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Hoopsmeister
07-10-2002, 04:13 PM
Yesterday's ESPN Insider (http://insider.espn.go.com/insider/archive?sport=nba&date=20020709)

Price points: Who's worth the Max?
by Chad Ford

With the NBA free-agent season moving ahead at a glacial place, Insider spent the last few days talking with several general managers and league executives about the sudden economic frugality around the league, and the question that is on most people's minds this time of year is who will be getting the max this summer?

The answer to that question affects just about every team. When a watershed event happens, Kevin Garnett's $126 million contract to Malik Rose's $42 million deal this summer, it sends shock waves throughout the league. Player agents like to use comparisons that work in their favor. Lon Babby used Jerome Williams' $42 million deal with Toronto last year to justify his contract demands for Rose to the Spurs.

They also love to use "averages" for players who play the same position. The average player salary is $4.7 million next year, but the average varies widely by position. That's why players such as Calvin Booth and Todd MacCulloch last year, and Jerome James and Rasho Nesterovic this year can expect big paydays. The average salary for a starting center in the league for the 2002-03 season is $7,537,484. That's huge. But here's where it gets ridiculous. The average salary for a non-starting center this year is a whopping $5,100,967.

Just to keep those numbers in perspective, consider this. Of the 29 starters at the center position, the only two centers making less than $4 million a season that weren't still locked into the rookie salary scale were Jerome James and Jake Voskuhl. There were 10 centers who did not start for their teams making more than the $4.5 mid level exception.

Power forwards fared even better. The average salary for a starting power forward in the league for the 2002-03 season is $8,271,535. The only two starters making under the $4.5 mid level exception who aren't still locked into the rookie salary scale this season are Horace Grant and Samaki Walker. Non starters did fare too badly either, pulling down an average $5,424,015 a year.

It goes down from there. Starting small forwards will average $6,433,918 next season. Backups will average $4,738,563. Starting shooting guards will average $5,991,818. Their backups will pull down $4,062,971. Starting point guards will average $5,599,859. Their backups are the minimum wage workers of the NBA grabbing a paltry $3,928,590.

Who said size doesn't matter? Obviously, position has its privileges.

Those figures really highlight when NBA owners have misused the max contract in the past. There really should be only two scenarios in which players command max deals.

First, they are dominant players at their position. They must be young, not prone to injury and, with the exception of centers, able to play multiple positions.Think Shaq, Kobe, Tim Duncan, Chris Webber, Tracy McGrady, Dirk Nowitzki. Those are max players.

No offense, but Antawn Jamison, Keith Van Horn, Stephon Marbury, Damon Stoudamire, Tom Gugliotta, Vin Baker, Juwan Howard, Michael Finley, Allan Houston, Antonio Davis, Eddie Jones and Brian Grant are not. They weren't max players when they signed their deals and they aren't now.

Second, players get the max when the supply and demand at a particular position makes a promising player close to irreplaceable. Only big, athletic centers and power forwards really fit into this position. Teams will always over pay a little for size because centers just don't come along that often.

That's why you can forgive the Cavs for throwing the max Zydrunas Ilgauskas' way. And that's why you can forgive the Clippers for throwing the bank at Olowokandi this summer.

Insider polled six league executives about the contract demands of four prominent free agents this year and another six prominent members of the draft class of 1999. Who should get the max? Here's what they said.

Free-agents

1. Michael Olowokandi -- Consensus: the max
We'll pause while Elgin Baylor revives Donald Sterling. While every source Insider talked to agreed that Olowokandi is still a project, they felt that given the dearth of big, athletic true centers in the league, Olowokandi was worth every penny. Given that the average salary for a starting center already starts at $7.5 million, Olowkandi's contract demands (a max deal would start him at about $10 million this season) aren't that ridiculous.

"Of all the guys on the Clippers, he's the player we all covet," one league executive told Insider. "He's still raw, but you see him improving every season. You're always a little concerned when you see a guy make a huge jump in his play during a contract year, but Michael's combination of power, athleticism and size doesn't come along very often. If he played on a team that featured him more in the offense, I think he'd be an All-Star."

Another GM put it more bluntly. "If the Clippers screw this up and he becomes an unrestricted free agent, barring some sort of injury or atrocious season, he'll get max offers from several teams."

2. Mike Bibby -- Consensus: 6 years, $70 million
Bibby probably added another $30 to $40 million to his contract during the playoffs, when he showed management that he, not Chris Webber, was the team's go-to guy in the clutch. His playoff averages of 20.2 ppg, 5 apg and 3.8 rpg are the numbers of a max point guard. His regular-season numbers, 13.7 ppg, 5 apg, 2.8 rpg really weren't. The only question on anyone's mind was, what took him so long. In the end, only two of the six people Insider polled thought Bibby was worthy of the max. But every source came in with a very high number.

"I always thought Bibby had the potential to be the leader he was during the Kings' playoff run," another team executive said. "I just wonder why he didn't always show that during the regular season. Bibby still has some issues with his game. I'm not sure, in the end, that he's a max player. I don't know that he'll ever be dominant the way Jason Kidd and Gary Payton are. And I don't know that he'll ever have the impact that a player like Steve Francis or Baron Davis will. But, he's very, very good."

3. Raef LaFrentz -- Consensus: 6 years, $60 million
Like Olowokandi, LaFrentz is still a bit of an enigma. He's a stellar shot blocker (he ranked second in the NBA last season), has a great outside touch for a big man, but his effort has always been inconsistent. In the Mavs' playoff series versus the Kings he had one stellar 24-point, 13-rebound game sandwiched in between a couple of three-point, six-rebound and a seven-point, eight-rebound stinkers. In the end, however, it's LaFrentz's size that tips the scale toward the max.

"He's even a bigger question mark than Olowokandi," one team exec said. "I just don't see the upside to LaFrentz that I do to Kandi. He's a solid shot blocker and I like the way he can pull his defender away from the basket. But he disappears for long stretches and just doesn't have the game to be a go-to guy. Don't get me wrong, someone will throw the bank at him, but he'll never have the impact to warrant the contract."

4. Rashard Lewis -- Consensus: 6 years, $60 million
Lewis has tantalizing skills, but are they worth the max. Not one of the six team executives Insider spoke with thought Lewis was worth the max. Several of them thought he was vastly overrated, while others thought he'd blossom outside the shadow of Gary Payton.

"I like him a lot, probably more than most of my peers," another GM said. "He's long, athletic and can really shoot the ball. I know there are questions about his ball handling and his leadership capabilities, but I think he's the perfect complement for a team that already has an established star or two. I think his versatility and willingness to do anything for the team will get someone to bite."

Eligible for contract extensions

1. Elton Brand -- Consensus: 6 years, $70 million
It shouldn't come as any surprise that after averaging a double-double for his career, there are still people out there who doubt Elton Brand. While it's difficult to argue with his numbers, and it's becoming tougher to knock his record after what he did in Los Angeles this year, teams are still leery of giving an undersized four the max.

"Is he a dominant player at his position?" one team executive queried. "Yes and no. Anyone who can average a double double is dominant. There just aren't many players who can do it. Brand's consistency and character also both work in his favor. But does he have the ability to take over a game. I've watched him play a lot and I haven't seen it. I don't think he's irreplaceable."

2. Steve Francis -- Consensus: the max
The Rockets and Stevie Franchise are already discussing a maximum contract that will keep him around Houston for a long time. It's Francis' ability to play multiple positions, his amazing rebounding tenacity for a point guard and his overall toughness that push him into max land. The only caveat, and it was a small one, was growing concern over a rash of migraine headaches that crippled Francis through parts of the season. Those type of ailments always send up red flags when you begin discussion a big extension, but the Rockets don't seem overly worried about it.

"He's a different breed of point guard than guys like Kidd or [John] Stockton," one GM said. "But he can be just as effective. He's a great penetrator and plays the game at a breakneck pace. When he's on his game, he's the best player on the floor and that, I think, is what being a make player is all about."

3. Baron Davis -- Consensus: the max
Like Francis, it's Davis' ability to score and lead a team that have team enamored with him. How good is Davis' position at the moment. The Hornets are offering him the max contract extension and he's refusing to sign, instead hoping to be traded to the west coast.

"He's a little bit better play maker than Francis and his athleticism is just off the charts," another team executive remarked. "I like his ability to shoot the three, make things happen off the break or hit the big shot with the game on the line. There isn't much more to say other than he's really, really good."

4. Wally Szczerbiak -- Consensus: 6 years, $50 million
Szczerbiak's agent recently claimed that Szczerbiak would seek a maximum contract extension which surely had the T-Wolves rolling their eyes. While few GM's doubt his ability to score 30 ppg game if he wanted, basketball is a team sport and Wally has yet to prove that he's figured that out.

"He could easily score 30 a game, but he'd give up 40 in the process," commented one GM. "Wally's the type of guy that GMs sometimes make mistakes on. He does one thing really well, score. But his game is lacking in lots of other areas. I always try to stray away from giving big money to one dimensional players. They lock you in financially, but don't give you the flexibility to move them around as you try to add other players to the squad."

5. Andre Miller -- Consensus: 6 years, $70 million
Miller may be one of the brightest young point guards in the game, but he's been buried an a woeful team his entire career and can't quite seem to shake the knock that he isn't a winner. That's just silly. Anyone who can lead the league in assists on a team as bad as the Cavs will make any team better. But try telling that to the Cavs, who are still trying their best to ship Miller out of town before they have to write him a big check.

"I understand Cleveland's position," one team executive said. "I don't agree with it, but I understand it. Good point guards who play the game the right way are hard to come by. I know he isn't a great scorer or shooter, but like Kidd, I think he elevates the level of play for everyone. If he gets with a decent team, I think he'll be a 10 time All-Star before his career's up. Why don't the Cavs surround him players who can put the ball in the basket. They can point the finger at Andre all they want, but I'm pretty sure he didn't draft Trajan Langdon, Chris Mihm and DeSagana Diop."

6. Shawn Marion -- Consensus: the max
The matrix is one of those versatile freaks of nature who transcends position. He's one of the best rebounding small forwards in the league, is young athletic and has all the makings of a star. The Suns would love to hang on to him, but sources close to Marion say he's reluctant to commit to a long-term deal with the team now in rebuilding mode.

"He's another guy who uses his versatility to his advantage," one GM commented. "He works so hard on the boards that he allows you to do different things up front. If he doesn't re-sign with Phoenix he'll be a huge commodity in a couple of years."

Drbio
07-10-2002, 04:24 PM
I mis-read the thread title...I thought you meant Dooby was worth the max. i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif

MavKikiNYC
07-10-2002, 04:51 PM
Thanks for posting this piece. Interesting perceptions.

I still don't get going max with Kandi, but not with Brand--Brand always brings it, Kandi nearly never has.

And not to name names, but....$60 million is a lot for an enigmatic underachiever with no upside.

Is this some kind of evolutionary thing, whereby society values size in such a way as to maximize the probability that it gets perpetuated in the gene pool?

Dooby
07-10-2002, 06:48 PM
Thanks, Hoops.

Interesting read.