It’s the silliest season ever for the NBA.
Day one of free agency is normally filled with crazy deals struck during the initial feeding frenzy. Each year, we screech, “(Insert player’s name here) is worth (insert millions of dollars)?! No chance! Our society has gone haywire!”
Today is a little different. Haywire has a new definition. The bar has been raised.
Timofey Mozgov, a player with nine DNPCDs (did not play – coach’s decision) in the recently concluded playoffs, has agreed to a deal worth $64 million over four years with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Other deals are equally outrageous. Mediocrity is being rewarded at a level that is more than troubling – it’s unsustainable and a potentially poisonous element in the popularity of the NBA.
Paying the best an enormous amount of money is one thing. That’s understandable. Rewarding abject mediocrity is quite another. Fans don’t – can’t – understand that.
Want to give LeBron James $100 million? Great. He’s worth it. Mozgov gets $16M per, and fans’ brows furrow as we question the sanity of the entire system.
Here are the seven reasons to be appalled and confused by day one of NBA free agency:
7 – Our society of ribbons for everyone is now being extended to the NBA. For years, adults have lamented the trend toward making every kid feel special, thereby making none feel special. Rewarding mediocrity has been so thoroughly inculcated into our society that it has now extended to the NBA. C student level pro basketball players are now being paid 200 times the average household income.
6 – Every kid with a dream is going to gravitate away from football and baseball toward hoops. Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant might win the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award this year. He is scheduled to earn $652,000 for that work – a salary 98% of Americans would covet. That is 27 times less than Joakim Noah will be paid as a broken down 31 year-old midway through the back nine of his career. Bryant will eventually sign a huge deal, but right now if you are evaluating the risk reward of a career path in pro sports, basketball is the obvious choice by a factor of, well, 27.
5 – The Pacers cannot get better given their resources. Larry Bird has roughly $22 million to spend on the roster to fill spots vacated by Jordan Hill, Solomon Hill, and Ian Mahinmi, but at an average of seven million each, who can they sign that might represent an upgrade? If Timofey Mozgov is worth $16 million, how good can a guy be who is paid less than half of Mozgov? Well, it looks like Al Jefferson will become a Pacer, and while I would rather have Jefferson than Mozgov, he has seen a sharp decline in minutes since 2014. Jefferson for Mahini, Young for LaVert, and Hill for Teague have made the Pacers marginally better.
4 – No reason to spend beyond the basement. The NBA salary cap is projected to be $94 million. That number is well publicized. There is another number that is more important to the NBA players – the basement that NBA teams must spend to. That amount is projected to be $83.6, and it is driving the cost of mediocre to poor players in the NBA through the roof. The previous cap number was $70M, so teams who spent to the cap in 2015-2016 MUST spend an additional $13.6M (don’t forget the $.6, which represents roughly 10 times the median household income for families in Indiana) to be in compliance with the collective bargaining agreement. Why spend an additional $10 million when it gets you 5/8s of a Mozgov.
3 – The NBA is now Power Ball. For kids growing up in poverty, the NBA sure looks like a path up and out. Sadly, the NBA is a very exclusive club requiring ridiculous athleticism, coordination, and work ethic. Membership is limited to 450 men each year, and that means millions of kids with a dream will eventually realize that all that work on handles and defensive footwork was wasted.
2 – Timofey Mozgov’s deal could fund lot of education/protection. The Los Angeles Lakers determined that a player incapable of getting off the bench for the world champion Cleveland Cavaliers was worth $64 million for four more years of watching basketball. At $50,000 per teacher or policeman, Mozgov’s salary would pay 320 salaries for those dedicated to teaching our young and protecting all of us.
1 – Max deals have to go. Fans understand that a singular talent like LeBron James is worth $100 million per year, but no one embraces the notion of mediocrity being rewarded with deals worth more than $10 million. O.J. Mayo is likely to sign a deal that pays him in that neighborhood, and he has been a deteriorating and selfish player for years. Joakim Noah is ready to sign a contract that will guarantee him $72 million for four years despite injuries that will likely keep him off the floor for the majority of the 328 regular season games the Knicks will play during that term. LeBron? Durant? Steph? Pay the man! Timofey? Mayo? Joakim? C students deserve C level money, not CEO money. The rule capping salaries is raising the bottom at the expense of the outstanding, and that is wrong.
Kent Sterling hosts the fastest growing sportstalk show in Indianapolis on CBS Sports 1430 every weekday from 3p-6p, and writes about Indiana sports at kentsterling.com.