Author: Rob Mahoney


Luke Walton with a reminder: it’s not always fun to be an epitomic overpaid NBA player


There are obviously worse things than being paid millions of dollars to play professional basketball, so many in fact that the experiences of NBA players are often discounted on the basis of their privilege. This, for the most part, is understandable; those who have much have less theoretical reason to complain, as a successful burst of an NBA career (not to mention all of the opportunities that arise as a result of that status) has the ability to sustain a player and their family for some time — if not their entire lives.

Still, with the contemporary sports media culture dissecting players, teams, and the finances behind them at every turn (and this portal can surely be counted among that group), a few names get dragged through the mud on a regular basis for reasons of bloated contracts alone.

Stephon Marbury. Steve Francis. Eddy Curry. Jared Jeffries. Jerome James. Just about anyone who suited up for the Knicks in the mid-2000s, apparently. These players — who have worked their entire lives toward the singular goal of succeeding as an NBA player, mind you — made it to the best basketball league in the world and were/are openly ridiculed because some general manager or owner was willing to let go of a bit more money than was necessary. The player’s only fault was not being quite as good as advertised, and for that horrible injustice they shall never be forgiven.

Luke Walton doesn’t quite deserve to be grouped in with the aforementioned overpaid players (he’ll make $5.8 million, an excessive but league average salary, in the final year of his contract in 2012-2013), yet he’s often used as a cautionary tale for teams misusing the power of Bird rights. Walton is not deserving of pity for this reason, but the targeted, incessant negativity that seeps from NBA coverage towards players like Walton is something that the average NBA fan either refuses to acknowledge or refuses to understand. Walton reflects on the subject of being cast as unworthy and overpaid in an interview with Petros and Money of Fox Sports Radio in Memphis (via Sports Radio Interviews):

“It obviously bothers me. I haven’t really noticed it because I kind of stay out of the media during the offseason. But obviously it bothers you as a player. You want to feel your worth. Obviously I’m getting paid a salary that was for a much larger role back when we agree upon the deal. I was a playmaker, I was playing 30 minutes a game and I was able to do a lot of things for a team. And I had offers from other teams to do the same thing. … For the most part, fans have been great out here. Then, all of the sudden you bring in Pau Gasol and other players of that caliber and my role kind of gets smaller and smaller. I can still play the game … then all of the sudden my back goes bad on me and mentally I’m frustrated. … The role that I was paid that money to do kind of got taken away in a sense.”

Again, this isn’t about poor, pitiful Luke, just obtaining a fuller understanding of the experiences of marginal — and yes, overpaid — NBA players. It’s true, Walton doesn’t produce at any level even remotely near what his salary would suggest. But he’s correct in asserting that he signed his current deal to return as a member of a very different Lakers team, one that saw him as an active creator in the triangle offense. The Lakers have improved significantly since that point, and though retaining Walton once seemed important, his presence is now superfluous in terms of the team’s success.

Yet when the unwavering criticism falls, Mitch Kupchak — the man who brought Gasol to L.A., and elevated the Lakers to contenders once again — is more or less spared. Walton’s shortcomings as a player are something he owns, but along with those, too, comes any perceived responsibility for the team agreeing to overpay him. There was no trickery involved, no sleight of hand; just a different player playing a different role for a different team, and a series of natural and organic changes that marginalized what once was.

Brandon Jennings reflects on his the beginnings of his basketball career, AAU life, and repping Compton

Milwaukee Bucks v Atlanta Hawks, Game 7

If there’s any kind of underlying theme for the current lockout, it’s NBA players of all ilks returning “home.” For some, it’s less literal; plenty of young NBA players have returned to the college campuses they once called their own in an effort to complete their degrees and, in some cases, compete against the players suiting up for their alma mater. For those playing in the Goodman League and the Drew League, it could be a return back to the league that fostered their basketball beginnings, a way to give back to the basketball system that raised them as players.

Then, at ESPN Los Angeles, the Kamenetzky brothers have been rattling of installments of a tremendous series entitled “The L.A. in my Game,” connecting with NBAers from the L.A. area to fully understand how the city itself functions in the scope of player identity. Up this week is an interview with Brandon Jennings, and though he has plenty of interesting responses — ranging from him rattling off a list of future NBA stars that his team bested in AAU ball to dubbing Baron Davis the “Godfather of Los Angeles basketball,” — one in particular stood out to me:

Andy Kamenetzky: What does it mean to you to be a player from L.A. and part of that lineage of players people think about from this city?

Brandon Jennings: Well, first of all, a lot of people say “L.A.,” but I claim “Compton.” I claim the city of Compton hard, because there’s not a lot of players that came out of Compton. A lot of players didn’t really come out of Compton that made it. When people say “L.A.,” I say, “Oh, I’m from Compton.” Being from the city of Compton and growing up in a rough community, it means a lot to me to be able to make it out of there. A lot of players came through there. Tayshaun Prince came through there. DeMar DeRozan. Tyson Chandler went to Dominguez for four years. I went to Dominguez and I grew up out of there, so for me, that’s really big. To this day, there’s nothing like it, to be able to come out of Compton and make it to the NBA.

Next year, hopefully, when the lockout ends and we can get things rolling, I really wanna dig back into the community of Compton and also Gardena. Because those are the places where I grew up and where I hung out. That’s all I really know. So hopefully, next year, we can start a league in Compton or Gardena and we can do our own little thing.

The distinction there is important, if only as a way to best understand Jennings; it’s important to him that people know that he’s not just another L.A. product. No one exactly needs to put Compton on the map, but Jennings wants to represent the are and, better yet, to serve it. He doesn’t aspire to be another list on the sheet of players with “L.A. in their game,” but a genuine trail blazer for the basketball players in Compton who made it out but is never afraid to look back. That’s as close as you’ll get to fitting Jennings in a nutshell.

More delays for Ron Artest: Insurance issues bar deal with the Cheshire Jets

Miami Heat v Los Angeles Lakers
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It’s just not Ron Artest’s week.

First, he was linked to Dancing With the Stars — a pretty insidious affiliation, if you ask me. Then, his admirable gesture of changing his name to Metta World Peace was temporarily denied on the basis of outstanding traffic violations. A bummer, but one that will hopefully be resolved post-haste.

And on the professional front, Artest’s arrangement with the Cheshire Jets of the British Basketball League has hit a rather substantial snag. Mark Medina of the L.A. Times explains (via Yahoo’s Scoop du Jour):

Though Artest declared his intention to The Times two weeks ago that he’s “definitely going to play” for the British Basketball League’s Cheshire Jets, his agent, David Bauman, said the team hasn’t offered Artest insurance. That issue, Bauman said,  poses a “major problem” and would prevent the Lakers forward from joining the team. “It’s still on the table,” Bauman said Tuesday in a phone interview. “But again, this insurance thing is a significant and a serious obstacle for any of the NBA players.”

Artest has a three-year, $21.8 million deal remaining with the Lakers. Without insurance, Artest could risk his contract becoming void should he suffer an injury with another team during the NBA lockout. That issue, said Bauman, also partly explains why Artest postponed his trip to the U.K. to speak with Jets officials, hold a news conference, mingle with fans and, in his words, “make sure it’s a good fit.”…Meanwhile, Jets director Pete Hawkins told the Cheshire Chronicle last week that the deal isn’t dead, saying: “The next few days we need to work really hard. Insurance was always an issue from the outset,but we are still trying hard to ensure Ron has the protection he needs to play.”

So rest easy, Artest diehards across the pond: there may be a positive resolution to this insurance issue yet. For now, though, Ron Artest is still Ron Artest, he’s got some tickets to pay, a rumor to quell, and a substantial setback that could keep him from playing pro ball in the U.K. Here’s to better weeks, Ron.