To trade Kobe, or not to trade Kobe

Will he go, or won’t he? Do a quick Google search and you’ll find hundreds of stories and nearly as many opinions on the fate of Kobe Bryant. The rumor of the day is that a Bryant trade could be imminent, with the Los Angeles Lakers having serious daily conversations with the Chicago Bulls, where Bryant and change could be traded for Loul Deng, Ben Gordon, Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah.

But while the trade rumors in Los Angeles are as ubiquitous as the city’s omnipresent smog, the reality is that actually finalizing a deal involving Kobe Bryant is pretty complicated. Three different parties with 3 unique agendas – namely the Lakers, their trading partner (in this case the Bulls) and Kobe (who can veto any trades he doesn’t like) – all need to come to a serious consensus for any trade to happen. So, if Bulls GM John Paxon decides that Deng is too valuable to include in any trades – sorry, no deal. If the Lakers internally aren’t able to reach a consensus – with Jim Buss, Mitch Kup-cake and Jerry Buss on the “trade Kobe” side and Phil Jackson and Jeanie Buss on the “keep Kobe” end – it could be a very long wait for those hoping for a Kobe deal. If Kobe himself doesn’t like the management, city, roster, weather or highway system of a particular trade destination, then all the trade discussion in the world won’t get Kobe to approve the move.

The end result of course is that a Kobe deal, at this point at least, is probably highly unlikely. A lot of different pieces would need to fall into place, and that doesn’t quite seem to be happening. But what may happen, if the Kobe to the Bulls trade rumors persists and the names of the specific players involved in the rumored conversations solidify, more teams around the league will throw their hat into the fray. If you’re a NBA GM on the outside looking in and see that the Bulls are about to land the best player in the league with a package of Deng, Gordon, Thomas and Noah, you’re probably thinking “why not us.” You’re scrambling to pull together a package of your own, as you gain more insight into the Lakers possible threshold, in terms of the level of talent they’re seeking in return for Kobe Bryant.

The end result of all these “strong” rumors being out there is that the Lakers will inevitably get better offers, as competing GMs drive up the market price. Makes you wonder if the Bulls rumors aren’t being leaked by the Lakers themselves.


Antoine Walker and Ricky Davis swap zip codes

The inevitable happened on Wednesday, as the Minnesota Timberwolves purged themselves of the last remnants of veteran talent by trading away Ricky Davis. The unpredictable Davis on a young ‘Wolves team, particularly with the leadership of Kevin Garnett out of the picture, was a disaster waiting to happen. He would have dominated the ball on the court and been a distraction off it, so there was no doubt Davis had to go. But, unfortunately for Timberwolves fans, seemingly clueless GM Kevin McHale chose to do a deal that makes absolutely no sense, particularly considering that the Timberwolves need to trim payroll, lose some of the bloated veteran contracts and turn the key over to young talent like Al Jefferson and Gerald Green -- not bring back other veterans with their own distended deals.

McHale, who seems to have made a gentleman’s bet with equally inept Los Angeles Lakers GM Mitch Kup-cake to see who can make the most boneheaded moves, traded Davis and center Mark Blount to the Miami Heat for Antonie Walker, Wayne Simeon, Michael Doleac and a 1st round pick. Swapping Blount’s bloated 3 year contract for Walker’s bloated 2 year contract is essentially a wash. But, why in the world would you move Ricky Davis, along with his valuable expiring contract and relatively high trade value, for what essentially amounts to two 12th man candidates and what will likely end up being a pick in the latter third of the first round?

So, you’re telling us that the Wolves couldn’t have moved Davis for some young, inexpensive talent from a team like the Memphis Grizzlies, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers or New York Knicks? Did they really need to settle for Walker, Simeon and Doleac?

Miami easily got the better end of this deal. Ricky Davis will fill in nicely for an ailing Dwayne Wade during the first several weeks of the season. And following D-Wade’s return, Davis can seamlessly slip into the third scoring option role on Pat Riley’s team. In Blount, the Heat get a solid backup center, who can spell Shaq for a few minutes, or a few weeks, while the “Big Aristotle” goes on one of his “injury” induced regular season hiatus.

As for the ‘Wolves, Kevin McHale’s incompetency never ceases to amaze. Well, at least he’s now the proud GM of the worst team in the NBA.


The top 10 underpaid NBA studs

Operating under the current collective bargaining agreement it almost seems like a fairy tale now, but once upon a time player salaries in the NBA became dangerously fragmented, driving a widening gap between the leagues’ have’s and the have not’s. Not too long ago, if you remember, star players like Shaquille O’Neal and Kevin Garnett were racking up 5 or 6 year deals with salaries totaling well north of $100 million dollars, while the prosperity gap between a handful of All-Stars and the rest of the NBA’s players was expanding at an alarming rate.

Of course, as history tells us, recognizing that his league’s financials were completely out of whack, David Stern, the forward-thinking uber-commish that he is, in collusion with the league’s owners terminated the ill-fated 1995 collective bargaining agreement and locked out the league and its players in 1998 for a record seven months, or 191 days. The shortened season and a whopping $400 million lost in player salaries as a result of the lockout caused the NBA Players’ Association and its members to blink. The result was a brand new seven-year Collective Bargaining Agreement that led to a hard limit on maximum salaries, an extended rookie wage scale, a reduction in year-over-year percentage salary increase in a multi-year contract, the implementation of the mid-level salary exemption and later the institution of a luxury tax. The net result, as Stern and the NBA owners had anticipated, has been the gradual elimination of outrageously high star salaries and a more redistributed pay scale creating a more balanced salary structure.

The history lesson is to set up the point that the new CBA has done what countless accountants couldn’t get the NBA’s owners to do, which is set up a tiered performance and tenure-based pay scale. Since star players won’t hog payrolls under the current CBA, most owners are no longer overpaying relatively marginal players like Juwan Howard, for example. Given the relative fiscal frugality in today’s NBA it’s no surprise that there are a growing number of top-talent bargains to be found on NBA rosters.

We had a change to look at the overpaid duds in a recent post, but how about the top 10 underpaid studs?

10. Ron Artest: Sure he’s crazier than Britney Spears, but it’s tough to argue against the 18.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.1 steals that Artest put up last year. At least the Maloofs don’t have to dig too deep into their casino profits to pay for Artest’s economical $7,800,000 for the coming season – after which swingin’ Ronnie Artest can opt out of his deal and seek equitable compensation.

9. Bruce Bowen: Hate him, or despise him, you have to admit that Bowen is a critical part of the Spurs championship team. Without Bowen around to at least bother players like Kobe and T-Mac, the Spurs defense doesn’t look as solid. So, to retain Bowen at the $4,125,000 that the team will pay him for the 2007/2008 season is a pretty sweet deal for San Antonio – and, we’re sure they’re ecstatic about the 3 additional seasons left on Bowen’s contract at around that thrifty price.

8. TayShaun Prince: Anytime you can get All-Star caliber player at a yearly salary of around $8 million, you’ve done your job as a GM. In the immortal words of rapper Big Daddy Kane, Pistons’ GM Joe Dumars sure does “get the job done.” Dumars will be paying All-Star Prince $8,675,620 next year with 3 additional seasons remaining on his contract at around that same price.

7. David West: This Hornet is only 27 years old, going into the prime of his career, and is coming off a season where he averaged 18.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. So, any idiot can see that his value should only go up over the next few seasons, right? Funny thing is that his salary is going to do the opposite. West will make $10,650,000 this coming season, but over the subsequent 4 seasons his salary will actually decrease, ending up at a relatively low $7,525,000 in the final season. It’s called a front-loaded contract boys and girls, and the Hornets were pretty smart to sign West to one wouldn’t you say?

6. Gilbert Arenas: “Agent 0” won’t be a bargain for long, because as soon as he opts out of his contract following this season his salary should balloon to the $18 - $20 million range. In the meantime, the world’s most famous Halo 3 player will lace it up for a bargain price of $11,946,667. We thought we’d get Arenas on our list now, before his pending jackpot contract takes him out of the realm of the underpaid.

5. Caron Butler: Once again an All-Star who doesn’t quite make All-Star dough – a perfect fit for our underpaid list. Butler, who was first traded for Shaquille O’Neal and then traded for Kwame Brown (try to make sense of that logic), deserves more than the $8,218,990 he will make next season. To top it off, Butler has 3 years left beyond next year, so, given his stellar game on both ends of the floor, he should remain a staple on the underpaid list for quite some time.

4. Emanuel Ginobili: It probably says something about San Antonio management that there are two Spurs on our underpaid list. Ginobili is a special player, and on a Spurs team that’s generally devoid of emotion he brings that much needed passion, hustle and fire. So to get Ginobili’s services for a paltry $9,075,000 for the upcoming season with 2 additional years left on his deal shows solid negotiating on San Antonio’s part.

3. Gerald Wallace: Last season, Wallace averaged 18.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2 steals, while shooting a scorching 50 percent from the floor. This preseason, he has been even hotter, averaging 21.7 points per game, despite the addition of high-scorer Jason Richardson to the Bobcats roster. And to top it all off, Wallace is only 25 years old and going into his prime. Let’s just say that Bobcats part owner Michael Jordan is exorcising the demons of picking Kwame Brown with the first pick, by getting a bargain basement deal of $7,500,000 for Wallace’s services.

2. David Lee: Lee averaged a double-double 10.7 points and 10.4 rebounds last year, and he’s set to make only $990,600 this coming season? Are you kidding us? That has to be, by far, the lowest dollars per rebound total in the NBA. The Knicks have a team option on Lee’s contract for the 2008/2009 and a qualifying offer for the 2009/2010 season, so he could be on underpaid lists for some time. Given all of the other bloated contracts on the roster, good karma has to find the Knicks at some point right?

1. Steve Nash: He is 33 years old, listed at 6’3” (probably closer to 6’1”) and a scant 195 pounds, and looks more like a surfer than a NBA player. Despite all that he’s a two-time NBA MVP and one of the top 5 players in the game. But, unfortunately for Nash, and fortunately for Suns ownership, the crazy Canadian makes nowhere near top-5 player money. In fact, despite his accomplishments, Nash will take home a relatively pedestrian $11,375,000 in salary for the upcoming season, with 2 additional seasons left on his svelte contract.


Miraculous finish to Formula One season; Ferrari's Raikkonen is king

As we mentioned in a recent post, the Formula One season, for the first time in 21 years we might add, came down to the very last race at the Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday. Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, sitting in third place behind McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso respectively, could only win the driver’s crown if he actually won the final race, Alonso finished in third or lower and Hamilton, who came in leading the points standing, finished fifth or lower. We’ll give you one guess as to what transpired on the reverse layout course in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

That’s right, in one of the most exciting finishes ever to a Formula One season, the underdog Raikkonen pulled a “Buster Douglas” and did the unthinkable, driving a perfect race to bring the driver’s championship home for Team Ferrari. With Raikkonen’s win, Ferrari also takes home the F1 sweep, by having its driver win the individual crown, while the team won the constructor’s title, albeit as a fall-out of the now infamous 2007 “spygate”.

"This is a great feeling," Raikkonen said. "We had some hard times, some reliability problems and lost some points. A lot of people didn't believe in us, but we showed that they were wrong and we were able to come back. It was a great season."
We’ve been plugging Formula One on this blog since we began writing a couple of months back. And if you are even the least bit interested in racing or cars, and didn’t follow the 2007 F1 season, you missed out one of the most dramatic and exciting sporting seasons ever – even Quentin Tarantino couldn’t write a better script.

You had the young repeat champion in Fernando Alonso, moving to a new team and looking for a three-peat. You had the once-in-a-lifetime rookie Lewis Hamilton, seeking to become the only first-year driver, and incidentally black driver, ever to win the individual crown. You had the constant bickering between Hamilton and Alonso, which left many wondering if the lack of team cohesiveness would be McLaren’s downfall. You had the first year after the legendary Michael Schumacher era at Ferrari, with new teammates Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa looking to keep the “prancing horse” legacy alive. And of course, you had “spygate”, filled with its own heroes and villains, and an unprecedented $100 million fine that left McLaren reeling just a little.

If you missed all that, shame on you. Maybe, you’ll pay a little more attention next year to what is easily the most thrilling and entertaining motorsports competition around.

The top 10 overpaid NBA duds

While the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, with its hard cap on max contracts, luxury tax and rookie pay scale, has been highly effective at limiting outrageously astronomical contracts like those enjoyed by Shaquille O’Neal and Kevin Garnett, for example, that doesn’t mean it has stopped fiscally dim owners from overpaying some players who don’t quite earn their paychecks. Whether they sat across the bargaining table and negotiated the contracts themselves, or they traded for an overpaid player, the end result is that a good chunk of some unlucky owners’ revenue is tied to players who don’t quite understand the meaning of earning your worth.

Sure, gone are the truly outrageous $100 million-plus contracts enjoyed by relatively marginal players like Juwan Howard and Allan Houston, but that doesn’t mean the league doesn’t still have its share of players whose paychecks are severely disproportional to their performance on the court. Take a look at our list of the top 10 overpaid players in the NBA, along with a few honorable mentions that barely missed the list.

10. Shaquille O’Neal: The “Big Black Hole” sucks up a large chunk of the Heat’s payroll pulling in a cool $20,000,000 dollars per season, with 3 solid years left on his contract, including the upcoming 2007/2008 campaign. In his prime Shaq deserved every penny of the $20+ million he earned a year, but at age 35, and having played only 99 of the total 164 regular season games over the last 2 seasons, the “Big Out-of-shape” is increasingly becoming a serious financial burden on Miami.

9. Wally Szczerbiak: At one point in his career, what seems like a long, long time ago, “Wally World” was an NBA All-Star. Oh, how times have changed. While in recent years Szcerbiak’s ankles have become about as fragile as a crystal chandelier, his salary has remained at All-Star levels. Wally will make an outrageous $12,000,000 this upcoming season, with yet another year still remaining on his bloated contract.

8. Raef LaFrentz: This Kansas alum seems like a nice enough guy and no doubt he has a great support group of friends and family around him at all times, but little do they know that along with being an NBA power forward LaFrentz is also a NBA thief. Seriously, when you average 3.7 points and 2.6 rebounds playing in only 27 games, while earning $11,813,750 with 2 years left on your deal, you are stealing from your employer, in this case the Portland Trailblazers.

7. Kwame Brown: The frustrating thing about Brown is that he just doesn’t seem to understand the concept of responsibility. How else can you explain a player making $9,075,000 per year averaging only 8.4 points and 6.0 rebounds? Especially given the fact that he has been afforded so many different chances to live up to his #1 draft pick status. Good news for Lakers fans, of course, is that this upcoming season will be the last year of Kwame’s current contract, unless of course clueless GM Mitch Kup-cake chooses to extend Brown’s deal once again.

6. Zydrunus Ilgauskas: Talk about living off your past glory. At one point Ilgauskas was one of the top 5 Centers in the Eastern Conference. Now, after averaging 11.9 points and 7.7 rebounds this past season, he might not even be a top 5 player on his own Cavaliers team. And, in case you were wondering, he made the list because Ilgauskas will earn $10,142,156 this upcoming season, with two additional seasons left on his deal – the third year has a player option. Call us crazy, but somehow we don’t expect Big Z to voluntarily opt out of that final year.

5. Allen Iverson: AI averaged 24.8 points and 7.2 assists last year in Denver, so perhaps you’re wondering why he made our overpaid list. Well, it’s a combination of his salary, $20,109,375 this coming season with 2 years left on his deal, and his current role on the Nuggets. A salary of $20 million is elite superstar (ie. Kobe and Tim Duncan) money and Iverson is playing second fiddle to Carmelo Anthony in Denver – those two things don’t add up. Second scoring options should under no circumstances make that kind of dough.

4. Mike Dunleavy: The coach’s son has the whole NBA world fooled. Does it make sense to you that a player with career averages of 11 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, who is as non-existent as Dunleavy is on the defensive end, would have a contract worth $8,219,008 during the 2007/2008 season, ballooning to 10,561,984 by 2011? Yep, it doesn’t make much sense to us either.

3. Andrei Kirilenko: Let’s see, Kirilenko doesn’t like playing for the Jazz and is coming off a season where he averaged 8.3 points and 4.7 rebounds, yet the Jazz will pay him a whopping $13,709,375 for the upcoming season – with four years left on a contract that will balloon to $17,822,187 in the final season. Hmm, makes sense to us, nothing to see here, move along people. Well, at least AK-47 has a cool nickname, that’s got to be worth something.

2. Stephon Marbury: We’ll admit, we were big fans of the point guards that Bobby Cremins and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets used to produce. From Mark Price to Kenny Anderson to Stephon Marbury, for a while there, GT became point-guard U. So yes, we had high hopes for Marbury when he teamed up with Kevin Garnett in Minnesota. Marbury then proceeded to suck all of those warm feelings out of us like some anorexic leach. But, before you start to think that not-so “Star-bury’s” #2 ranking is out of spite, consider that the guy will make $20,109,375 this upcoming season and still has another year left after that. And, in case you missed it, last year he averaged a relatively paltry 16.4 points and 5.5 assists, while shooting an anemic 41 percent from the floor. Sure we’re bitter, but facts are facts.

1. Adonal Foyle: If you asked us if we could trade places with one NBA player who would it be? You’d probably expect us to say Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, but you’d be wrong. Why take on the weight of the world by stepping into the shoes of those players when we can have nearly as much dough and 1/1,000th the responsibility. That’s right, we’d trade places with one Mr. Foyle. Foyle played in 48 games last year at about 10 minutes per game. Never one to expend any unnecessary energy, he used those precious ten minutes per game to average a whopping 2.2 points and 2.6 boards per contest. And for his considerable troubles he took home a cool $8 million (that's $16,666 a minute, in case you were wondering). This upcoming season he’ll make exactly $8,937,500. It’s good to be Adonal Foyle.

Honorable mentions: Rashard Lewis ($15 million in 2007/2008 with 6 years left, ballooning to $23 million in the final year), Darius Miles ($8 million this season with 2 additional years left), Quentin Richardson ($8 million this year with 2 additional years remaining), Bobby Simmons ($9 million this year with 2 additional years remaining), Antoine Walker ($8.5 million with 2 years left), and Larry Hughes ($12 million with 2 additional years remaining).

Now that we’ve profiled the overpaid, we’ll soon take a look at the most underpaid players in the league. So, keep your eyes peeled for that fun-filled post.