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Thursday, May 08, 2014

The Value of Minimum Contracts In The NBA

[Originally posted on Hoopsworld, 7th October 2013.]

The most fun part of preseason is being able to get wildly carried away with the results and performances in the mostly meaningless games. This is particularly true of the performances of individual players who simply were not expected to shine, but did.

Two such players have already shown their faces, in Houston’s Omri Casspi and the L.A. Lakers’s Xavier Henry. Casspi shot 9-10 for 20 points on his debut, whilst Henry topped that with 29 in his, an impressive amount for a player whose career high to this point is only 19.

Whilst this level of production is obviously not sustainable, Casspi and Henry are set to earn only the minimum salary next season. Casspi’s is fully guaranteed, but Henry’s isn’t even guaranteed for one single dollar. These two players, then, have shown they could potentially be valuable contributors for as good of as value as is possible.

Casspi has struggled since his rookie season when he showed true promise as a free roaming off-the-ball offensive player, but who started to succumb to similarly free roaming tendencies defensively. Henry, meanwhile, was nothing short of poor in his first three seasons, struggling badly to make a shot from any portion of the court, not being able to create any, and not being consistent with his potentially good defense. There’s a reason these players were available for so cheap – they weren’t working out, and multiple teams had given up on them ever doing so.

However, this doesn’t mean the players are, or suddenly became, talentless. Casspi and Henry were first round picks as recently as four and three years ago, respectively, and are 25 and 22 years old. There is still some talent in the fire. Someone just needs to throw a log on it.

This is what the minimum salary exception is for. Redemption projects and long shot flyers, players who could be of some benefit to you even if they stopped being it for their previous employers. DeJuan Blair is in a similar situation to Casspi – the one time promising young big lost his effectiveness and his place with the Spurs after three years of decline, yet if (and this is of course a massive if) that decline wasn’t overly related to the state of his knees, a change of scenery and a run of health can make him a third big-caliber contributor once again. So too might be Anthony Morrow, now competing for the time Henry left behind with the Pelicans, a player who scored 42 points in a game as recently as a year and a half ago, and who struggled once he left the Warriors’s stat friendly system, but who surely hasn’t lost his deadly jumpshot.

The minimum salary is also an ideal price for a team to pay for skilled veterans who, by being on the downsides of their careers, cannot command the multi million multi-year contracts that they once did, but who still have plenty to offer. These players are available every season, particularly if you’re a contender – teams competitive enough to be in the running for their conference title to have benefited from this include the Knicks (Kenyon Martin, Beno Udrih), HEAT (Chris Andersen), Rockets (Casspi, the redeemable Aaron Brooks and the resurgent Francisco Garcia), Clippers (Antawn Jamison, who remains productive in his ever decreasing role) and Nets (with the frustrating but useful Alan Anderson).

So saturated can this market be, however, that anyone can benefit. And even non-competitive teams have done so this summer. The Wizards may have facilitated their playoff push with the overly maligned Al Harrington, who if he can have a clean run of health, surely won’t have lost his ability to score. The Mavericks might have done it twice – in addition to the redeemable Blair, they also returned Devin Harris, whose star may have long burned out but who nevertheless will be one of the better backup point guards in the league. And the Lakers might have done it more than twice – Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, and even Shawne Williams have higher talent levels than their price tags indicate.

Minimum salaries are inexhaustible; the amount of players you can sign to the minimum salary for one or two seasons is limited only by the amount of roster space you have. It is, then, quite the weapon with regards to team building. If a team comprehensively and accurately scours the market for undervalued, overlooked contributors, they’ll find some – particularly under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which has decreased the availability of salary cap exception sna stymied team’s desire to use them, there are always such players available for the minimum. They’ll have some warts, some baggage, or some mileage, but it could well be worth it. For a fine example of this, look no further than Andray Blatche last season.

The players mentioned above might well be worth it too.

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