Essay: Evaluating The Wonders Of A NBA Amnesty Clause, Part VI
The sixth and final segment of Shaky Ankles’ breakdown into a possible Amnesty Clause comes on the heels of reported positive negotiations between the NBPA and their counterpart, the league’s lovely owners.
Sacramento Kings: Francisco Garcia, five-year, $29.6 million signed October 2008.
Francisco Garcia is one of those players who’s just…there. He doesn’t do anything great, doesn’t razzle dazzle you in any specific area or make jaws drop with unforeseen athleticism. Nope, none of that.
And while his contract isn’t large enough to make his signing feel like a horrid mistake (placing John Salmons here is equally justifiable, but at least he’s a proven scorer) it’s still a contract Sacramento—a team which REALLY can’t afford to dole out any amount of money that isn’t directly related to win production—wishes they didn’t have to pay. Since signing the deal, Garcia can’t stay healthy. He’s appeared in just 148 games (starting 74) over the past three seasons, and at a relatively ancient 29-years-old it isn’t quite clear how he fits into the young and growing Kings future. This contract isn’t crippling, but it isn’t exactly a negotiation chip when Sacramento’s talks of relocation continue.
San Antonio Spurs: Richard Jefferson, four-year, $39,892,000 signed in July 2010.
When Richard Jefferson was signed by San Antonio, many people lauded it as mid-flight refueling for an aging Spurs team that wasn’t crash landing, but didn’t gracefully soar like it once had. What instead happened was, well, a near-permanently damaging crash landing in Memphis. I say near because San Antonio’s upper management felt moving George Hill (a trade that I’m sure came with much internal debate) to Indiana for Kawhi Leonard, with hopes he could do the job Jefferson could not.
To be honest, it’s difficult weeding Jefferson out as a significant problem when looking at the team’s five-man units. He started 81 games, and was a key cog in the rotation for a team which spent most of the season in first place. But on an individual level, the Richard Jefferson experiment hasn’t seemed to work out for either party. In the 2010-11 season his points, rebounds, and assists per game numbers dropped to the lowest depth he’s seen since his rookie year. His appearance at the free throw line—once frequent trips to the grocery store—have become annual weekend getaways. That’s obviously not a good thing.
Richard Jefferson is 31-years-old. He’s a player who’s been identified by raw athleticism throughout his career, and taking that away has yielded much of his offensive and defensive production. He attempted a career high in three-point attempts last season, and hit a career high in percentage, which is great. It shows he’s fit in well to what Popovich wants and has integrated himself in with the team’s strategy, but something tells me it isn’t exactly what San Antonio expected when they signed him. If a cookie-cutter three-point shot was what they wanted, they could easily have just given a chunk of his minutes to Gary Neal (obviously they wouldn’t have done this before they knew Gary Neal was Gary Neal, but moving forward what’s the by and large difference between the two, apart from three inches?)
At almost $10 million a year, the Spurs were bamboozled by the artist formerly known as Jefferson, and with the freakish Leonard waiting in line, it’s only a matter of time before the former Wildcat loses his minutes to younger athletes capable of aiding Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker in one last hurrah.
Toronto Raptors: Andrea Bargnani, five-year, $50 million in July 2009.
This is an unfortunate, lose/lose contract that snowballed from a poor number one overall selection. If it wasn’t offered, the GM gets fired, as it’d be Bryan Colangelo’s admittance of wasting the crown jewel that is a number one draft pick. If it is, Bargnani gets overpaid and sucks money that should be waved under the nose of useful free agents instead. In a sane world, he’d get the axe either way, but Colangelo had his contract extended a few months ago. It was a tough line to tip toe—to re-sign or not to re-sign—but it’s a stubborn point of view saying that Bargnani as a centerpiece is good for business.
Toronto’s selection of Jonas Valanciunas in this year’s draft seems more like a replacement than a supplement to Bargnani’s status as the man. He can play in this league, sure, but he isn’t a franchise player, and might not be good enough to serve as the second best player on a champion. He’s a terrible rebounder for someone his size (at 8.6, his rebound rate was fourth worst last year among every player who suited up at the center position. By comparison, the league average for centers was 14.8. When we get into defensive rebounding rate things get downright messy, with Bargnani posting a 13.9, and the league a 19.5), a below average defender who has the admirable ability to make the most exhausted opponent lick his lips and get an extra kick in his step once they notice who’s guarding him, and all comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki seem shortsighted and unfair. If he’s shipped to another team that already has hefty players willing to do some heavy lifting, Bargnani’s future in the league isn’t as bleak as this write up makes it out to be. But in the present day, in Toronto, it’s not looking too good.
Utah Jazz: Al Jefferson, five-year, $65 million, extension signed in October 2007.
Al Jefferson might be the most skilled low post player in basketball. Placing him on this list was difficult and in the end, he probably ended up on it simply because, with Andrei Kirilenko now officially off the books, someone on the Jazz has to be chosen. I dabbled with Raja Bell, who has three years left and is a rapidly declining factor, but the money was inconsequential. Jefferson’s isn’t. He played 82 games last season for the second time in his seven year career, and his numbers were down from the first time he was able to stay healthy for an entire year, as a Timberwolf in 2007-08. Minutes were the same. But PER, points per game, offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, and usage rate were all down. What he did do, however, was lead the entire league in TOV%, which is an incredibly useful thing to say about yourself knowing what we know about the value each possession holds in a basketball game.
But all that being said, it doesn’t quite justify the money Big Al has received. Since entering the league he’s always been a bit undersized to play the center position, and has yet to play alongside a big bodied comrade. This isn’t his fault, but it does make building a team around him very difficult. There’s always the possibility that moving him or Paul Millsap to another city could spark the low post genius’ rebirth, but it seems like a long shot. At this stage in his career Al Jefferson has yet to show he’s capable of putting a team on his back and carrying them towards anything substantial. Last year he had Deron Williams as a point guard and still, nothing. Some guys are really talented and we end up concocting excuses as to why they can’t seem to win. They don’t have the right pieces around them or the system wasn’t the right fit. (I believe I’m guilty of doing this just a few sentences ago). Al Jefferson needs no excuses. He’s obviously talented, but he forever seems to be stuck in a purgatory like chasm between statistical production and winning basketball games. Those are just the cards some guys are dealt, and figuring out how to pay the type is awfully difficult.
Washington Wizards: Andray Blatche, five-year, $35,730,997, extension signed in September 2010.
Rashard Lewis’ six-year, $112,753,505 contract might be more toxic than the monkey from Outbreak, but the blood isn’t on Washington’s hands. This one is. John Wall will not make as much money as Andray Blatche until the 2014-15 season, when he’s up for a qualifying offer. This is madness. Signing Blatche, a slow, low post craftsman to serve as John Wall’s sidekick is ridiculous. Barring out the man’s lackadaisical tendencies on defense, his poor off the court use of common sense, and an overall reputation as a very talented young kid who just doesn’t “get it”, Blatche doesn’t fit in with Washington’s effort to rebuild around John Wall. Almost every other big is athletic, eager to run in transition like little kids coming down the stairs Christmas morning, but looking at Blatche how many times do you see him happily obliging? Once a game? Once a week?
Players of Blatche’s breed are dying out, which isn’t good for the league, it’s great. His expressive immaturity both on and off the court and overall spiritless demeanor are a perfect throwback to what the league shamefully showcased in the dark five or six year period following Michael Jordan’s second retirement. Blatche is a stat stuffer who goes about getting his numbers in infuriating or comical ways, depending on where your rooting interests lie.
Remember the scene in Independence Day when the white coat scientists are attacked by a monstrous alien who’s believed to be sedated in that top secret underground lab. Before killing everything in the room and convincing Bill Pullman to declare nuclear war, the alien is a grotesque science experiment, poked and prodded, scrupulously studied for any clues as to why it’s so malevolent and what its motivations are. This is what I think of whenever someone writes about Andray Blatche trying to defend a common pick and roll. Needless to say it isn’t worth $35 million.