Now that Rashard Lewis has been introduced by the Orlando Magic and the dust has settled, the second guessing game is in full force. Inspired by the exorbitant contract Lewis received, ESPN's Chad Ford wrote a fantastic article advising teams on how to manage the salary cap.
Signing the Magic's ticket to being almost good enough.
His five suggestions are great and hit at the heart of many NBA team's mistakes when signing players. There are a few I would like to add to this list.
Don't be fooled by statistics, they can be deceiving
Lewis puts up great stats. But, Ford astutely points out that Lewis was the second-best player on his old team, his old team was bad and he isn't even the best player on his new team. But, because he averaged 22 points, 6.6 rebounds and hit 151 three pointers last year, the Magic felt he automatically made them a championship contender (why else would you give someone a max contract?). Sure, Lewis makes them better, but at what price? As Ford also points out, they have no flexibility now. Because the Magic were fooled by stats, they now have someone who is a reasonably soft second-tier scorer who plays little defense under contract for the next six years.
Stay away from long-term deals for players over 30 years old
GMs inevitably hand over long contracts to players on the other side of the hill of their careers. Sure, the first three years of that contract might be rosy, but the last two or three years always, always, always end up being an albatross. Let it be known that I acknowledge the need to sometimes offer more contract years to a player for the purpose of luring him away from the competition, but a certain amount of discretion is still required in offering contracts. Many times offering more money with less years under contract is a smarter play. Players are usually in their primes from 26-30 years old. Use some responsibility and recognize that players usually start a sharp decline around 31-33, so why offer a player a long, cumbersome contract that will end up paying for a player's move into retirement when they are 35 or 36? Lewis is about to turn 28, so the Magic are bumping the nose of acceptability on this one.
The amount that a player helps your team should be proportional to his pay
If your team's cornerstones are rebounding and scoring around the rim, a player who compliments those things very well may be worth more to your team than to another. Sometimes paying a player over market value is fine, as long as it makes sense with team needs. For example, the Suns gave Steve Nash an accurate amount of money for what he was worth...just under the max contract level. But they were criticized for giving him such a long contract. While it may be true that they will rue the final year or two of that contract, it was worth it for them to overpay for the one cog that makes their machine work properly. Now? The only ones criticized for the Nash situation are the Mavericks, who refused to match that contract and instead signed Erick Dampier to an even longer contract. So, Nash is paid quite a bit of money, but he constitutes such a high percentage of that team's success that he will never be paid enough. That is what makes it a good deal.
Find a number and stick to it
A smart team finds the maximum price they are willing to pay a free agent and sticks to it. Once you start making concessions about contract length and salary, you will always end up overpaying. Players are only worth what you think they are worth. Let someone else overpay for them if they want.
Ultimately, as I always point out, it comes down to owner responsibility. Every owner should have the right to pay a player what they wish, but that doesn't mean you have to have an overzealous means to an idiotic end.