Commentary

Summer spending a prelude to lockout

Updated: July 13, 2010, 11:44 AM ET
By Peter May | Special to ESPN.com

Wesley Matthews, Drew Gooden and Amir JohnsonGetty ImagesWesley Matthews, Drew Gooden and Amir Johnson banked a combined $100 million this offseason.

Moses Malone's six-year, $13.2 million contract in 1982 was in part responsible for one major labor change (the salary cap). Kevin Garnett's six-year, $126 million contract extension 16 years later was in part responsible for another (the first work stoppage in NBA history).

With another work stoppage on the horizon a year from now, whose deal is the one that will prompt the NBA to close its windows, lock its doors and then try to fix what commissioner David Stern has termed a "broken business model"?

There have been some beauties in the past few years (Jerome James and Brian Cardinal come to mind), but judging by what we've seen in the past 12 days, the owners still have not been able to stop themselves from talking frugality and economy while lavishing untold millions on everyday players.

"The NBA is a communist society that is populated by capitalists," one former GM said. "They all talk about common needs and goals, but in the end, their individual concerns come first."

So, take your pick. Any or all of these could qualify as Exhibit A when the league cites its need to rein in spending.

• Utah's Wesley Matthews, who played for the league minimum as an undrafted rookie this past season, signed a five-year, $34 million offer sheet from the Portland Trail Blazers. Matthews averaged 9.4 points a game last season and 13.2 points in 10 playoff games. We know that Blazers owner Paul Allen has a printing press in the basement of one of his homes, but an average of $6.8 million a year?

Drew Gooden agreed to a five-year, $32 million deal with the Milwaukee Bucks. What were they thinking? Gooden has played for eight teams in eight seasons, including five teams in the past two. (There was a one-gamer for Sacramento.) He has career averages of 11.9 points and 7.9 rebounds, but he clearly is a player who doesn't have what former Portland boss Stu Inman called "stickability," at least not with any one team. Oh, and he'll turn 29 years old in September.

Amir Johnson may be the poster child for the upside crowd. The ones who pay now for future deliveries and then wait … and wait … and wait.

The Pistons thought Johnson was a keeper in 2007 and signed him to a nice contract. They traded him in July 2009 to Milwaukee, who moved him on to Toronto less than a month later. Last season, while earning nearly $4 million, Johnson averaged 6.2 points a game. The Raptors were so enamored that they gave him $34 million over five years. This is the same group that paid Hedo Turkoglu $55 million last summer and now is apparently trading him to Phoenix. Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo said, "We feel like we're getting Amir right as he's about to take off. Amir will play 15 to 18 years in this league, but right now, he is ready to blossom."

For Colangelo's sake, let's hope so. But it sounds an awful lot like what Pistons president Joe Dumars said a couple of years ago.

The NBA is a communist society that is populated by capitalists. They all talk about common needs and goals, but in the end, their individual concerns come first.

-- Anonymous former GM

Travis Outlaw benefited from the fact that the New Jersey Nets were totally spurned by the marquee free agents on the market. He has been in the league for seven years, almost all of them with the Trail Blazers. He finished the 2009-10 season with the Clippers after being sent there in the Marcus Camby trade. He has a career scoring average of 9.5 points a game, which in this day and age apparently qualifies for a $35 million deal over five years. Hey, the Nets had all this money and no one willing to take it, so why not give it to someone like Outlaw? Or not.

We could go on and on (Brendan Haywood, six years/$55 million; Darko Milicic four years/$20 million; Tyrus Thomas, five years/$40 million), but you get the point.

No one is kvetching about LeBron James, Chris Bosh or, strangely, Carlos Boozer getting his millions. (Didn't you love the news release that said Boozer had agreed in principle to a deal with the Bulls? Bet that got a good yuk in Cleveland.) It's the ongoing awarding of large deals to mediocre players that is killing the league.

"Moses Malone's contract was disruptive to the league, and that resulted in the salary cap," a former league executive said. "Kevin Garnett's contract was responsible for the lockout. Those were individual signings for star players.

"This is systemic. It's not an individual aberration. I mean, look at Joe Johnson's contract. Is he really a max player?"

This is why we'll have a lockout next summer. It's not solely because of reckless spending by the owners, although that is a big part. Franchise values have not appreciated the way they once used to. (See: Bobcats, Charlotte.) Owners who could tap into their other businesses for cash maybe now see those revenue streams drying up. The league executive said, "Many of the franchises are quietly available for sale. And an offer that was considered too low a couple years ago would probably be OK now."

Stern has said for a while that the current system has been altered irrevocably and that the owners must do something about it. Apparently, the only way to accomplish that is to save the owners from themselves and put the NBA out of business temporarily.

Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a contributor to ESPN.com.

Peter May

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com