It was Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O'Neal's massive contracts that symbolized a world of runaway spending on superstars and seeming uncapped salaries that existed before the 1998 lockout. This was a world where small-market teams like Minnesota had to pay far more than top dollar to retain their stars and handicapped their futures going up against the salary cap.
The symbol for the current labor situation might very well be the Eddy Curry contract -- a six-year $56 million monstrosity where the Knicks ignored heart and weight problems in signing him. David Stern reportedly used Curry as an example of the NBA's broken system where teams are stuck with bad investments and unable to make moves to truly improve the teams. Curry and several other players the Knicks signed came to represent this problem.
The stale contract is very much what the owners want to fix in the collective bargaining agreement. Aside from demanding the players give up guaranteed contracts and implementing a hard salary cap, owners want to ensure they are able to rid themselves of these so-called "stale contracts" or limit their effects and their ability to effect the rest of the roster.
It was before Game Four of the Finals in Dallas, Mike Wise of The Washington Post reports, that several players and owners met to frankly discuss their economic differences. It was here that Stern gave his Curry zinger. And it was here that Mark Cuban provided a clear look at the problem of overpaying players who simply are not earning their keep.
"When we had Tariq Abdul-Wahad, he didn't seem to want to train, didn't really want to practice -- he really was interested in a lot of things besides basketball," Cuban said, noting he was stuck with the final two years of Abdul-Wahad's six-year, $40 million contract.
How did Abdul-Wahad earn that contract? Indirectly it was because of his play with the Magic.
Abdul-Wahad was a second-year player when Sacramento traded him and a first round pick to Orlando for Nick Anderson. Abdul-Wahad became the starting shooting guard of the Heart and Hustle team, a team whose ethos is the exact opposite of what Cuban described Abdul-Wahad as. He was average for that team, scoring 12.2 points per game on 43.5 percent effective field goal percentage.
The Magic traded Abdul-Wahad along with Chris Gatling to the Nuggets for Ron Mercer (and Chauncey Billups) in February. Abdul-Wahad was just not efficient in the way he scored and was a lot more promise than he actually was. Still, this was before advanced statistics and so his career-high 11.4 points per game that season seemed to suggest he was trending up.
So the Nuggets gave him a five-year, $28 million (according to Basketball-Reference, seems like Cuban's numbers were a little bit off). He never played as well as he did in 2000. By 2001, Denver shipped him to Dallas.
I would hardly say Abdul-Wahad is the most egriegious example of the stale contract the owners are complaining about. But he is worth pointing out as an example -- he averaged 4.5 points per game in 67 games from 2000-03 and did not play a game while under contract with Dallas from 2004-07.
Nowadays, you might be able to argue the Magic are full of stale contracts and minimal hope. Yes, Dwight Howard is still on the team, but Hedo Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas vastly underperformed their contracts and Orlando has the second highest payroll in the league.
Wise pretty simply summarizes the stale contract predicament:
"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."
That was the reality of the move for Washington and maybe the horror of the move for Orlando. And perhaps a perfect window into what exactly is wrong in the NBA.Photos via DayLife.com.