It's safe to say the Elgin Baylor is not going to win GM of the Year again, at least not if John Hollinger has anything to do with it. His list of the 10 worst transactions of the off-season (Insider Required) includes not one but two Clipper moves, with Tim Thomas at number 8 and Chris Kaman at number 9.
Now, I promise not to rant about the nature of our fast food, microwaveable, yogurt in a tube society where it is acceptable to evaluate the efficacy of a 5-year deal less than 9% of the way into the life of said deal (less still if you include an expectation of playoff games). In Chris Kaman's case, we're talking about a deal that HAS NOT YET TAKEN EFFECT. I mean, I'm not a big fan of that extension, but it seems more than a little pre-mature to condemn it to the worst list when the guy hasn't played a single game under it.
I should point out that Hollinger seems to be a tad on the negative side. Cranky and crotchety are two adjectives that spring to mind. The vast majority of the deals he doesn't like are at least 4 years in length. Makes sense. A bad one year deal doesn't hurt against next season's cap, which is what we're really talking about here. Including deals to which he gives 'honorable mention', Hollinger trashes 18 deals of 4 years or longer from last off-season. Now, searching on the Professional Basketball Transactions Archive, I found a total of 29 such deals total last summer. In other words, if Hollinger were to compile a similar list of the BEST off-season deals, the honorable mentionees would essentially be the same, and Thomas and Kaman might just squeeze onto that honorable mention list.
Hollinger's other problem is that he LOVES the PER, which is I guess understandable, since he invented it. The PER of course, measures productivity on a per minute basis. But NBA players are not paid per minute. So Hollinger seems to think that Nazr Mohammed was a really good signing by the Pistons, and why wouldn't he think so, when Nazr's PER is a solid 19.75, 8th among NBA centers. But he plays fewer than 20 minutes per game. Surely the amount of minutes a player earns is another valid measure of a signing. Did it make sense for the Pistons to use their full mid-level exception for 5 years on a guy who is playing fewer than 20 minutes a game?
The mid-level exception is the litmus test for contracts in today's NBA. Salary cap rules dictate that any contract over the mid-level is going to be very difficult. At most a couple of teams will be in the bidding, or the original team is going to have to negotiate a sign-and-trade. But basically any team can get into the game on a mid-level deal, and decent NBA free agents are not going to sign for less. In rare exceptions (Bonzi Wells comes to mind), good players with baggage mis-calculate the market and change teams for less than the mid-level. But that's the exception, not the rule.
Here are the players who signed mid-level exception contracts this summer:
Vladimir Radmanovic, Nazr Mohammed, Jared Jeffries (5 years), Tim Thomas, Speedy Claxton and Mike James (4 years). In addition, Joel Przybilla, Nick Collison and Matt Harpring signed for 'mid-level' money, though they were not mid-level exceptions since they signed with their existing team.
Of the six mid-level deals, 3 were on the 10 worst list (Jeffries number 2, Claxton number 6, Thomas number 8) 2 others were honorable mention (Radmanovic and James), and Mohammed is playing fewer than 20 minutes in Detroit. Collison and Harpring also made honorable mention, and one can only imagine that Przybilla's (PER 8.57) absence from the list is a clerical error of some sort. I'm no fan of Tim Thomas, but he fits a desperate need for the Clippers and they took him away from a divisional rival. Looking at the 9 names above, so far he seems like the pick of the mid-level litter, and they only had to commit 4 years to him. He's a friggin' steal.
As for the Kaman deal, no one in their right mind would argue that his performance thus far this season justifies his contract extension. But it's more than a little far-fetched to assume that he won't play better (and in fact, he has begun to show signs). Comparing his deal to those of Nene, Dalembert, Chandler, et al doesn't make him worth it of course. But it does speak to the going rate for centers in the NBA, and clearly Kaman was not going to sign for less, and probably could have commanded more in free agency, even after a down year.
But Hollinger seems to think that NBA teams would be better off investing their money in something other than players. T-bills perhaps.