During the last CBA, we saw a startling jump in player salaries, poor owner decisions and roster moves that made the average fan scratch their head. Most teams spent tens of millions of dollars on big-name, flashy shooting guards and small forwards who put the ball in the bucket, put wins in the “W” column and most importantly, put the butts in the seats.
Meanwhile, the undercurrent in the NBA has been the overpayment of no-name, blundering big men. The most famous of the bunch is Erick Dampier, who signed a deal with Mark Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks that ended up paying him a whopping $12.1 million in the last year.
Over the course of his career, Dampier has earned more than $97.1 million and with the exception of his major contract year in 2003-04, never had a PER above 15.8. Similarly, the likes of Raef LaFrentz ($84 MM), Eddy Curry ($68 MM), Juwan Howard ($150 MM) and Theo Ratliff ($102 MM) have all had tremendous career earnings all without ever breaking the 17-point PER average in a season.
To put that in perspective, other players at different positions have had relatively similar average per-year earnings yet produced at a much higher rate and have had 20-point PER averages multiple times, including Ray Allen (9), Michael Redd (4) and Kevin Martin (3). Arguably, those players weren’t A-level stars at their position, even at their peak.
The great players in NBA history at the center position have performed wonderfully and have amazing career earnings and averages in PER. David Robinson (13), Shaq (16) and Dwight Howard (5) have all broken the 20-point PER average in a season multiple times. The difference between the two groups is that Robinson, Howard and Shaq are all-time greats.
What does this mean for the next CBA, the NBA and its players moving forward?
First, paying big-time money for big men isn’t a perfectly good or bad thing. Do the Dallas Mavericks win the title this year without Tyson Chandler? Probably not. But does Chandler play as well as he did this year without knowing he’s going into a contract year? Again, probably not.
Teams looking to sign free agent forwards and centers when the lockout ends may be in for a real hard look at themselves when it comes time to negotiate a contract. Chandler, Marc Gasol, Glen Davis, Nene, Kris Humphries, David West and Sam Dalembert are all valuable big men coming into unrestricted free agency this year. If I were a team, I’d be careful signing any of them. I’m not saying they aren’t valuable players – far from it – just that what their monetary value is to their team in terms of efficiency and how millions of dollars are spent and spread among certain players and positions is a real concern.
Saying that the average PER rating is the end-all stat is misleading. How players mesh together and who is giving up what statistics for the good of the team changes that rating. However, it’s still a good sign of whether or not a player, regardless of team wins or losses, was an efficient producer for the amount he was paid during the course of a contract. For Dampier and his clunky friends, they don’t seem to match their boardroom contracts on the court.
Kurt Thomas‘ name is always floated around the trade deadline every year, mostly with respect to some cusp-level team looking to “veteran up” in the post for a deep run into the playoffs. Like the Dampiers of the world, Thomas has earned more than $63 million in his career while never even breaking the 17.0 PER mark. That Thomas has played for eight teams and traded spaces in search of a championship is curious. How many rings do Kurt Thomas, Theo Ratliff, Raef LaFrentz, Juwan Howard, Eddy Curry and Erick Dampier have combined? None.
While there may still be lumpen contracts like Travis Outlaw and Joe Johnson in the future, the NBA owners need to create a system in which they can protect themselves from…well, themselves. When Isiah Thomas signed Eddy Curry to the Knicks in 2005, he said it was because he “wanted size.” Boy, did he get it.
As the NBA’s current CBA has soured, the only thing we’ve seen get bigger is albatross contracts for inefficient post players. Let’s hope they fix it moving forward.
Who will become the most overpaid big man during this offseason?
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