By: Zachariah Blott
This summer is supposed to be a chance for teams with big pockets and big dreams to strike it rich on a deep crop of max contract-level players. Everyone has known that LeBron and D-Wade and Bosh are going to be available for some time, and sports writers quickly noted numerous other players who might also test the free agency market in 2010.
Because of this bounty of riches likely available, many teams have spent the past few seasons positioning themselves so that the books clear up at the right time, whether that meant trading away fan favorites or eschewing any playoff hopes.
The rush will soon be upon us, but as things have become clear enough to see who will probably get a 5-year max contract and who’s able to offer them, the numbers aren’t adding up, and it’s going to cost some teams dearly for years to come. Six players are often mentioned as deserving of the max contract (check out this great primer on what they are and how they work if you’re confused), and eight teams have made the arrangements to drop some serious payroll this summer, allowing them to go after those players. It should be noted that players can resign with their current teams no matter what their salary situation is.
So eight teams have basically been saving up for a crack at LeBron or Wade, but only two can sign them. The rest will have a ton of money and expectant fans, so they’ll have to have something to show for the epic 2010 free agency bonanza. Unfortunately, many owners and GMs will end up overbidding on the remaining talent in over-zealous hopes that David Lee or Manu Ginobili will suddenly perform like a $12-15 million a year talent upon whose shoulders the city can ride to glory.
The obvious result will be many clubs dumping way too much money into players who frankly aren’t worth it. This will snowball into several teams who tanked the present for a chance at having a future that costs too much and isn’t tremendously better. The screw ups will remain screwed up by bidding against each other for the biggest scraps.
Here are the six players who are usually mentioned as most likely to sign a max contract deal. You’ll see that only two of them are really worth the $90 million or so over 5 years, and the other four are stretches.
Worthy of Max Contract
There is no question he is worth whatever a team is willing to spend. He can score in a dominating fashion in any type of offense, he is a tremendous distributor, and he’s more than capable as a rebounder and defender. James can also lift his teammates to a higher level, which is the ultimate sign he’s a franchise guy.
Wade is the most explosive player today, a highlight drive waiting to happen. It’s not just his scoring that sets him apart (his shooting percentages are actually average), but he’s a great passer, he’s crazy good in crunch time, he gets to the line at will, and he’s one of the best defensive guards of the past 20 years. That last aspect is more important than many people acknowledge.
Not Max Contract Material
I know, I know: he leads the league in 20-10’s and his numbers keep getting better. But he continually misses 10 games a season, his defense is eh, and Toronto has never performed like a team with a franchise player owning the paint. The Raptors’ only winning season during Bosh’s tenure was a 47-35 finish in 2006-07, and that had a lot to do with the arrivals of Anthony Parker, T.J. Ford, Andrea Bargnani, and Rasho Nesterovic, and the increased minutes of Jose Calderon; Bosh’s contribution was virtually the same as the previous season. In short, he won’t turn a team around all by himself.
Much more on the NBA’s Summer of 2010 after the break…
I like Johnson, but is he even the best player on the Hawks? He can do a bit of everything, but he’ll often resort to hanging out on the perimeter tossing up long jumpers. This results in shooting percentages that aren’t as good as they should be and abnormally low free-throw attempts for someone who scores that much (3.6 attempts per, lowest of the top 30 scorers in NBA). His defense is decent at times, but overall underwhelming for a franchise-type player.
His offensive game is defined by fast break dunks. His defensive game is defined simply as when opponents have the ball. His rebounding is nothing special considering the pace of the Suns. He’s played 60+ games in consecutive seasons only once (06-07, 07-08), and this is his eighth season. Think about that last sentence. Is that really who you want to pay nearly $100 million to over the next 5 years?
Can you honestly imagine Boozer leading a team through the playoffs? Do you see him as a captain teammates trust and look up to, refocusing the troops, instilling confidence in others? He’s played less than 55 games in a season three times in his first 8 years, so he’s got some injury issues. He’s not exactly a leader, and he’s definitely not a defensive leader.
For the record, I believe that anyone earning a max contract should be a franchise player who you would feel comfortable hanging the fate of a club on. They should not only be great contributors, but they should have the attitude and mentality of a leader who can make five guys play better as a team.
Of all the players in their third year or beyond, the only ones I’d be willing to spend that sort of money on for the next five seasons would be Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Brandon Roy, Dwyane Wade, and Deron Williams.
Some contenders are starting to get too old (Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant), some are a little too injury-prone (Pau Gasol, Andrew Bogut), and some just don’t quite have that complete package of skills and attitude (Carmelo Anthony, Zach Randolph).
Teams Able To Give Max Contracts
Here’s a rundown of the clubs whose payrolls are low enough next year (approximately $35 million or less) that they can offer a max deal, along with the teams’ needs.
They made some trades to open up money for this summer in hopes of luring Dwyane Wade back to his hometown. Needs: SG*, PF (* = big need)
Los Angeles Clippers
In theory, big-name players would want to play in Los Angeles, but this theory is only half-right (which would be zero right for the Clippers). Needs: SF*, another G
They’re in a good spot because they can resign Wade and still sign another max contract player. Miami offers a little bit of the nightlife I hear some NBA players enjoy. Needs: PG, SF*, C*
If the salary cap is set at at least $52 million, which is likely, the T-wolves have the money for a max contract. No one wants to go here for a lot of reasons, so they’re better off signing a few smaller contracts at multiple positions of need. Needs: SF, C*, steady G
New Jersey Nets
Even in the wake of their historically bad season, New Jersey has a few things going for them: two good players (Brook Lopez and Devin Harris), 2012 relocation to Brooklyn, and a new owner willing to spend money. Needs: SG, SF*, PF, steady G
New York Knicks
The Knicks have been preparing for the summer of 2010 for about 3 years, so they’ve cleaned house and have enough money for two max contracts. I’m not sure why a player would want to join this wreck except that everyone’s now trying to brand themselves, and NYC is the ultimate self-marketing tool (cue eye rolling). Needs: PG, SG*, PF, C*
Really? They plan on attracting free agents who can go anywhere? Playing next to Tyreke Evans would be fun, but then again, you’d be in Sacramento. Needs: another F, another G*
Everything about them is a mess right now, and their talent is limited to Gilbert Arenas (maybe) and Andray Blatche, two head cases. Washington is hoping players will want to play in a big East Coast market. Needs: PG*, SG, SF, C*
What Will Happen
First of all, with eight clubs saving up this much money, you better believe they’ll throw it around like Pacman Jones in a strip club. Too many max contracts will be passed out, which means the trading deadline in 2015 will be rife with expiring contracts for players that teams don’t want anymore. Also, many clubs will end up without a top-notch player to show for the summer, so they’ll drop too much money onto the likes of Ray Allen, Raymond Felton, and Rudy Gay, forcing PR departments to convince their fans after the fact that they “got their guy.”
If I had to guess where the six big-timers are headed, I’d say James resigns with Cleveland, Wade resigns with Miami, Stoudemire joins Wade on the Heat, Bosh and Johnson sign with New York, and Boozer signs with Chicago or New Jersey. I can see some of the clubs (e.g. the Clippers) spending too much to pick up a single contract that won’t pan out instead of a few smaller ones that are more likely to result in wins.
Some possible smaller contracts that clubs would be wise to consider include Kyle Lowry, Brendan Haywood, Luis Scola, Amir Johnson, Anthony Morrow, C.J. Watson, Shannon Brown, and Matt Bonner. For an idea of who all is available this year, here’s a good list that includes some basic information about their contracts (i.e. restricted free agent, team options, player options).
After we get through this summer’s craziness, let’s see who’s still standing for 2011 and the chase for Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Tony Parker, Yao Ming, Dirk Nowitzki, Caron Butler, and Al Horford.
Zachariah Blott cannot recommend Rick Telander’s “Heaven Is A Playground” enough.