TrueHoop: Drew Gooden

Is the cure worse than the disease?

November, 18, 2011
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
Drew Gooden and Eddy Curry
US Presswire
Drew Gooden, left, and Eddy Curry are prime examples of bad contracts. Owners want shorter contracts, but that means more free agents every summer.

The basketball landscape is littered with symbols, but none more damning than the bad contract.

Rhetorically, there's a good reason for this. No matter how conscientiously you point out that bad contracts represent a small fraction of the whole, or that the volume of underpaid rookie-scale players and superstars far exceeds the number of bloated deals, the trump card is irrefutable:

"Jerome James," "Eddy Curry," "Gilbert Arenas," "Drew Gooden."

Bogeymen have always populated the political debate: the welfare recipient who drives a Cadillac. The failed CEO with his golden parachute. The undocumented immigrant who uses the emergency room and public school. The retailer who gouges a community after a natural disaster. The corporate jet owners who get tax breaks.

In that same spirit, basketball has James, Curry, Arenas, Gooden and the guy who slurped up your team's budget and then failed to live up to his contract. These players might be the far-reaching outliers, but they represent something fundamentally unfair to most fans:

Getting paid to do a job, then not doing it.

That transgression is particularly rotten when the job in question is playing a child's game, and this breach of public trust makes the overpaid player a very convenient talking point.

Of course, a bad contract doesn't birth itself. It starts off as an offer extended by a team soliciting the services of a player -- usually in free agency, sometimes as an extension of an existing deal. Either way, an NBA front office saw a vacant roster slot, thought enough of a player's potential to pursue him, then ultimately inked him to a lucrative deal. As much as we can fault the work ethic of someone who phones it in after signing such a deal, the job of vetting the character and projecting the performance of a player falls on team executives and the owners who employ them.

As much fun as it looks from the outside and the ranks of a fantasy league, general manager is a grueling, all-consuming, difficult position. The tenure of a general manager usually ends with a pink slip. Unless he's wearing a baseball cap in June standing alongside a star player who's lifting the Larry O'Brien Trophy, a GM's missteps always attract a brighter spotlight than the small victories. The chase for NBA talent is fraught with all kinds of hazards, and even the best human resource managers in the league are going to have an expensive blemish or two on their record.

For this reason, a push for shorter contracts has been a central part of the "system issues" conversation since well before the expiration of the previous collective bargaining agreement. Whether you interpret this as a means for bad teams to seek protection from themselves, a smart way to keep spending in check, or a way to prevent deadbeats from profiting without performing, reduced contract length is almost certain to find its way into the next CBA, whenever the deal happens to be executed.

In the owners' Nov. 11 proposal to the players' union, the length in contract of the mid-level exception signees for both taxpaying and non-taxpaying teams was reduced from five years to either four or three years. Maximum contract length for players with Bird rights was reduced from six years to five, and from five years to four for non-Bird players. In addition, option years for players earning greater than the league average were eliminated (which would effectively shorten contracts vis-a-vis the last CBA), as were sign-and-trade deals for taxpaying teams after Year 2 of contracts (ditto).

What are the repercussions of shorter contracts?

Shorter contracts mean more turnover, which means more free agency. And free agency, lest we forget, has always been the vehicle for the creation of bad contracts.

On the surface, this change would provide a modicum of safety for front offices and ownerships. Never again will a player like Gooden earn a mid-level deal of five years and $32 million. In the new NBA, the maximum a mid-level player could be offered would be 4 years and $20 million. Curry's 6-year, $60 million contract would also be an impossibility.

In other words, execs' colossal mistakes will be trimmed in scale by about 20 percent and their medium-size stupid pills would be reduced by 35 to 40 percent. Curry would've merely been a 5-year, $50 million blunder, while Milwaukee would be on the hook for one year and $12 million less, assuming the Bucks would've opted to use the mid-level on Gooden -- and that Gooden wouldn't have had suitor willing to pay him more.

General managers would be inoculated from truly epic failures, but they'll also be filling more roster spots, more often in more feverish free agent markets. Execs will have more opportunities to make more mistakes of, albeit, slightly less detrimental consequences. That means bad judgment could potentially be compounded in an off-season when a league has dozens of more roster spots to fill with free agents.

On the flip side, shorter contracts would punish crafty executives capable of locking in talent to favorable long-term contracts. With more roster slots to fill more frequently, smart execs will have more shot attempts to work their magic. In 2002, Joe Dumars signed Chauncey Billups to a 6-year, $34 million deal, possibly the best mid-level deal in history. In today's NBA, Dumars would be denied full reward for his prescience. The jury is still out on Wes Matthews in Portland, but his $7.2 million contract in the final year of his 5-year deal might prove to be a bargain. Under the new system, the Trail Blazers wouldn't enjoy the benefits of Matthews' potentially cost-efficient services.

In a league with shorter contracts and greater turnover, navigating the free agent market will be more important than ever. But if making sound judgments on extending free agent contracts is a task front offices as a whole have mismanaged -- by the league's own admission -- is it reasonable to expect that to change with even more opportunities for mistakes?

Thursday Bullets

March, 25, 2010
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz

The High-Grade Sleepers

August, 17, 2009
Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

NBA training camps are still a few weeks away, but rosters around the league are gradually taking shape. Once David Lee, Allen Iverson and Ramon Sessions have jobs, we'll be ready to go.

The favorites in each conference are easy to spot -- they bear a striking resemblance to the teams that were playing on Memorial Day weekend. But which teams are lurking beneath the surface, ready to assume the role of improbable contender?

If they can avoid the injury bug, and the chemistry works just right, here are three teams that could emerge as success stories come spring:

Dallas Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks

It's easy to forget just how dominant the Dallas Mavericks were when they took the floor against the eighth-seeded Warriors on a Sunday evening in April 2007. This was the last game of the postseason's opening weekend, a perfunctory item of business for the Mavs en route to a conference finals matchup against the Suns or the Spurs.
Dirk Nowitzki & Shawn Marion Can this pair inflict serious damage in a brutal Western Conference? (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)

Dallas was one year removed from an NBA Finals appearance, and had just piled up 67 wins in the regular season. Only five teams in NBA history had recorded more Ws in a single season. Dirk Nowitzki was the presumptive MVP (and would go on to win the award).

The Mavs' epic collapse in that first-round series against the Warriors has been well-documented, and over the next two seasons, Dallas would descend from its perch into the Western Conference's upper-middle class.

What's interesting about that falloff is how many of the elements of that Mavs team remain intact today -- to say nothing of the quality pieces that have been added since. 67 wins isn't ancient history; we're talking two seasons ago.

Dirk Nowitzki, at 31, is the same age as Kobe Bryant. While Nowitzki is unlikely to reproduce his 2006-07 exploits, he remains one of the league's best players. Jason Terry has been a model of consistency for Dallas and had arguably the most efficient season of his career as the Mavs' super sub in 2008-09. Josh Howard is only 29. When healthy, he's still one of the more flexible swingmen in the game and a lockdown defender. In 2006-07, J.J. Barea logged fewer than 200 minutes, but he's become a spark plug for the Mavs' quality second unit ever since.

With Jason Kidd settling nicely into the role of veteran facilitator (and surprisingly efficient shooter), the franchise doubled down on the bet that its solid core could maximize what's left of Nowitzki's prime. The Mavs landed Shawn Marion.

Like Howard, Marion is versatile, freakish, and mercurial. Defensively, he can stay in front of speedy point guards, bother face-up power forwards, chase spot-up shooters, and clean up on the boards. Offensively, Marion's downward trajectory the past season and a half began the moment he left Phoenix. Coincidence -- or evidence that his talents demand the care of a veteran, pass-first point guard?

When you consider those assets, then throw in sensible additions like Drew Gooden and Kris Humphries to bolster Erick Dampier on the block, defensive stopper Quinton Ross, and a pair of intriguing rookies, and the Mavs appear ... stacked.

There is no shortage of nightmarish scenarios by which Dallas' gamble can implode. Nowitzki, Kidd, Marion, Terry, and Dampier are all on the wrong side of 30. Howard is accustomed to missing about 15 games a year, and being less than 100 percent for long stretches. The Mavs' best offensive lineup (Kidd-Terry-Howard-Marion-Nowitzki) won't give them much interior defense, and the loss of Brandon Bass makes them a less energetic bunch.

But with Kidd at the point, and a roster of flexible guys who can each serve multiple functions on the floor, Dallas has the potential to develop into a grizzled, selfless squad with the kind of mental edge that just might have been the missing ingredient 28 months ago.

Chicago Bulls

Chicago Bulls

How much should we read into Chicago's classic seven-game series against Boston? Was the Bulls' gutsy performance a harbinger of things to come, or was it lightning in a bottle? Did they graduate into a team that knows how to scramble defenses with a legitimate pick-and-roll game, or were they just lucky to encounter a crippled Celtics team ill-suited to deal with their quickness and athleticism?

Those aren't the only imperative questions for Chicago. Even if we conclude that they came of age in April, is it fair to expect them to continue their progress without their top scorer, Ben Gordon, whom they lost to Detroit?

Short answer: Yes.

Although there will be nights when Gordon's fearlessness as a sniper will be missed, the Bulls might be better served long-term by the three-guard rotation of Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, and John Salmons. With Gordon out of the picture, Rose can assert himself both as distributor and scorer. He's a transcendent young point guard, and one that should flourish now that his running mates in the backcourt are a little more pliable.
Derrick Rose Derrick Rose: Season Two
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Both Rose and Hinrich are expert ballhandlers -- and Hinrich is very comfortable off the ball as well. Salmons, along with Hinrich, is capable of defending all three perimeter positions, can score on pin-downs, slash to the rack, and fire from 3-point range (41.7 percent).

There are good reasons sleepers are sleepers, and the caveats for Chicago reside in its frontcourt. Start at small forward, where Luol Deng will be returning from a stress fracture in his right leg. He last played in a game on February 28. When 100 percent, Deng is a rangy, athletic force in transition and in the halfcourt, where his height and handle give him a big advantage over most defenders at the small forward. When Deng is on his game, he's also the correct answer to the question, "Who's going to make up for Ben Gordon's 20.7 points per game?"

There's a reason why any time a marquee big man comes on the market, he's rumored to be headed to Chicago. But desperate as the Bulls are for help on a threat on the block, we saw something interesting down the stretch last season. Rather than resign themselves to their lack of post scoring, the Bulls began to use Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas in pick and roll schemes, where their agility allowed them to beat their defenders to the rim. So long as Thomas resisted launching jump shots, it worked.

Noah doesn't have the jumper to be a high-post center (like backup Brad Miller), but his passing and mobility around the hoop might be enough in Chicago's offense. Thomas, of course, is the wild card. A composite of his finest moments last season would show him as a defensive ace, capable of creating opportunities for himself off the dribble, hitting a face-up jumper, and blocking any shot in medium proximity.

If that highlight reel can become a reality, if Deng can bounce back, and if Rose can continue his co
urse as one of the game's best young playmakers, the Bulls might turn their novelty act from last spring into a long-run production in 2010.

New Orleans Hornets

New Orleans Hornets

Here's one you can play by the pool:

Name the best starting power forward/center tandems in the NBA.

You could begin with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. After the Lakers' duo, there's only one other pair of starters who each recorded a player efficiency rating greater than 18:

David West and Emeka Okafor.
Chris Paul & Emeka Okafor For Emeka Okafor, playing alongside Chris Paul will be more pleasant than playing against him. (Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)

After playing in relative obscurity with Charlotte over the past five seasons, Okafor moves to New Orleans, where he'll fill Tyson Chandler's spot at center for the Hornets. Chandler was a sentimental favorite in New Orleans -- both of the fan base in the Crescent City and his teammates. The Chris Paul to Tyson Chandler alley-oop was one of the NBA's signature highlight reel snippets.

Okafor may not be an elite center, but he's a very, very good big man and a more complete player than Chandler. For an extensive look at New Orleans' upgrade, take a look at John Hollinger's must-read comparison of Okafor and Chandler.

One of the most productive frontcourt tandems in the league and arguably the best point guard on the planet: That's a pretty nice place to start a season, don't you think?

Paul, West, and Okafor might not warrant a "Big Three" designation, but we can agree that they qualify as some sort of troika -- particularly in a scheme that's as dependent on the pick-and-roll as the Hornets offense.

Unfortunately for New Orleans, the NBA game demands that its best teams field a couple of guys on the wing who can create and/or defend -- preferably both -- and this is where the Hornets have depth problems.

As a catch-and-shoot artist, Peja Stojakovic is about as good as we've seen over the past decade, but he's coming off his worst season since the Clinton administration and is increasingly having trouble staying healthy. The Hornets signed James Posey a season ago to play the same role in New Orleans that he did in the Celtics' 2008 championship run -- defensive and 3-point specialist. Posey is good for 25 minutes per night in that capacity, but not dynamic enough to play much more. Morris Peterson was once thought to be a solution on the wing, but injury and age have slowed him. Those three guys -- each born in 1977 -- won't get them the 96 minutes per night they need from the off-guard and small forward.

The Hornets don't need All-Stars at the wings, but they must get solid production. Enter enigmatic, third-year forward Julian Wright.

Whereas the Hornets' aforementioned veterans have trouble doing much more offensively than spot up and shoot, Wright -- on his better nights -- can do everything but shoot. Though he was a menace defensively for the Hornets -- the team was about five points stingier with him on the court -- Wright took a step back last season offensively. The gifts are apparent, but there's still a lot of refinement needed, both mechanically and mentally.

The elasticity of the Hornets' win total isn't all on Wright and the health of the vets. If Summer League is any indication (that's a much longer conversation, isn't it?), New Orleans scored with its selection of guards Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton in the draft. And forward Ike Diogu was a savvy pickup on the cheap, as well.

One summer ago, the Hornets were being sized up as contenders after a spirited playoff run. This summer, much of the discussion surrounding the team has included the phrase "luxury tax threshold." While general manager Jeff Bower was attending to the spreadsheet, it's possible he constructed a team poised to surprise next season.

Dwight Howard wants to exact revenge against Detroit. Vengeful Mavs fans got a little satisfaction last night at Dwyane Wade's expense. Want to get back at someone? Furnish them with some of Drew Gooden's old kicks. Sweet revenge at the TrueHoop Network: 

Dwight HowardMatt Moore of Hardwood Paroxysm: "Dwight [Howard] thinks that the only way for the Magic to really prove themselves is to go through Detroit. That they have to prove to themselves and the world that they can beat the Pistons. That you have to overcome your demons. This is a load of crap. Look, the Magic are going to end up winning sixty games. The Pistons are not a lock to make the playoffs at this point. The Magic have beaten the Lakers, the Celtics, the Cavs, and just about everybody except the Pistons. So are the Pistons a better team than the Magic? Does anyone think that? Do the Pistons think that? Okay, well, maybe. But then, they're biased. The fact is that the Magic have nothing to prove by beating the Pistons."

Dwyane WadeRob Mahoney of Two Man Game: "You want vindication, Mavs fans? There's your vindication. We can talk Warriors and catharsis all day long, but what brings more emotional closure than beating Dwyane Wade at his own game? The Mavs and the Heat traded big shot for big shot for what seemed like days, but this time around, Dallas got the edge of a beneficial whistle and a nice shiny dagger. Trophy-less revenge never seemed so sweet.

I'd be lying to you if I said that I just knew it would end up that way.  Even with the Mavs clutching a small lead, the big Wade shot seemed inevitable.  But a strange thing happened, and I'd like to think that this is at least one area improvement since the original letdown of '06: It never came.  Jason Kidd denied, denied, denied, and when Wade did get the ball, the double-team came immediately and Kidd went into an all-out frenzy to swipe the ball away.  The result?  Dwyane Wade's last real shot attempt (excluding his last second heave from the three-point line) went up with 5:03 left in the fourth quarter, and his last actual points with nearly 6."

Russell WestbrookJohn Mietus, special to Daily Thunder: "Thunder Fans: There's no such thing as a 'rookie mistake' in basketball. Only a 'mistake.' Russell [Westbrook] isn't making mistakes so much as he is pushing the envelope, the limits of on court creativity. A bigger mistake would be trying to harness Westbrook and eliminate his intuitive capability. It would be counter-productive now to rein him in, probably causing confusion for Westbrook. Russell represents the fine line between a 'practice' player and a gamer. A practice player can run through all the plays in practice, hit his spots, shoot when it's his turn and succeed on a regular basis. But a gamer can perform when the lights come on at night and the curtain goes up. A gamer can improvise and make magic out of simple sport."

Rockets Buzz: Houston has issues at closer ... and it ain't Brad Lidge.
Forum Blue & Gold
: How should the Lakers handle the fatigue question?
By the Horns: Digging through the Bulls' Goodwill bin.  

(Photos by Gregory Shamus, Evan Gole, Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)

Should the Spurs rest Tim Duncan down the stretch and trust they can win playoff games on the road? Can the Celtics trust Rajon Rondo to nail shots from mid-range? Do Raptors fans still trust Bryan Colangelo to assemble a winner in Toronto? Take it on trust at the TrueHoop Network. 

Tim DuncanTimothy Varner of 48 Minutes of Hell: "The issue before [Gregg] Popovich is whether or not he should give [Tim] Duncan some rest prior to the playoffs. From where I sit, the answer is an unqualified 'yes, please.' At a minimum, I'd like to see Duncan sit out one game apiece of the remaining three back-to-backs, but I suspect Popovich already intends to make this move. If that's the case, the Spurs should be more aggressive. They should look for opportunity to accomplish two objectives at once: to provide Drew Gooden with meaningful minutes and give Duncan time on the shelf. The Spurs play the Warriors, Hawks and Clippers this week.  That's the easiest remaining 3 game stretch of the season. Perhaps, Coach Popovich should make a go of it sans Duncan and [Manu] Ginobili. Maybe they only go 1-2 in those games and squander an opportunity of winning back the 1/2 game they just gave up to the Rockets. But that's better than entering the playoffs with a partial Duncan."

Rajon RondoZach Lowe of Celtics Hub: "Read that again: Ray Allen penetrated and kicked to Rajon Rondo for a jump shot.

This doesn't have to be an isolated incident; I've written before about Ray Allen's ability to create off the dribble because of the way defenders have to rush out at him in a panic ... I'm not saying Rajon Rondo has turned into Ray Allen or even that he could do so in his wildest dreams. I'm saying that Rondo has developed a serviceable jump shot, and that he's come a long way from the player the Knicks completely ignored in a defensive strategy that was (justifiably) touted at the time as one way to successfully defend Boston. Some team will probably try that again, and it might work. But I'm guessing it won't. And if that guess is right, the Celtics will go into the playoffs with four elite offensive players, not three."

Dirk NowitzkiRob Mahoney of Hardwood Paroxysm: "The greatest moments in NCAA history are great tournament moments (or great team moments), not great Michael Jordan moments or Christian Laettner moments or Carmelo Anthony moments. Because the NBA at the very least creates the illusion of consistency and longevity ... the focus is on the players, who are an establishment unto themselves ... Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki, two players who never enrolled in one of America's fine collegiate institutions, revolutionized the power forward position forever. MJ redefined greatness not because of the system-imposed limits at North Carolina, but because of his sustained greatness in Chicago. Shaquille O'Neal and Wilt Chamberlain forced the game (and its rules) to change to specifically address their dominance at the pro level, not in college arenas. The most significant basketball change has and will always take place in the professional sphere. If not simply because the players are bigger, stronger, and outright better than their college counterparts, then because the ability to remain relevant for more than a few years allows players the proper avenue to demonstrate their brilliance."

Raptors Republic: A blueprint for recovery.
Knickerblogger: Actually, the Knicks have improved.
Hornets247: Rasual Butler -- proving reluctant bloggers wrong.

(Photos by Brian Babineau, Nathaniel S. Butler, Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)