Good Players with Bad Contracts

Devin Dignam (of NBeh? “fame”) is the Toronto Raptors writer for the Wages of Wins Network. His background with the Raptors gives him unique into many areas including the draft, overpaid players and overrated players. 

The Premise

In response to Dre’s post on how an amnesty clause would affect competitive balance, NBA CBA expert Larry Coon had the following to points in the comments:

  • The players cut would not just be bad players with bad contracts (e.g. Gilbert Arenas)
  • Good players with bad contracts might be cut (e.g. Michael Finley in 2005)
  • This might release more talent into the pool and help competitive balance.

While I disagree with Larry’s main point – that cutting good players with bad contracts would help competitive balance – he did get me wondering: which players fall into that group?

To answer this question, I used a few simple rules. They are as follows:

  • The player must have underperformed their salary last season (see Arturo’s Overpaid Remix for details)
  • The player must have produced at least 4.0 wins last year – the amount produced by an average player (WP48 0.100) across 1920 minutes played (or about 25 minutes per game for 77 games)
  • The total salary remaining must be large enough to warrant cutting – somewhere around $35 million

The Players

Dre here. Devin’s notes provided 12 names. Let’s take a quick rundown of each player and the reason they qualified for this dubious list.

Table 1: Good Players with Bad Contracts for 2010-2011

Joe Johnson

I'm top of the List!

Johnson is the trifecta for this award. He’s an old player in a long contract for a lot of money. Atlanta has a young and talented front court with Al Horford and Josh Smith but with massive money going to Johnson it’s unlikely they’ll go anywhere.

Chris Bosh

I'm not supposed to be here!

Shaq wasn’t really that off about the Big Two in Miami. Had Bosh maintained his career average level (WP48 of 0.177) – a number he had topped for five straight seasons coming into this year – he wouldn’t be considered overpaid. He had an off year and still managed to be slightly productive. I wouldn’t throw in the towel on him yet, but next season he needs to step it up to earn his contract.

Kobe Bryant

Taste of defeat.

Kobe is an old star. Thanks to his seniority and contract rules he was able to pull in a ludicrous amount of money. He’s a top 25 player but he’s getting paid like a top 10 player. For the next few seasons the value of Kobe’s contract will keep going up while his skills will likely go down. He’s a prime candidate for any amnesty clause.

Amaré Stoudemire

I knew I could do it!

Once upon a time Amaré was very good and played for a contender. But his age and injuries may have finally caught up with him and his days of being a top center are likely through. His payday was considered a mistake during the offseason and despite people’s perceptions that hasn’t changed. The Knicks would do well to sever ties with him if they have the chance.

Carmelo Anthony

Melo's not happy to be back.

This season Melo arguably had a breakout season. Despite that he still wasn’t worth the money. He’s got another few seasons left at a huge payday and it’s unlikely he’ll ever be worth it. In the event of an amnesty clause, if I was in charge of the Knicks I would let Amare go first, but it would be a close call.

Rudy Gay

What?

Had Gay played about 3000 minutes last year – something he managed to do in the three previous seasons – he wouldn’t be considered overpaid. Although I should also note that, prior to last season, Gay had never posted a WP48 above that of an average player, so we’ll have to wait and see how he performs next season. As it stands now, Gay is overpaid.

Dirk Nowitzki

Give me time and I'll pass Kobe!

Dirk is very similar to Kobe: he was once easily worth the money but has been slipping for a number of years. He’s still been very good but he just doesn’t justify the pay. Right now the Mavs are feeling their high from winning a title but in a few seasons Dirk’s contract will be bringing them down.

Carlos Boozer

This is embarrassing

Carlos Boozer is a very talented athlete who could be top of the league if not for injury. It seems that statement applies every other year. It may be too soon to tell for the Bulls. However, with four years and $60 million left it’s a big gamble that could either pay off in spades or blow up in their faces.

Luis Scola

I'm just happy to be on any list.

During his rookie contract Scola was a productive player who was easily worth the money. This year he slipped and was neither worth the money nor was he very productive. Scola is already thirty so it’s unlikely he’s improving. We’ll have to see if Houston gambled correctly on him, but it doesn’t look good at the moment.

Danny Granger

I'll have to think about that one.

Devin’s notes simply say “overpaid scorer”; that pretty much sums up Granger’s career. On the plus side his contract isn’t the worst on this list. On the minus side he will be the highest paid Pacer for the foreseeable future…all things considered, perhaps Joey Graham was a better pick after all?

Elton Brand

Pick One.

It was a huge risk signing Brand off of his injury. This season he finally got some of his old magic back but still not enough to justify his pay. He only has two years left on his contract, which is critical given that Iguodala is still in his prime. Oddly enough, the general consensus seems to be to try and trade Andre Iguodala instead.

Monta Ellis

Who me?

At one point Ellis was an improving young player. Now he seems to be a broken down overrated scorer. Not only is Ellis a liability cap wise, but with Stephen Curry and newcomers Klay Thompson and Charles Jenkins, he’s pretty redundant on the Warriors. Like Joe Johnson he may be the exact type of player Coon had in mind.

Summing Up

None of these players is bad, they are just overpaid. While they are prime candidates for an amnesty provision, I still don’t think it would help. None of these players (with the exception of Kobe) are that much better than a majority of the NBA population. Additionally, there’s no guarantee that if these players were released from their contract they would divide evenly throughout the league. The Michael Finley example resulted with Finley leaving Dallas and moving to another contender in San Antonio. That said, even if these players find themselves without a contract, that still doesn’t overcome the short supply of tall people and the fact that only a handful of players (LeBron, Wade, Howard, etc) rule the league.

 

 - Devin and Dre

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