One thing the owners really want — to get out of bad deals


Next season, Kobe Bryant will be the highest paid player in the NBA. That seems fair.

Rashard Lewis will be second at $22.1 million. Gilbert Arenas will be fifth at $19.2 million. Antawn Jamison will make $15 million.

There are some terrible deals in the NBA landscape and one of the real sticking points in the NBA labor negotiation is the issue of guaranteed contracts — the owners want to be able to get out of these stale deals. They look at the NFL — where even productive players can be let go because the team wants to pay another player — and drool. While NBA owners have backed off the demand for NFL-style non-guaranteed contracts, they want an out.

The players note that the owners agree to these contracts in the first place. If you don’t think Eddy Curry is worth all that money, don’t sign the deal. And for ever bad deal out there they can point to the good deals the owners get, like Serge Ibaka making $1.2 million in Oklahoma City, or the value the owners get out of star rookies who make way below their value to the franchise.

The Washington Post’s Mike Wise breaks that all down today in his column (including a great story of David Stern bringing up Eddy Curry during negotiations with the union).

Nowhere was the impetus for a long labor stoppage more obvious than here in Washington, where what was once thought to be a blockbuster deal — Gilbert Arenas for Rashard Lewis this past December — was in reality one franchise’s lemon traded for another.

Only in the NBA can a town be excited by moving a player with three years and $60 million left (Arenas) for another with more than two years remaining on a $118 million deal. Why were the Wizards ecstatic? Because as bad as Lewis’s $19 million-plus deal per year was for a player with declining numbers the past three seasons, at least they only had to have his contract around for two years instead of three. That’s sadly called success before the trading deadline.

It’s not just owners who are frustrated with these deals, it is fans. Especially fans of rebuilding teams. It’s hard to tell some guy busting his but to sell cars or medical supplies or whatever — someone who makes his living on commission — that a player who can’t produce but has a massive guaranteed deal is getting paid fairly. For all of the rest of us, if you do not produce you are let go.

The players are going to have to give something to the owners here — most likely having buyout percentages built into the deal. They can argue over the percentage and how it changes over the life of the deal, but it should be a standardized rate. If the Knicks wanted to buy out Eddy Curry three years ago to start rebuilding earlier, is that so wrong? If the player can produce, he will get another deal.

But this is just another issue the two sides are nowhere close to finding a resolution for.

James Harden: “I am the best player in the league. I believe that.”

James Harden, Stephen Curry
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James Harden was the MVP last season — if you ask his fellow NBA players.

The traditional award (based on a media vote) went to Stephen Curry (in the closest vote in four years), and that was the right call (in my mind). But from the time it happened Harden did not buy it. And he still doesn’t buy it. In the least — and he’s using that as fuel for this season. That’s what he told Fran Blinebury over at

“I am the best player in the league. I believe that,” he said. “I thought I was last year, too.”

Well, it’s a more realistic claim than Paul George’s.

“But that award means most valuable to your team. We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we were going to do at the beginning of the year even when everybody was healthy. We were near the top in having the most injuries. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.

“There’s so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I’m not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me.”

That’s very Kobe Bryant of you to turn that into fuel. Defining the MVP Award is an annual discussion that nobody agrees on.

I could get into how Harden was the old-school, traditional stats MVP, how that ignores how Steve Kerr used Curry, and how that opened up the Warriors’ offense to championship levels. Curry put up numbers, but he was also the distraction, the bright star that Kerr used to open up looks for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and others. Curry’s strength was not just what he did with the ball in his hands, but his gravity to draw defenders even when he didn’t. Did the Warriors stay healthier than the Rockets? No doubt. Should Curry be penalized for that?

It’s simple for Harden — if he can put up those numbers again, if he can be the fulcrum of a top offense, he will be in the discussion for MVP again. And, if he can lead the Rockets beyond the conference finals, nobody will talk about that MVP snub anyway.