The Summer of One
Before LeBron James reshaped an athlete’s power and economics, the one year contract was the exclusive property of the aging player or the mediocre player who filled out rosters way down the bench and entered games after they were decided, or if an injury titled things. In the mid-80’s, Magic Johnson signed a 25 year deal.
Because professional sports is a short term career, the average NBA player has a 5-year window, and because injury can change everything, financial security by way of the long contract was supposed to be the way players leverage insecurity in a sport where the billionaire owners have the advantage on the business side of things.
But LeBron James redrew the lines. He demonstrated through his on the move behavior the difference between value and worth. A player’s worth to an organization is a binary figure but his value is exponentially more. Don’t mortgage that value with a long term deal you cannot get out of because you are desperate for security. Flexibility and walking away, and more importantly understanding the CBA and when salaries rise so you can have agency in a financial tsunami, is just as important as counting stats. Know about the money and how it can work for you.
Many were listening. The summer of 2018 had very few buyers, a lot of teams are capped out and have one eye on the tax. But in 2019 there is going to be a lot of free agents who can change the fortunes of a team and a lot of buyers as well.
It’s not that Trevor Ariza is worth a one year deal with the Phoenix Suns. He is worth more. But his value in that one year increases if the Suns who now have his Bird rights can negotiate on his behalf a larger deal in 2019 or if another team with money replaces the Suns. Ariza was smart about his money.
Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, DeAndre Jordan, JJ Redick, Rudy Gay, Elfrid Payton, Dirk Nowtizki, Ed Davis, Mario Hezonja, JaVale McGee, DeMarcus Cousins, Amir Johnson, Dwight Howard, Ian Clark took one year deals. Some of them are only worth a one year deal and some are patiently waiting, knowing their value to a team this year will change for next year. It puts the players in the power seat and the owners in an uncomfortable guessing game.
The great unknown is if this strategy is long term. After the LeBron James era is over, is it enshrined as a financial principle, or is it only a function of LeBron’s power within the league? Once he retires, will NBA Econ 101 revert to getting as much money as players can get when they are offered it, (The Carmelo Anthony Rule), and not looking at the long game? (Valerie Morales)
Rondo Doesn’t Owe Ray Anything
When Ray Allen left the Celtics to join LeBron James in Miami, the other Celtics, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce were at first shocked and then a little salty as it seemed on the surface that Ray Allen was ring chasing. Rondo was particularly critical of Ray who was considered a traitor for joining the Celtics rival in the same way Kevin Durant was considered a traitor for joining the Warriors. The only difference was Ray Allen wasn’t a top-3 NBA player like Durant is, but he was one of the league’s greatest 3-point shooters.
Now that Rondo has joined the Lakers, something he has wanted for awhile, and it is LeBron James he is playing with, to some it all feels Ray Allen-ish. Many (Heat fans probably) feel he owes Allen an apology. That if Ray Allen was a traitor to what the Celtics had built and the brotherhood, then so is Rondo. That is the thinking. But the logic is twisted.
Rondo isn’t joining a championship team like Ray did when he stunningly went to the Heat. He isn’t joining the second best team in the conference either. That is Houston. The Lakers and what they are capable of is unknown. Ray joined a team of seasoned veterans. They didn’t have second and third year players they depended on like the Lakers have in Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball. When Ray put on the Heat jersey in game one, his teammates had all been in the NBA Finals; Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Udonis Haslem had been in three NBA Finals. No one on the Rondo-Lakers has been in the playoffs except the newcomers of LeBron, Lance Stephenson, Javale McGee and Rondo.
Joining the Lakers on a one year deal after what he did for Jrue Holiday’s career and E’Twaun Moore’s career is a gamble, not a no-brainer to get him the same amount of NBA titles as Allen.
James being less of a creator and more of an on the block finisher is one in which Rondo is needed more than ever. James is an impressive lure to get him to L.A. but Rondo didn’t abandon a brotherhood, a title team, a group of amigos to bask in the LeBron glow.
Allen didn’t have to mentor anyone in Miami. He just had to be Ray. Rondo has to be a mentor, leader, creator and the tough genius he is without a promise it is going to pay off. Don’t say he is Ray. (Julian Billick)
Zach’s Money is Chicago Hopeless
The Bulls saved the Sacramento Kings from more ineptitude by matching Zach LaVine to a ridiculous offer sheet, nearly $80 million. Clint Capela is still waiting but LaVine is going to make nearly $20 million. This is the same team that traded Jimmy Butler because he was aggressive in his disagreements with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. They also fired Tom Thibodeau and haven’t done much since. The Bulls are rebuilding and in rebuilding cardinal rule number one is not to ruin flexibility with a player who tore his ACL and may not ever be able to play 75 games again, not to mention he is not the face of the franchise. At best, he is the second best player, probably the third best.
Owners just cannot help themselves from stupid. There is next year’s class to look forward to but if you don’t think you are a player than I guess you do overpay LaVine. But the problem with the Bulls is they don’t have direction nor an identity. They are throwing whatever it is at the wall and hoping it sticks. They are hoping LaVine is worth it but are not sure if he is and if he is not, he has just ruined them ala Nicolas Batum in Charlotte who was given a contract he can never live up to because injuries changed his outcome. The Bulls will still have cap money next year but if LaVine is what his career says he is, who is coming to Chicago?
Let’s look at what the highest paid player is supposed to do. He is not supposed to play in 24 games and average 16 per. He is supposed to have some kind of leadership influence. His defense is not supposed to be abysmal; he is supposed to care. 38.3% doesn’t scream $20 million. LaVine has the dreaded upside because he is explosive but what does he really do well?
LaVine is too much into his feelings, forgetting that basketball is a business. His feelings were hurt because he had to go the offer sheet route instead of the Bulls stepping up. Perhaps, he isn’t versed in NBA history. The Bulls cut a 6-time championship coach off at the knees, low balling him, stabbing him in the back. It’s the Chicago way.
The new Chicago way is paying a non-star like an All-Star and pretending they don’t understand the difference. (Brendan Gillespie)