Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Full Court Press 10.21.15: It's OK To Say No #NBA #FreeAgency

By @mrgroce

Basketball is one the biggest sports in the world. Thanks to Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, the sport got the "shot in the arm" it needed to bring the casual fan back to arenas across the league. But once the man affectionately known as "His Airness" entered, people everywhere had to see what the fuss was all about as it pertained to the sport.
Thanks to Michael Jordan, the current crop of talent (LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Steph Curry) and the business savvy of former NBA commissioner David Stern, the league is at one of the highest levels of popularity and profitability that it has ever experienced. The reason I included Jordan, who has been retired since 2003, is because his final contract was worth $33 million dollars. For Chicago and their five championship rings, that was a bargain. But what it caused in the long run was other players overvaluing themselves, asking for ridiculous amounts of money, and general managers giving it to them based on ticket sales or fan pressure.

As I see it, there are not a lot of NBA owners who truly know how good a player is coming out of college, or if he's not featured on the SportsCenter Top Ten, probably have no clue how well that player has played his first three years in the league. But when he finally lives up to a certain amount of hype in that contract year,  everyone gets excited and the owner feels compelled to give the player whatever he wants. Technically, this is the job of the general manager.

But to me, if I owned ANYTHING, I think that it would be in my best interest to know as much as possible about it before investing millions of dollars. NBA owners are very intelligent. Before purchasing their teams, they have made their fortunes in "corporate America" by being hands on, smart, and by trusting their gut.

In business, once you've built your company the way you want it, you can turn over the day to day operations to some one else that has the same vision as you and allow them to run things while you tend to other entities.  Sports is a little different. Once you purchase the team, you must choose an individual to put together the roster and handle the salary cap. That person must then hire a coach to lead the team, and that coach must hire assistants to help him win. A good owner must now trust these men to do their jobs while all he does is write checks. This doesn't mean the owner shouldn't know about the players on his team or how good they are, but he must sit back and let the men he employed handle the day to day operations. Unlike his business, the owner basically has no say in who is on the team and what their roles on the court are, but in my opinion he should still know what a player is worth. Remember, he writes the check.

I look back at what the Orlando Magic did in the summer of 2007. General Manager Otis Smith signed Rashard Lewis to a six-year $118 million dollar, sign and trade deal. This contract has stuck in my mind ever since it was announced nine years ago. I couldn't believe it. Then after reading a little bit about the Magic and using my own common sense, I started to understand. Team owner Richard DeVos was 81 years old.
I'm pretty sure he didn't have a scouting report handy when the GM he trusted to run his franchise walked in his office and told him, "hey boss, I have a guy I want to sign that I think can help us win it all". "He's 6'10", athletic, opens up the floor for Dwight Howard and can shoot three's like Reggie Miller". I assume Mr. DeVos then asked, "how much is this gonna cost me"? As soon as Smith said $19 million a year, my 81 year old ass would have immediately requested game film, but the owner trusted his GM and the rest is history. Lewis never lived up that contract, never helped the team win a championship, and he was eventually traded for another bad contract, owned by former Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas.

The way the NBA salary cap is set up, once a player is signed to a deal, if traded he must be dealt for equal monetary value. So, even though the guy you have is making $20 million a year and the guy you want only makes $11 million, other guys must be included in the deal to get you in the neighborhood of the $20 million dollars.

That leads me to the whole point of this article of asking; is it worth it to pay a guy big money simply because he wants it or the market calls for it, if he truly is not worth it?

Why straddle yourself with a bad contract that you can't get rid of in the future? Or if you do rid yourself of it, you'd have to take back players you don't want. More importantly, you tie up a significant amount of your salary cap to one guy and now you are unable to properly build your team. It's not my money, but for some reason I feel it is my right as an American to tell all NBA owners that it is okay to say no to the money that these free agents ask for. Sometimes, the general managers can't help themselves. So it is up to you as an owner to say "no".

Ben Wallace (Bulls) 4-years, $60 million. Allan Houston (Knicks) 6-years, $100 million. Brian Grant (Miami) 7-years, $86 million. Eddy Curry (Knicks) 6-years, $60 million. Let's please not forget the first $100 million man, Juwan Howard who signed a 7-years, $105 million deal with the then Washington Bullets. These are just a few of the worst free agent deals ever signed, and trust me there were plenty more. Take a look at the deals signed this summer alone.

All management has to do is say no.

I am pleasantly surprised that David Griffin, the GM of the Cleveland Cavaliers, has held firm in not giving in to the contract demands of reserve power forward Tristan Thompson. Thompson for his career is averaging 10 points and 8 rebounds per game. He feels that those numbers, combined with his performance in the 2014 playoffs, are enough to command a max contract worth an estimated $94 million dollars. It was reported last week that the Cavaliers have taken their offer of 5 years, $80 million off of the table. What makes this situation different than other deals, is that Tristan would not be coming from another team expected to lead. He's been there and not having him there could disrupt team chemistry. He's also represented by the same agent that reps teammate LeBron James. You'd have to figure the team would not want to anger the multiple champion and MVP winner.

David Griffin saying no means a.) he's looking out for the greater good of the team's finances and b.) he simply doesn't feel that giving a guy who's offense is limited and defense is average the type of money you'd give to a franchise player. The argument in his favor is that when the salary cap increases next year, his deal will seem like bargain. But I've never heard of a guy that can't get me 15 points per game, while making $20 million per year being a bargain. Ben Wallace and Dennis Rodman in their prime maybe but Thompson, no way.

I'm all for individuals making as much as possible and I would in no way ever want it to seem as though I'm hating. But just because you CAN get something doesn't exactly mean you deserve it. The NBA has a lot of stars, but very few superstars. That's where things get murky. Superstars can carry a team to the title. While stars can get you to the playoffs. The superstars deserve as much as possible while the stars need to understand that they will get more than enough. If they don't owners and general managers need to learn that to protect the long term well being of their franchise all they need to do is tell players and agents no!

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