I somehow thought of this while reading Mark Cuban's rant, mentioned in today's Downbeat. I don't know how or why I thought of it, but it came into my mind and now I'm convinced I'm right.
The Jazz need to resign Fes for $10 million. That's $10 million per year. Actually I'm talking $10 million for one year. A one-year, $10 million contract.
My reasoning is both facetious and serious. Perhaps even 100% serious. I can't tell. The reasons for the move are absurd and stupid, but it's also reality. It's not my fault reality is simply stupid.
* * *
First of all, we need to accept that the NBA is a luxury-tax-based world. Of course that may change in the next CBA. I'd love it to change. But I don't think it will.
I'd like it to change because it gives a ridiculous advantage to teams with mega-rich owners. As soon as the Lakers and Celtics and Mavs started paying the luxury tax intelligently (vs. the stupidity of the Isiah Knicks years), paying the luxury tax actually started becoming a necessity. At least if teams wanted to mount serious runs at a championship.
And so teams that you would otherwise expect to NOT pay for luxury tax teams did. Teams like the Jazz, and the Spurs.
I don't think it will change because for crummy teams, the luxury tax is free money. They don't have to do anything. They can have terrible rosters, and terrible teams, but as long as they are under the luxury tax, they get free money from the big-spenders. Even rich owners like free money.
Sadly, I don't think the luxury tax is going to go away.
* * *
To succeed in a luxury-tax league requires a different kind of mind-set than it did before. Teams don't trade for equally capable players. They usually can't even trade a great player to save money.
Teams trade for players with equal current-season contracts. That's the key. It's the number of dollars on the contract, not the skill of the player.
Even though it's true, I don't think GM's have adjusted their operations according to this truth.
* * *
During the luxury-tax era, teams go through a particular cycle. The cycle is pretty much the same for all teams, at least at the beginning. It's only midway through the cycle that things become different. Here's the basic progression for a team for which the cycle does NOT end happily. This is, of course, the most common variation:
1. Crummy-to-mediocre teams signs a huge contract (often a max-contract) with a player who hasn't proven to be worth it yet, but could be worth it. Sometimes we're talking about a big extension from the rookie contract. Sometimes it's signing somebody else's free agent. But the point is that this is what pretty much all the teams do. They do it because they're trying to build a championship contender, and they don't want to let go of someone who could become the kind of guy who can lead a championship team.
2. Having decided on the guy they are going to build around, the team goes about finding the pieces to put around him. Usually this entails, again, overpaying a player based on his potential.
3. Team moves up the ranks, but stagnates at the barely-good-enough to make the playoffs (or even not make the playoffs). Management decides the primary player and sidekicks are NOT good enough to lead a team. Management decides the team has reached his peak as presently constructed, and now need to try to rebuild again.
4. The problem with rebuilding is the players are still on contract for 3-5 more years. So unless they are dumped off, rebuilding can't begin until 3-5 years in the future. Suddenly the most attractive scenario is trading quality players (who just aren't quite good enough to lead a team or be the primary sidekick) for stiffs whose enormous contracts are expiring the next year.
* * *
This cycle happens over and over. Every single year there are good players teams want to dump because: (a) the player isn't quite as good as hoped, and therefore unable to fill the superstar role needed by his team, and (b) they want to get expiring contracts so the payroll can get sooner rather than later, and thus the rebuilding can begin sooner rather than later.
Isn't that what the Jazz decided to do this year?
* * *
There is a different way, however.
Think about that for a moment.
Przybilla is having a season about as good as Fes is. Crazy thing is Przybilla scores fewer points even though he plays almost double the minutes. And Przybilla has been a guarantee injury his entire career.
Fes is more of a contributor.
And for Przybilla, the Blazers got Crash: 15 points per game, 8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2 steals, and a block per game.
Crash for Przybilla.
The Jazz could have done this trade, too. They could have given them Fes, an equal contributor who isn't injury prone. But Fes isn't making close enough to $10 million. And that's what the Bobcats wanted. Any $10 million contract that expires at the end of this season. No matter how much the player sucks.
* * *
What would the Jazz have been like if they could have traded Fes for Crash in, say, January? What would just one more quality player have done for the team? What difference would that 15 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and block per game have made?
It's astonishing to think about.
And the Blazers got him for a guy like Fes, but with less upside—just because he had a huge expiring contract.
* * *
The Blazers steal isn't unique. The Lakers won two NBA championships by trading Kwame Brown for Pau Gasol. The Celtics got Ray Allen for a couple overpaid quacks (not nearly as bad as the Lakers trade, but still—Seattle didn't make the trade because they were desperate for Wally Szerbiak and Delonte West).
We're talking about trades absurdly in favor of one team, just because the other had decided their "superstar" wasn't really good enough to lead a team, and because the teams wanted to give up and restart as soon as they could. What would teams have given up to get expiring contracts last year? What will they give up to make a push for the 2012 free agents?
It happens every year.
It's part of operating in the luxury-tax NBA.
* * *
So, now we come to my facetious, yet scarily 100% genuine suggestion for the Utah Jazz front office.
It seems the best way to make a sudden, dramatic in-season upgrade that last for the long-term is to have a couple way overpaid stiffs whose contracts are expiring.
So, let's sign Fes for a 1-year $10 million contract. Or $8 million. Or $7.5 million. Whatever it is, it has to be ridiculous. And it has to be for just 1 year.
Because it's ridiculous expiring contracts that bring in quality players. If the Bucks continue to stink, would they want to dump Bogut and start over? I could see it happening. If Indiana falls apart and doesn't make the playoffs next season, will they be ready to ship of Danny Granger and start over? It's happened before. How about Memphis and Gasol or Gay if the Jazz and Suns resurge, shoving them out of the playoffs in the next two years. Or Philly and Iguodala?
So here's my plan: always sign 1 or 2 stiffs for grossly overpaid 1-year contracts, just as trade bait for teams wanting to dump quality players and retool mid-season.
* * *
And what about the luxury tax?
That is, after all, part of the reason teams want to dump players. They go into luxury tax level in hopes of building a contender, and the horror of the luxury tax makes them gut and rebuild sooner rather than later. Why pay the luxury tax if the team isn't going to contend, right?
That's the entire impetus to the cycle, to the availability of somewhat overpaid good players for absurdly overpaid piles of manure.
But if the Jazz sign, say, Fes for $9 million and then sign 2011 FA Jason Collins for $7 million, both for 1-year contracts, both as trade bait for depressed teams wanting to dump and rebuild or gut the roster in hopes of luring Deron or Dwight or CP—signing stiffs for that much will put the team right back into the luxury tax. And for a couple of absolute stiffs.
Well, luxury tax seems to be the way to build a contender. That's reality in today's NBA.
But let's say the Jazz had made a few different choices in the off-season. Let's say they, first, matched the Wesley Matthews offer. And then let's say they signed Fes for $7 million, only to trade him (plus Earl Watson) for Crash.
Wouldn't a team with Deron, Millsap, Al, CJ, Wesley, AK, and Gerald Wallace be playoff bound? And seeing they're a luxury tax team anyway, seeing that a playoff winning team brings in more money, inspires more season-ticket sales, etc., etc. ... I don't know.
Bottom lines are tricky, and I obviously don't have all the numbers in front of me. But it's something to think about.
* * *
But the basics of the idea are simple:
Every year there are several quality players teams want to trade for equal expiring contracts, regardless of how crummy the players with those expiring contracts are.
So why not incorporate that truth of today's NBA into the team-building plan? Why not plan for it? Give 1 or 2 stiffs egregious 1-year contracts, just to trade for these kind of players.
It's astonishing to consider, but if Fes was paid 5 times as much, the Jazz could have ended up with Gerald Wallace instead of Portland.
* I know the Wallace-Przybilla deal was more complicated that I wrote. It involved picks and other players to make the salaries line up correctly. But the principle is the same. Why not stack up the kind of assets that enable these kinds of trades? The most important are overpriced stiffs whose contracts are expiring.
**I think this reflects why the Jazz never traded AK. When his value was the lowest his contract was too long (2007). When his contract became shorter and expiring (the past two years), he was too important to the Jazz. His skills were unique, and there was always this uncertainty about whether a better shooter and scorer would offset the loss in passing, defense, and intangibles. It was a risk. Had it been Fes signed for a $17 million expiring contract, there would have been 1-3 awesome players moving to Utah this past January or February. That's today's NBA.