Posted by: Kingsguru21 | September 30, 2011

Are role players unfairly compensated?

As the recent Adrian Wojnarowski column on Yahoo! indicates, the NBA stars of the Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard ilk are the people who won’t be properly compensated.

The question: Is this really true?

In one sense, absolutely. Those types of stars make a lot of money for their teams, and don’t get fairly compensated for what they are worth. Yet, all Bryant, James, Wade and Howard have all made nearly (or well over in Bryant’s case) 100 million dollars. Plenty of employees bring significant value that well exceeds their compensation. It’s the way of the world in otherwords.

The real question is: Are the role players that are so badly “overpaid” as deemed by owners, many media types and fans really true? In some cases, no question. I personally think the worst contracts in the NBA are not the role players because role players have value that is not nearly as definable and ubiquitous as a star player that draws fans. On the other hand, star players also need role players to complement them and take some of the burden and load off them. There is quite a lot of value to where a role player brings, and, in my opinion, role players aren’t necessarily incredibly overpaid. Many role players receive scrutiny, and, yet, get far less attention when a team is winning. It’s almost like the role players who don’t score lots of points or stuff the stat sheet, they suddenly aren’t valuable. This doesn’t even resemble anything near the truth. (Unless you believe in telling yourself what you want. Then it really is real.)

I believe the worst contracts given in the NBA are the quasi star types (Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, Gilbert Arenas) that are given large high profile deals that fans can’t forget but then go on to being a role player at some point. Or, they just aren’t really stars in the way their contract would indicate. That is the biggest problem with the NBA as far as I can tell. Some of that is just bad luck, and some of that is competitive and calculated gambles that such a contract would pay off in the end. The problem with these contracts is you won’t know until the end of the deal whether it was really worth it. You can not sign a player or be very protective of your cap. Or, you can go for the whole enchilada and not worry about the money until it’s a real problem.

That’s the whole issue with the NBA essentially. Many of the “contractual mistakes” are calculated gambles that simply do not work out to the best possible effect.

I think that if you start demonizing role players and their psychological value, not to mention their tangible real on court production, you risk a pretty slippery slope that has more impact than people realize. Where you can pay 3 role players a reasonable mid levelish wage under the recently expired CBA, you may not be able to do that in the next CBA. And thus, these players may leave for another team willing to pay them. The new CBA may depress the amount of contracts handed out in the future, but the reality is that players will more likely than not go to where they can get the most money. Thus, I feel that teams believe that compensating their role players who do the dirty work and get little attention for it should be paid something of value. After all, happy people do their job well, and well compensated people helps the psychological aspect of feeling fairly compensated. The Kings go to Francisco Garcia and say: Don’t bitch about your contract. You’re getting more money than you would have gotten anywhere else. Now go out and do what we tell you.

Sometimes it’s really that simple. And, maybe Cisco himself isn’t worth the 6-6.5 million he’s receiving the next few seasons, but Tyreke Evans is. Jimmer Fredette may be. Marcus Thornton certainly will be. Value often just doesn’t reside in the individual player and their personal contribution, but in the aggregate sum in terms of the total effort and value within the team concept and context. That’s a difficult statement to comprehend (it took me many years to realize how important role players are and which is why Doug Christie ended up #3 on this list) and one that requires some nuanced understanding of basketball. It requires admitting that sometimes value is not nearly as shapely as one might expect by listening to media, fans or even owners and some players.

This idea that stars are unfairly paid is probably pretty true. But, by the same token, those same stud players get compensated for the rest of their lives in many ways. In ways that sometimes do not show up on the radar. It’s not like Howard, James, Wade or Bryant won’t be incredibly wealthy for the rest of their lives. It’s hard to blow hundreds of millions of dollars even if you live excessively as I’m sure all 4 aforementioned stars do.

So much of the NBA is a psychological exercise that is hard to quantify with words let alone numbers. Sometimes both can do the league justice; sometimes not. Nothing is perfect after all. The reasoning behind paying role players isn’t just because the market will bear it. There is reason these players get compensated, and acknowledging that value is one difference, I think anyway, between those yammering for a harder cap and those who don’t have problems with the type of soft cap the NBA has employed since 1984.

Whether or not you think role players aren’t fairly compensated is the issue. The greater question is that if you give a talented role player a Mid Level contract say, does that help a team compete by having a role player do what they need that said player to do? To complement that star? We can talk about individual star value all we want, but ignoring the value with the other 4 players on the court next to these stars is where I tend to lose pace in this discussion. Since it’s pretty difficult to accurately summarize psychological value, I suppose this will always be a messy topic that won’t be convenient to the masses because it requires too much thought. Which is why those people aren’t running NBA teams.

It would be nice if we can admit that this issue of compensation for role players, stars and other players in between is merely preference, and not an issue more or less than that. It’s an issue that really is about the ability to compensate and no more or less than that. It’s an issue that gets back to the heart of what this lockout is about: Money. And like all things, psychological truth when it comes to money is not nearly as pretty or easily defined as we would hope. So the reality is that the NBA isn’t different, because it’s made up of human beings while the league is run by humans, shouldn’t be that surprising.

The real surprising thing for me isn’t what Wade said, or the article Woj wrote. The surprising thing is that it’s the first time I’ve run across an article like this in awhile, and so late in the lockout. What can I say? I’m easily amused.

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