“Money can’t buy love, but it improves your bargaining position.”
– Christopher Marlowe, 16th century English playwright.
Carmelo: The Worst of the worst
When Carmelo Anthony decided to resign with the Knicks, he signed his contract in the blood of Knicks fans. By going into free agency, he declared to any potential Knicks free agents: ‘Hey guys, I might not come back, so you’d be a lot better off going to the Lakers or something. Go Knicks!’ He then plods around the country, making an unconvincing show of himself. Carmelo tried really hard to prove to all the much better players out there that he was one of them, namely, that he was a player that cared about winning.
If Carmelo cared about winning, he would be in Chicago right now. Imagine if he had cared enough about winning to sacrifice $25+ million of his $125 million contract: the Bulls would have still been able to sign Pau. Yikes.
By threatening to leave New York, he held his talents for ransom like a kid in church clothes standing over a mud puddle.
‘Mom, if you don’t give me this contract, I’m gonna jump into the mud with the Bulls! Or the Rockets or Mavs! I’m serious, mom!’
Long story short, the Knicks get no solid players in 2015, and Carmelo cripples his team with his greed.
10/10, would Knick again.
Kobe: The best of the worst
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, another aging star is stuck in a similar cosmic phenomena. If a star goes supernova in an uncharted galaxy and no one was around to see it, does the star still matter?
Kobe is not Carmelo – the most important distinction is that he already has 5 rings with the Lakers. And he’s never played for a different team, whereas Carmelo was drafted by Denver and then traded. And he’s not a walking fraud: he really, really, really, wants to win.
Just look at him up there! He looks like he’s about to go postal. That’s how bad he wants to win; he makes the people around him fear for their lives if he is not winning.
Kobe couldn’t will the Lakers to victory, or even remain active for more than 35 games this season. Carmelo was too concerned with laughing all the way to the bank with his $125 million contract to ever even attempt to win any games.
Salary crap and luxury crap
The common thread that’s I’m addressing is that both players have absurdly huge contracts, but are declining from their primes. At the same time, they both insist that winning a championship is the most important thing to them in their basketball lives.
Here’s the disconnect: The NBA is not a free market system. It’s ruled by a system called the Collective Bargaining Agreement, or CBA. There are all sorts of restrictions on contracts, trading, drafting, etc. that are in place to maintain the competitive integrity of the game.
In Major League Baseball, the team with the highest payroll for 2015 is the LA Dodgers at $276,373,625.
The team with the lowest payroll for 2015 is the Miami Marlins at $69,031,500.
The MLB has similar restrictions and governing principles, but the NBA is actually serious about it.
The highest team payroll in the 2014-2015 season is the Brooklyn Nets at $87,817,289; the lowest is the Philadelphia 76ers at $54,188,944
The reason why all this stuff matters is that The Knicks, Lakers, the Nets, as you can see, are all caught up in salary situations that are just painful to watch. The big market teams tend to encourage big market players who enjoy big market salaries; but that’s not how teams consistently win anymore.
Since there is a salary cap, and then a luxury cap, there are limitations to the amounts of dough you can hand out. So, if a player takes a big pay-cut, then that money is freed up for the team to be used for other players.
The vast majority of players would never leave money on the table for the sake of his team, and I wouldn’t expect them to. I’m not trying to imply that this should become the norm, or that people who don’t sacrifice money for their teams are bad. Carmelo’s extenuating circumstances colors his situation with the unmistakeable scent of bullshit. NBA athletes only have their prime earning years for about a decade – they should take the money and have no regrets.
For Kobe and Carmelo, however, they have both made hundreds of millions in endorsements alone, and are increasingly weighing down their teams as their production declines with age. Carmelo and Kobe are clearly not burdens as players, but once you staple $30 million contracts to each of them, it gets a lot heavier for their teams to drag them along.
The classic TEAM example: San antonio spurs
The concept of the “Big 3” has been milked to death, but for good reason. When you have 3 dynamic players who can get their own shot consistently, it stretches defenses too thin, causing defenders to either over-commit to help defense, or under-commit. If you over-commit, you leave your man open for an easy shot, often at the basket. Maybe a teammate will rotate, but another couple of passes and even the best defenses are often bewildered.
On the other hand, under-committing means 1 of the big 3 score. Simple as that.
So you’re a general manager and you finally get your perfect big 3 together. Let’s use the Clippers as our example, because Doc Rivers is an awful GM.
Structurally, the Griffen, Paul, Jordan combo is fantastic. Now that DeAndre has broken out offensively, the 3 star Clippers are talented, quick, versatile, and they don’t sit around on defense; in fact, they are some of the leagues best defenders. The league has known for a while that the Clippers would be incredibly frightening under the right circumstances.
Enter Doc River’s incompetent managing skills.
The big 3 leaves open the 2 and the 3. The best 3 they can scrape together is Matt Barnes. He is, without a doubt, one of the bottom 5 least talented starters in the game. For someone as cripplingly limited as he is, a .343 % from 3 is unacceptable. He gets blown by on defense, and he barely contributes on offense. Plus, he does stuff like this:
Are you kidding?
Meanwhile, the 2 position is inhabited by 3 incredibly redundant guards: Jordan Crawford, J.J. Reddick, and the mind-numbingly talentless Austin Rivers. Fun fact: that’s Rivers’ son.
They can all shoot 3s, create limited offense off the dribble, sink catch-and-shoot jumpers from everywhere, and move at a surprisingly slow pace considering how short and nimble the classic combo-guard is.
This wouldn’t be all that bad of a situation if any of them understood the concept of defense.
On to the bench! Glen ‘Baby’ Davis.
I feel uncomfortable now.
I’m not going to go any further into the Clippers bench. I feel like this sums it up pretty well.
OK NOW I’m actually going to mention the spurs.
The big 3 era in Miami paid Wade, Bosh, and James a collective $56,808,000d in 2013-14. This left a whopping $1,871,000 to spend on the 9-12 other players on the roster before hitting salary cap. Check out this fun graph.
It’s mathematically impossible to avoid the salary cap even if you pay every other player the absolute minimum allowed by the league.
Meanwhile, the Spurs paid their big 3 $30,361,446.
Per BusinessInsider.com, this left space for all of the amazing role players that make the Spurs the Spurs:
“Duncan’s pay cut opened cap space for San Antonio to sign shooting guard Danny Green, forward Boris Diaw, and point guards Nando De Colo and Patty Mills. Green started every game he played this season, averaging a career high 10.5 points on 43 percent three-point shooting. Diaw averaged 23 minutes a game for the 58-24 team now headed to the finals.”
Written in 2013-14, this example has lost exactly 0 relevance since then. The Spurs may be getting up in the years, but they love winning. Especially the Popo himself.
The BEST of the best: The big german
The big German is giving away nearly as much money as Germany is; in fact, his sacrifice is historically unprecedented.
This Forbes article is titled “Dirk Passes Up Most Money in NBA History.”
His loyalty to the Mavericks and unquenchable thirst for victory is incredibly laudable to me. It’s mind-boggling to consider how much money was left on the table.
Dirk was offered $97 million, the max amount that he could have been offered, over 4 years, the maximum years he could have been offered, by both the Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers.
He ended up signing a $25 million contract divided over the course of 3 years.
He gave up $72 MILLION dollars. In his previous contract, he took $16 million dollars less over 5 years than he was offered.
Dirk wants to win. He knows that he set the Mavs up to contend after missing the playoffs for the only time over the course of these last 16 years. The money he freed up made the following acquisitions possible:
#1: Chandler Parsons
The Mavericks were able to present a ‘GodFather’ contract to Chandler Parsons. ‘Godfather,’ in this context means that the Mavs gave the Rockets an offer that they couldn’t refuse. Spotrac.com maintains statistics on NBA players, including their yearly salaries:
At the time, the Rockets were pursuing Chris Bosh in an attempt to complete what could have been the most dominant big 3 in the league. Due to Parson’s restricted free agent status, The Rockets were given the opportunity to match the Mavs offer, but this would make the Bosh acquisition impossible. They let him walk. Player #1 acquired through Dirk.
By the way, the Rockets didn’t sign Bosh in the end.
#2 Tyson chandler
Phil Jackson made a very foolish decision by completing this trade; but hey, at least the guy’s consistent.
The Mavs gave up Jose Calderone, who, over the course of this season, has become yet another victim to the unassailable Father Time. They also gave up Samuel Dalembert, who was subsequently waived by the Knicks and remains unsigned to this day. They gave up undersized guard Shane Larkin, who would’ve just become lost in the Mav’s sea of capable point guards. Last, and least, Wayne Ellington. The trade also included 2 2nd round picks.
It was a lop-sided trade by anyone’s estimation. For more info on the subject, read this Hoopshabit.com article.
Tyson Chandler was the 2012 defensive player of the year, and has been the Mavs’ most irreplaceable presence on the court in that regard and more.
Chandler is in the last year of a 14.6 million dollar contract, and the Mavs couldn’t have absorbed the lop-sided finances of the acquisition without the precious wiggle room provided by everyone’s favorite German.
#3 Rajon Rondo
I remain unconvinced that the Rondo trade has been a failure. Rondo was an acquisition intended for post-season performance. Sports fans are fickle creatures, prone to bouts of alarmism and abandonment of all hope. They can just as quickly become elated by often insignificant occasions: The loss or victory of one’s hometown team can make grown men cry, either from sorrow or ecstasy.
Independent of the trade’s success or lack thereof, the Mavs picked up an all-star point guard at their weakest and most defensively vulnerable position. And the Mavericks didn’t give up any significant pieces. I wrote an incredibly insightful piece on this subject titled Pascal’s Trader. If you haven’t had the distinct pleasure of reading it, I strongly suggest you do so.
The Rondo trade was secured for pennies on the dollar… Well, unless you count the Mavs’ $12.9 million trade exception made possible by the Dunking Deutschman.
#4: Amare Stoudemire
“I came here to win.”
Amare wasn’t going to spend another minute languishing on the Knicks, which could be described as basketball hell if hell was significantly less pleasant. He wanted to go somewhere his contribution would be both valued and validated. The Mavs have loved the impact he’s had, and there’s not a snowball’s chance in Phil Jackson’s office that he would have chosen Dallas if they were in the state they were last year.
The impact of basketball altruism
I recently watched a MIT sports analytics panel about the unmeasurable nature of certain player’s full impacts. I’m not in the mood to go find the video, so bear with me. The speaker was Steve Kerr, and the particular player he was addressing was Dirk during the course of a game he provided color commentary during. As Kerr watched the game, he began to recognize the buoyancy of Dirk’s on court personality. He was constantly talking on offense and defense and in between plays he encouraged or joked with his teammates. All of this despite being 35/36 at the time. This Dirk quote embodies the emotional impact his presence has on his fellow Mavs:
“Off the floor, I’m really laid back: like, nothing really fazes me too much. But on the floor, I do get emotional and a little carried away. However, I started playing when I was 13 to have fun with my teammates, and that never stopped. I enjoy traveling and having fun in the locker room with the guys. Life is too short to be miserable.”
Dirk is an incredible player in so many ways, his selflessness and generosity often get lost in the swathes of milestones he regularly passes as he entires the twilight of his career . Players want to play with Dirk. Players want to play on the Mavericks. The environment that both Dirk and the Mavericks family have been able to maintain despite their constant roster turnover is an under-appreciated component of the success the Mavericks have had.
And don’t even get me started on the Spurs.