December 01, 2011
We're another day closer to the official start of the NBA offseason on Dec. 9, and things are heating up on the NBA hot stove. I suppose. If Nene and David West(notes) are your thing, then it's apparently time to draw up a cold shower.
Both are fine players in the prime of their careers, and both appear ready to line up for free-agent contract deals that you just know teams are going to regret later. Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that seven teams including Nene's incumbent Denver Nuggets (that's fun to say) reached out to the versatile center's representatives on Wednesday, and it appears all are more than willing to spend at least $13 million a season to lure him from Colorado.
This presents a conundrum, as we anticipate where things go from here. On one hand, Nene has worked as one of the more underappreciated players, and not just big men, in the game for years. His scoring efficiency and unique defensive skills were well worth the hefty price tag the Nuggets paid him in his last contract, even as the Brazilian big man missed time and seasons dealing with injury and illness woes (to say the absolute least).
On the other hand, you'd be paying $13 million a year for a player that can only go downhill from here (Nene is 29), and will likely never be an All-Star. All-Star appearances, especially in the crowded Western Conference, aren't usually the true measure of a player; but this new collective bargaining agreement was supposed to bring some fiscal sanity to the NBA. Instead, it appears as if teams are once again tossing free-agent dollars around just because they can. Nene, as the best player in a weak market, has all the leverage. Which must be nice, following five months of the NBA's owners flexing their juice cards.
New Orleans Hornets free agent David West will flex for whoever wants to take a picture, these days, as he works to convince anyone who will listen that his surgically repaired right knee is back up to speed. We believe the guy, too, because West has always been a diligent worker and ACL tears can be recovered from within a calendar year for most players.
The problem is that West is 31, and either the Hornets or Indiana Pacers are looking to add him … just because. The Pacers, who routinely play for four-figure crowds in Indianapolis, have a glaring hole at power forward that West would seem perfect to fill, but at what cost? Go double-figures with his contract just to field a nice starting five and shoot for 45 wins? The Pacers have a nice cap situation this year and next summer even with West potentially making as much as he can, but this looks like another shot for the middle of the pack for Larry Bird's Pacers, continuing in the habits that have made them such an NBA afterthought for the last five years.
Which is unfortunate. With a nice-enough roster in place, Bird can't really drop the hammer and rebuild, but nothing about his team screams championship. And that's what you're supposed to be screaming, as a personnel boss. The problem is that Bird has money to spend in this offseason, the free-agent ranks are depleted, and outside of trading for someone else's highly paid sometimes-problem (a Josh Smith(notes) or Andre Iguodala(notes)), there isn't much Bird can do but spend, spend, spend.
And that's why you didn't get any basketball in November. The owners absolutely took it to the players in labor negotiations, and for the 35th offseason in a row the players are going to take it to the owners.
I'm not exactly suggesting some form of collusion, because by all basketball standards (at least) both Nene and West will be worth what they make in the first couple of seasons of their new deals. But for Denver and New Orleans (who are rapidly losing players to other teams, some even in China) to overpay just to retain them and save face in the form of no returning compensation represents a step backwards to the status quo that lockouts are made of. Say both West and Nene stay with their old teams; what's the point? Playing at their primes for big money on teams hoping to crack 45 wins? Isn't that why we made fun of the Atlanta Hawks for overpaying for Joe Johnson(notes)?
Some sort of balance is needed. This is the NBA, though. Don't hold your breath.