Remember the good old days, when a player was simply either good or bad? The contract never really mattered, but the salary cap era has changed all that. Now, we turn around and say “_____ is overpaid” to describe 90% of the league. We often dismiss what a player is good at simply because his salary is off putting.
I’m going to let you in on a secret. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. When you think the whole league is overpaid, you’re wrong. You just haven’t accepted the market rate. The reason why teams make the “overpayment mistake” over and over is because it’s not a mistake. It’s the better than the alternative of letting guys leave for another team and being left with crap.
Look, I’ll freely admit, I’ve been as guilty of it as the next guy. In fact, I’ve led the movement in the xyz is overpaid camp largely because I’ve been planning for the Bulls to hit 2010 free agency for two seasons and wanted to make sure they had cap space. However, that era is over, that time has passed. It’s time to go all in.
Fans often get upset when teams sign good players to high paying deals and lock themselves into mediocrity. They nod their head in agreement to the “tank to get lottery picks and a superstar” theory even though the odds of it ever working are minuscule, and they won’t go out and pay to watch those 20 win seasons while the process is on going.
The owners all want to win, but they also all have a bottom line agenda to feed, and quite frankly, being locked into the first round is more exciting than being locked into the pursuit of a lotto pick when it comes to ticket sales, merchandise sales, and advertising revenue.
Take Atlanta for instance, they “overpaid” Joe Johnson. What were they going to do if they didn’t overpay Joe Johnson though? Lose Joe Johnson for nothing. Go from a second round playoff team to a lottery team, and watch their fledgling fan base get cut to 1/2 it’s size. It’s a high stakes gamble for owners, because in most sports towns, it’s easy to lose tons of money by having a such a decline. Does Joe Johnson generate 126 million in revenue for the Hawks over the life of his deal? I’m not sure, but as long as he doesn’t go Gilbert Arenas on them it’s not as ridiculous as you think.
The balance between winning and profit and how one drives the other is difficult for general managers and owners to balance. Even when you’re fairly sure a guy is going to disappoint you later on, if you want to commit to trying to win, you often need to sign that guy and hope for the best. The alternative is to sign someone considerably worse, who’s even more likely to disappoint you, and if Atlanta didn’t sign Joe Johnson they would have signed someone considerably worse or no one at all.
Part of the problem is the soft cap and bird rights. Teams have little flexibility to switch out players. The Hawks could keep Joe Johnson, an all-star, at a superstar price tag, or they could let him go for nothing and use their MLE on someone like Ronnie Brewer or Kyle Korver. They didn’t have the luxury of playing the full market of FAs and trying to lure someone else in at 12 million, it’s Johnson at 6/126 or some guy at the MLE.
This brings us to Luol Deng. Many people seem to have forgotten that Luol Deng is actually pretty good at basketball. The zeros on his contract seem to have blinded us to the fact that he averaged 17.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2 assists, almost a steal and block a game, on only two TOs and less than two PFs.
If we trade Luol Deng, we won’t replace him with another player who can make 12 million a season. We’ll replace him with someone on the MLE. We don’t have the salary flexibility to do something else. Which is why at the point we were trying to free up cap space, I was a fan of trying to move Luol Dengs contract. When we needed to build room for two star players (or even three star players), then dumping Deng would have been a viable plan. We are no longer at that point.
We are now at the point where we’re trying to win, and unless you can trade Luol Deng in a package for an upgrade (hi Carmelo), then it’s foolish to start talking about trading him for expirings. We won’t be under the cap, we won’t utilize that money in a better way, we will be a worse basketball team.
Luol Deng won’t prevent us from signing Derrick and Noah in the future. Management and ownership won’t let that happen. The worst case scenario, worst case mind you, is that Deng will prevent us from signing Taj Gibson or keeping Brewer, Korver, Watson, or guys in that category of skill. I hope that’s not the case. I hope this team is good enough that the tax isn’t an issue and the check book is opened in the future. We know that if the White Sox needed to flush four million dollars down the toilet to give themselves a negligibly better chance at making the playoffs while having no chance to go anywhere in them that they’d do it.
However, even if it’s not, Luol Deng is better than those guys, and we’re better off with him and trying to find cheaper role players elsewhere than having a bunch of cheaper role players trying to figure out how to increase the top end talent later.
As such, stop trading poor Luol Deng. There was a time for that, but that time has passed. It’s no longer time to dump anyone. The days of addition by subtraction are over, the days of addition by addition are here.