Thursday, June 02, 2005

Take James Dolan's money: the long overdue NBA post

Every NBA off-season, some desperate team foolishly throws millions, and more shockingly, long term contracts to underachieving big men. Why? Because they happen to put it together during their contract year rendering all previous years irrelevant, and because of the old flawed adage that you can't coach size (you can't coach competence either, y'know). So one of the joys of the NBA off-season is seeing which NBA team throws too much money and cap space so they could finance a 7-footer's weed habit?

Below, a quick rundown of the candidates for this year's Adonal Foyle ($51.2 million for 6 years) or Mark Blount ($38.5 million for 6 years).

Contract info from here and here. I focused on big men, i.e. power forwards and centers.

For players with opt-out clauses, I took the liberty of choosing players who I thought were likely to opt out. For example, Steven Hunter is a minimum salary guy coming off a decent season. He'll get himself a nice raise. Danny Fortson, I wasn't sure about, but I figured he could do better than the 2 years/$13,324,675 remaining. I also ignored most guys who weren't going to make too big of a splash (i.e. Vitaly Potapenko, DeSagana Diop, Yogi Stewart).

  • Zydrunas Illgauskas - LeBabyjesus wants him around but signing him is going to tie up hell of a lot of money on a guy who has only recently gotten off the injury bug. I think the Cavs would rather use the cap space but don't have a replacement in mind, and Big Z is looking at the final big payday of his career. I say sign & trade. Isiah will give the Cavs, Kurt Thomas, Trevor Ariza, Mike Sweetney and a non-lottery protected 2010 first round pick.

  • Tyson Chandler/Eddy Curry - The question here is, do Da Bulls need both or just one of them? Here is a classic case of the difficulties with drafting high school big men; they'll take their entire rookie contracts developing and when they're up for renewal, you have no idea if they're worth the max. Plus, as restricted FAs, some desperate team is going to put up a ridiculously front-loaded offer sheet like Miami did with Odom and Brand a couple of years back.

  • Dan Gadzuric - Surely the Dan Gadzuric Era is over in the Land of Beers. Or will D-Gadz and Andrew Bogut form the most formidable front court since Robinson and Duncan? Only time will tell.

  • Udonis Haslem - Seems like a smart kid and one hopes he knows well enough to keep on carrying Shaq's bags. Plus, you can't beat living in Miami.

  • Dikembe Mutombo - The highest paid player in the NBA this season, picking up paychecks from the Rockets and the Nets. Will his wheels hold up? Has the perfect role of spelling Yao in Houston. Probably good for a one year contract with a player option.

  • Stromile Swift - Will this kid ever develop? Good time to get out since he's not taking minutes from Pau Gasol.

  • Kwame Brown - The most intriguing name in the pool. Certainly has the talent and looking to get a fresh start. A veteran team should take a flyer on him. But boy, did Michael Jordan do a number on him.

  • Zaza Oachulia - I have never seen him play. Ever. What does he look like? What is his gam like? Wait, I don't care. I just love his name.

  • Eddie Griffin - Another intriguing name, not as talented as Kwame but has actually done time. He seems best off staying in Minneapolis backing up KG, but could be a valuable 6th Man in a lot of places. Wouldn't be surprised to see him get the full mid-level somewhere.

  • Ervin Johnson - Not to be confused with Magic Johnson. Doesn't have a game to speak of but he's been effective wherever he's gone. He's a guy you give a couple of million a year and pencil him in the starting lineup.

  • Brian Scalabrine - BREAKOUT YEAR! By far the best redhead in the league since Luke Walton wasn't getting much PT in LA.

  • Samuel Delembert - I'd like to see the Sixers keep their young guns. AI, AI2 and the Hatian Sensation will form a nice little core to build around. They're still a few pieces short but they can afford to pay Big Sam.

  • Steven Hunter - You know, there's a reason Amare Stoudemire plays center. Still, wouldn't be surprised to see him parlay his season with the Run & Suns into a long term contract.

  • Shareef Abdur-Rahim - How did the Blazers not unload his expiring contract? Are they looking to sign & trade him somewhere? His talent says "franchise player" but you have to worry about a guy who has never played in the postseason.

  • Robert Horry - It's good to be Big Shot Bob. Who wouldn't want him coming off the bench in the 4th Quarter?

  • Reggie Evans/Danny Fortson/Jerome James - the 3-headed monster that does the dirty work for Ray-Ray and Rashard. Seattle will keep 2 of the 3, methinks. I say work a sign & trade for James while his value is at its highest. They can probably sucker Isiah into giving up Ariza, draft picks and the naming rights to Madison Square Garden.

  • Vladmir Radmanovic - He seems a bit redundant with Rashard Lewis around.

  • Donyell Marshall - What Shareef Abdur-Rahim will look like in 5 years.

  • Antoine Walker - I don't know if he should really be on this list, since he is only a power forward by default and doesn't play up to his size. That said, he does fill the 4 positions better than, say, Austin Croshere. The Celts need him more than he needs the Celts but seemed happy to be back in Beantown. Where else is he going to go?
Not the most impressive list. Why do NBA GMs keep overrating size? How did Shawn Bradley get a 7-year contract after conclusively proving that he is not a basketball player?

Sure, the Spurs vs Suns playoff series showed that you do need size, but lest we forget, Phoenix did have Jake Voskuhl, Walter McCarty and Steve Hunter sitting on the bench and decided not to use them. Those are precisely the kind of centers and power forwards who get silly money. Furthermore, hybrid bigs like Lamar Odom and Shawn Marion showed that you don't necessarily need a traditional back-to-the-basket low post guy at the 4. Ultimately, it was less size than depth and flexibility that killed the Suns in the end.

In any case, if you want a big, the draft is the way to go. Sure, you end up spending 2, 3 years developing them but you get first dibs when their rookie contracts are up, you lock them up and don't let them in the free agent market. Smart teams know better than to let other teams bid for their quality bigs.

Unfortunately, you won't see too many sure things in this draft. Scouts seem to like, but not love Andrew Bogut. He certainly doesn't look like a franchise center. Marvin Williams is better on the wing than in the low post, but he could be an Odom-like hybrid. Sean May could a rich man's Corliss Williamson but he's joining Malik Rose and Danny Fortson in the Generously Listed Club. Ditto for Wayne Simien, the poor man's May.

And the giant Eastern Europeans? If I were a GM, I'd wait till at least one of the lottery picks develop into a solid pro before I waste a first round pick. The Brazilians and Spaniards, say Tiago Splitter and Fran Vasquez, I'm okay with. They can thank Nene and Pau. I'm not sold on Channing Frye or Chris Taft either. I'd rather trade down and take a gamble on Hakim Warrick.

Otherwise, I'd take a perimeter player and wait another year to fill the big man needs (big n/h) - this is the year for point guards with Paul, Felton and Deron. As they say, it's not the size of the boat, it's the motion of the ocean. And you need a point guard to row your boat (n/h, I think). But this isn't going to be draft to push the Knicks or the Warriors, as improved as they are, into contention.

Update: Can't forget Shav Randolph!

  • RIP George Mikan, the original big man.

  • Scoop Jackson on Rasheed, my favorite Tar Heel big man. Scoop is wrong when he says 'Sheed is hard to love. No, it's easy. You just have to love the technical fouls and the marijuana arrest too. BTW, my favorite Tar Heel of all time is Shammond Williams, but it doesn't look like he'll be playing in the States any time soon.

  • Advisory panel to pick '08 U.S. men's Olympic team. Okay, I thought handing the keys to the Team USA program to Jerry Colangelo was the right move. But an advisory panel? Why not just let the coach pick the team? It's going to end up being the same shit as last summer when Larry Brown didn't use half the squad.
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