Last night I posted a wrap up of my first month with this site. I mentioned that there a lot of topics that I want to write about that I haven’t yet, so I’m starting this month with a topic at the top of my list: basketball.
As it worked out, last night the NBA All-Star teams were announced in full, as the starters had already been named last week. What stood out to me right away, as a lifelong Celtics fan, was the absence of both Al Horford & Gordon Hayward from a weak (or top heavy, perhaps) Eastern Conference.
I am not suggesting these guys should have been named to the team this year. Rather, my focus was on the fact that management signed both of these guys to max contracts and neither of them have performed close enough to All-Star level to even make most annual “These Guys Got Robbed” reaction lists. In the EAST.
This made me look up a few things: (1) the number of players throughout the league on max contracts this year; (2) whether the players that made this year’s All-Star teams were max guys or not; and (3) the number of max contracts each of the 16 teams that would make the playoffs as of today have on their rosters.
I’m not going to waste a bunch of space and post those 3 lists, but this exercise shows just how poor of a job NBA General Managers are doing at allocating payroll. The NBA has a soft salary cap so this isn’t just a result of rich owners splurging on players that less-rich owners cannot afford. Some teams are just getting a lot more (measured in wins) by spending less, or at least allocating it more judiciously, than others.
In the Eastern Conference, only 5 of the 12 players who made the All-Star team are on max contracts this year (9 of 12 out West). Four of the teams that would make the playoffs in the East have zero max contract guys on their teams, as do 3 of the West playoff teams.
To be clear, I have no issue with the players trying to make as much as possible. But I would like to think that NBA-caliber management would be smarter than to sign every big name free agent to a max deal in an effort to appease fan bases rather than building winning teams. I didn’t spend a lot of time vetting the information I found online, but multiple sites listed 30 players on max contracts for this season. Given there are only 24 All-Stars this means that before the season began teams knew they had signed at a minimum 6 guys to max contracts that weren’t even All-Star caliber players. Of course at that point each individual team assumed it was other franchises who’d made the mistakes.
I recognize that when you sign a guy to a max contract that your main criteria for evaluating the signing may not be All-Star teams made, which I’m focusing on here, but in a league with a salary cap every dollar spent on any player is a dollar less for others. When a team underperforms – or misses the playoffs entirely! – despite the fact they have numerous max contracts on their books it would seem to indicate a terrible misallocation of capital. Of course there are other factors that must be considered here. This is just a one year sample size, I understand. Players get injured and need time to get back to previous production levels. Other. But just like players who underperform their contracts end up getting cut or traded, I think NBA General Managers need to be held accountable for their own poor performance more often.