Weird NBA Trade: Denver sent Marcus Camby, who was Defensive Player of the Year in 2006-07 and is among the NBA's top rebounders, to the Los Angeles Clippers for the option of swapping second-round choices in the 2010 draft. That is, in exchange for a quality player, Denver received only a roughly 50/50 chance of a somewhat improved second-round pick; if the Nuggets draft before the Clippers in 2010, then Denver receives nothing. From Denver's perspective, the point of the trade was to get a guaranteed salary off the team's books. Why? So the cap space can be used to sign someone who is nowhere near as good as Camby? It's one thing to unload the contract of a crummy player. Camby is a good player in a league with an obvious scarcity of good players.
Can't Hit the Broad Side of a Barn? Here's $165 Million! Gilbert Arenas is now one of the highest-paid players in basketball history. A few months ago, Arenas signed the second of two monster contracts with the Washington Wizards; the latest, which guarantees $111 million, means he has inked combined deals worth $165 million. Arenas is popular with fans, has an appealing personality and tirelessly makes time for children; from the standpoint of marketing, he's solid gold. Because he is responsible in the community, Arenas is the sort of athlete you'd want your child to idolize, and this cannot be said of many contemporary sports stars. But during Arenas' five years with the Whizzies, the team is 204-230 and has won just one playoff series. Arenas is a shooting guard with a career 42.7 regular-season field goal percentage and a career 41.1 in the playoffs -- for poor shooting, he should be one of the highest-paid players in NBA history?
Real nice guy, multi-zillionaire -- if only he could hit the broad side of a barn.
Last spring in the playoffs, the Whizzies were 2-1 when Arenas was out injured and 0-3 when he played. That is to say, the team performed better if Arenas couldn't dress. When Arenas is in the game, the other four Wizards simply stand like topiary watching him go one-on-one, and one-on-one is a low-percentage strategy, as Arenas' poor career shooting numbers attest. Pull Arenas off the floor and the Wizards come to life on offense, moving and running plays. And yes, Arenas hits the occasional wild 3 that brings down the house, but anyone shooting every time he touched the ball would hit an occasional 3. To top things off, Arenas, who has a history of knee injuries, got his megadeal despite issues regarding his health. Already he's out injured again at least till the snow falls, and it's an open question whether he will ever recover to full speed. The Whizzies are stuck with the $111 million guaranteed regardless.
That Arenas, a low-percentage shooter who has never led an NBA team to a memorable season -- his clubs are a combined 240-358 -- and never gone deep into the playoffs, should become one of the highest-paid performers in the league's history is everything that's wrong with the sports-culture incentive structure in a nutshell. Arenas has been lavishly rewarded for shooting too much, acting flashy, getting media hype and using poor fundamentals. Given this is what the NBA incentive structure rewards, it would be irrational for young basketball players not to aspire to acting flashy, getting media hype, shooting too much and using poor fundamentals.
NBA Trades of the Year: Everyone heard about the Dallas-New Jersey trade that entailed the Mavericks signing Keith Van Horn, out of basketball for nearly two seasons, to a $4.3 million guaranteed deal solely to trade him to the Nets, who immediately paid him the money then waived him -- NBA salary-cap fine print required Dallas to throw an additional $4.3 million worth of contracts into the deal. Just as amusing but overlooked was the 11-player Cleveland-Chicago-Seattle transaction, in which the Sonics gave up two starters, Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West, for three benchwarmers, Ira Newble, Donyell Marshall and Adrian Griffin. As soon as the season ended and the rules permitted it, the Sonics, now the Oklahoma City Thunder, waived Newble and Marshall; a few weeks later, they packaged Griffin to Milwaukee in another three-club deal. That is, the former Seattle team traded two starting players for one guy used as a thrown-in on a deal for someone else.
B-Ball Guys, Forget "One and Done;" Stay in School to Be Drafted Higher and Earn More Overall Through Your Career: Following the NFL draft, TMQ noted that the NFL's advisory committee, which gives underclassmen an estimate of where they will be drafted, and draftnik commentary in general, both overstate a player's odds of being drafted high, or drafted at all. I cited examples of football players who had been enticed by such overestimates to give up their senior years because they expected to be drafted high, then were drafted low or not drafted at all.
The same tendency to overestimate draft chances is drawing underclassman basketball players out of college. In the run-up to the NBA draft, ESPN.com's Insider ranked the top 100 prospects and estimated their draft slots. The estimates had 19 players going in the lottery (where there are 14 positions), 44 players going in the first round (there are 30 choices) and 69 players going in the 30 choices of the second round (that adds up to more than 100 owing to some players listed as likely to go in the "late first to early second" round). Many basketball touts and hangers-on were urging players on the bubble to jump out of college, in part by overestimating their draft prospects. Jump early and become a star, like Kobe Bryant, and you maximize your lifetime earnings. Jump early and struggle -- like the majority of those who jump early to the NBA -- and you cost yourself millions of dollars.
If he still wore Kansas blue, everyone in the Midwest would be happy, he'd get his degree, and his lifetime earnings might rise.
Underclassman basketball players ranked by touts as likely to be drafted in the first round, including Mario Chalmers, DeAndre Jordan and Chris Douglas-Roberts, gave up the rest of their college experience only to last until the second round. After the draft, John Denton of ESPN.com wrote, "Chalmers, the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player and a hero for hitting the clutch 3-pointer that forced overtime, looked on in disbelief on draft night as the first round came and went without his name being announced ... Douglas-Roberts ... has fumed about his horrifying draft experience." I attended the Final Four, and while watching CDR, I thought, "He is a potential star but there is no way he's ready." Egged on by overstated estimates, CDR left college and declared for the draft, only to discover the NBA consensus was that he should have stayed in school.
JaVale McGee left college as a sophomore but after playing for only one year -- he did not start as a freshman, and was not dominant when he did play as a soph. Perhaps he believed projections of himself as a lottery pick; instead McGee went 18th overall, to Washington. Had he stayed in college longer and become a great player, plus well-known, fans would be saying, "Wow, the Wizards got JaVale McGee!" Instead fans are saying, "Who is JaVale McGee?" Because McGee jumped too soon, the odds are he will have a hard climb to be more than an NBA backup, because at the pro level, he's not going to get the minutes he needs to improve his game. In turn, he will have a nice income in the next two years, versus no income had he remained in college. But his lifetime income will likely drop way down because he may never advance to a mega-contract. Jordan was a particularly sad case because he jumped after his freshman year, expecting to go in the first round. Had he stayed in school he had an excellent chance of reaching the high first round and substantially increasing his lifetime earnings. Instead, he went in the second round, will struggle to get minutes, and is now much more likely to have a minimum-scale NBA career than ever advance to a mega-contract. Jumping early may have reduced his lifetime sports earnings by tens of millions of dollars.
Will current college basketball players learn the lesson of overestimation of draft status? Already ESPN Insider is listing the top 100 prospects for the 2009 NBA draft. Seventeen are listed as going in the 14 lottery positions, 56 in the 30 positions of the first round and 71 in the 40 possible positions of first round to early second round. There may be many cases where the universe of basketball agents, gossip Web sites and AAU hangers-on is overestimating the chances that underclassmen will be first-round NBA draft choices if they declare early. Most of these underclassmen will be better off -- and have higher career earnings -- if they stay in school.