Stephon Marbury (pictured left) seems to hate life these days. The part-time New York Knick has yet to play a single minute of basketball this season, yet still remains on the bench each game in street clothes. He’s not injured, and has more pure talent than most of his teammates. Starbury has even been offered the chance to play, which he politely refused.
Steph isn’t playing because Steph doesn’t want to play. He feels slighted by the organization and wants to move on to another team. The only problem is no other team wants Marbury’s services. Burdened with a bad attitude and a hefty contract, the one-time point guard is the equivalent of a tumor in anyone’s locker room. Partly to blame for the team’s recent misfortunes, Marbury is the only Knick to have been with the club throughout the entirety of their five-year demise.
Marbury is the perfect example of the fiscal irresponsibility of NBA teams over the past decade. During an era in which spending across America has increased every year prior to this one, NBA owners were reaching deep into their pockets to obtain any and every asset they possibly could to help win ballgames. The New York Knicks are perhaps the biggest culprits of all.
In addition to the Marbury flub, Knicks owner James Dolan also opted to shell out a four-year, $25-million deal to black hole Jerome James (pictured right); a four-year, $33-million deal to ill-advised shooter Quentin Richardson; a five-year, $43-million deal to me-first point guard Jamal Crawford; and a five-year, $52-million deal to the obese Eddy Curry. The Knicks also took on the contracts of such players as forwards Zach Randolph (five years, $73-million) and Malik Rose (seven years, $42-million), and guard Steve Francis (three years, $53-million). In absorbing such foolishly lucrative pacts, the Knicks are perhaps the only team to be severely crippled by bad decision-making. By contrast, most teams have been able to withstand one or two contractual miscues, while the players, instead, have been most likely to experience negative repercussions.
So how, exactly, have NBA teams been able to escape major setbacks when doling out such ridiculous contracts? Because of the league-imposed salary cap (which, by comparison, is not nearly as confining as the very stringent NFL salary cap), the term “expiring contract” has become the phrase du jour of the NBA, seemingly popping up in every single trade. Teams wishing to build towards the future no longer acquire draft picks or up-and-comers. Instead, they look to obtain veteran players with contracts set to expire in a short amount of time. In collecting such players, teams can free up an abundance of salary cap space all at once and use the extra money to pursue more attractive free agents in the offseason. Currently, a major push to clear cap space is being made for the summer of 2010, when a loaded free agent class will hit the market and draw interest from every club.
Because of the “expiring contract” phenomenon, the players themselves are now more than ever being viewed as financial assets. Rather than commit to younger players who can make an impact on the floor now, ownership and management are more apt to take on the short-term vet who will help increase the bottom line a year from now and thus set up the organization for future successes. Talented veteran players who haven’t lived up to their big contracts are only counted on to bring financial relief to a team rather than a championship. That’s why guys like Marbury, for all his inherent ability, will find it difficult to land another job in the NBA after so miserably failing to perform over the past three years.
To elaborate on this idea we can examine some of the other irrationally contracted NBA players. Knicks center Jerome James, whose contract won’t expire until 2011 when he turns 36 years of age, will be hard-pressed to land a new deal after appearing in just two games last season and carving out his own personal seat on the bench since signing in 2006. Eddy Curry, laden with heart and weight problems during his tenure, will witness his contract run out in the summer of 2010. At age 28, he, like James, will have a tough time finding work at that point. The big-contract era has priced out many players before this as well. Just ask the likes of Latrell Sprewell (pictured left) and Jim McIlvaine, among others.
Essentially, the Stephon Marburys, Jerome Jameses, and Eddy Currys of the world are victims of their own greed. They’ve priced themselves out of their own line of work by failing to live up to the monetary incentives presented to them. General managers and owners are partly to blame for paying athletes much more than they’re truly worth, but the desire and motivation to improve and give 100% at all times is likely lost on some of the players who are already guaranteed a contract regardless of performance. The current state of the NBA continues to favor teams, no matter how much they dish out to undeserving players. Owners will undoubtedly continue writing checks their players can’t cash, and players, in turn, will keep on handicapping themselves with an inability to live up to the incentives.