Saturday, March 29, 2008

Salary cap hogs and consequences

In one of the articles about the war of words between Shaquille O'Neal and Pat Riley last week, there was a quote from Stan Van Gundy that I thought was particularly insightful:
"I think it is very unfortunate anytime a player leaves a team and sees fit to trash former teammates," Van Gundy said. "I am also always puzzled when a great player takes up a large part of the salary cap and then complains about the talent around him."
Stan Van Gundy probably isn't Shaq's biggest fan (since many people think Shaq's desire to have Riley as his coach led to SVG's "resignation" from the Heat), but his comment about the salary cap seems right on target to me. Shaq, Kobe, Jason Kidd, and Kevin Garnett are all players that in the last couple of years have complained in some way about the quality of the players around them. They're also all players with max contracts taking up significant salary cap space. It isn't that easy to bring in additional talent when you don't have the available cap room.

In general, I wonder whether giving out max contracts is really the best strategy for teams looking to compete for the title. My guess is that it all depends on if you've correctly identified the players who are worth a max contract, and not paying players max money when they're no longer max players. From the looks of it, I'd say teams aren't so good at identifying the correct players.

In particular, SVG's quote makes me wonder about his current team, the Orlando Magic. The Magic signed Rashard Lewis to a max contract this past off-season. Combined with the money they're paying to Dwight Howard (the big money from his extension starts next season), the Magic don't really have much cap room available going forward. At the same time, I think the general consensus (as well as my opinion) is that they're in need of a power forward to complement Howard (and allow Lewis to slide back to his preferred small forward position).

So I'm curious: Does SVG's comment reflect a conversation that he's been having with his two stars this season? Seems possible.

Don't ignore your teammates at the foul line

Wow. Just watch the video. (I came across this awhile ago, but hadn't gotten around to posting it.)

I used to think the whole "slap hands with the free throw shooter" thing was a little odd, but over the years I've started to come around to the notion that the way its done (naturally, seeming forced, or not at all) seems to reflect larger issues of team cohesiveness. I don't know why I have that impression, but it developed at some point over the years from watching lots of basketball games.

That being the case, what does it mean about a team when the free throw shooter needs to make up imaginary people with whom to slap hands? Ouch.

Greg Oden risks life and limb!

Well, that's the impression I get when I read some of the recent news articles.

If you haven't seen the news, apparently Greg Oden decided to participate in a few games of pick-up basketball at his local fitness facility. Oops. Apparently that was a terrible thing to do.

The Blazer's weren't too happy about their recovering big man playing pick-up basketball.

Look, I understand that Oden's coming back from an injury and that the Blazers have a lot of money invested in him. On the other hand, from reading the reports it doesn't sound like he was engaging in any running or jumping beyond what he was actually cleared to do. The problem appears to be that he was doing it with "non-professionals."

Sorry, but I can't get too worked up about it. It doesn't sound like he was playing with players good enough to make him really exert himself. It sounds more like he was playing with a bunch of people like me-- decent high school level players, but nothing much beyond that level. In other words, they were excited to be on the same court as him, knew they were out-classed, and most likely were just enjoying the experience. Oden probably didn't get much beyond jogging and making some easy (for him!) dunks.

The summer after Rasheed Wallace graduated from high school, he spent a day at the swim club my family belonged to. He was on his way to UNC, and I'm pretty sure he had been told not to risk injury playing pick-up games with random people. Well, you know what? He played some basketball, some volleyball, and even a little tennis. I wasn't there for the basketball, but from all accounts he didn't really need to exert himself at all to be by far the best player on the court (not to mention the tallest player by a foot). If that's all that Greg Oden was doing, then he's just as likely to get hurt walking around his house (or getting up from the couch, as seems to have been the cause of his original injury) as by playing basketball.

I think everyone needs to just relax.

[I believe that commenter Louis played basketball with Rasheed that day, so hopefully he can add some details in the comments.]

[Late Update- 4/14/08- Just came across this article that includes Oden's description of his pick-up basketball excursion, for what it's worth:
"I just wanted to get out there, I haven't been out there in so long,'' Oden said. "But the thing was, it wasn't as deep as people made it to be. It was a jog, a couple of jump shots, maybe one or two dunks. It wasn't that big of a deal. At least not to me.''