August 26, 2009
OK, we know the first decade of the 21st century doesn't really end until 2011. We think. But we also know there have been 10 full NBA seasons played since the phrase "Y2K" was on all of our lips (1999-2000), and here at Ball Don't Lie we've decided to use this as an offseason excuse to rank some of the best and not-so-brightest of the 10 campaigns in question. The result? Why, top 10 lists!
As a result of the collective bargaining agreements that were gathered and signed in 1999 and 2005, you won't be seeing too many seasons like Rex Chapman's 1996-97 turn. Stuck trying to sign with a Suns team in the 1996 offseason that had no cap space and little interest in his services, Chapman inked for the absolute minimum ($267,500) and went on to have a solid season (about 14 points in 28 minutes per game).
Today, with the mid-level exception giving capped-out teams chance after chance, you won't get much of that. You'll still get some bargains, though, and here's our list of the top 10 contracts that went terribly, terribly right.
The funny thing about Nash's deal, a contract he's currently working under, is how foolish the contract seemed when he first signed it. Five years and $53 million, for a 30-year-old point man? Plus a team option for a sixth year that stretches it to $66 million? It was enough to even drive Mark Cuban away from the negotiating table, and yet Nash has somehow earned every penny in the years since.
It certainly wasn't the cheapest deal. Arenas had to ink for six years and nearly $64 million in 2003 to dissuade the Golden State Warriors from matching the then-restricted free agent's offer from the Washington Wizards. But it was a gutsy move, and considering that Arenas packed together several seasons averaging well over 25 points per game while leading Washington to its first back-to-back (to back, really) playoff appearances in two decades, the risk paid off.
The once and future Predrag Stojakovic wasn't exactly MVP material during the course of his contract, but while working under a six-year, $45 million deal Peja was a staunch No. 2 on one of the better teams of his generation. And after the contract expired with Peja then in Indiana , the resulting cap space allowed the Pacers to sign Al Harrington(notes), something the Pacers have always enjoyed.
Rookie contracts were so screwy before the NBA established a rookie salary cap, that when Jason Kidd was the primo free agent of the 2003 offseason, few people remembered he was actually finishing up the first contract of his NBA career, signed way back in 1994. So it shouldn't have surprised anyone when Kidd, ahem, kind of went for the money in New Jersey instead of a gimmie ring in San Antonio during the summer of 2003. That original deal was for nine years and around $60 million, a fantastic deal considering what Kidd contributed.
He may have been a bit wacky, and he may have nearly wasted a year of this contract sitting out a suspension after charging into the stands to brawl with a fan, but you cannot deny that both the Pacers, Kings and Rockets took in excellent contributions from Artest for the low, low price of around six years and $42 million.
Manu provided excellent work while playing under two deals, an initial contract that saw him work for two years and $2.9 million total; and a second that runs for six years and $52 million. The sheen may have come off Ginobili a bit due to his injury-plagued 2008-09, but the fact remains that he is one of the league's most dynamic, game-changing talents.
The Orlando Magic didn't even have to sign Wallace to a sign-and-trade deal. They could have signed Grant Hill(notes) outright that summer after renouncing Wallace's rights, but the team decided to do both players a favor in order to add a little more money to Hill's bottom line. As an unexpected result, the Pistons picked up an All-Star center in a trade who was only working under a six-year, $30 million contract. That's right, less than the average salary. Quite the coup.
Billups was a basketball nomad when he signed with the Pistons back in 2002, and while his deal didn't seem too egregious at the time, it did raise some eyebrows as Detroit handed six guaranteed years to a player who would be playing for his sixth team. Billups more than made it work, winning a championship, a Finals MVP award, while making several All-Star teams while playing under a six-year, $35 million contract.
Does it seem like a cop-out to include players on their rookie deals? Go ahead and think so, but this is what makes the NBA's salary structure so great. No outrageous free agent or rookie contracts that will never full pay out, as in the NFL. And no extracted, Scott Boras-led holdouts, as you get in Major League Baseball. The owners and union collectively bargained a deal that works for both sides; and it does work for the players, as teams can afford more veteran players while the youngsters make a smallish salary. The Hornets were able to take in a few years of All-NBA play from Paul for only three years and just over $10 million.
Same with LeBron James, who contributed MVP-level play for the price of four years and just under $19 million. Easily the best production-for-price that any team has enjoyed over the last decade.
Questions? Comments? Furious and righteous anger at a world, not to mention top 10 list, gone wrong? Swing by later today at about 3 p.m. Eastern for a BDL mini-chat regarding this very list.