Here’s what keeps GMs up at night: the idea of watching their promising draft pick walk after his rookie salary expires. That’s why front offices overcompensate. That’s why Portland GM Neil Olshey spent $240.8 million in 2016 on Allen Crabbe, Meyers Leonard, Maurice Harkless, Festus Ezeli, and Evan Turner. (Olshey didn’t draft Turner, but signed him as a free agent using essentially the same mind-set: with a pack of other teams interested in the wing, the Blazers gave an overaggressive offer.)
“We don’t draft guys here to let them walk away,” Olshey said after that raft of re-sigings. “We can’t buy our way out of trouble the way that some higher profile destination markets can.” That’s true, Neil, but you can certainly buy your way into it.
That brings us to now, when Portland is capped out and essentially stuck. This roster is just good enough to make the playoffs, but with a bunch of players making more than their market value, it will never be anything more. The Blazers need another piece, but a day and a half before the trade deadline, have no movable options. And Portland is not alone. Contenders are seeking solid role players; tankers are thirsty for cap space. And a contender could benefit from, say, Kent Bazemore to beef up its rotation. So why isn’t Atlanta’s phone ringing off the hook? Because 2018 is not 2016, and the number of teams willing to spend $40 million on Kent Bazemore is the same list of teams going after Ryan Anderson and his massive deal. (Zero.)
Overpaid guys are getting left behind by default. They aren’t the diamonds in the rough, they’re the rough being paid diamonds. We present the You-Played-Yourself All-Stars.
Bazemore is your favorite role player’s favorite role player. He’s the ultimate bench addition: Give Cleveland his defense and energy, or the Sixers the added depth he would provide on the wing. Front offices should be flocking — Atlanta GM Travis Schlenk essentially put up an “Everything Must Go!” sign in front of the roster, with reports saying he is prepared to trade any Hawk not named John Collins.
But Atlanta is not even halfway through Bazemore’s four-year, $70 million deal. And his player option in 2019 is good for $19 million, which is more than Kawhi Leonard will make this year.
A few weeks ago, ESPN reported that some franchises were looking at Bazemore. (The technical term is Baze Gazing™.) The guard rose in the team’s power rankings this season by default and took the additional minutes to hype up his value: Bazemore is shooting a sound 39 percent from the 3-point line, his best ever, is seventh leaguewide in total steals, and by January had already topped his single-season high in assists.
My favorite trade deadline leak was the one in which we were alerted that HOUSTON IS SHOPPING RYAN ANDERSON, as if that hadn’t been the case for years.
There is still $41.6 million left on the four-year, $80 million contract that Anderson signed in 2016. Anderson could help a playoff team (like Minnesota, which is in need of shooting) off the bench, though his defensive shortcomings are sure to give suitors pause.
Unlike Bazemore, Anderson is a liability for his team. His entire résumé reads “shooting” in size-72 font. He’s a stretch 4 who can’t lock up outside, can’t protect the rim inside, and can’t be relied on for rebounding. And for a stretch in December and January, he wasn’t even doing the one thing he was paid $80 million to do!
The Rockets are this close to picking Golden State’s lock on the Finals. Anderson, who is “reportedly being shopped” again before this trade deadline, is their biggest non–Chris Paul–injury liability.
Batum could play 3-and-D ball long before he had a five-year, $120 million contract. But not two years into his deal, Paid Batum is already an enormous disappointment for Charlotte. A torn ligament in his left elbow held him out of the first 12 games of the season; even when he was declared active, the injury lingered for months.
Since Hornets coach Steve Clifford returned to the sideline on January 17, Batum has started to return to his former self — an effective scorer and efficient body on the floor. But there’s $76.5 million left on Batum’s tab. A recent uptick in performance doesn’t make that, for a 29-year-old averaging 12 points a game, any cheaper.
Mahinmi was a different kind of panic signing. You know the old saying — when you whiff on Al Horford, pay the next guy you see $64 million.
Injuries have limited Mahinmi for the past season and a half, and his place in Washington’s rotation has become nearly nonexistent. On January 12 against the Magic, he scored a season-high 17 points, along with eight rebounds and three blocks, which must have been the production Ernie Grunfeld thought (?) Mahinmi would provide regularly as a backup center. The 31-year-old did have a reputation for being able to protect the rim, which is not starter Marcin Gortat’s forte. But instead of filling gaps for the Wizards, Mahinmi has spent this season on the end of the bench, largely defunct, and too overpaid for any team to consider his defensive upside as part of a trade.
Washington is reportedly in the running for DeAndre Jordan. An ESPN report says that a “realistic” return package would include Gortat and Jason Smith, but not Mahinmi. That would make Mahinmi’s ability to not get traded from the Wizards his biggest accomplishment with the Wizards.
There is no sensical Biyombo trade. Salary dumps are the gluten of the 2018 trade deadline. Orlando would have to be really, really generous to convince another team to take on Biyombo’s final two years at $17 million each. And why do that? Why give up any asset, any future draft pick, any Aaron Gordon, when the Magic are destined to fail the next two seasons anyway?
There isn’t a rush for the worst teams to improve. I’ve been told that roster construction is a proc — [vomits].
Hood is not yet overpaid. The 25-year-old will become a restricted free agent this offseason because he and the Jazz failed to reach an extension deal last fall.
Utah, which has Hood on the trading block, suffers from the small-market disadvantage. In lieu of a beach or clubs or a decent slice of pizza, the franchise has to create an incentive for players to $$$$$tay. If you miss out on re-signing players, good luck with Plan B, attracting the top free agents.
But the Jazz didn’t extend Hood. If he isn’t dealt, Utah might not be interested in matching whatever other teams will offer. He already has suitors during the trade deadline — the Nuggets and the Pistons, among others — so let’s assume they’ll come calling during the summer, pressured to outbid each other.
Hood is an oft-injured, inconsistent-but-capable shooter who is developing a playmaking reputation. He has potential. On a scale of Biyombo to Batum, what’s that worth?