What To Do With Biz?

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Picked seventh overall in the 2011 Draft, Bismack Biyombo entered the league with high expectations. As the championed prospect of former OKC exec and current Cats GM Rich Cho, “Biz” (founder of #biznation, brother to Billy) was immediately compared to another shot-swatter from the Congo, Serge Ibaka.

Three years later, Biyombo has certainly lived up to the comparison from a shot-blocking standpoint. His per 48 block numbers trail just behind Serge and he’s the only player in the league to average at least a swat per game while playing less than 15 minutes a night. It’s a near guarantee Biz would rank amongst the league’s Top 5 shot-blockers if he were playing starters minutes.

More impressive is Biyombo’s rebounding. In just 14.3 minutes per game, Biz is averaging 4.9 boards. That’s Kenneth Faried-level insane. Biyombo’s rebound rate of 19.3 blows away anything Ibaka’s ever posted. Again, if Biz were starting, he’d likely be averaging double figure rebounds and crack the league’s Top 10.

The problem, of course, is at the other end. While Serge has moved his gorgeous jumper further and further out to the three point line, Biz still has trouble finishing anything outside of a dunkthat is if he hasn’t fumbled the ball first. Despite extremely limited touches on offense, Biyombo’s turnover rate is twice as high as Ibaka’s and nearly three times the rate of Josh McRoberts – a guy who’s constantly handling the rock. When it comes to protecting the basketball, Biz is less Ibaka and more Kendrick Perkins.

Turnovers are a major no-no for coach Steve Clifford so it’s no wonder the staff was looking forward to Brendan Haywood’s eventual return. While Haywood isn’t nearly the shot swatter Biyombo is, he’s also not going to give the ball away immediately after touching it and offers just enough post scoring so that the team doesn’t have to entirely change the way it plays when Big Al goes to the bench. He’s also a better system defender than Biz – just check out last years defensive on/off court numbers – Mike Dunlap’s Bobcats gave up ten points per game less when Haywood subbed in for Biyombo.

The size of the gap is probably an aberration given the coaching misadventures and Biz’s youth but there is a very real story buried in those numbers. Clifford’s gushing comments about Haywood’s past exploits last summer weren’t lip service. Had he been healthy this season, it’s likely Brendan would’ve taken Biz’s spot in the rotation.

Points at a Premium

If you haven’t heard, the Bobcats have a hard time scoring. They’ve played better at that end since the All-Star break but against a good D, the late game offense generally devolves into a triple teamed Al Jefferson with Kemba Walker left to improvise. In order to stay in close games, Clifford relegates Biz’s fellow one-dimensional phenom, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, to the bench in favor of a good to league average three point shooter (Anthony Tolliver, Gary Neal or Chris Douglas-Roberts) just to keep the opposing wing defenders honest. MKG can at least catch a ball and do a few things with it once he has it – so if he’s sitting, you know Biyombo’s not sniffing crunch time.

All of which brings us to the premise of the post. Despite the strides Biyombo has made over the last few seasons, there’s essentially zero chance that he’s in their long term plans for the following three reasons:

1. Al Jefferson. Big Al’s the most talented player in franchise history and has at least 4-5 solid seasons left in him. Thus, the starting center spot is occupied for the foreseeable future and you can’t play Al & Biz together. Next.

2. MKG. Unless you like watching 3 on 5 hoops or want to lose a ton of games on purpose, you absolutely can’t play MKG and Biz together in the same lineup. Since Big Al’s return from an early season ankle injury, MKG and Biz have barely logged any minutes together. Clifford’s no fool. If the Cats keep either long term, it’ll be MKG.

3. Money. Two off-the-court comps for Biz: Derrick Williams and Evan Turner. As a high Lottery pick, Biz is due $3.8 million next season and after that, the team would have to extend a $5.2 million qualifying offer as the first step towards restricted free agency. So yeah, it’s not gonna happen. Just as Williams’ and Turner’s contracts spooked their respective teams into abandoning them this season, Biyombo’s looming free agency and disproportionate cap hold will likely jettison him to another team as soon as a decent opportunity presents itself.

Open for Biz-ness

So where exactly would that opportunity be? The team acquiring Biz would ideally be both offensively advanced and in desperate need of a rim protector who doesn’t have to score. Dallas, Portland and Golden State immediately come to mind as potential candidates. Unfortunately the Warriors have serious cap issues and another raw center (Festus Ezeli) returning from injury next season. The Blazers practically have a stable of developing young could-be bigs at the end of their bench. But Dallas…oh yes, Dallas. I think we might have a match!

Consider first Mark Cuban’s penchant for aggressively raw big men with over-sized contracts (Erik Dampier, Gana Diop, Haywood, Tyson Chandler). Now combine that with an offense practically tailored for Biz: the league’s all-time greatest stretch four and a couple of pick and roll instigators in the backcourt:

“Nah Biz, just set this pick and get the hell out of the way. We’ll take care of the rest.”

The Mavs are practically starting Old Biz now, with veteran Sam Dalembert occupying much the same role. Biyombo’s directive would be clear and simple: Get rebounds, dunk putbacks and block shots. Sure, he’ll still have to improve his hands and figure out how to not foul out of games before halftime but once he does, Big D could be Biz’s ticket to a big payday.

So what would Charlotte receive in a Biyombo to Dallas trade? The Mavs don’t have a first round pick to trade until after the Draft (when they’ll likely send it to OKC) – and no one in their right mind would pay that high a price anyways. What Dallas does have is Boston’s 2014 2nd Round pick. As of today, that’s the 34th overall selection in the Draft and with a deep class on the way, Charlotte could find an intriguing guy who slips (Isaiah Austin, James Young, Mitch McGary) or a Euro “draft & stash” prospect for the future. Best of all, the Hornets would save around $3.2 million in the deal – giving them the ability to find a two-way veteran backup on the cheap (ala Golden State with Jermaine O’Neal).

And really, from an “asset” perspective the trade would basically be a wash. Remember that Cho originally traded up from 19th in order to pick Biyombo at seven for basically no cost (unless you count an angry Stephen Jackson as an asset). Swapping a late first for the 34th pick in a deeper draft a few years later is hardly the worst thing that’s ever happened to the franchise – and the real mistake of course was passing on Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson and Nic Vucevic on Draft night back in 2011.

In the meantime, let us enjoy our remaining time with Biz, soaking in his incomparable likability, his endlessly entertaining tweets and his tenacious effort each and every time he steps on the court. After all…

ALL YOUR BLOCKS BELONG TO BIZ!

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

 

Bobcats Season 10 – Week 9 Review

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The Bobcats finish a grueling week 1-2, the back end of a West Coast road swing that saw the team:

  • Get hammered by the Clippers at the Forum, 85-112.
  • Get ABSOLUTELY hammered by the sweet shooting Trailblazers in Portland, 104-134.
  • Regroup a little in Sacramento to sweep the season series against an all-time “bad energy” Kings squad, 113-103.

Hanging In There

Charlotte finally returns home Tuesday night after a tough 1-4 road trip. They stand at 15-20, good for 7th in the Eastern Conference and will, with any luck, get starting SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back mid-month. That’s great news because over the next eleven games, the Bobcats will play eight dates against mid to low level Eastern Conference opponents. By the end of the month, we should all have a much better understanding of just how good this Charlotte team is and where they’ll ultimately finish in the pack.

Range Shooting Woes

Wanna know what happens when you combine an elite three point shooting offense and a porous three point defense? Go back and watch Charlotte at Portland for the answer. The Blazers went 21-33 from downtown in that game, with their starters going an amazing 13-16. By comparison, the Bobcats hit 22 three pointers in their last three games combined, taking (a respectable) 52 attempts to do so. Teams have been trouncing the Cats from long range all season and what happened at the Rose Garden Thursday night was the nadir.

A mediocre Bobcat three point defense has gone terrible since losing perimeter defenders MKG and Jeff Taylor to injury and Charlotte doesn’t have anywhere near enough shooting of its own to counteract. The Western Conference is a dangerous valley filled with long distance snipers and returning East with a healthy MKG will help but in the long run, Charlotte must reverse the three ball deficit to get to the next level.

Al Jefferson = David Lee?

In a somewhat controversial move, Western Conference coaches voted David Lee as the upstart Warriors’ lone All-Star selection at last year’s break. Lee was having a career year, sure, but anyone paying attention could tell you that Steph Curry was the engine that made that team go. Unfortunately, with last year’s Western Conference PG position stacked with talent, Curry would have to wait.

A similar situation may present itself this year in the East as Jefferson and Kemba Walker co-lead the upstart Cats. As long as Charlotte stays around .500 and in the Playoff race by the end of the month, the chances for one of those two to get in are very good. Kemba is unquestionably the team’s leader, its heart and soul, but a crowded East PG situation hurts his chances. Kyrie Irving leads the fan vote and will get the start. John Wall is a near lock and with Al Horford out (more on that later), Jeff Teague’s status as leader of the third seed Hawks will be tough to pass up. Kyle Lowry is arguably out-Kemba-ing Kemba with his recent explosion north of the border and don’t forget rookie Michael Carter Williams’ Magic Johnson impersonation in Philly.

Does Kemba deserve an All-Star spot? Absolutely – he and Big Al are the only consistently above average players on the Cats roster – but the coaches may find it easier to give the third PG slot to a Raptor (Lowry) and award Jefferson the Bobcats’ spot. Horford and Brook Lopez are out with extended injuries. Roy Hibbert, Chris Bosh and Andre Drummond are the only other legit big men having good years. If the Cats can stay decent, Big Al’s first All-Star selection is as good as guaranteed.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

Bobcats Season 10 – Week 6 Review

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NOTE: The week in review posts will now be published on Sundays.

Charlotte goes 2-3 over the past ten days, a frustrating stretch that saw the team:

  • Take care of business at home in a blowout win against Philly, 105-88.
  • Earn their best win of the season at the TWC versus Golden State, 115-111.
  • Lay an unnecessary egg at home against the beatable Magic, 83-92.
  • Nearly shock the Eastern Conference leading Pacers in Indy, 94-99.
  • Give away yet another home win to the Lakers, 85-88.

Fork in the Road

We’ve hit mid-December and the Bobcats stand at 10-14, having just dropped two winnable home games against sub-500 competition. They’re on pace for 33 wins, which, given the current state of the Conference, should have them out of the Playoffs and picking somewhere in the 12-14 range. The Bulls would then get the pick and Charlotte’s worst case scenario would be complete. No Playoffs, no picks. Clearly, the status quo is not an option. The Bobcats front office needs to make a decision soon: Make a Run or Tank a Ton.

If they decide to go for it, the remaining schedule won’t do them any favors. The team has already played four more home games than road dates and have two long west coast trips yet to go. According to ESPN’s relative percent index, the Cats have had the tenth easiest schedule in the league thus far.

Losing Al Jefferson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for stretches has certainly been a challenge but a good team should have been able to ride the favorable schedule closer to five hundred. The makeup of the roster is much improved from last season but is still unbalanced. No one on the team can make a consistent jump shot and the dropoff in overall wing play goes downhill fast after Jeff Taylor. The Bobcats rely on Josh McRoberts to be more than the third big man he is and outside of Kemba Walker, there is nobody on the roster who should touch the ball in crunch time.

If the Cats can just correct one or two of these flaws during the season, they could still make the Playoffs and I’m guessing that Rich Cho and Rod Higgins are mining for offers that makes the team better now without hurting them later. But that kind of deal may never arrive – the braintrust will be forced to decide between punting yet another season or sacrificing some future potential for today.

Being patient in an elite Draft year is a sound strategy. If Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle or Dante Exum suit up in a Hornets jersey next season, fans will surely be quick to forgive this season’s lost opportunity. Still, there’s something sad and ironic about a franchise that’s failed to draft a single All-Star in a decade pinning it’s hopes on yet another Lottery.

Asik Trade Rumours

Speaking of mid-season trades, according Grantland’s Zach Lowe, Houston recently offered disgruntled center Omer Asik to the Bobcats in exchange for two first round picks and the rights to swap a third. Charlotte wisely turned them down. While Asik’s defensive presence is underappreciated by the casual fan, the Rockets are asking for more than they gave up to OKC in the James Harden trade for a non-All Star who is entering the last year of his contract. Is Morey is under the impression that Rod Higgins and Larry Brown are still calling the shots in Charlotte?

Should the price return to earth, the Bobcats could be an interesting suitor. Asik played extremely well as a backup center under fellow Van Gundy-alum Tom Thibadeau in Chicago. Omer’s offense improved as a starter with Houston last season and his salary ($15m due with only $8m counting against cap) is reasonable enough for a starting, above-average center.

Of course, the Cats already invested heavily at Asik’s position just a few months ago when they signed Al Jefferson to a three year $45m deal. And before you ask, no, they cannot play those two together for any reasonable stretch of time. The thought of Jefferson having to cover stretch fours would likely send Steve Clifford right back to the hospital. Charlotte would have to find another home for Jefferson, who can only be traded after December 15, and I have absolutely no idea what the market is for Jefferson at $15m per.

Also, we can’t dismiss Asik’s actual, non-cap salary next season of $15m. Remember that Michael Jordan is still on the hook for Tyrus Thomas’ $9m for both this season and next. The Bobcats are hardly a cash cow business for MJ and swallowing the additional $16m in off the cap player salaries (not to mention the re-brand costs) may be outside the financial scope of what this ownership group can feasibly do.

You sir, are no Bust

Allow me to use a portion of this week’s column to diffuse an early season myth in the making. As someone who’s followed the Bobcats closely for all ten seasons (yeah, I’ll never get that time back), I’ve been subjected to all sorts of Draft “busts”: The questionable work ethic type (Sean May), the athletically challenged type (Adam Morrison), the skill deprived type (Alexis Ajinca), the physically over-matched type (D.J. Augustin), etc, etc. As a self-certified expert in modern NBA draft blunders, I am here to tell you that Cody Zeller – regardless of his early struggles – is not one of them.

Zeller, armed with a sound hoops IQ, elite athletic ability, legit seven foot size and a Tom Crean-infused work ethic, dodges all of the major pitfalls associated with past Bobcat busts. His uncorrectable shortcoming (wingspan) can be overcome as Cody improves his perimeter game (his twenty footer already looks better). Zeller’s lack of lower body strength will arrive over the next few seasons as he begins his “mans-formation”, using the next couple of summers to bulk up. And don’t forget that Zeller is learning a new position during his rookie year – which is sort of like studying for the MCAT in a foreign language. Cody has the chops to be a very good pro, just be patient with him.

-ASChin

@BaselineBuzz

Are the Bobcats a Playoff Team?

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Bobcats Illustration by Mike S.

Last season we saw an aging and aching Boston squad hobble into the post-season as a 41-win seventh seed while the oddball mix of young talent in Milwaukee did just enough things right to default into the eight spot. With both of these franchises taking a clear step back this summer, which 2013 Lotto teams will rise up to take their place in the Eastern Conference Playoffs?

SEEDS 1-4 | The Locks – Heat, Pacers, Bulls, Nets

Miami are the champs and didn’t get appreciably worse. Indy pushed the Heat to seven games and that was before massively upgrading their bench. Chicago gets their former MVP back. Brooklyn added two Hall of Famers to a roster that already looked like the Casual Fan All-Star team. Chisel these four into your 2014 Eastern Conference bracket.

SEEDS 5-6 | One Catastrophe Away – Knicks, Hawks

If Carmelo Anthony or Tyson Chandler miss any major amount of time, the Knicks are toast. Same goes for Atlanta if either Al Horford or Jeff Teague go down. Barring disaster however, both of these rosters are strong enough to secure a playoff spot in the East.

SEEDS 7-8 | The Best of the Rest – Pistons, Wiz

The last two Eastern Conference Playoff Spots are theirs to lose: Detroit just dropped all that Corey Maggette cap money on Josh Smith, then upgraded Brandons (Knight to Jennings) – they seem hell-bent on forcing that Top 8 protected pick they owe Charlotte out of the Lottery. The Wizards were 24-25 when John Wall played last year and are banking on their max-man to finally stay healthy (though he’s never played more than 69 games in a season).

THE ALTERNATES | If Everything Goes Right – Cavs, Raptors, Bobcats

I’m assuming the Celtics are all in on The Wiggins Lottery and that Milwaukee’s ever increasing oddball roster won’t have enough offensive firepower to stay in close games (although the young defenders along the frontline are very intriguing). That leaves us with…

Toronto. Rudy Gay and Demar Derozan are talented, high-usage scorers but will need to establish a pecking order and get others involved. Summer League MVP Jonas Valanciunas could be a beast in the middle and last year’s Lotto Pick Terrence Ross could morph into Klay Thompson East. The Raps notched 34 victories last season despite having to incorporate Gay on the fly. They’re the most likely candidate to jump into the eight seed should one of the above franchises stumble.

Cleveland wants to put the post-Lebron Lottery days behind them but the Cavs only won three more games than the Bobcats last season – astounding when you factor in Charlotte’s paper-thin front court and coaching problems – and the jump from 24 to 40 wins is rarely made without adding a superstar. If the ramshackle center duo of Anderson Varajao and Andrew Bynum can’t synchronize their annual injured reserve stints, Cleveland will struggle to reach the post-season

Finally, we have our beloved Proto-Hornets in Charlotte. Coming off a tremendous offseason that saw the team massively upgrade their coaching staff and front-court, Kemba & The Gang will likely surprise many by actually competing on a nightly basis. The addition of Al Jefferson will aid in Walker’s transition from dynamic scorer to dynamic point guard. Jefferson and Cody Zeller’s inside/out abilities will free up driving lanes for the still 19-year old Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Both the coaches and reserves on the Bobcat bench are the strongest in franchise history. These are all signs for optimism should everything come together.

Unfortunately, the interior defense is a major question mark and the Cats’ two strongest defenders (MKG, Bismack Biyombo) are liabilities on the other side of the ball. Also, the bulk of the team’s core is still incredibly young and inexperienced.

Given the talent parity in the East’s muddy middle, it’s unlikely Charlotte will make the post-season jump this season – but that’s probably not the team’s plan anyway. A successful 30-34 win campaign combined with at least two (potentially three) 2014 first round picks, $10-$12 million in cap space and another year of growth under a legit coaching staff should be more than enough fuel to launch the ’14-’15 Charlotte Hornets into the Playoffs and keep them there for a while. UNLESS…

A ‘James Harden Scenario’ Appears

If Charlotte shocks everyone by playing .500 or so ball by the All-Star break and a disgruntled All-Star becomes available (Lamarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, ???), the Cats have enough in the war chest to out-bid anyone. Large expiring contract? Check. Enticing 2014 First Round Picks? Check. Young prospects on cheap rookie deals with some upside? Check. In this kind of James Harden scenario, Charlotte could certainly separate themselves from the middle of the pack ahead of schedule and find themselves playing meaningful games next April.

-ASChin
@BobcatsBaseline

 


POLL : Will The Bobcats Make The Playoffs?

  • Yes, Easily (14%, 37 Votes)
  • Just Barely Get In (29%, 78 Votes)
  • Close, But No Cigar (29%, 79 Votes)
  • No Way (16%, 42 Votes)
  • Hope Not (12%, 32 Votes)

Total Voters: 268

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Draft Night Scenarios for the Bobcats

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The Final Bobcats Draft

The final Draft in “Bobcats History” is less than a few hours away and everyone’s still confused as to what Cho & Co. have planned. Let’s run through the most likely scenarios:

Is Cody Zeller in the Mix?

Cody Zeller’s name has been linked to the Bobcats over the past 48 hours as a sleeper pick at number four. Not really a surprise as Zeller grades very well statistically (remember Cho’s famed database?). ESPN’s Kevin Pelton posted a great Draft Comp piece yesterday that had Cody’s collegiate numbers near identical to Lamarcus Aldridge and Chris Bosh – and neither of those two had a defensive phenom like Bismack Biyombo to develop next two.

Anthony Bennett Destined for Charlotte?

Of course, this all might be a smokescreen to obfuscate the Charlotte’s actual target. Could it be Anthony Bennett? Victor Oladipo? Both of these players are projected in the Draft’s Top 3 but could also fall, especially if Cleveland passes on Nerlens Noel (Orlando would take him at two instead of Oladipo). Bennett and Oladipo can both be plugged into the starting five immediately and help. I’d put Otto Porter and maybe even Zeller in that category as well.

Will Alex Len Slip to the Cats?

Many mocks still have Charlotte staying put at four and taking Alex Len if Cleveland passes on the Maryland center at number one. Next year’s Draft lacks any top tier centers (at least for now) and Cho could elect to grab one while he has the chance. ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla – a guy who’s never been known for clickbait – projects Len as this year’s Jonas Valanciunas. That’s a big deal.

If Bobcats Select a Guard

If the Cats go with either Oladipo or Ben McLemore, everyone please send Gerald Henderson a nice thank you/farewell message on twitter. As a restricted free agent, the team will likely renounce Henderson’s rights as soon as free agency begins in July should they select a SG. Don’t worry Hendo fans, my gut feeling tells me that Charlotte will exit the Draft with either a PF or C and Gerald will be back next season.

An Option to Trade Back in the Draft

Trading back could be another option. We’ve known about the Minnesota “Derrick Williams, 9 and 26″ proposal for a while. There could be other opportunities as well. If the team isn’t sold on any single prospect, then this might be the best option. UPDATE: Oklahoma City is another team that would like to move up and grab Len. They have the 12th pick and a few other nice prospects in Perry Jones, Jeremy Lamb and the Bobcats’ 2nd rounder (via the Byron Mullens trade). If Cho isn’t sold on any of the draft’s top talent, his old boss in OKC (Presti) might be the first call he makes.

Will Rich Cho Want to Trade Up?

Less likely could be a trade up scenario. Could an offer of Bismack Biyombo and the number four pick be enough to trade up to Cleveland’s 1st? If the team is sold on Noel and wants to tank another season in hopes of Andrew Wiggins, this might be their best bet.

-ASChin
Twitter: @bobcatsbaseline

“I’d Like to Welcome Back Some Old Friends”

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Some Crazy Speculation on Draft Night 2013

In a little less than a year – February 1st, 2014 to be exact – David Stern will retire from his post as NBA commissioner after an overwhelmingly successful 30 year reign. Stern’s marketing driven sports philosophy propelled the league from near extinction into an insanely lucrative global brand. The poster child (quite literally) for Stern’s multi-decade strategy is Charlotte Bobcats’ owner and G.O.A.T. Michael Jordan, who ruled both the court and the cameras during the league’s exponential growth period during the ’90s. Stern created the conditions for an international phenomenon like MJ to exist and Jordan took full advantage, elevating the game and league to heights Stern quite possibly couldn’t have imagined.
Which brings us to Thursday, June 27th 2013: David Stern’s final NBA Draft. It is the one night of the NBA year in which Stern himself is the center of attention and it represents a perfect PR opportunity to do some final executive housecleaning:
The Commissioner struts out from backstage to a roar of ironic boos and earnest applause, handling it in style with his trademark smirk and snark. He thanks the fans, the players, the owners, everyone involved in the league for making it what it is today. Then a surprise: “Before I go, I’d like to welcome a new friend into the Association.” Tom Benson joins him at the podium with a freshly minted New Orleans Pelicans jersey. Smiles and handshakes. “And I’d also like to use this opportunity to welcome back some old friends.” Steve Balmer (or one of his minions) joins the group with a crisp Supersonics size 48. “After a brief hiatus, we’d like to officially welcome Seattle back to the NBA.” More smiles and handshakes, cheers from the crowd. Stern lets the moment linger… “Speaking of old friends…”
The one and only, Michael Jordan struts in from stage right holding a jersey of his own. Nearly thirty years later to the date, Stern and MJ shake hands at the Draft podium for a second time. “Michael, it’s been an amazing run.” Crowd going nuts. Jordan unveils the teal and purple. “Finally, we’d like to welcome the Hornets back to their home in Charlotte.” Boom.

A former player – an African-American mega-star – standing equally alongside two white billionaires and a Jewish attorney representing the NBA’s past, present and future – this is Stern-ian theatrics at its best.
Crazy speculation? Certainly. Does it fit with the Commissioner’s thirty year modus opperandi? Without a doubt.
Finally: Just as ESPN’s cameras cut away, Stern leans into the microphone, turns towards MJ: “Michael, your team is up, the clock’s ticking down. Some things never change.”
-ASChin

Max Players Vs. Max Contracts

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Where Have All the Superstars Gone?

James Harden, a 23 year old wing player with zero All-Star appearances, who was the third best player on his team last season, fought for and will receive the NBA’s maximum salary. And he deserves it. Here’s why:
The league’s current CBA contains a structural curiousity at the top; one that brings to mind European-style social policy more so than “Gots ta get mine” good-ol’-American capitalism: The five to ten best basketball players on planet earth are capped at how much they can earn.

Cut to Fox News: “That’s why they call it a ‘collective’ bargaining agreement! I wanna see Hasheem Thabeet’s birth certificate!”

In a world without maximum contracts, Lebron James would earn more than half his team’s payroll. Same goes for CP3, D12, D-Rose, Durant or any other transcendental, once in a generation talent. Not so under the current CBA, where a max player like Rose commands an average of $18 million a season, around one quarter of his team’s pre-tax payroll.
This is why “true max” superstars are the absolute best value in the NBA. They’re playing far below what they’re worth. Second best market value? Rookie scale contracts. Which is why any GM worth their salt is actively trying to build the bulk of his roster around 1-3 true max/superstar players and a bunch of rookies (sound familiar? *cough* OKC *cough*)
The problem is that at any given time, the league only has eight to ten guys who are bonafide supes.

Let’s do some simple math:

  • 30 NBA Teams x $56 million (salary cap) = $1.68 billion in available salaries.
  • 10 Superstars (generous) x $18 million (average max salary) = $180 million.

This leaves a whopping $1.5 BILLION to pay out to Non-Superstars and that’s before we add any cap exceptions or tax penalties.
The money has to go somewhere, right?

Cue Jim Ross voice: “OHMYGAWD, that’s Joe Johnson’s music!!!”

This, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly why guys like James Harden, Eric Gordon and Brook Lopez get offered max deals. At least 20 of the league’s 30 franchises will not have access to a true max superstar but are still obligated to field a competitive team while hitting the league mandated salary floor. Under these circumstances, it is without doubt that Harden is a max guy. Whether or not he is a superstar is a mutually exclusive argument.
-ASChin