With so many folks losing jobs and facing real economic hardship during this recession, it's hard to feel sorry for anyone making a living in the NBA. So we won't. But it's also true that the pro basketball business is in a downturn, with decreasing league revenues and a lower salary cap for next season. And while some teams still have money to burn and many free agents have cashed in, others have been victims of the depressed market in ways that seemed impossible during the NBA's massive economic expansion of the past two decades. FOXSports.com NBA editor John Galinsky lists some of the league's biggest losers during these hard times or as hard as times get for multi-millionaires.
OK, you can't really call someone a "loser" who will be raking in $12.7 million next season. But Boozer expected to get considerably more by opting out of the last year of his contract with the Utah Jazz. Instead, with the soft free-agent market, he decided to take the guaranteed money and try his luck again next year. In the process, however, he wore out his welcome in Utah thanks to fragility (he played just 37 games last season) and perceived greediness. Now he'll probably end up somewhere else anyway, once the Jazz find a suitable trading partner.
Odom knew he'd have to take a pay cut after earning $14.1 million last season. But after helping the Lakers win the championship, he figured he could still pry $10M out of some suitor for each of the next five years. Think again. The way it looks, no one has the money or inclination to make that kind of investment in a complementary player (an extraordinarily versatile one, to be sure, but not a superstar). Now Odom and agent Jeff Schwartz may have made a bad move by snubbing a generous offer (reportedly four years and $36M) from Lakers owner Jerry Buss, who has a history of taking negotiations personally. If both sides don't burn bridges, Odom still may return to L.A., where he's been a great fit on and off the court. Otherwise, he could end up in Dallas or Miami for less money, leaving everyone scratching their heads.
Actually, the limited interest in Iverson is probably less the result of a depressed free-agent market than it is his own rapidly diminishing reputation around the league. His disastrous season in Detroit showed quality franchises the negative effect A.I. can have on a team's chemistry and style of play. Now who wants the 2001 NBA MVP? Only teams desperate to score points (Heat) or sell tickets (Clippers and Grizzlies). In that respect, the economy may be helping Iverson, because if every team were interested only in winning, not marketing, there might not be a place for an aging, ball-hogging sideshow.
Nate Robinson and David Lee
After putting up big numbers in Mike D'Antoni's system, the restricted free agents anticipated offers commensurate with their stats. So far, their phones haven't been ringing. The few teams with cap room have thrown their money elsewhere, with no one offering Lee the $10M-plus-per-year deal he wants and Robinson getting wooed heaviest by the Greek club Olympiakos. It's possible both will return to the Knicks with new one-year deals, but no way will New York burden itself with more longterm contracts that compromise its ability to be a buyer in 2010.
The Orlando Magic
By matching the Mavs' five-year, $34M offer for restricted free agent Marcin Gortat (pictured), the Eastern Conference champs proved they won't let salary-cap considerations thwart their quest for a title. But add that high price for a backup center to their signing of free agent Brandon Bass (four years, $18M) and trade for Vince Carter (three years, $51.6M left on his contract), and the Magic will be way over the projected luxury-tax threshold of $69.9M next season. Already committed to $79M in salaries, Orlando will have a heck of a time turning a profit even if they go all the way. And that's after losing Hedo Turkoglu arguably their second-most important player to the Raptors in free agency.
Miller was seeking a three-year, $30M deal as an unrestricted free agent after two strong seasons with the Sixers. In previous years, that would be reasonable for a durable and productive point guard who just turned 33. In this market? Sure, if you're Jason Kidd. Miller, meanwhile, will be lucky to get a three-year contract at the midlevel exception ($5.8M). The Sixers say they want him, but with so many bad contracts already on the roster, they're reportedly offering just a one-year deal for midlevel money.
Like Lamar Odom, Ariza expected to cash in on L.A.'s championship, especially given his breakout performance in the playoffs. Instead, he got off to an ugly start in negotiations with the Lakers and watched the team quickly go in another direction by signing free agent Ron Artest. Ariza then signed a five-year deal worth about $33 million with the Houston Rockets, a franchise in disarray. It wasn't much more than the Lakers originally offered, and it means Ariza can say goodbye to his hometown, wide-open 3s and Wheaties boxes with his picture for the foreseeable future.
The Utah Jazz
After a first-round loss to the Lakers, the Jazz had no financial flexibility to improve themselves, partly because of Andrei Kirilenko's ridiculous contract (more than $34M for the next two years). Indeed, just staying intact will cost them plenty. Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Kyle Korver exercised options to stay in Utah for a grand total of nearly $27M next season. Then, on Friday, they matched Portland's four-year, $32M offer sheet to restricted free agent Paul Millsap (pictured). (To pay Millsap his $10.3M bonus, they reportedly may need to take out a bank loan.) Now, on the hook for over $80M next season, they'll have to pay a fat luxury tax even if they're able to trade away Boozer.
Every sports league heck, just about every business in America these days is dealing with an economic downturn. The NBA is no different, and in many ways it's better off. (Again, we're mainly talking about millionaires here.) But the league's longtime commish has to be concerned about declining revenues and an increasing number of have-not franchises. Fewer than half the teams turned a profit last season, and only a handful have a legitimate shot at a title. As Spurs chairman Peter Holt told NBA.com, "It's not a good business model." With the league's collective bargaining agreement expiring in 2011, it'll be a challenge for Stern to maintain peace and prosperity.
New York Knicks
The Knicks are no strangers to economic hard times. Isiah Thomas created them by saddling New York's roster with horrible contracts before he finally got the boot last year. Since then, GM Donnie Walsh has focused on clearing cap room with the intent of luring two stars (ideally, LeBron James and another All-Star) to Madison Square Garden in 2010. Now, with the cap falling this season and likely to drop again next year, there's almost no way the Knicks will be able to offer two mega-deals. That means their fans can probably forget about landing LeBron, who is unlikely to sign with a team lacking the necessary pieces to compete for a championship.