Shaquille O’Neal pulled out the bad contract = lockout card again, but rather than going with the classics — Eddy Curry or Rashard Lewis — he went with the new and threw Atlanta’s Joe Johnson under the bus.
Which is both right and wrong at the same time. But we’ll get to that farther down the page.
First, here is what Shaq told the Times-Picayune when talking about the lockout (and notice how he still refers to the players as “we”):
O’Neal said a number of owners have overspent to keep players on rosters despite incurring significant revenue losses. O’Neal points to the Atlanta Hawks’ decision to re-sign guard Joe Johnson to a six-year, $119 million contract in July 2010 as a prime example of a franchise overpaying for a player when they not bringing in significant revenue to offset the costs.
“I love Joe Johnson and I hope he doesn’t get mad with me, but he’s not a $20 million a year guy,” O’Neal said. “Business-wise, Atlanta isn’t making that much money. But if you are going to offer a kid a lot of money, he’s going to take it. I think we need a system that protect the owners from each other.’’
First the disclaimer, the part where Shaq is wrong: Giving Joe Johnson a reasonable contract would not have impacted the overall health of the league. Under the old system, the players got 57 percent of basketball related income guaranteed — if the owners were smart and frugal with deals and came in under that percentage, then they had to write a supplemental check to cover the difference. Which is exactly what happened last season (and the players are just getting those checks now).
So whether it was bad deals or good ones, the players were going to get a cut the owners say is too high.
However, Shaq is spot on about the market size and owners writing contracts they knew they couldn’t afford. There was a buzz last summer that the Hawks wanted to keep Johnson at any cost to keep the fan base happy and the Atlanta Spirit ownership group was good with this oversized deal because they planned to sell the team and not be around for what will be the ugly end of that contract.
Middle and small market teams made terrible decisions about contracts then want out of them. They want protection from themselves. Don’t kid yourself, that is part of the “competitive balance” argument, that the Lakers can overpay Luke Walton and eat the deal then get another player, an option other markets don’t have.
In the end, I think even the owners would admit they have been part of the problem. But should the players have to pay for that?