2010 NBA Free Agency: the Year of the Bloated Contract

Steve O Speak

By Fanspeak Contributing Writer Geoff Nelowet

It was announced yesterday that Dirk Nowitzki will be re-signing with the Dallas Mavericks for the next four years with a little over $80 million in guarantees – which would put Nowitzki substantially shy of of the maximum ($96.2M). Since free agency began Thursday morning, this was easily the most pragmatic and commendable move by any organization. Nowitzki signed a reasonable contract so that the Mavericks could pursue other free agents and build a better team. In an off season where players are demanding an insane number of max contracts, this is a breath of fresh air.

The move that instantly stands out as a mistake is the rumor that Joe Johnson was thrown the absolute maximum to return to the Atlanta Hawks for the next five years. It is believed that Johnson will sign on Monday for an absurd $125.5 M. It is easy to see that Johnson is a great player, but there is a monumental difference between Johnson and say Dwyane Wade. The Atlanta Hawks won 53 games last season and were laughed out of the second round of the playoffs. Ask yourself: how much worse would the Hawks have been without Johnson’s 21 points per game? The Hawks had a very balanced team that was solid on defense. Many would argue that Al Horford and Josh Smith – two lockdown defenders – were far more important to the Hawks’ success than Johnson ever was. Furthermore, with Johnson eating away at their cap space for the next five seasons, the Hawks have almost no chance of ever significantly improving their roster unless the plummet into the lottery.

Many were skeptical three years ago when the Washington Wizards threw $111 M at Gilbert Arenas – a guy who came off back-to-back seasons of 28+ points per game and 6 assists. Joe Johnson’s deal makes this look like a steal. It is difficult to quantify exactly how bad Johnson’s contract is, but let me say this: players that can score 20+ points per game are in unending supply in the NBA. Had Johnson played with lesser teammates, he would be making half of what he is about to be paid. The Atlanta Hawks will regret this contract.

Rudy Gay is another prime example of a player being paid well more than his worth. Last week Gay signed a five-year, $80 M deal. This contract is for a player that last season averaged 19 point per game, 6 rebounds and played sub-par defense. Rudy Gay will never be more than a second or third option on a playoff team, yet he will be making $16 M a season to Dirk Nowitzki’s $20 M. I think it is clear that these contracts are not accurate representations of the value of each player, and it is insane to think the Joe Johnson will be making more money than Dirk Nowitzki. There are three players aside from Nowitzki that should receive max contracts in this free agency: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Every other bloated contract that gets doled out this free agency will quickly become a mistake that will haunt franchises for five long years.

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