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.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey on Warriors signing DeMarcus Cousins: ‘It’s a little bit hard on paper to figure out how to make it work’

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DeMarcus Cousins picking the Warriors sent shockwaves through the NBA. You know they were felt in Houston, where Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is admittedly obsessed with beating Golden State.

Morey on The Dan Patrick Show:

I was really curious. Bob is really good at his job, and he likes to take smart gambles like I do. So, I understood the move. But it’s gonna be interesting. Coach Kerr is one of the best, too. So, it’s a little scary. They’ll probably figure out how to make it work, but it’s a little bit hard on paper to figure out how to make it work. But we do that well and so do they, obviously. They’re gonna be a tough out again, obviously. They’re arguably the best team in NBA history. They’re on their path to maybe be able to make that argument.

Cousins isn’t a seamless fit with the Warriors.

They like to run, and Cousins doesn’t always sprint up court – even before his torn Achilles. Their offense is predicated on quick ball movement, and Cousins likes to survey the floor. They have more efficient scoring options in Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, and Cousins is used to being a focal point. They like to switch defensively, and Cousins isn’t as comfortable guarding on the perimeter.

But Cousins is so talented, and the Warriors can afford to be patient as he recovers from his injury. They’re elite already.

I also believe Golden State will slow its tempo and play more traditional defense as its core ages. Cousins might fit better with next season’s Warriors than previous iterations of the team.

So, I think Morey is spot on. Golden State general manager Bob Myers was targeting wings for a reason. The Warriors didn’t exactly need another center – especially a slow-paced, ball-dominant, offensive-minded one. But when Cousins fell into their lap, signing him was well worth the relatively low cost.

Rumor: Pelicans will try to trade for wing help, likely around deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans look like a playoff team (or at least a potential one in the deep West). They have the superstar in Anthony Davis, and he’s part of a well-fitting front line with Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle. The Pelicans also are strong at the point guard spot with Jrue Holiday starting.

Where New Orleans need help is the wing. They had hoped Solomon Hill could be the man there, but he has not stayed healthy or panned out. E’Twaun Moore filled in for him, but was overmatched covering larger players at the three. Darius Miller can give them minutes but is not the answer. Pelicans GM Dell Demps wanted to make a move this summer, but up against the salary cap they didn’t have to room to chase quality free agents.

So look for them to try and pull off an in-season trade, reports Scott Kushner of the New Orleans Advocate.

History (and several league sources) indicates Demps is waiting for a midseason trade to strike. As teams around the league see their postseason prospects dim, and grow eager to exchange a quality player for expiring salaries or the Pelicans’ always-endangered first round pick, there’s opportunity to shore up their most glaring weakness.

It’s exactly what Demps did to acquire Cousins from Sacramento in 2017 and Mirotic a year later from Chicago. Both are impactful veterans who were added without surrendering foundational players.

Various sources and several reports said the Pelicans were active in trade talks this summer, notably with the tanking Atlanta Hawks for Kent Bazemore. But with so few teams eager to dump quality players before opening tip, hoping to make a playoff run of their own, the cost was too steep.

Demps know the Pelicans are on the clock — Davis has this season and one more on his contract (there is a player option for a third season, but he almost certainly will opt out at that point). The Pelicans can offer him the “super max” contract at that point, and Davis has said he wants to stay and win in New Orleans, but if the team struggles and/or he gets a sense that ownership is not all-in on winning, he could choose to look around as a free agent.

Which means Demps and the Pelicans will do what it takes to win now, and a move at the trade deadline is possible. The Hawks still will listen to offers for Bazemore, and other wings will become available. It’s just something to watch as we head into the season.

 

Paul Pierce: ‘There is no loyalty to a franchise anymore … That’s the generation we live in’

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After Kevin Durant left the Thunder for the Warriors, Paul Pierce criticized players for changing teams to win.

Now, Pierce is providing an assessment of players just changing teams generally.

Brian Robb of Boston Sports Journal:

To be fair, Pierce doesn’t criticize players for not being loyal to franchises. In fact, he brings up that players are exercising their power.

But it’s still hard not to infer at least some disapproval from Pierce.

Why should players be loyal to franchises, though? Top players are assigned to teams through an anti-labor draft, the least successful teams getting the highest priority of selection. Those players are kept on an artificially low wage for five years can’t unilaterally leave the team for five years. If he plays well enough, his original team has a huge financial advantage in keeping him for up to 14 years. In this system, teams exercise far more control than they earn loyalty.

Players have such short careers. They should chase whatever they want. Money, winning, role, location, even steadiness with a franchise – if they choose.

Pierce spent 15 years with the Celtics, but let’s not forget:

Pierce asked the Mavericks to trade for him in 2005 so he could play with Dirk Nowitzkion a team one star away from contending. In 2007, he reportedly told the Celtics to trade him if they didn’t add a second star. Boston, of course, traded for Ray Allen and then convinced Kevin Garnett to waive his no-trade clause. In 2013, Pierce helped engineer a trade to the Nets. He and Garnett joined Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopezin Brooklyn and Pierce said, “We’re all about winning a championship and Brooklyn, we feel, gives us the best opportunity.” After stints with the Nets and Wizards, Pierce signed with the Clippers, which he described as a super team.

Lakers owner Jeanie Buss: ‘I have complete faith in Magic Johnson … I have patience’

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Shortly after she hired Magic Johnson as team president last year, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss said she’d be heartbroken if the Lakers didn’t have an All-Star in 2018, when the game was in Los Angeles. Her urgency was apparent.

Of course, the Lakers didn’t have an All-Star last season. None came close.

But then they signed LeBron James this summer, and Buss has changed her tune.

The Rich Eisen Show:

Buss:

I have complete faith in Magic Johnson in terms of his ability to be a leader, to know how to put together a winner. And I have patience. And I think what he’s done has exceeded my expectations, how quickly they’ve kind of turned around the roster.

Johnson has done a great job running the Lakers. He cleared cap space while maintaining plenty of assets and convinced LeBron to sign.

The degree of difficulty on that is… debatable. Perhaps, LeBron just decided to join the Lakers and didn’t need much convincing.

What’s next for Johnson?

Maybe Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley and JaVale McGee will fit well with LeBron. Maybe Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart are ready to compete deep into the playoffs.

I’m skeptical, which means Johnson’s next steps will be tricky. He has more than earned Buss’ faith, and her patience gives him even more latitude to build as he sees fit.

Still, it’s a bit odd to see a team acquire a 33-year-old superstar then shift into a more-patient approach. LeBron’s prime won’t last forever.

It’s on Johnson to maximize it.