September 13, 2011
"The NBA strike."
My friends say it, too. Most of my in-town friends aren't the type to avidly, or even casually, follow sports. But they're aware of my gig, my situation, and what is stopping NBA games from being played come Halloween. So, while trying to relate, they mention the NBA's "strike." Except, it's not a "strike." It's a lockout. The players haven't walked. Why would they, with those contracts?
And when you think of contracts to walk over, if you're a "striking" (so to speak) NBA owner, Rashard Lewis'(notes) deal probably ranks amongst the 1 and 1A. Joe Johnson's(notes) crazy deal is closest to our hearts -- he only signed the thing a year ago -- but Rashard's is probably more ludicrous. Six years, over 112 million bucks, nothing close to what he should have signed for all the way back in 2007.
And yet, that deal was never Lewis' fault. It's not like he held out, made a stink, or disappointed. The same Rashard Lewis that signed that deal over four years ago is the same Rashard Lewis we've seen in the years since. Orlando (the team that signed him) dropped the ball on this, not Rashard. Sure, Lewis could have worked (read: posted-up, or triple-threat'ed) his way into working as a more productive offensive force, but he'd been in the NBA since being drafted in 1998 at that point. Any person or team expecting him to change his stripes would have been banking on the wildly unreasonable to see them home.
And Rashard, now a Washington Wizard, doesn't want you to blame him for contracts gone mad.
"You sign me to a deal, you think I'm going to say, 'No, I deserve $50 [million] instead of $80 [million]?'" Lewis said. "I'm like, 'Hell, yeah.' I'm not going to turn it down. You can't blame the players. If anything, we don't negotiate the deal. We've got agents that negotiate the deals with the team. Y'all need to go talk to the teams and the agents."
This guy is the most overpaid player in the NBA, amongst players that actually play. He might not have the worst contract (Gilbert Arenas'(notes) contract extension is far more onerous; and co-incidentally Lewis was part of a trade package that was dealt for Arenas last year), but in terms of production? Lewis is the worst, by far.
And yet, how're you going to blame this guy?
Nobody put a gun to Orlando's head when it decided that it badly needed to sign and trade for the then-Seattle SuperSonics wing scorer. In a sane market, with GMs utilizing sound metrics and smarts instead of hopes and "look at his wrists when he shoots!," Lewis would have earned half of what he signed for. Otis Smith and the Magic decided to double it.
And none of this is Lewis' fault.
Or the players' fault, as they "strike," according to (I'm guessing) many of our friends who aren't following this day by day. Lewis is an underachiever, he has been since he came into the NBA, but that rep was set well before 2007. Anyone expecting more was just being a bad manager. Overachievers got paid, too. Overachieving Brian Cardinal(notes) is often held up as the worst case of the mid-level exception (a deal that allows capped-out teams to go over the cap to sign a player starting at the league's average salary) gone bad. It's all bad, people. And the "we can make this work!" owners and GMs are the reason why.
Not Lewis. Not Cardinal.
This shouldn't preclude you for expecting more from guys like Rashard Lewis. It should stop you, eight years after he's played his first NBA game, from expecting something different. We're not sure what Otis Smith thought he saw back in 2007, and why he expected Lewis to turn into the sort of player who would rightly command the NBA's second-highest salary in 2011-12, but he was ridiculously off-base in that regard.
Lewis? He might be a wispy underachiever, but his contract and his status as the "look at his nutty deal!" guy in this lockout certainly isn't his fault. You wouldn't turn it down, either.
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