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Debate Class: Mavs Centers, Bill Simmons and Me - A history of 'overpaying centers' - You want funny or you want facts?

Aug 25, 2010

Debate Class: Mavs Centers, Bill Simmons and Me - A history of 'overpaying centers' - You want funny or you want facts?

Mike Fisher - FOXSportsSouthwest.com and DallasBasketball.com

“Mark Cuban overpaying a FA center: a summer tradition ala July 4th!’’ – Bill Simmons

We can debate Bill Simmons on his turf by using inane 1990’s pop-culture touchstones (“The Celtics roster is like the cast of ‘Beverly Hills: 90210!’’) or we can debate using facts.

I’ve never seen “Beverly Hills: 90210.’’

So I’m stuck with debating with facts.

It was the assertion of ESPN’s “The Sports Guy’’ that Dallas this summer “overpaid’’ Brendan Haywood. It is my assertion on DallasBasketball.com and in this FOXSportsSouthwest column that Bill kindly links to that the contract – a guaranteed five years and $41.745 million, averaging $8.3 mil per year with an insta-expiring sixth year that benefits the Mavs – is reasonable.

So, once again, I am humbled to be invited by Bill to cross swords.

Last season, there were 14 centers who made $10 mil or more for the season. The Mavs believe Brendan Haywood will be among the 14 best centers in the NBA in 2010-11 … yet will be paying their starting big man $6.9 million for the season.

It is funny to make jokes about 7-footers; Look how awkward they are when they run! It is also a lowest-common-denominator position to rip athletes for their exorbitant salaries; sportswriters do this all the time in an effort to portray themselves as “everyman allies’’ with fans who cannot comprehend earning $7 million in a lifetime, let alone in a single year. (Yes, Bill Simmons is but a lowly "everyman.'')

It’s funny and it’s easy but in the case of Brendan Haywood’s contract, it’s simply not accurate.

Haywood’s salaried years, as reported by DallasBasketball.com’s David Lord, will be paid thusly:

   2010-11  $6,900,000
   2011-12  $7,624,500
   2012-13  $8,349,000
   2013-14  $9,073,500
   2014-15  $9,798,000
   2015-16 (unguaranteed) [trade chip of $10,522,500]
   TOTAL (guaranteed) - Five years, $41.745 million.

That’s “a lot.’’ But it’s not “too much.’’

Bill is now tweeting digs at me and explanations that his initial Haywood tweet – in Simmons’ exact words, “Mark Cuban overpaying a FA center: a summer tradition ala July 4th!’’ – was not a Haywood tweet at all.

Bill is now contending, in a series of communications that paint him as being terribly offended by me referring to him on FOXSportsSouthwest as “an aspiring NBA general manager,’’ that his “overpaying’’ remark was meant to reference “LaFrentz/Bradley/Diop.’’ (With some help of two Simmons readers, Bill is able to add “Gortat,’’ “Dampier’’ and “Evan Eschmeyer.’’)

I enjoy the give-and-take and the implicit respect of being tweeted about by Bill. (And, as Skin points out, the web traffic bump!) That much is true.

And this much is also undeniable: The Mavs have spent a decade … no, three decades! … in search of elusive answers at center.

I feel obliged to provide Bill Simmons some direction here:

* Dampier contract was for seven years and $73 million with DUST at the end of it. He was coming off a 12/12 season at Golden State, desperately filled a need, and was a starter on an NBA Finals team. To basketball people, Damp is not near the punchline that he is to comedians.

(Sidenote: Simmons used to laugh at how DallasBasketball.com touted Dampier's contract before, in the middle of last year, our mutual friend Marc Stein set him straight on a BS podcast ... after which time Simmons came off as a full-fledged DUST Chip expert.)

* DeSagana Diop’s second deal here was a monumental over-valuation of a center who was instrumental in controlling Tim Duncan in the 2006 Playoffs. When they re-signed him in 2008, they gave him a five-year, $31 million deal. Was an MLE-level contract excessive for Diop? I thought so at the time (we initially wrote that he was worth half the MLE), and in retrospect, while ‘Gana is still in the NBA, almost anything above the vet’s minimum seems a little excessive, yes. At the same time, when they lost him the first time, it was in the Jason Kidd trade when New Jersey boss Rod Thorn insisted Diop be included in the swap.

* The bidding on Marcin Gortat is not a sound example of Dallas “overpaying for a center.’’ The Mavs, Rockets and Magic all wanted him. Had he come to Dallas, he would’ve been the starting center on a (presumably) 50-win team. But he was restricted, so Orlando retained him … at those allegedly “excessive’’ prices. To be technical, Dallas never “overpaid’’ him because Dallas never paid him. (Otherwise we’d have to say “Houston overpaid for Gortat.’’) But to project: Had the Mavs been able to do so, they believe to this day – even as Gortat languishes on Orlando’s bench – that they would’ve been pleased with the transaction.

* Nellie truly believed in the unique skills of Shawn Bradley. Don’t make me defend this. Take it up with Nellie.

* Eschmeyer was signed very specifically as a backup center. He was given a reported six-year, $20 million deal -- $4 million a year, seemingly excessive but short of insane. Eschmeyer had injury problems (knee and foot) and the Mavs – in what has become a pattern this decade – salvaged the mess by eventually using him to trade for Antawn Jamison.

* LaFrentz maybe best represents the efforts the organization made under the then-leadership of Don Nelson and Mark Cuban to combat the best-in-the-West Lakers. In July 2002, Dallas signed LaFrentz to a seven-year, $70-million deal. Nellie’s plan? LaFrentz would be a “perimeter’’ center to pull Shaq away from the basket. LaFrentz was a starter on a 2002-03 team that won 60 games and qualified for the Western Conference Finals, to that point matching the franchise’s greatest-ever success.

And when Dallas finally moved Raef and his contract? That happened in 2004. The Mavs traded him (and his contract) to … Bill Simmons’ Boston Celtics. Dallas received Antoine Walker back in the deal, and eventually flipped him to Atlanta for Jason Terry.

But back to Bill’s Celtics for a moment. Has Simmons always considered Raef LaFrentz to be laughable? 

Josh (Milford, CT): With the youth of the C's, I'm hoping they round into form 2/3rds of the way through the season and make the playoff push. What's your ideal Celtics lineup come February? (e.g., West or Allen? Are Banks and LaFrentz still contributing?)

Bill Simmons: A couple things here: I'm not counting on LaFrentz. I just don't see it happening. Once the knees on a big man start to go, that's it. They're done. Maybe I'm wrong, but I've been following the league since I was a kid, and nobody ever seems to just "bounce back" from major knee problems or major foot problems. They just don't. These things don't get better.

Fascinating phenomenon: To Simmons, Raef LaFrentz is an “overpaid punchline’’ in Dallas. But when he was in Boston, Raef LaFrentz was a sympathetic figure!

And let me help Simmons out a bit, if he wants his next Mavs chuckle: This year, they are paying Tyson Chandler a full $12.6 million to be a backup center! Crazy, eh, Bill? (Of course, Chandler is an expiring contract, in a sense doubling his value as an asset.)

One more assist to Simmons: Don’t forget Loren Meyer, D.J. Mbenga, Roy Tarpley, Alan Henderson, Sam Perkins, Calvin Booth, Pavel Podkolzin, Ian Mahinmi, Mark West, Bill Wennington, Cherokee Parks, James Donaldson, Uwe Blab, Wang Zhi-Zhi, Samaki Walker, Jake Voskuhl, Alexis Ajinca, Drew Gooden, Nathan Jawai, Ryan Hollins, Kevin Willis, Jamaal Magliore, Christian Laettner, and the forever flirtations with the aged Shaquille O’Neal, who Bill celebrates in this column … now that Shaq is a Celtic.

It’s been a never-ending search. The Mavs hope Brendan Haywood ends the search for awhile. But eventually, it’ll be a never-ending search again.

Simmons tweets: “I'd like to apologize for insinuating that Dallas has overpaid centers in the past.’’

Bill, you don’t have to “apologize’’ for doing your job. When it comes to this issue, your job is to be funny.

My job is to provide the facts.

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