So I've been working on a spreadsheet consisting of individual player salaries for each season starting from the 1990/91 season to the recently finished season. Thank you Basketball-Reference.com. In the near future, instead of just team salary (salary of each player added up), I would like to graph the percentage of Salary Cap Space for the Utah Jazz so that the comparison doesn't trick us into making false conclusions since the yearly team salary will almost always be trending upward due to inflation and other factors. It will be interesting to see how some managers do better than others navigating their organization through the new CBA and in optimizing the impact of their spending without going into any extra taxes. There are obviously harsher financial consequences that can come into effect when teams go over the Salary Cap and into the Luxury Tax and all that sort of stuff according to the new CBA, which is already having a significant impact on teams in the league.
Below is a graph comparing team salaries for each season and the resulting winning percentage for that season. The vertical axis for winning % is on the right side, corresponding to the red line. The blue line corresponds to the yearly player salaries. The seasonal salaries were pulled off Basketball-Reference.com, and I noticed some interesting things about how some salaries were listed when those players weren't on the roster at the time, and sometimes players who were on the roster weren't listed in the salary table. Regardless, the same amount of money was paid out by the Utah Jazz, and the winning % was the overall end result.
One thing that is interesting in some stretches is how the winning % seems to follow the same trend as spending but after the fact. For example, in the 2003/04 season, Utah spent an unexpected low amount on player salary. From the 1999/2000 season through the 2002/03 season, Utah had a steady payout ranging between $50 million to $53 million, which was kind of interesting because it bucked the constant upward trend in spending. Then, in the 2003/04 season, they spent $34.7 million - almost a $16 million decrease in player salary (or ~ 34%). This is the most pronounced break in the general spending trend, and yet the team's winning % remained above .500. Recall that after the 2002/03 season, Utah lost Karl Malone, John Stockton, Marc Jackson, and John Amaechi who were all making between $1 million and $20 million, so losing the likes of HoF's like Malone and Stockton is obviously going to free up some money. The ensuing season after Malone and Stockton's departure (2003/04) when Utah was expected to crash and burn, Sloan was able to keep the ship afloat and *should've received Coach of the Year*. In the 2003/04 season, Utah's record was 42-40 (1 win worse than this year's team). The following season, however, when Utah picked up Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, Carlos Arroyo, and Kris Humphries, Utah's team salary went from $34.7 million to $43.5 million (over 20% increase in player payroll spending), and the winning percentage fell from .521 to .317- more than a 20% drop in winning. Go figure.
However, one could also argue that a declining winning % resulted in skyrocketing salaries during Malone's final years with the Jazz. Obviously other factors around the league led to Malone getting his huge $66.5 Million 4-year deal to keep him in SLC, but I still think it is important to analyze any noticeable patterns from the past as an attempt to tease out what the front office's thinking has been with regards to certain player movements and contracts over the years.
One interesting pattern to look at is the % of increase in player spending and the resulting winning %.
For example, from 1990 to 1995, Utah went from a player salary of about $10 million to $20 million (doubled that spending in a 5 year stretch) and then between the 1995/96 season and the 1998/99 season (3 year stretch), the player payroll increased from about $20 million to about $30 million, which is a 50% increase in player payroll spending. That led Utah up to and through their back-to-back championship runs. Even in 1995, Utah was the 2nd seed in the Western Conference with a 60-22 record (.732 winning percentage).
Again, after Utah had dropped significantly in spending in 2003/04, from that post season through the 2008/09 season (a 5 year stretch), Utah once again increased it's player payroll spending from $34 million to over $65 million (nearly a 100% increase in player payroll spending), and like before when Utah made a massive increase in spending, they made it back to the Western Conference Finals, only to be defeated by those we hate most.
If patterns in spending like this are the only way Utah can find their way into the final 2 rounds of the playoffs, then based upon the local minimum in player payroll spending which was in 2011/12 (about $58 million), and seeing as how when Utah increased their percentage of player payroll by 50% and made it to the finals in 96-98 and then again increased player payroll spending by over 100% they didn't make it past the Western Conference Finals, what would it take for Utah to make it now? A 50% increase (on about $58 million) would end up around $87 million, and a 100% increase in player payroll spending would be around $116 million. That's Big City money right there, not the small market Utah we've always known. If the Millers are going to decide when to spend, this would just about be the time. WWLD? (What Would Larry Do?) This offseason may be their best opportunity to start planning for another long spending spree for the next 4-5 years to see what cometh, but not start that spending trend until after next season. With the potential to free up close to $40 million (none of the C4 being sacrificed), Utah could try to go with a smart moneyball game here, but in the end I think they're going to have to spend big to hang onto the likes of Favors, Hayward, Kanter, and others.
Personally, I think the FO and Miller's could and should go cheap next year, keep the player payroll around $50 million, and in the process, they will save money for the future when contracts grow and it's more crucial for spending, but they can also get a baseline idea of where the C4 and some other backup players stand in the big picture of the organization's rebuilding process. Let or don't let Ty Corbin coach another year with one of the youngest teams in the NBA (suppose all or most of Utah's FA's are dropped), and then the following season the FO and Miller's could begin a slow-building spending spree, gradually and specifically adding pieces in that building process. They could even start the 2014/15 season with a new coach. Next year would be the "bottom out" point, and then both spending and winning % could have a better chance of trending upward together with incremental increases in spending over the following however many years. I think Ty Corbin's the perfect guy for the job of the "fall guy" before the FO gets real serious about how to move this team forward. He's kind of passive.
The following 3 seasons after Utah hit rock bottom (2004/05), Utah picked up Deron Williams and in that time span more than doubled their winning % going from .31 to .65 and headed back to the Western Conference Championship for the first time in 9 years (the second surge in player spending).
One of the other patterns to notice are when the trend lines head in opposite directions and have a general divergence. Two key areas where this happen are:
After the 1998/99 season, when Malone was re-signed to a huge contract going from just over $6 million to $14 million and eventually climbed to over $19 million (steepest climb for the blue line), Utah spent more and more each year on a diminishing return (winning % was slowly declining for consecutive seasons when Utah should've been rebuilding with All-Star caliber rookies. Some could think of all that money spent on Malone during those years as the reason behind a lack in a successful rebuilding of the team). Utah wasn't getting any closer to making it to the finals in those years although they tried very hard. This is the longest period of continuously increased spending corresponding to a continuous downtrend in winning % (from the 1998/99 off-season through the 2002/03 season). This time the sudden surge in increased spending wouldn't have the effect they probably hoped for in the end. So cost per player went up as winning generally declined.
The other time span when we see opposite trend lines is the most recent team era.
Starting in 2011/12, we start to see an increase in spending and a decrease in winning %, just in that little stretch. This could be an indication of what Al Jefferson brings to teams on the fringe of being playoff competitors (Boston, Minnesota, and now Utah). It isn't enough data to make that conclusion as valid as I would hypothesize it to be, but I wouldn't be surprised if that were a growing inverse trend (increasing cost, decreasing winning %). Anyway, I'll add other fanpost data when I can get something worthy to put together.
How do you think Utah's front office and the Miller's should spend their money this off-season?