Jurgen Klinsmann, coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team in this year’s World Cup, spoke openly about his feelings on the contracts being handed out to players who are past their prime.
Kobe Bryant, for example — why does he get a two-year contract extension for $50 million? Because of what he is going to do in the next two years for the Lakers? Of course not. Of course not. He gets it because of what he has done before. It makes no sense. Why do you pay for what has already happened?
I thought it was pretty comical, actually. I see his perspective. But the one perspective that he’s missing from an ownership point of view is that you want to be part of an ownership group that is rewarding its players for what they’ve done, while balancing the team going forward. If you’re another player in the future and you’re looking at the Lakers organization, you want to be a part of an organization that takes care of its players while at the same time, planning for the future.
This is a reasonable line of thinking from the player’s point of view, but it is flawed in terms of this is the best way for an organization to “plan for its future.” If an ownership group “rewards” its players for past performance they end up hurting the team long term because they are paying premium dollars for less than optimal talent. This is exacerbated further in leagues where there is a salary cap. For example, here is Bryant’s contract history compared to his production in win shares, an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player.
As the team is “rewarding” Kobe more and more for what he has done, he is contributing less and less to the Lakers. And as we have seen this past season, that could be virtually nothing at all (minus-0.4 wins shares in six regular season games for $30.4 million). That’s just one step ahead of a team paying a player for not playing in the NBA at all, as is the situation the Orlando Magic find themselves in with Gilbert Arenas.
The 2014 NBA champion San Antonio Spurs aren’t paying tons of cash for little return. In fact, quite the opposite: their best paid players are performing while those that are not don’t take up much cap space.
Not all contracts are bad, however. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzski all provide good value for the big contracts as does Andre Drummond, who is on his rookie contract.
Every dollar counts when you are vying for a championship in a salary capped league, and if a team rewards its players for what they’ve done then the team as a whole won’t do much.