mean that those years of transcendence weren't worth the price paid.

And I think the pig is getting tattooed.

At 12/06/2007 1:56 PM, Blogger Nathaniel Jones said...

As hard as I try, I just can't seem to please you Dribbles. Before your next, "This is why this post sucks..." piece, allow me to retort. First off, implicit in this post is that I think this combo is good for at least a couple trips to the Finals. Also I was pretty explicit about thinking it's ok to go after GMs for sucking, but attacking players cuz they accepted a paycheck doesn't make sense to me. And the only time we think that far ahead about shit like "financial flexibility" is when it gives us an opportunity to blast someone. The Murphy/Dunleavy signings were sposta cripple GS for eternity, but somehow throwing in a no-defense tweener turned those contracts into pure liquid magic. As far as outbidding themselves goes, that's probably the case here, but I'm not sure it's that obvious. Seattle was at least paying the lip service that they would keep him and Rashard has since publicly indicated some qualms about leaving. Orlando knew what they wanted and didn't want to screw it up. Maybe that extra 40m was worth the piece of mind to Otis: who the fuck knows. And I'm sure plenty of people saw this would improve them, but only after a lot of huffing and puffing about the price tag. All I'm saying is that when you hear "Orlando signed Rashard for 100m," the first half of that sentence shouldn't be the afterthought.

At 12/06/2007 2:02 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I'm having a shit day, so if no one minds I'll hang out in my own comments section.

Here's the thing: Shard is a very good player, potentially a tremendous one if not in the shadow of another jump-shooter/easygoing slasher like Ray Allen. Some salary rankings:

24) Mike Bibby $13,500,000
25) Joe Johnson $13,488,378
26) Zach Randolph $13,333,333
27) Vince Carter $13,325,000
28) Rasheed Wallace $13,140,000
29tie) Carmelo Anthony $13,041,250
29tie) Dwyane Wade $13,041,250
29tie) LeBron James $13,041,250
29tie) Chris Bosh $13,041,250
33) Kenyon Martin $13,000,000
34) Richard Jefferson $12,200,000
35) Larry Hughes $12,000,084
36) Wally Szczerbiak $12,000,000
37) Gilbert Arenas $11,950,400
38) Raef LaFrentz $11,813,750
39) Peja Stojakovic $11,664,000
40) Carlos Boozer $11,593,816
41) Steve Nash $11,375,000
42) Jason Richardson $11,111,110
43) Kirk Hinrich $11,000,000

There's a fine line between "everyone's overpaid" and "market value." Regardless of context, Shard's certainly on the same level as most of these players. So maybe they overpaid by a few million. That's the end of the world?

At 12/06/2007 2:09 PM, Blogger dunces said...

I think the main problem Dribbles has is understandable: if we expect accountability from the front office we should expect it from the worker too. If you sign up for a huge paycheck you need to be willing, and more importantly, able to live up to it.

This reflects more on Rashard's agent, and the whole crooked business of agents in general - I'm sure Ra would have signed up for way less than max, but his agent wanted a payday.

So while it's not really fair to Ra to bag on him for saying yes to somebody offering him bags of money, the impulse to blame him for the economics of the situation is sort of inevitable.

wv: oasehxg: no comment

At 12/06/2007 2:51 PM, Blogger Wild Yams said...

@ Shoals: There's a fine line between "everyone's overpaid" and "market value."

I completely agree. If at least one other team out there thinks a player is worth the money he's making, then he's not overpaid because he still represents value to his current team in the form of a trade at the very least. The idea that athletes today are getting more than some intrinsic amount of what they should be worth is silly. But if one GM/owner out of the whole league drastically overvalues a player, then unless by doing so he's locking up championships by signing him, that GM is actually hurting his team by making such a deal.

At 12/06/2007 3:00 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I don't really think Lewis was drastically overvalued, or overpaid. What exactly would that extra $3-4 million have done to alter the course of the Magic's team history?

At 12/06/2007 3:11 PM, Blogger Nathaniel Jones said...

In defense of my critics, Shoals, I think most people are relatively ok with the 15 now, but are outraged by the 23 at the end. Nonetheless, I agree with you still. The problem with the teams Dribbles mentions were they locked up bad players who didn't fit, not that they gave too much to guys who did help them win (which is how I'd characterize Lewis).

At 12/06/2007 3:45 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Isn't the last year of a max contract always a barf-inducing groundswell?

Jermaine O'Neal and Paul Pierce have a similar figure. Also, there just aren't that many max deals running through 2011-12 to compare it to.

I submit that this might be totally stupid, but like I said, BAD DAY.

At 12/06/2007 4:18 PM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...

Shoals brings up a good point about what they'd do with the extra 3-4 million. My understanding is that they wouldn't have been able to sign Darko even with that extra money. And, as Carter says in the post, do they really need more defense and rebounding?

There has to be some return on investment, obviously, but you can only ask so much. When Troy Murphy signed his contract, I knew he was overpaid, but I didn't really get upset with him until last year when he wasn't doing the things that had warranted a new contract in the first place.

"I think many regular readers (myself included) put product first (not "just") and care about team fortune primarily as it correlates with quality product. Yet they probably don't consider themselves casual fans."

So well said.

At 12/06/2007 4:33 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Cap space is overrated. It cracks me up, though, that we only admit it when we are heaping praise upon the Magic for "overpaying" Lewis (it's okay, they weren't going to do anything else with the $3-4 million; lol... sorry, but what about the $8 million difference between Wallace and Lewis in four years time?...), and not in other situations where a NBA GMs might ignore the cap for the purposes of acquiring talent. Can anyone think of such situations?

Anyway, cap space is quite overrated. Lewis is like only the 10th significant free agent to switch teams and do anything in the last 10 plus years. That's it. You can structure your team's cap for the hope of landing a LeBron someday, but most likely you are just wasting time, as a player will re-sign with his own team 90% of the time. After all, if players are "just about the money", and no one can offer a better deal than your current team... then the only way to "steal" a free agent from another team is to overpay by a bit.

At 12/06/2007 5:18 PM, Blogger Doctor Dribbles said...

Carter, haven't you figured it out? I'm your junior high English teacher, trailing you from blog to blog, playing the critic because I secretly want to improve you. If you're really OK with bagging on Otis, accepting that Rashard isn't worth the $$ spent, and are just exhorting us to love Orlando's new offensive magic, I've got no beef.

Shoals, I'm with Yams on the salary data--just reiterates that valuing players is imperfect and often wrong, but "everybody screws up" isn't an excuse for other GMs to do the same. And as Carter points to, it's not just the $3-$4 million over-market in '07--which isn't so insignificant, when you realize that could be a Luke Walton, Trevor Ariza, or Amir Johnson--but the hit in two or three years. If Rashard's getting $10+ million beyond what the Magic could've had him for, that could be a Josh Howard-type player, and who knows what/if the Magic might need? These Finals appearances we're expecting aren't a done deal, folks; this isn't NBA Live where you build a team, turn the injuries off, and let the simulator take it from there.

Matt, appreciate the empathy, but I'm not critical of Rashard--if the dollars are there, the players are expected to take them. That's what they've worked their lives for; when Tim Duncan sacrifices for the team, it's a news story because it's so atypical.

SML, what about all the sign-and-trades, like Lewis? Counting those, doesn't that increase the number of impact deals...from FAs like Nash and Arenas to. In terms of exceeding the cap, only a few teams go over without a care, which has worked well for Dallas, not so much for the Knicks. But most are hesitant to do so, given the dollar-for-dollar tax, and even Cuban is backing off it. Being in playoff contention isn't a magic bullet, either: Phoenix has zero depth because of Sarver's unwillingness to spend $$, and us guys at WRG were talking this week about a similar mandate for the Wizards, which has left the team with 10 active players and no plans for reinforcements.

Mr. Six, like Ty said, your mini-manifesto on the liberated fan was well-put and convincing...maybe I should've checked the masthead before raining my disagreement. As an FD irregular--although I'd love to stay awhile, assuming I'm not driving everyone crazy--this 'liberated fan' stuff hasn't totally absorbed. I'm still too indoctrinated by the Church of Hollinger (and disciples Ziller and Gurney) to let the numbers stuff totally go, but thanks all for trying to learn me.

At 12/06/2007 6:33 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Per Cosellout.com, here are your ten All-Stars obtained over the last 10 years via free agency (including sign and trades):

-Shaq (Lakers)
-Nash (Suns)
-Mutumbo (Hawks)
-Houston (Knicks)
-Arenas (Wizards)
-Boozer (Jazz)
-Okur (Jazz)
-Ben Wallace (Bulls)
-Rashard Lewis (Magic)

Also, Billups with the midlevel exemption. I think that's the entire list.

It's worth noting that Shaq, Nash, Wallace and Mutumbo were also traded at different points in their career, meaning "waiting" for their free agency wasn't the only way to get them.

I also think the two second-rounder picks (Arenas and Boozer) got directly into unrestricted free agency through a non-closed loophole. Otherwise one could argue that Cleveland and Sacramento might have matched their offers, or signed them to an extension.

At 12/06/2007 7:02 PM, Blogger tommi teardrop said...

I had to defend this signing in the offseason.

When you get a player like dwight, you have one chance to make a splash before their rookie contract expires. And you never know if the FAs you're anticipating will still be around because most teams resign them beforehand or they have the ability to tack on an extra year to the deal a la Redd and Jesus. The Magic got lucky with Rashard being available. They jumped on it like they should have.

You can argue that Wallace would have been better and cheaper, but Wallace would not fit in with the structure of this team. They remind me of those old Shaq and Hakeem teams with shooters on the edges when the line was moved in.

If anything, I think the Jameer deal was worse because I am not sure how he will develop.

Plus you can always sign low level guys that can knock down 3s and make hustle plays. It seems like every year there is a crop of em.

In a couple of years, Portland and Seattle will be in the same situation and I doubt they will be able to use that cap space to get a first team all NBAer. They will likely have to overpay for a couple year all star that is not a sure thing. I doubt they will do as well as Orlando has.

But what about Turkoglu? Him and Boggans have been playing great. I liked the Ariza deal too.

At 12/06/2007 9:02 PM, Blogger Abe said...

Is that Roscoe Arbuckle?

At 12/06/2007 10:52 PM, Blogger Nathaniel Jones said...

Dribs, I think you're sort of inadvertently proving my point there. You think the reason the extra 3m this year was a mistake was so that they could sign someone like Ariza who they could have continued to have neglected on the bench? You know how you get guys like Amir or Luke? You draft them. And if the GM of my team announced that the reason that he didn't make a splash that he had an opportunity to because he wanted to have room to possibly make a run at someone in 2012, I'd be pretty outraged. (and if Josh Howard is only making 10m at that point in time, I'd be flabbergasted)

Thanks for the research SML. Like seriously, people really think the Knicks' problems boil down entirely to cap space? You could clear off half their bad contracts and they'd still be limited to the same ways to improve as just about every other team: draft, trade, sign-and-trade, MLE, etc. They're not just magically going to be able to throw 20m at LBJ, because no one is that far under.

I think Teardrop is spot on. You keep drafting shooters, eventually pick up a couple vets for cheap, and you'll be A OK.

And yes, it is Fatty.

At 12/07/2007 12:52 PM, Blogger Nate Jones said...

Hinrich's contract is front loaded. It's a good strategy for a GM to use when he can, but this was not one of those situations. Lewis was the number one free agent on the market last year and the Magic had no room to mess around. I know people keep comparing the Lewis deal to Gerald Wallace's deal. Wallace is an amazing player, but for what Orlando needed, Lewis is worth that much more to them. They needed a consistent outside scoring threat to play next to Dwight Howard. As Howard develops more and more, a guy like Lewis is going to become even more valuable. Imagine if Glen Rice in his prime played with Dwight Howard. Kind of the same thing they are shooting for with Rashard playing next to that beast. Now did they overpay? Hell yes. But the Magic were not trying to fuck around. Someone above mentioned the number of FA all-stars that have switched teams. It's a very, very short list. So the Magic needed to make sure they secured Rashard. They needed to sign someone that showed Dwight and Aaron Goodwin that this team could be a championship contender, so that the two of them would be open to signing an extension, and not pulling a re-play of Shaq and bouncing during the next off-season. People say they were bidding against themselves, but Rashard is from Houston and the Rockets were very interested in figuring out a way to pull of a sign and trade with Seattle. The Magic could not mess around in this situation, so that is why they made it happen. Rashard was going to get six years no matter what. That was the stated number one goal by his agent at the beginning. He wanted to try to work out something with Seattle, because he knew a sign and trade was the only way to get Rashard that extra year. The thing about Rashard's deal that no one talks about is that his sixth season is not fully guaranteed. He and the Magic have to reach certain performance goals in order for that last year to fully kick in. In terms of overpaying, this wasn't that bad. It wasn't Jim McIlvaine or Jon Koncak bad. This guy's an All-Star and the perfect compliment to that beast they have down there. Yes, that sixth year makes it look like a ridiculous deal, but remember that year only fully kicks in if he and the magic do well, which if a fair trade in my eyes.


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