In the summer of 2019, the Houston Rockets traded two first-round picks and two first-round trades for Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook, and many theories have been put forward to explain the disastrous event. trade. He and James Harden are reportedly not getting along. Paul is old and easily injured. After losing back-to-back against the Golden State Warriors, Houston may not need to try the same thing a third time and expect a different outcome. But ESPN’s Tim MacMahon offered a more direct explanation for an episode of “The Lowe Post.”
“This deal is because Tillman Fertitta wants to get it done — he thinks Chris Paul’s contract is the worst he’s ever seen in business or sports,” McMahon Say. None of this negates other possible explanations for the deal, but there is something heartfelt about this rationale. Fertitta isn’t just trying to make the right basketball decisions. He’s trying to sell bad assets because he thinks it’s toxic. It’s not a particularly unique position in the NBA.
Daryl Morey was Fertitta’s general manager when the Paul trade was completed. A year later, he moved to Philadelphia to take over the 76ers. What is his first step? Use the first-round pick to trade Al Horford — and the remaining three years of Elton Brand’s $109 million contract signed a year earlier — to Oklahoma City. Look at any list of the NBA’s worst contracts and the first thing you’ll notice is how many players have been traded. John Wall. Kristaps Porzingis. Davis Bertans. If Russell Westbrook is moved this offseason, he will spend all five years on his supermax contract, playing for different teams. Once a team finds out that one of its contracts is toxic, it does everything in its power to get rid of it before it gets worse.
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However, in many ways this season has been defined by players who were once considered high-paid. Paul’s Suns were just two wins away from the championship last season and won 64 games this season. Myself After signing a $100 million contract in the offseason, he called Jarrett Allen to overpay, and I’m not alone. He went to the All-Star Game. The Finals side was Horford, whom the Thunder banished in the second half of last season to avoid injury risks that would make his contract even more unpopular. On the flip side is Andrew Wiggins, the former No. 1 pick who was included in the D’Angelo Russell trade in part for salary matching. These players have little in common. They represent the entire age and location range. What ties them together is the proven idea that their contracts do more harm than good.
There is some irony in considering this growing market inefficiency, because in theory, market inefficiency should represent value in discovery that exceeds cost.In this specific case, the value is generated exactly because the cost of. If he was a $15 million player, the Timberwolves would never trade Wiggins. Philadelphia has been short of a suitable backup center for five years, and if it had a reason to use Horford as a backup for 15 minutes, it certainly would. In these cases, the quality of the player hardly matters. The fact that Horford made $30 million scares away teams that might value him at $20 million. The fear of carrying such a contract turned the team into a very aggressive seller. Boston is well aware of this. Part of the motivation for buying Horford was a desire to forgo another big, clunky contract: Kemba Walker’s. The Celtics gave the Thunder the 16th overall pick in last year’s draft because of their troubles.
There are some lessons to glean here, but they are indirect in a way. Boston knew Horford would fit into their roster because he had already spent several seasons with the Celtics. How many teams can regain their former expensive veterans? In another world, maybe Walker would get healthy, replicate his former All-Star form and make the Celtics look stupid. There isn’t a proven, true formula for identifying desirable undesirables.
There are contextual clues, though. Paul’s minutes without Harden in Houston’s final season matched his typical average. Horford struggled to fit into a limited power forward role next to Joel Embiid, but thrived as a center in the lower-tier Thunder. Find the right player in the wrong situation and you have a lightning-fast presence. There is always a risk factor, and existing wage slots of this size mitigate that risk to some extent. Boston wants to get out of Walker’s max contract. In that sense, Horford’s success is almost a bonus. Golden State’s acquisition of Wiggins followed the same pattern. Part of the reason the Warriors signed Russell was to trade his value, but also to maintain the old salary position Kevin Durant had when he left Brooklyn. When they traded him to the Timberwolves, they were mostly looking for the draft pick that would become Jonathan Cuminga. Wiggins was the necessary ballast to legitimize the deal, but he grew into a big role player for the Golden State Warriors while he was truly underpaid for Minnesota.
There are similar rehab candidates this offseason, but as easy as it is now to praise the Warriors and Celtics, both acquisitions carry a lot of risk. Gordon Hayward is overrated due to his durability. He also gave the Hornets two years of near-All-Star-caliber basketball and proved that he’s just as comfortable as a complement on the offensive end. The versatile wing fits into any lineup, and the Hornets, poised to extend Miles Bridges this offseason, will soon begin to feel the squeeze of the luxury tax. Mike Conley was the same age as Paul when Houston traded him, and could easily be the oddball in Utah’s similarly dreary situation. Some would bet on Duncan Robinson rediscovering his shot.
Those contracts could really be cap killers over the last few years. Is such a concept still possible? NBA team Continue to avoid cap space As a roster-building mechanism that facilitates trades, exceptions, and extensions. Salary cap increases often outpace contracted raises, so numbers that seemed huge a year or two ago suddenly seem more acceptable. The Golden State’s tolerance for taxes certainly helps. The Warriors have the ability to treat Wiggins as their fourth-best player, given their ability to pay three good players ahead of him. Not every team is so lucky. Not every team needs to do this, as long as it manages its books and is ready to make sacrifices.
The title race is an arms race, and as more and more championships are confirmed in July, teams are willing to look farther and farther for talent. Bad contracts usually represent talent acquired for less than a reasonable price. The sentiment reported by Fertitta is extreme, but not unusual. Recent history shows that teams are often desperate to get out of contracts they feel are too many, but as players like Paul, Horford and Wiggins remind us, these players were once good enough to get those contracts in the first place. The Suns, Celtics, and Warriors have all realized this and made gains this season. Don’t be surprised when others do this next year.