Bloated contracts? No value? Maybe not anymore.

12/1/2001

This Article was submitted a couple of weeks ago but due to an e-mail problem Kevin did not receive it. Ironically I submitted it about two days before Insider reported that the Sonics have interest in Jason Kidd in 2003. Guess Iím just as knowledgable as Insider (not saying much). Hopefully a new column will be out next week detailing options at the trade deadline:

Hello from Manila. As promised itís been a while since my last column. Iíve been traveling extensively and now seem to be fairly settled in downtown of the Philippines capital. Salary numbers for this column are done from memory so give me a break if theyíre not 100% accurate.

So trying to catch up on news yesterday I caught a nugget that backed up a thought that I had had. Peter Vescey (I know, not too reliable) mentioned that the Mavericks and Jazz were continuing to discuss a Karl Malone trade, this time including the Nuggets and Golden State Warriors with Raef LaFrentz going to Utah, Nick Van Exel to Golden State, and Juwan Howard to Denver.

Now the obvious question about this deal is; Why the hell would Denver trade two fine players in LaFrentz and Van Exel for salary cap drain Juwan Howard?

The answer is this: INSTANT REBUILING.

The Nuggets donít seem to be going anywhere. Theyíve got decent talent but donít seem to be showing any type of improvement at all. Worse yet they donít have a lot of youth and with long term deals to guys like Nick Van Exel and Tariq Abdul-Wahad not only tying up their cap but keeping them close enough to the luxury tax that they really donít have any way to make any major improvements to the team. Enter Juwan Howard.

Juwan Howard, Scottie Pippen, and Shawn Kemp have the most bloated contracts in the NBA. Both Kemp's and Howard's deals predate the current CBA and contain huge balloon payments in the final couple of years. Howard will make about $22 million in 2002-03 and Shawn Kemp a staggering $26 million 2003-04. Pippenís is not a balloon payment, just flat out huge calling for $17 million expiring in 2002-03. All have huge deals for players who are not even close to superstar talents anymore. For the last two years theyíve been considered practically untradable, but that may be changing as they enter the final years of their deals....

Take the Nuggets for example. Without making a deal they do not seem to be contenders in any way. They have no easy method of making major changes. Worst of all they have a team that is not particularly exciting for their fans. They have Nick Van Exel looking to make $14 million this year with 5 years left on the deal and guys like Tariq Abdul-Wahad, Voshon Lenard and a bunch of others with fairly long deals eating up all of their cap room. Worse yet in 2 years they have Antonio McDyess looking at free agency. If they re-sign him they are over the cap for life. If he leaves they are STILL over the cap, with no way to replace him, and their only marquee player gone. By all appearances they have no chance of competing for a title, little chance of improving, and a chance to take a HUGE step backwards if McDyess leaves. Thatís not a good situation for any franchise.

Juwan Howard in the final years of his contract becomes a way for them to get rid of their excess baggage and start over. By acquiring his $22 million contract with only 1 full season remaining the Nuggets clear cap space to reload and go a new direction. By trading quality players like Nick Van Exel for draft picks or low salary guys along with Juwan they wind up with young players and tons of flexibility to make a future run at some free agents. They also wind up with MUCH more leverage for Antonio McDyess. If he stays they have the flexibility to build a new team around him. If he leaves they have the flexibility to work a sign and trade acquiring possibly 2-3 players in return and/or having the cap to try to replace him in the free agent market. This would basically be the same strategy the Magic took that allowed them to land Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill.

Now I will have to check but if memory serves all but 3 teams(Portland, Dalls, and NY) have below $56 million in committed cap for this year and most are below $50. That means that 26 of 29 or 90% of the teams in the league would have the ability to drop to $30 million and have a MINIMUM of $15 million in future cap space by acquiring Shawn Kemp or $11 million for Juwan Howard. The Warriors may give Danny Fortson, Erick Dampier and Larry Hughes. The Suns could package Shawn Marion with Tom Gugliotta, or the Sonics could offer some combination of Brent Barry, Rashard Lewis, and Vin Baker. . . .

Lets put it in perspective: If the Sonics were to trade Baker, Lewis, and Barry for Juwan Howard they would likely stink enough to compete this year and next for the top picks in the draft. They would then go into the 2003 offseason with enough cap space to offer Max contracts to both Jason Kidd and Antonio McDyess while still retaining GP at a high salary($7-8 million). Reuniting Kidd & McDyess with Kiddís best friend in the league, Gary Payton. Start a lineup of Kidd, Payton (Kidd at the PG and Payton at SG would be the best backcourt in NBA history), Mason, McDyess, and Booth along with a bench of young lotto picks and be serious title contenders. It wonít happen but thatís the type of dream that is making GMís ponder a deal for contracts that were once absolutely untradable.

Contracted Player 2002 2003 2004
Gary Payton $12,926,493 $13,079,593 $7,000,000
Calvin Booth $4,539,000 $4,992,900 $5,446,800
Shammond Williams $1,750,000 $1,968,750 $0
Vladimir Radmanovic $1,452,000 $1,560,840 $1,669,800
Desmond Mason $1,155,240 $1,235,880 $1,898,312
Pedrag Drobnjak $478,558 $526,413 $638,679
Jerome James $465,850
Earl Watson $332,817 $366,099 $399,380
Jason Kidd $0 $0 $13,000,000
Antonio McDyess $0 $0 $13,000,000
ROOKIE 2002 $0 $2,000,000 $2,200,000
ROOKIE 2003 $0 $0 $2,000,000
Juwan Howard $18,750,000 $20,625,000
TOTALS: $45,099,958 $54,930,475 $47,252,971

(based on a projected cap of $47,500,000.00. This cap may be higher and additional funds could go to Gary Payton. Bench to be filled by minimum salary players.)

So imagine this: It's Feb. 2003, the day before the trading deadline. Miami's got a team thatís going nowhere and Bob Whitsitt calls offering Shawn Kemp (5 pts, 4 reb per game) for Eddie Jones and Brian Grant (combined 38 pts, 20 boards, 8 assists). Miami gets Shawn for 6 months and then a staggering $26 million in cap space, enough to sign two marquee players to max contracts and they may have to give Portland a draft pick along with their two best players. He and Juwan Howard may be the two most valuable players in the league at that point.

Pretty ironic isnít it?

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