This article is Part 2 of 2 – Part 1 is here: The NBA Salary Cap and You: An Overview, Part I
Now that we’re all certifiable NBA capologists (an actual position with many NBA franchises) let’s get into how this affects some of the teams we all know and love.
Most teams fall in the realm of carefully balancing their bottom line with the talent they put on the court. After all, no team has unlimited resources. With this economy the way it is, teams are shaving money any way they can. Well, some are. Some are collecting assets to put to good use. Some are only limited by their own imagination. And some are just plain dumb.
Los Angeles Lakers — Hmmm… let’s see. Huge market? Check. Massive fan support? Check. One of the game’s two best players? Check. A long history of winning and little else? Check.
Translation: the Lakers are just fine. They’ve got the fan base, they’ve got the winning pedigree, and they’ve got an intelligent front office.
They snagged Ron Artest, which is questionable from a basketball standpoint, but a decent bargain. They played hardball with Lamar Odom, but someone caved, and he’s back. As far as I can tell the only stupid thing they’ve done salary wise in the past few years was ponying up big bucks for Andrew Bynum without making him work for it, an offense which almost every team has been guilty of.
Boston Celtics — It’s amazing what a summer of free spending will get you. The Celtics cashed in some developing talent for talented but pricey veterans in 2007 to win a championship, and I don’t think you’ll find any regrets in Beantown.
The Big Three, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are on the books for $18.7 million, $19.8 and $16.4 respectively this season. An expensive and aging core, but like I said, they got their ring out of it, the rest is just gravy.
The salary situation the C’s are facing right now is very interesting, since it has a very specific method to it. Ray Allen’s $18.7 million contract expires after the 2009-10 season. Pierce’s $19.8 expires after the 2010-11 season, with an early termination option after this season. Garnett’s (which will be $21 mil by 2011-12) expires after the 2011-12 season.
So what the Celtics have done is give themselves a $20 million expiring contract for the next three trade deadlines. Pretty ingenious. I don’t think Pierce will go anywhere, but Allen might be a tasty nugget for someone trying to clear space in February 2010 to gear up for the Summer of 2010.
Garnett’s situation is more problematic, since he’s the least healthy one with the most time left on his deal. But the Celtics have gotten pretty far with their deft contract maneuvering, and they are poised to turn some old guys on big contracts into some young stars.
Dallas Mavericks — With Mark Cuban at the helm, no salary is too steep for the Mavericks. With the economy hitting every team hard, the Mavericks are in a unique position to be buyers in a seller’s market.
Plus, they’ve got some financial whizzes drawing up their contracts. Jerry Stackhouse had a buyout clause in his contract, meaning a team could ship out $4 million in salary, while taking on Stackhouse, but then they could buy him out for $1.5 million. That’s how they turned two bench players (Stackhouse, Antoine Wright) into Shawn Marion.
They’ve got another version of that this year with Greg Buckner, who can be bought out. So the Mavs could take the savings for themselves (not bloody likely), or they can put another package together and offer someone else the savings.
What really makes the Mavs unique is Erick Dampier’s contract. Probably their biggest mistake of the decade financially (not paying Nash $63 million, but paying Dampier $73 million) could prove to be a major coup this summer, and one the league doesn’t see coming.
See, Dampier’s contract, while for seven years, only goes to that seventh year if Damp plays more than 26 minutes per game, which he’s only done twice, and when he was much younger. So it’s an expriring contract essentially, because if he doesn’t make that mark (and you can guarantee Coach Risk Carlisle will be keeping track), he can simply be cut.
So come the trade deadline or before the start of free agency, the Mavs can make an offer to a team that’s about to lose it’s superstar, say the Cavaliers, Raptors or Heat. Rather than having LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh bolt for nothing, the teams can simply send them to Dallas in a sign-and-trade.
Since the free agent’s team is signing them to the contract before trading them, they can sign the player to a six-year deal, since they’re re-signing they’re own player.
So say Chris Bosh has always wanted to come back to Dallas, but to go to the Mavs as a free agent, he could only get a five-year max deal, and maybe there’s another team that can do the same.
Throw Damp in the mix, and the Mavericks and the Raptors are the only teams that can give him six years, not to mention the Raptors get $12 million in cap space as a consolation prize.
Phoenix Suns — If you’re a Suns fan, I warn you. This might make you a little queasy.
You see, Suns owner Robert Sarver was notorious for years for staying well below the luxury tax. He ran his team like a business, and while he was able to sign Nash and draft people like Stoudemire and Marion, he also always had his eye on the bottom line.
Circa, 2004-2006, the Suns were a blast to watch. They were scoring 120 a game, and though they weren’t putting on any defensive clinics, they were the most entertaining team in the league to watch.
If you’re Robert Sarver, you’ve already got the product on the court, so why not save some dough? How do you save some dough? Well, you don’t pay those pesky first-round drat picks, that’s for sure.
So Sarver did one of the worst things an owner can do: he sold his first round draft picks. In the 2004 draft, the Suns had the seventh pick. They sold it to Chicago for a second-rounder (who wouldn’t have a guaranteed contract) a future first-rounder and $3 million.
That pick was Luol Deng. It could have also been Al Jefferson (a center who can run, unlike Shaq), Andre Iguodala, Josh Smith or Jameer Nelson. Ouch.
Fast forward to 2006. Phoenix has the 21st pick, Rajon Rondo. They sold the pick to Boston for cash and a 2007 first round pick. The 2009 Suns have a problem with who is going to succeed Nash, but they sold Rondo for a few million, and now Rondo has a ring in Boston. Not to mention Rondo is one of the best defensive point guards in the game today, something that Phoenix needs at that position more than ever. Double ouch.
What did Phoenix do with that 2007 first rounder? They picked Rudy Fernandez, and sold him to the Trailblazers.
Then there’s Kurt Thomas, a veteran with a great low post defensive game, something that the Suns lack with Stoudemire down there. But sure enough, Thomas would have put them over the luxury tax, so he was traded to the then-Seattle Sonics for an $8 million trade exception and a second-round future draft pick.
But as we all know, Sarver finally decided to go into the luxury tax in February 2008. By doing so ironically enough, it ushered the end of the “Fun and Gun” Suns, by bringing Shaquille O’Neal into the mix.
And since they traded Shawn Marion for Shaq, they’ve had a gaping hole at small forward. If only there was some way that they could have had a small forward. Hmm… maybe Luol Deng? Or Josh Smith? How about Rudy Fernandez? All can run, shoot the three and are decent defenders.
Instead, Robert Sarver has an extra $10 million or so in his pocket. But then again, why let basketball get in the way of money?
New Orleans Hornets — Here’s a little tip for all you potential owners out there. If the best point guard in the game today, a 24-year-old guy that hasn’t even entered his prime yet, thinks that he could be traded purely from financial motivations, then you’re doing something wrong.
Not to turn this into a Jeff Foxworthy routine, but if you take a team with two straight playoff appearances and are run out of town a few years later, you might be a bad owner.
At the start of the new decade, Kenny Anderson, Dell Curry, Vlade Divac, Matt Geiger and Alonzo Mourning were all traded or allowed to leave because Shinn wouldn’t pay them market value.
These moves drew such fan ire that the city of Charlotte wasn’t able to support the Hornets, so the team moved to New Orleans.
Now, despite the emergence of an exciting young team, the Hornets and Shinn seemed doomed to repeat their mistakes.
They lucked into Chris Paul when Atlanta and Utah passed on him, and David West emerged as a good playmaker down low. They were one win away from the Western Conference Finals two years ago, but then this summer, Chris Paul commented that he wouldn’t be surprised if they traded him.
And who can blame him? After all, in February of this year, in the midst of a heated Western Conference race, the Hornets were prepared to dump Tyson Chandler, his alley-oop catching mitts and his big salary to the Thunder for Joe Smith (a power forward, when they have David West) and some change.
The move was so clearly financially motivated that coach Byron Scott and David West were both openly questioning it in the media.
But things could be looking up for the Hornets. After all, the Chandler trade was nixed, then Chandler was turned into Emeka Okafor and his large contracts and his nightly 12 and 12′s. So maybe there’s hope yet.
New York Knicks — We all know the story. The Knicks, looking to return to basketball’s elite after more than a decade at the bottom, spend the last few seasons wallowing in filth, just for a shot to sign LeBron James and maybe another marquee free agent.
A few years ago, the Knicks were a study in contrasts. Their three most productive players, David Lee, Nate Robinson and Renaldo Balkman were making a combined $5.1 million dollars. The rest of the team (littered with such notable cancers as Jamal Crawford, Eddy Curry, Jerome James, Stephon Marbury, Malik Rose and Zach Randolph) made $83 million dollars. Money well spent?
The Knicks have spent the most of the last few seasons trying to clear enough cap space for two max contracts, LeBron James and someone else. They dumped both Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph for Al Harrington, Tim Thomas (traded and bought out), Cuttino Mobley (retired for medical reasons).
While Randolph is certainly a jerk and Crawford overpaid, they were the team’s two leading scorers, and considering only Harrington stayed with the team, it basically amounted to a forfeit for that season.
Sounds good on paper right? After all, would you willingly go through a few seasons of terrible basketball for a guaranteed golden age?
I would, but there are so few sure things in life. Like, say, when a shrinking salary cap affects the amount of said max contracts. And say, when you don’t have a first round pick in 2010, because you traded it to Utah in 2004.
Will LeBron and company really want to come to a team that’s filled out with a bunch of bargain basement players and no first round pick next year?
More importantly, will Madison Square Garden still be standing after LeBron announces on July 5, 2010 that he’s playing for the Cavaliers, Clippers or Heat next season?