With the start of the free agent signing period on Sunday July 1, the bidding began by NBA teams to sign unrestricted and restricted free agents. Two surprising developments after the signing period began involved Omer Asik a reserve center with the Chicago Bulls receiving a three-year offer worth $25 million from the Houston Rockets and Pacers center Roy Hibbert receiving a four-year contract worth $58 million from the Portland Trailblazers.
Neither Asik nor Hibbert have proven to be dominant centers that can make a NBA team an instant championship contender. They are big men with potential, but not much in the way of track records to back up the assumption that they are worth hefty paydays. Neither player has come close to averaging 20 points or 10 rebounds per season. Asik wasn't even the starting center for the Bulls. He played behind Joakim Noah, a rebounding, shot blocking center who could run the floor. Hibbert just completed his fourth season where he averaged 12.8 points, 8.8 rebounds per game and earned a trip to the All-Star game. Solid numbers for an NBA player, but not close to the numbers expected from a dominant center.
NBA history would suggest that the Rockets and Trail Blazers are making mistakes by investing this much money in Asik and Hibbert. Since the era of multi-million dollar contracts began in the 1980's teams have overpaid centers and received less than expected from their investment. It began when the Atlanta Hawks signed Jon "Joe Contract" Koncak in the late 1980's to a multi-million dollar contract that not only paid him more than the best player in Atlanta Hawks history, Dominique Wilkens, but also three of the greatest players of all-time, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. Koncak did play ten years with the Hawks, but his career scoring total was less than one season of scoring from Wilkens, Johnson, Bird, or Jordan in the prime years of their careers.
There are other examples, like Jim "the Shaq Stopper" Mcllvaine, who in 1996 signed a seven-year contract worth $33.6 million with the Seattle Sonics. He never did stop Shaq, but many Sonic fans credit his contract with ruining the chemistry of a talented Sonics team that won the Western Conference championship the year prior to his signing with the team. Then, there is Jerome "Big Snacks" James who on the strength of one productive post season with the Seattle Sonics in 2005 received a five-year contract worth $30 million from the New York Knicks. Over the lifetime of the contract James played 90 out of the possible 328 regular season games.
More recently we can look at DeAndre Jordan, a rim protecting, athletic center who in 2011 re-signed with Los Angeles Clippers for four years at $43 million. Jordan, much like Asik and Hibbert, is a highly regarded young center who was expected to have a breakout season after signing the contract. However, he put up numbers similar to the year before and had little impact on the outcome of games played by the Clippers in the 2012 post season. As a result, his season was considered a disappointment.
This is an unfair assessment of Jordan. He is a good NBA player and what his output in 2012 showed was that players can be expected to provide consistent performance regardless of the amount of money teams are willing to pay them. The same can be said about Koncak, McllVaine and James. Had the contracts offered to them by NBA general managers been in line with their talent level instead of their assumed potential, it is possible their NBA careers would be viewed more positively by people who follow the sport.
Asik and Hibbert now face this same potential pitfall. Who can blame them for accepting the high price contracts being offered to them by the Rockets and Pacers? Both men are good players who can help an NBA team. But there is a high probability that they will not be able to live up to the expectations attached to them once they sign these contracts because those expectations are unreasonable. This should not reflect negatively on them, but the NBA executives who offered them the contracts. Wasn't the new collective bargaining agreement supposed to curb this irresponsible spending? Ultimately, owners will continure to spend money irrationally no matter how the CBA is negotiated. They'll just have to learn their lesson--again.