For years now, Esquire Magazine has been one of my favorite periodicals. The columns, the essays, the covers, the topics, the writers – it’s all top of the line stuff. One of my favorite features they have every month is the “What I’ve Learned” section. They interview someone famous, and post quotes from the interview. Yesterday, I was educated by NBA General Managers during the course of the first day of free agency, and I’d like to share with you guys What I’ve Learned.
So what did I learn from the first day for NBA free agency? First and foremost, there has been a paradigm shift in terms of value and how that value is understood when talking about NBA players. I learned that NBA executives have completely overstated the value of NBA players and there is no longer a standard upon a player’s worth: Joe Johnson 6/119mil; Rudy Gay 5/81mil; Drew Gooden 5/32mil; Darko Milicic 4/20mil. These are numbers that should not exist. We’re talking about two max deals and more than five million dollars a year for two front court players who have been vagabonds for much of their respective careers. What I’ve learned is that if you have any kind of discernable basketball skill, you can be paid as much money as your team can offer you.
To me, this is disheartening. We have reached a point where Joe Johnson and Rudy Gay can receive the same kind of contract that Kobe Bryant and LeBron James can receive. There is no longer a hierarchy in the way general managers hand out contracts – at this point in time, if you’ve made an all star team, you can receive a max deal if your contract is up at the right time.
Rudy Gay receiving $81+ million is exactly the contract that Kobe Bryant would have gotten after if he was only going into the fifth year of his career and his contract was up much like Rudy Gay’s. What his contract is essentially saying is that he is worth the exact amount of money Kobe Bryant was worth at this stage in his career, which is obviously not the case. I understand that inflation have increased the value of NBA contracts, but this doesn’t mean that you give a max contract to a player like Rudy Gay or Joe Johnson – guys who should be complimentary players on championship teams, not top dogs.
We’re in a time where it’s not the player’s contracts that show the value of each individual player, but more their endorsement deals. If we take a look at this from a popular cultural stand point, we see that it is the best players in the game with the best shoe deals – along with the McDonalds deal, the Gatorade deal, the Sprite deal, the T-Mobile deals etc. In 2010, we get an idea of who is elite through who become cash cows through non-basketball related sources of income. The Kobe Bryants and LeBron Jameses of the world are still making heads and heels more money than everyone else in the NBA, but it’s not through their contracts, it’s through Nike, Gatorade and Vitamin Water.
We’ve been witnessing a paradigm shift in the way professional athletes get paid, and the Joe Johnson and Rudy Gay signings have brought this shift to fruition. Instead of second-tier guys becoming second options and helping top dogs win rings, second-tier guys are taking contracts that would normally be reserved for the NBA’s elite. Instead of max deals only going to superstars, they’re now going to guys who are all stars on what would be the equivalent of a mid major in the NBA.
Memphis knows that they’re not going to be contending for a championship – or even contending to bring in someone who is going to bring them a championship, so why not throw their money at a small forward who should be a second option to help sell their tickets and maybe get them to an eighth seed? Atlanta had the same philosophy and gave Joe Johnson a contract that will extend way past the end of his prime.
As of July 1st, 2010, the NBA has made it official that you will no longer be able to know who the elite players in the league are based upon who makes the most money, because they’ve decided that everyone who has ever been selected to be an all star can make the most money. If you want to know the who’s who of the NBA, watch commercials, look at magazine ads and jersey sales, because Joe Johnson and Rudy Gay got max contracts – so that means ANYONE who has a relatively house hold name can get a max contract. And that, my friends, is what I’ve learned.