Cuban added Abdul-Wahad, the former player whose physical ailments sidelined him for a full two seasons while with the Mavericks, had a guaranteed contract of six years, $40 million. “And I’m stuck with that,” he said, the participants remembered.
A lawyer for the players’ union then shot back that J.J. Barea, an emerging spark off the bench for the Mavericks en route to their first NBA championship, was making a pittance of $1 million for his considerable talent. “How about that? You’re getting a bargain in a guy like J.J. Barea.”
Finally, NBA Commissioner David Stern could not take it anymore.
“All right, you want to go tit for tat, I’ll go tit for tat,” Stern said, according to the participants. “I’ll see you J.J. Barea and raise you Eddy Curry.”
A shot to the gut, just like that.
Curry had played just 10 games over three seasons for the Knicks and made more than $30 million. When he wasn’t hurt, he often ballooned in weight and never fulfilled his promise.
If Kevin Garnett’s contract was the flashpoint of the 1999 lockout — his $126 million dwarfed the $85 million paid years earlier for the entire Minnesota franchise, thus making it hard for a small-market team like the Timberwolves to put enough help around a star to contend — the salary of a player believed to be a dud is at the heart of this dispute.
Owners are sick of paying premiums for damaged goods. Players are putting the onus on the people who signed them to those deals, irrespective of who turned out to be a lousy employee.
Nowhere was the impetus for a long labor stoppage more obvious than here in Washington, where what was once thought to be a blockbuster deal — Gilbert Arenas for Rashard Lewis this past December — was in reality one franchise’s lemon traded for another.
Only in the NBA can a town be excited by moving a player with three years and $60 million left (Arenas) for another with more than two years remaining on a $118 million deal. Why were the Wizards ecstatic? Because as bad as Lewis’s $19 million-plus deal per year was for a player with declining numbers the past three seasons, at least they only had to have his contract around for two years instead of three. That’s sadly called success before the trading deadline.
Beyond finding a more equitable split of income, stale contracts are why the union and the league may not come to terms this fall and perhaps beyond.