Commissioner David Stern wanted to level the economic playing field and curb overspending by the NBA’s bigger markets with the new CBA. Some very useful players got squeezed this summer, while some not so deserving players cashed in major checks.
Some guys such as O.J. Mayo and D.J. Augustin did it to themselves. Others such as Devin Harris and Mickael Pietrus were victims of their own circumstances.
But at the end of the day, a win is a win, and a loss is a loss.
On Thursday, we will take a look at the winners. But for now, have a gander at some of the players who have experienced their own personal “epic fail” this summer.
O.J. Mayo (SG, Dallas Mavericks)
Since being relegated to the bench by Lionel Hollins, Mayo’s numbers have been down across the board. The Grizzlies have an ever-expanding payroll, and it made sense for them to decline Mayo’s $7.39 million qualifying offer that would have made him a restricted free-agent.
Mayo received interest from a number of teams willing to pay something closer to the $5 million midlevel exception but sought a higher payday. The Suns were his most serious suitor, but after losing out on Eric Gordon, Phoenix decided to hold onto its money to make a play for James Harden next summer and ultimately were unwilling to meet Mayo’s asking price of a multiyear deal starting at about $8 million.
Mayo entered free agency looking for a starting job, a multiyear deal, and big money. He got two out of three as Dallas gave him a two-year deal worth a little more than $8 million. Though he holds a player option for the second season and is projected as the starter, Mayo will be competing for minutes in a very crowded backcourt with Vince Carter, Roddy Beaubois, Dahntay Jones and Delonte West.
Kenyon Martin (PF, Free Agent)
Martin joined the Clippers in February 2012 after reaching a buyout agreement with the Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association. He signed for $2.5 million and had hopes of remaining in Los Angeles. The Clippers could sign Martin for slightly less than $3 million by using a “non-Bird” exception.
But after acquiring the versatile (though volatile) Lamar Odom, the Clippers probably don’t have much use for Martin.
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Martin could help a team that gets good dribble penetration from the guard positions because he can still finish. He is still a fierce competitor on the defensive end and on the glass. Sadly for him, it’s beginning to looks as though he will be playing for the minimum salary. The money is simply drying up.
D.J. Augustin (PG, Indiana Pacers)
It’s difficult to consider Augustin a loser this summer since he did manage to find his way out of Charlotte. But even still, after showing some flashes as a starter with the Bobcats, Augustin ended up in Indianapolis on a one-year deal worth $3.5 million. He will be backing up George Hill and probably won’t prove to be more valuable than a second string point guard in this league.
Had Augustin accepted Charlotte’s qualifying offer before it acquired Ramon Sessions, Augustin would have earned $4.4 million next season and would have had the opportunity to start alongside Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The Bobcats don’t seem fully committed to Kemba Walker at the point, so maybe he could have put together a strong statistical season and earned a better deal next summer
Augustin is just 24 years old, so playing out the final year in Charlotte may have been the better long-term financial play. He will still be a free agent next summer but will go on the market as a backup point guard.
Devin Harris (PG, Atlanta Hawks)
Though no fault of his own, Harris finds himself in the predicament that no NBA player wants. He will turn 30 before the playoffs begin next season, and his team probably won’t be battling for a spot. Harris, however, will be battling for one last contract, and he will have to do it while battling Jeff Teague and Lou Williams for minutes in the backcourt.
Although Williams will probably play a lot at shooting guard, the Hawks seem committed to Teague as their future point guard. So unless Teague is put in a potential trade for Dwight Howard, there will be limited opportunities for Harris to prove he is worth anything close to the $8.5 million he will be paid for the 2012-2013 season.
Ronnie Brewer (G-F, New York Knicks)
The Chicago Bulls have traditionally been adverse to paying the NBA’s luxury tax, and it showed this summer. As a result, many members of the Bulls” “bench mobb” felt the pinch. And Brewer is one of them since the Bulls declined to pick up his option. He landed in New York and will play for the Knicks in 2012-2013, but will make just $1.14 million after earning $4.7 million last season.
Brewer is fairly limited offensively due to an erratic shot but can be effective when others create driving opportunities for him. Defensively, he is versatile enough to guard slower point guards as well as both wing spots.
Brewer makes this list because, at 27 years old, he provides more value than his salary suggests.
Consider his signing a rare victory for the Knicks, who often overpay for players. So if the Knicks win, Brewer loses. He could have taken the same money to play for Miami , Boston, Oklahoma City or the LA Lakers. All four of those teams are closer to a title than the Knicks are.
Mickael Pietrus (G-F, Free Agent)
Pietrus put together a solid campaign for the Boston Celtics last season and over the course of his career has proven to be a 3-point shooter who commands respect and a defensive stalwart. Back in 2008, Pietrus signed a four-year worth in excess of $20 million, and although he played for the Celtics last season on a minimum contract, his agent has been steadfast in declaring that Pietrus is not a “minimum player.”
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As true as that may be, Pietrus and agent Bill McCandless are amongst the losers this offseason. As of this moment, it appears that Pietrus is headed overseas to continue his career, and that’s a shame considering he gave the Celtics meaningful minutes en route to taking the eventual champion Heat to a Game 7.
C.J. Watson (PG, Brooklyn Nets)
Despite a myriad of health problems, the Bulls overachieved last season, and Watson was a major reason why. He started 25 games in place of injured superstar Derrick Rose and averaged a very respectable 11.3 points, 4.6 assists and 2.6 rebounds.
Like most of his teammates, Watson played solid defense and proved to be a player who could contribute to a winning situation. He shot the ball poorly, but with Rose expected to be sidelined until sometime after the All-Star break, it would have made sense for the Bulls to pick up his $3.2 million option and retain him.
Watson is on record as wanting to return to the Bulls, who were mighty thrifty this offseason. Their reported master plan is to maintain cap flexibility for the summer of 2014, when they hope to have the opportunity to sign a maximum-salaried player to be Rose’s primary running mate.
Watson ended up signing with the Brooklyn Nets for two years (nice) at the minimum salary (not so nice). Watson has a player option on the second year, but it’s befuddling to consider that after being a major contributor to Chicago’s success last season, he would make less in two years in Brooklyn than in one season in Chicago.
Ramon Sessions (PG, Charlotte Bobcats)
It’s difficult to argue that Sessions isn’t the biggest individual loser of the offseason. He was seemingly living the dream when Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak executed a three-team trade that acquired Sessions from Cleveland—where he was a backup point guard—to become a starter for one of the league’s most storied franchises.
But Sessions fizzled in the playoffs, then opted out of the final year of his deal in which he would have earned $4.6 million. Prior to his underwhelming playoff run, the thought was that the Lakers would retain Sessions for a reasonable sum, because they were well over the salary cap and didn’t have many better options.
But GM Mitch Kupchak struck a sign-and-trade for Steve Nash, and Sessions became remarkably expendable.
Session ended up signing a two-year, $10 million deal with the Bobcats. Yes, he got a slight raise, an extra year of guaranteed money and a likely starting spot. But instead of learning from a master in Nash and perhaps helping Kobe Bryant win a sixth championship, he will be battling Kemba Walker for minutes while playing before 7,500 fans every night.
THURSDAY: Players who cashed in big this summer.
Moke Hamilton is a Senior NBA Columnist for SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.