I know a guy who used to work for the Houston Rockets back in the 1990s, when Hakeem Olajuwon was leading the team to back to-back titles and the team played at The Summit — a rickety bandbox that has been converted into a church in the years since the team moved to the Toyota Center.
The guy tells a great story about a different era in the NBA, when money flowed as though it was wine at a toga party. Max contracts in those days lasted seven years, and the raises were 12.5 percent annually.
(When the 1998 lockout came, one of David Stern’s talking points was that NO establish business grows at a 12.5 percent annual rate, which is one of the reasons why that 12.5 percent number has basically been halved.)
In those days, in an effort to increase scoring, the NBA moved the 3-point line from 23 feet, 9 inches to a uniform 22 feet. The change lasted two years before the NBA came to its senses and moved it back where it belongs. But during those two years, there were a heck of a lot of players who could drain it from 22 feet.
One of them was Matt Maloney, the point guard who took over after Kenny Smith hung his kicks up.
When Maloney’s rookie deal expired, he signed a new contract. My friend walked up to Maloney and congratulated him on his new three-year deal.
“Three?” Maloney said. “I got seven.”
The friend took this information inside and brought it to Carroll Dawson, who was the team’s GM. “Did Matt Maloney really get a seven-year deal?” “I don’t want to talk about it,” was Dawson’s reply. Two years later, the Rockets cut Maloney — and ate the rest of the money they owed him.
These days, a new frugality has taken over in the NBA, and with max contracts now at four years (five if a player becomes an unrestricted free agent), we have entered a new phase both financially and journalistically. (Cases in point: The obsession in New York with Carmelo Anthony opting out of his contract at the end of this season; the hand-wringing in Miami over whether LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh will opt out of their contracts; the school of thought in Cleveland that James might return to his old team).
Nobody writes about the games anymore, until the playoffs. They write about trade speculation, contract extension speculation, and anything else that makes for a good rumor.
This is the dead era in basketball journalism — but we are going to breathe some life into it today by filling you in on how much dead money is still floating around the league — and we won’t even include the players who have been amnestied and are now double-dipping — being paid by two teams.
So without further ado, the 2013-14 NBA All-Overpaid Team. As Dire Straits sang … “Money for nothing.”
C – Andris Biedrins — Utah Jazz. ($9 million). This will be the big Latvian’s 10th season in the NBA, and probably his last. Then he can retire to his native Latvia and enjoy the benefits of living in a country where the female-to-male ratio is ridiculously skewed toward the female gender. In Biedrins’ nine seasons, he has played all 82 games just once. In 2011-12, he attempted nine free throws all season and made just one. Last season, he went 4-for-13 from the line in 53 games. He has shot above 60 percent from the field in three seasons, and he is 7 feet tall — two pieces of the formula for getting rich in the NBA. But this season, after the Warriors dumped him on the Jazz to clear the salary cap space to sign Andre Iguodala, he will be spending an awful lot of time watching Enes Kanter hone his game.
F- Richard Jefferson — Utah Jazz. ($11.046 million). Back when I was working for ESPN and covering Team USA, we were in Macao when I struck up a conversation with the American dance team that the NBA had sent along on the trip to help enhance the “NBA experience.”Thank goodness this was prior to the age of t-shirt guns, which now are one of the few things that can prompt well-heeled fans to get out of their seats. One of the dancers told me she was engaged to Jefferson, and I envied her. She was looking at a life of luxury and largess, the type of lifestyle so many women who birddog NBA players aspire to. Then RJ left her at the altar. Whatever your opinion of leaving a bride at the altar, Jefferson saved himself a ton of money. He will make $11.046 million this season to wave a towel.
F- Amar’e Stoudemire — New York Knicks. ($21.68 million) He will be on a minutes restriction this season, coming off the bench along with Andrea Bargnani as coach Mike Woodson uses Carmelo Anthony as his power forward. The days when he combined with Steve Nash as one of the best pick-and-roll tandems in the league are ancient history now, and the Knicks’ efforts to trade him have been (unsurprisingly) fruitless. He was the consolation prize in the summer of 2010 when the Knicks lost out in their pursuit of LeBron James, and it is now fair to say he was a booby prize. The talent is still there, but the knees are not. And Stoudemire’s contract is NOT insured against knee injuries.
G – Joe Johnson, Brooklyn Nets. ($21.47 million) Some guys just continue to get paid ridiculous amounts of money, and Joe Johnson is Exhibit A. The deal that brought him to Atlanta from Phoenix led to the breakup of the Hawks’ ownership group, and he was considered one of the most untradeable players in the league until the Nets signed him in an effort to keep Deron Williams from bolting for the Dallas Mavericks two summers ago. We shall see what kind of money he is worth this season, as Jason Kidd has already said Joe J. will be his go-to guy when the team needs a late bucket in close games. Kidd says the analytics show Johnson is one of the best in the league at hitting game-winners. Folks in Atlanta can stop laughing at that statement whenever they choose — but it might take a while.
G – Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers. ($30.453 million) The only $30 million player in the league, he makes almost $8 million more than the second-highest paid player, Dirk Nowitzki. Next summer, he will be an unrestricted free agent, and he will want something resembling Kobe money — even if it prevents the Lakers from rebuilding with high-quality free agents. Danny Schayes goes so far as to say he expects Bryant to play elsewhere in 2014-15 in an effort to get that elusive sixth ring, which would match Michael Jordan’s total. But for now, he is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, no one can say with any certainty when he will be back, and his team is now an outlayer in the Western Conference playoff picture. It is not implausible that they will finish with the second-worst record in the West (no one is touching the Suns).
Chris Sheridan is publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter.