The Nets overpaid Kris Humphries, but so what?

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Kris Humphries is set to return to the New Jersey Nets on a one-year, $7+ million deal, and the nation raises a collective eyebrow. That’s a pretty hefty salary for a strong rebounder with otherwise unremarkable offensive and defensive skills, so much so that in a strict d0llar-for-production framework, one could certainly argue that Humphries, for all of his rebounding exploits, will be overpaid this season.

That word — “overpaid” — carries with it baggage upon baggage. It’s loaded and emotional, as it instantly calls to mind other players who were similarly overcompensated for their minimal services and the detrimental effects such a salary had on a particular team. “Overpaid” players have forced their teams to give up on draft picks too early based solely on financial motivations. They’ve nudged fan favorites out of town as a way of cleaning up the team’s finances. They’ve sandbagged promising cores of players from reaching their true potential, as the extra salary burden forever dooms such a team to “one-more-piece” status.

But there are two things to consider when deeming a player overpaid, and especially before lamenting over the unnecessary bloating of NBA salaries:

NBA salaries should be evaluated solely on a team-specific basis.

Player value is far from absolute, as a player like Humphries is undoubtedly worth more to the Nets than he would be to a team with a bloated power forward rotation. For this team at this particular time, he’s quite valuable. He prevents Shelden Williams from stepping in as a big-minute player for New Jersey. He’s a quality rebounder to pair with Brook Lopez, who has been pretty underwhelming in that regard. He’s another target and quality contributor to team with point guard Deron Williams, which — if nothing else — should give the Nets’ star fewer headaches.

The context isn’t that Player X received Y dollars in a deal for Z years, but that such a financial agreement was made between a player and a team with very specific needs and goals. Players could obviously still be overpaid and overvalued within that context, but pretending there’s some universal value for a given player misunderstands a market of individual actors. Other players and teams can obviously impact the terms of a contract by providing a baseline or driving up value through competition, but the final judgment of an NBA contract should always come down to what a particular player meant (or will mean, for predictive purposes) to the team that actually signed him.

Overpayment is not an end in itself.

Claiming that a player is overpaid isn’t exactly a complete thought. There’s a statement and possible justification involved, sure, but overpayment isn’t some great evil that must be eradicated from this NBA world. It’s a means to an end, and only with that specific end can we actually determine what overpaying a player really means.

As a singular act, giving Erick Dampier a seven-year, $73 million contract was not some horrible crime. It wasn’t kind to Mark Cuban’s wallet, but it was also lacking in terms of intrinsic evils.

What makes any albatross contract a truly bad one are the effects a team faces as a result. If a bloated contract prevents a team from signing another key free agent? That’s costly. If it prevents a proper rebuild after the core of a contender has withered away? That hurts. But if it’s just a deal on the books for a bit more of a financial commitment than it should be? Barring objection from ownership, I fail to see the problem.

Teams overpay players for a variety of reasons all the time — some sensible and some less so. Sometimes a team will overpay a player for the sake of positional security, as the Dallas Mavericks did with Brendan Haywood last summer. Sometimes a team will overpay a player for the sake of adding a significant piece at a key time, as the New York Knicks did with Tyson Chandler earlier this off-season. Sometimes a team will overpay to retain a player in a competitive market, as the Denver Nuggets just did with Arron Afflalo. Three cases of three overpaid players, and yet all three decisions were made from logically defensible positions. The dollar values may not quite jive with the collective assessment of each player’s worth, but in the free agent binary of either having a player or not having them, each signing makes some sense.

If a case were to be made in any of those instances that a free agent signing were actually detrimental to the team, you’d need a fair bit more than simply pointing to a contract total. Shelling out extra for a player is certainly worthy of note, but without that next-level impact — the financial logjam, the tax trade-off that forces the departure of another player, etc. — it’s just more money in the pocket of an NBA player.

Such is the case with Kris Humphries. He may not be worth $7-8 million a season, but his contract is an unimposing one-year affair. The Nets needed players to fill out their rotation now (not to mention bound over the salary floor), and they got a very competent one to fill a position of need. Tomorrow isn’t an issue; by then Brooklyn’s books will be just as clean as New Jersey’s were a few days ago, and this signing will prove to have been rather inconsequential. Player acquisitions are evaluated on the basis of roster fit, but contract fit is an essential consideration, both in this case and all others. The Nets can afford to rent Humphries for the season, and given their current situation, it would be silly for them not to. That doesn’t make Humphries any less overpaid, but it also doesn’t mean his inflated, one-year contract has any legitimately negative repercussions.

Zion Williamson sitting out Pelicans-Wizards (rest)

Pelicans big Zion Williamson
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The Pelicans have been one of the NBA’s most disappointing teams in the bubble. New Orleans has gone 1-3 at Disney World and fallen to 13th in the Western Conference.

Still (barely) hanging in the race to make the play-in, the Pelicans must face the Wizards without Zion Williamson.

Pelicans:

The Pelicans are treating Williamson carefully – and they should. He’s their 20-year-old franchise player with major health concerns.

But New Orleans still has its highest ceiling now with Williamson on the floor. He’s an offensive force. His interior scoring and gravity create efficient looks for himself and teammates.

Williamson has been woeful defensively, and the Pelicans have bigs – Derrick Favors and Jaxson Hayes – to take Williamson’s minutes. New Orleans can go small, too.

The Pelicans should still beat Washington, even without Williamson. Ideally, this will have Williamson ready for a closing stretch against the Spurs, Kings and Magic without sacrificing today’s game.

Yet, this is really just proof New Orleans isn’t as ready to launch as it appears during Williamson’s most exciting moments. His availability remains murky. His team has run hot and cold. I wouldn’t assume a win over the Wizards – though it’s a game the Pelicans need to preserve their fading playoff hopes.

Rumor: Next NBA season could begin in March

Wizards guard Bradley Beal and 76ers center Joel Embiid
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The NBA could reportedly delay the start of next season – currently planned for Dec. 1 – if fan attendance becomes foreseeable.

How long would the league wait?

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

one plan includes starting in March if the NBA feels they can get fans in the arena by then, as well as not lose personnel and viewership to the Summer Olympics.

I understand the temptation to delay. The coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for NBA teams to turn a profit.

But this plan would invite all sorts of complications:

  • What if there’s no vaccine, cure or comparable solution by March? Then, the league would have wasted months getting practically no revenue – rather than reduced revenue – without reaching a more favorable point. (However, maybe owners could also reduce costs with a lockout.)
  • Starting the season in March would radically alter the NBA’s calendar. Shifting back to an October – or even December – start date would mean even more upheaval, potentially for several years.
  • The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled for July and August 2021. The Olympics have been a powerful tool for the NBA and its players expanding their global reach.

These are unique and trying circumstances. Coronavirus is a massive and confounding variable. Everything should be on the table.

Do I predict next season will begin in March? No. But apparently the possibility is being considered, which is something.

Magic center Mo Bamba had coronavirus

Magic center Mo Bamba
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Mo Bamba has fallen behind Khem Birch as the Magic’s backup center (to Nikola Vucevic). At the NBA’ resumption at Disney World, Bamba has played in only two of Orlando’s four games, receiving just four and six minutes. Magic coach Steve Clifford cited the 22-year-old’s conditioning.

Bamba wants you to know the full story: He had coronavirus.

Josh Robbins of The Athletic:

Bamba received word of his positive test on June 11

The illness temporarily robbed him of his senses of smell and taste, made him unusually fatigued and caused muscle soreness.

“Part of me is reading the temperature of the room and just knowing that there are definitely going to be questions, and sometimes you’ve just got to address them with honesty,” Bamba said. “In this case, I think it’s best for them to have that context and have that understanding of what, exactly, is going on.

“I want people to know that I’m still working as hard as ever, if not even harder, and I’ll get through this.”

Bamba thought he had endured the worst by the time the Magic entered the NBA bubble on July 7. But the false positives required him to have an additional three-day in-room quarantine while his teammates practiced together on July 9, July 10 and July 11.

I appreciate Bamba being so forthcoming. It was easy for people to suspect he didn’t train properly during the hiatus. Though medical privacy should also be valued, transparency often alleviates the worst suspicions.

At least 54 NBA players have tested positive for coronavirus. Does that number already include Bamba? It’s unclear.

After going quiet during most of the shutdown, the league has announced the number of players who’ve tested positive since June 23. Maybe Bamba continued to test positive on June 23 or later. Or perhaps he’s an additional case from the quiet period. There definitely were some cases in that timeframe.

False positives are an issue – an unavoidable one. It’s unfair Bamba was stuck in his hotel room, not training, longer than necessary. But the NBA can’t risk allowing a potentially contagious player into the bubble. Better to err on the side of safety.

The No. 6 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, Bamba improved steadily from an underwhelming rookie season. He still needs more work to become a quality NBA player. This is a setback, and one that makes him unlikely to contribute much the rest of this season. Hopefully, he’ll be able to pick up next season where he left off when this season got suspended.

Three Things to Know: What’s next for 76ers without Ben Simmons?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) What’s next for 76ers without Ben Simmons?

“This one stings, for sure.”

That was 76ers coach Brett Brown, who has had to deal with a lot of injuries to players during his tenure in Philadelphia. But this one hurts a little more because of the timing. The Sixers will be without Ben Simmons for a while after he suffered a subluxation of the left patella — his kneecap essentially dislocated then popped back into place — against Washington.

The 76ers were adjusting to playing Simmons at power forward during the restart in Orlando. Now there are just questions.

How long will Simmons be out? That’s the big one and the answer is nobody knows for sure. The Sixers are evaluating treatment options. As Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes notes, Allen Crabbe had the same injury earlier this year and missed 11 days (three games), but he had no damage to the ligaments or rest of the knee. That’s the most common outcome for this injury and it would have Simmons back around the start of the playoffs. However, if there is any ligament damage, Simmons could be out much longer. (The early reports were the MRI came back clean, but that doesn’t tell us much about the real level of damage other than it wasn’t severe.) Philadelphia has always been cautious when it comes to bringing its stars back from injury.

Who starts for Philadelphia while Simmons is out? That’s one Brown has to decide by today (Friday) and the game against Orlando. He could plug Al Horford back into the starting lineup — the Sixers were +1.4 points per 100 possessions this season with Embiid and Horford on the court together without Simmons (it was -0.7 with all three and the floor spacing was a mess). Or, Brown could keep Horford on the bench and go with another wing such as Matisse Thybulle or Furkan Korkmaz.

Philadelphia seems locked into the six seed in the East (they are one game back of five seed Indiana with four to play, but the Pacers beat the Sixers last Friday and have the tiebreaker, so it is in practice a two-game lead).

Philadelphia is 6-5 this season without Simmons, and while they can plug other players into the four they will not have Simmons’ elite defense, nor his passing skills, and the new player will not be the same threat in transition. Philadelphia is just not the same threat in the East without Simmons.

2) Portland is in control of ninth seed in West after win, New Orleans loss

There is going to be a play-in series in the West — and Portland is going to be in it.

That much seems obvious after Thursday’s action, where Jusuf Nurkic was dunking on Bol Bol and Portland was picking up a 125-115 win over Denver.

That win has Portland half a game back of  Memphis for the eighth seed in the West — and the 0-4 Grizzlies face a tough game against the Thunder Friday. The West could be tied by Saturday morning.

Portland looks to be a lock for the play-in.

Can anyone else crash that party? Sacramento earned it’s first win in the bubble on Thursday, knocking off Zion Williamson and New Orleans, meaning now both the Kings and Pelicans sit 2.5 games back of the Grizzlies with four to play. Both need to win out and hope Memphis continues losing to have a chance to get into a play-in with Portland.

The undefeated-in-the-bubble Suns and the Spurs both sit two games back of the Grizzlies and with a chance to make a play-in. Just as with the Kings/Pels, the Suns and Spurs essentially need to win out and count on the Grizzlies continued stumbles to have a chance.

Memphis controls its own destiny. But without Jaren Jackson Jr., and with Ja Morant struggling from three, a sharp turnaround is needed.

3) Milwaukee wraps up No. 1 seed in East

This was expected, but the Bucks made it dramatic. Miami led this game by 23 points in the first half, but both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton turned it on — both finished with 33 points each — and Milwaukee came back to get 130-116 win. With that, the Bucks officially wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the East.

While this is good for the Bucks — who now get an easy first-round playoff matchup against Brooklyn or Orlando — they know they will be judged on the playoffs. This is a Finals-or-bust team. And Milwaukee fans don’t want to think about the options for bust.

Milwaukee has eased into games in the NBA restart, not worrying about wins now and rather being healthy and firing on all cylinders when the games matter. They have that luxury with the lead they built up in the East, but they need to flip the switch eventually. As they did coming back on the Heat.