You know that robotic grass cutter you got from The Sharper Image catalogue that’s sitting in your garage? Or the toaster from Sky Miles that toasts hot dogs AND buns at the same time? Well, that grass cutter is your Austin Croshere. And that toaster? Yeah, that’s your Andris Biedrins.
Wild Speculation and Outlandish Guesses: Buyer’s Remorse Edition.
Everyone buys stupid stuff sometimes. We all make mistakes. The least we can do, as fans, is to ridicule those who make such dumb decisions. Because while that grass cutter set you back $175, Andris set you back $66 million. Maybe you can get him to fire up the mower.
1. What is the worst contract of all-time? NBA preferred, but any sport will do.
Joe Bernardo: Allan Houston (6 years, $100 million). Mention the name “Allan Houston” to a die-hard Knicks fan and they’ll respond with a long-winded sigh and claim that the Knicks have never been the same since then. At certain seasons of his career, he made more money than Chris Webber, Kobe, Allen Iverson, Jason Kidd and Kevin Garnett…for playing as many NBA minutes as JACOB GREENBERG! Yes, the guy was injury-plagued (hence, not entirely his fault), but his heart was more of the issue than his knees. His contract was so infamous that the NBA named a rule after him which basically allows teams to waive a player before the season starts so it doesn’t get counted against the salary cap.
Jason Arends: Keep in mind, this was written before I knew Kris Humphries was going to make $12 million this year, but I’d have to say the Joe Smith contract with the Timberwolves has been among the more disastrous free agent signings in memory. It was the beginning of the end of hope for surrounding Kevin Garnett with quality help. A lot of people were puzzled when Smith inked a $1.75 million deal for a young, solid forward. Little did they know that Wolves GM Kevin McHale and Smith’s agent had secretly agreed to a future max extension AND PUT IT IN WRITING. The League helped Minnesota turn that max deal into negative three first round draft picks. Though, given their draft history, you can make a pretty compelling argument that they’d have managed to screw them up if they had them.
Dave Gold: There are a ton of bad player contracts, but what makes a contract bad? The player underperformed? Injuries? Player was overpaid to begin with? In the NFL bad contracts are not guaranteed, so the bad ones are usually the result of high draft picks failing (JaMarcus Russell or Ryan Leaf) or players who got injured. In MLP, contracts are guaranteed, so a mistake is more painful. In MLB it seems players are overpaid because they are pitchers (Barry Zito) or the contract is just too long and they decline by the end (A-Rod, probably Prince Fielder). But the NBA seems to have a lot of bad contracts every year. Some that come to mind include Ben Wallace (Bulls; $60 million/4 years for tons of injuries and 6 ppg, then traded to the Cavs along with a suitcase containing $30 million), Larry Hughes ($70 million/5 years), but I think we often miss bad coaching contracts, so I am going with a coach as my worst contract of all time. The Celtics signed Rick Pitino to a seven-year, $70 million contract. He failed to make the playoffs in 4 years and then was fired. Great college coach, bad NBA coach. Does a coach who has no success in the NBA really deserve to make $10 million a year? I think the Miami Heat are proving that good players are much more important than good coaching.
Jacob Greenberg: I think a serious case could be made for Jim McIlvaine, who was handed a 7 year, $33.6 million contract to become the starting center for the Seattle SuperSonics after their finals appearance in 1996. The contract was roundly criticized, and deeply angered Shawn Kemp, who had been denied a salary increase for years despite the fact he was one of the main reasons the Sonics were a Western conference powerhouse. McIlvaine, of course, was a dud, and chemistry suffered as a result. If you want to take a measured view, you could pretty confidently argue that the contract was the catalyst that engineered the Kemp-Baker-Hill-Brandon swap. If you want to take a more adventurous view (as the filmmakers of Sonicgate have), you could even argue that that contract was perhaps the beginning of the end of professional basketball in Seattle, given that the team was never as good as they were once Kemp left.
2. What is your favorite bad contract of all-time? Why?
Joe Bernardo: Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson (10 years, $68 million). Coming out of college in 1994, Robinson aspired to be the first $100 million player. Well, he didn’t exactly get that figure, but his $68 million contract remains the highest NBA salary contract signed by a rookie in league history. (On a side note, the Big Dog held the Bucks hostage until right before training camp when he eventually signed the contract). It’s my favorite because it was the contract that led to the institution of rookie salary scales. No longer can media hype over a draft pick inflate their salary figure. Granted, there have been rookies (Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin) come to mind, that were/are heinously underpaid, but I prefer big contracts going to players who have already shown their worth.
Jason Arends: I’ve always had a soft spot for the absolutely absurd contracts players get following one good playoff performance. The star of this particular small sample size theater is Austin Croshere. After a pretty good season, Croshere “exploded” in the playoffs, averaging 15 and 6. Croshere probably maxed out his potential in those 2000 finals as a high energy, good shooting, rock solid bench player. The Pacers maxed out their checkbook to keep him. Indiana decided to lock him up to the tune of $51 million over 7 years. Croshere never averaged 25 minutes a game (often much less) and rarely started. He wasn’t a bad player; he shot reasonably well, boarded okay, and was, well, only a bit of a sieve defensively, but you do not pay your bench players $7 million a year for two presidential terms if you want to succeed.
Dave Gold: While I don’t have a favorite, I am always amused that teams continue to search for the “Great White Big Man”. Why do big white dudes continue to get paid big dollars and they almost always flop? Have any of them ever really worked out? Just a few come to mind: Bryant “Big Country” Reeves (6 years, $61.8 million), Jim McIlvaine (7 years, $33.6 million), Tom Gugliotta (6 years, $58.5 million), Keith Van Horn (6 years, $73 million), Austin Croshere (7 years, $50 million), Brian Cardinal (6 years, $37 million)…the list goes on and on.
Jacob Greenberg: For me, it’s Kenny Thomas. I played a ton of NBA Live growing up, and played as the Sixers a lot. Kenny Thomas was my starting center in NBA Live 2002, and in our run to the finals, averaged 16 points and 18 rebounds, and just killed Shaq all series long. I loved the pixelated version of Kenny Thomas. The real life version wasn’t bad either — a short guy (6’7”) who could get a ton of rebounds and put-backs. As a short guy who liked to get boards, I could identify. But even I knew Kenny Thomas didn’t deserve the 7 year, $50 million contract that then-Sixers GM Billy King handed him. Maybe the pixelated version. But not him. Kenny, of course, was traded to the Kings, where he became the highest paid “DNP-Coach’s Decision” in NBA history (until Andris Biedrins retires, at least).
3. Consider this: an NBA where only one year salaries were offerend, and players became unrestricted free agents every year. You down?
Joe Bernardo: No. Not only will the players balk at the idea, but it would suck as a fan to watch players switch teams every year. It would be worse than when star players went back and forth between the NBA and ABA back in the 70s. I don’t want a league where Chucky Brown’s career becomes the model for player development.
Jason Arends: As an NBA fan and someone generally in favor of workers, I think this would be terrible. Players who got injured would get completely shafted if they had one bad year. Say what you will about Brandon Roy’s ridiculous contract, but the man gave up whatever knee function he had entertaining the hell out of me. And despite my penchant for doing an full fantasy draft in NBA 2k over and over, I don’t want to see nearly 100% turnover on teams. Finally, it seems like way too much of NBA news is “who’s going where”, and I’d rather not see all coverage devolve into rumored future signings.
Dave Gold: No way. Players would just form “super teams” each year to win a championship. It would totally destroy the integrity of the game and fair competition. I would rather go the other way and increase the time before a player can become a free agent. I like the MLB approach where players can’t sign a new contract until they have a certain amount of service time — arbitration ensures they aren’t getting screwed, but teams can actually build a good team through the draft and player development without losing their good players after just a few years (Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay Rays). Because of this long time to free agency, small market teams can compete with a group of young, developed players. Has that really happened in the NBA? Might be happening in OKC, but for how many more years can that group afford to stay together?
Jacob Greenberg: The NBPA would never go for it. But if they did, in some bizarre alternate universe, this might allow for more responsible financial management, though at the expense of a watchable product. How would a team become good if the players were always moving around, or feeling stiffed because their salaries were renegotiated every year based upon performance and need? A utilitarian approach to the game doesn’t always lead to success, as Daryl Morey has shown over the last few seasons.
4. Should the NBA have a hard salary cap? Would it make a difference? (Currently, the NBA has a “soft” cap; it varies year-by-year, and is based on the annual revenues of the league in the previous year).
Joe Bernardo: I’m not sure it would totally make a difference. I think a hard cap would actually make moving to a bigger market, where there are more sponsorship opportunities, exposure, etc., more enticing for players if they know that they would earn just as much as a smaller market. Plus, if an owner just overpaid for an under-achieving role player (which is usually the case) and thus killed any chances to contend since a hard cap would limit their ability to build a viable team, a player has more incentive to walk from their team. The current CBA just made the soft cap a little more hard so let’s wait and see what happens in a few years before we entertain a hard-capped reality.
Jason Arends: I think the main consequence of a hard salary cap would be that owners would get more of the profits. I don’t mind the soft cap and the luxury tax (though the penalty seems to get a bit ridiculous under the new CBA), and I don’t think it’s absolutely absurd that some teams can spend more than others. The biggest difference in teams doesn’t seem to be how much money they can spend, but how intelligently they can spend it. I think I’d rather see the NBA go completely uncapped than further restrict the amounts owners can throw at mediocre players.
Dave Gold: What’s the point of the cap if teams can just go over it? If we had a hard cap, teams could not do the ‘Big 3″ with 3 max contracts. The NFL has the best cap system and coincidentally has the most parity throughout the league. I wouldn’t say the NBA cap has created parity as we see the same teams in the NBA finals every year.
Jacob Greenberg: I am no capologist, but I am an armchair capologist. I feel that a hard salary cap may be the only way to create a semblance of financial parity in a league (which, depending on your view, is either completely related to competitive parity, or not really related at all). In my view, the variable, “soft” salary cap structure, which varies year-by-year, does three things. First, it rewards an owner for their personal wealth and their willingness to spend on their team. Secondly, it rewards smart spending through positive reinforcement, and punishes dumb spending by imposing varous taxes that exceed the salary cap. But thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it makes the league richer, as the NBA accepts luxury tax penalties as revenue, which is then added to next year’s revenue numbers (and affects the cap). In other words, the league itself benefits from teams that do pay the luxury tax, since those teams (in a weird way) cover the costs for teams that struggle to generate revenue. In this bass-ackwards system, both smart spending and overspending is encouraged. This is why Stern loves owners like the Busses and James Dolan, who routinely pay luxury taxes. In a hard cap (with no luxury tax), assumedly, owners and GMS would be required to make informed decisions with players. But who knows what would happen to the on-court product if the league lost the revenue that the luxury tax provides.