by Jeff Siti - 04/29/2005
What is an NBA championship worth? How about a playoff spot? A winning record? The truth of the matter is that there are no clear-cut answers. Spending money in the NBA isn't all that dissimilar from rolling dice in Las Vegas - you shell out the cash, give them a toss, close your eyes and hope everything works out. Usually, when you open your eyes the chips are gone and all you have is an expired free buffet coupon.
NBA salaries have officially reached a condition that can no longer be described by the spoken (written) word. Mediocre players are averaging over $4 million a year and some teams' payrolls are in the $100 million range. The unbelievable thing about this is that a lot of the teams dishing out most of the cash aren't even playoff contenders. A lot of them don't even have winning records.
The most inept franchise, by far, is the Knicks. They spent $104 million in salaries this year and went 33-49. Not only did they miss the playoffs this year, but it looks like they are a few seasons away from that goal. Following close behind are the Trail Blazers at $78 million, Minnesota at $70 million, Orlando with $68 million and the Lakers at $64 million. Of these five teams, which constitute half of the top ten payrolls in the league, none made the playoffs, and only Minnesota had a winning record.
This means that a lot of players are getting their hands on a ton of money that they don't deserve. The NBA is a business, and businesses do business for two reasons -- to make money and be successful. So why is it that general managers across the league have no problem dishing out huge deals to players who don't produce? Again, no answer.
Shaquille O'Neal is slated to collect $27 million this season, that's by far tops for NBA salaries, and he's worth every penny. Miami spent that money to better its team, and that's exactly what it did. Now the Heat are a contender. O'Neal averaged 22 (points) and 10 (rebounds), was an all-star, and is an MVP candidate (shoe-in). For all that, wouldn't you spend as much money as you possibly could?
Astonishingly, when you see the list of the top 30 NBA salaries for this year, a lot of the players don't belong on it. For example, the second highest-paid player this season is Dikembe Mutombo at $18.7 million between his existing Nets contract ($14 m.) and his new Rockets deal ($4 m.). Of the top 30, only 13 are all-stars.
When a player is named to the all-star team he immediately becomes the face of his respective organization. So it would make sense, that because they perform at the highest level, they would be paid accordingly, right? Not so. Below is a list of the 2004-05 all-stars that did not crack the top 30 highest NBA salaries:
Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Jermaine O'Neal, Ben Wallace, Gilbert Arenas, Yao Ming, Ginobili, Amare Stoudemire, Nash, Marion and Rashard Lewis.
So if these are guys aren't getting paid, who is?
Well, obviously there's Mutombo, who is averaging five points per game and four rebounds per game. But there are others. Allan Houston and Webber are both in the top three, raking in over $17.5 million each. And regardless of the argument, Chris Webber does not deserve that kind of money anymore. Have you seen a Sixers game this season? But they make up for their Webber mistake by only dishing out only $620,000 to Kyle Korver this year, who happened to lead the league in three pointers made. Anfernee Hardaway, Van Horn and Latrell are all in the top 15, pulling in over $14.4 million each. And worst of all, Brian Grant, who in 69 games for the Lakers this season averaged just 3.8 PPG and 3.7 RPG, collected $13.2 million.
There should be a rule that your salary can't be higher than you scoring average unless you're Shaq. If that were the case than that top 30 list of NBA salaries would make a lot more sense.
The reality of the NBA is that you only have to have one good season, or several average years, to demand huge money. Just look at Eric Dampier or Adonal Foyle, who for some reason will be making $51 million over the next five seasons. It must have been his 4.6 PPG and 5.2 RPG career averages that the Warriors were afraid to let go of.
In a lot places, namely Atlanta, franchises are putting teams on the floor that are made up of projects. Everything is about the future. Whatever happened to making your team better now? There's no urgency in the NBA. Lottery picks are wasted on kids that will potentially be great, but no one knows when. In the meantime fans are paying a lot of money to see these experiments that for the most part aren't paying off.
The only way to stop players from earning such ridiculous dollars is to stop paying to watch them play, which, if you haven't noticed, has already started happening. Do you really think that David Stern is trying to bump up that age limit for any other reason than to stop the NBA from becoming completely watered down by underdeveloped high school kids and misinformed college players?
Nothing can be done about the overpaid veterans, their teams are just going to have to take the hit and hopefully learn from their mistakes. And maybe if these kids would wait until they were men to enter the league they would be able to compete, then they wouldn't be wasting everyone's cash.
But neither of those things is going to happen. And subsequently, the NBA's future isn't all that different than the future of most of those starry-eyed seventeen-year-old high school seniors that can't wait to enter the draft. Not good.