Teams might regret summer spending sprees

Updated: August 26, 2004, 4:15 PM ET
By Chad Ford | ESPN Insider

Chat Wrap: Chad Ford

And so it ends the way it begins.

In big hat Dallas -- where the steaks are big and the wallet of Mark Cuban is even bigger.

NBA owners went wild this summer. It all started in Dallas on July 1st with unrestricted free agent Steve Nash. It all ended Tuesday, in Dallas, with the Mavs pulling off a sign-and-trade for Erick Dampier.

In the span of seven weeks, NBA teams handed out more than a billion dollars worth of contracts. Enjoy it while it lasts. In the short term, having guys like Dampier or Nash will make fans happy. In six years, when these guys are broken down or washed up, fans will rue that day teams opened their wallets.

Mark Cuban
On July 1st, Mavs owner Mark Cuban sat down with Nash and offered him a five-year, $45 million deal with $41.5 million guaranteed. At the time Cuban thought he was paying market value for Nash.

Within hours, Cuban got a return call from Nash. The Suns were offering a six-year, $65 million deal with $60 million guaranteed. Cuban gagged, calling it a "max-type contract". Within a few minutes, Nash was shaking hands with Jerry Colangelo and the Mavericks had lost their starting point guard.

It was about that time that Cuban, one of the NBA's last big spenders, began preaching fiscal responsibility in basketball, calling the Suns contract a "crazy offer".

Cuban, in his weblog, claimed that the idea of giving a 30-year-old player a near-max deal was unprecedented. He fretted over Nash's durability. He claimed that the collective bargaining agreement was coming up for renewal, meaning that older players getting huge contracts would become untradeable. He claimed that cap flexibility was more important than signing a player who would only go downhill as his career went on.

"If you sign a player to a long-term, high dollar contract, the expectation has to be that you will not be able to trade that person ever. He will play out his contract. If at some point in that contract, the player no longer plays at the level he was at when the contract was signed, you have a huge problem."

Nash's agent, Bill Duffy, shrugged his shoulders. "He underestimated Steve and he underestimated the market," Duffy told Insider on July 2nd. "I think you're going to see contracts going up, not down this year."

Steve Nash
Point Guard
Phoenix Suns
78 14.5 3.0 8.8 .470 .916

Duffy was right. Cuban had misjudged the market. Nash's deal with the Suns was just a sign of things to come. The flood gates had opened.

Within a day, Cuban, in a effort to salvage the summer, offered Marquis Daniels a six-year, $37 million contract. Daniels was an undrafted rookie last season.

Adonal Foyle got five years, $41.6 million -- guaranteed. In his seven-year career, Foyle has never averaged more than 5.9 ppg and 7 rpg. Last season, he averaged 3.1 ppg and 3.8 rpg. In the 2008-09 season, he'll be making $9.8 million.

Mehmet Okur, who could barely crack Larry Brown's rotation toward the end of the season, got a six-year, $50 million contract from the Jazz.

Just days later Carlos Boozer, who was a second-round pick two years ago, pulled down a six-year, $68 million contract from the normally fiscally responsible Jazz.

Kenyon Martin got seven years, $91 million from the Nuggets, forcing the Nets into a sign-and-trade.

Jamal Crawford got seven years, $60 million from Isiah Thomas.

Brian Cardinal, a career reserve, got six years, $34 million from Jerry West despite averaging just 1.9 ppg in his first three years in the league.

Derek Fisher, who didn't even start for the Lakers last season, netted $37 million for six years despite being 30-years-old. His numbers have been dropping the past four seasons.

The beat goes on and on. By the end of the summer, Nash's deal with Phoenix actually started to look reasonable.

But nothing tops Cuban's finale. After preaching all summer that it was irresponsible to offer aging players max-type deals. After claiming that cap flexibility was important. After claiming that he had to protect the Mavs' business interests, Mark Cuban blinked.

Damp's contract details
Insider has learned the details of Dallas' seven year, $73.3 million dollar contract with Erick Dampier. His first-year salary is $7.7 million. The last year of his contract, worth more than $13 million, is conditional on Dampier playing in three All-Star games in the first six years of his contract OR playing 2,100 minutes in a minimum of 70 games during the 2009-10 season.

Both conditions are possible to achieve. With Shaq out of the West, Dampier will do battle with Yao Ming and Brad Miller for one of the two All-Star spots for centers. The 2100 minutes is a tougher goal. Dampier has achieved 2100 minutes only twice in his career. He has to average 30 mpg to achieve the goal.

The seven-year, $73 million contract offer to Dampier truly is "crazy." Dampier, who, come to find out, is only 29, not 30, is coming off a career year. For the first time since 1998, he averaged more than 10 points a game or 28 mpg. For this first time in his career he averaged more than 10 rpg a game. For the fifth time in six years, he finished the year on the injured list. He did all of that on one of the worst teams in the league last season.

Erick Dampier
Dallas Mavericks
74 12.3 12.0 0.8 .535 .654

Numerous teams, including the Grizzlies and Pacers, coveted Dampier. Only one other team, however, the free-spending Knicks, was seriously considering paying Dampier those type of numbers. Like Nash, there are serious questions about Dampier's durability. He's played in fewer games and for less minutes than Nash has over the past three years. Unlike Nash, there are also serious questions about Dampier's motivation. Everyone believes there was direct correlation between Damp's performance and the fact that he was in a contract year.

Nash is a winner. A team leader on a team that legitimately competed for a championship the past few years. Dampier is a tough, physical big man who has never played a playoff game. Nash wasn't worth $10 million a season over five years. Dampier, apparently, is worth more than $10 million a season over seven.

Big men have always come at premium and, given the market this year, Dampier's deal sounds just about right. He was a top-four center in the league last season behind only Shaquille O'Neal, Yao Ming and Ben Wallace. Dallas desperately needed a tough, physical big man and Dampier was the ONLY one available.

In the short term, the move was a slam dunk. Dallas moves itself back into contention in the West. In the long term? Maybe Cuban was prophetic.

The collective bargaining agreement will change. Contract terms will likely be shorter. Luxury-tax penalties will likely be stiffer. Aging or overpaid players with long-term contracts will be untradeable for years. Two or three years from now, when Dampier is playing 45 games a year and is back to averaging around 7 ppg and 6 rpg -- Mavs fans won't be as happy.

They won't be the only ones.

"Anyone who says that owners don't need the luxury tax anymore, look at this summer," one NBA executive told Insider. "We've all screwed ourselves and we did it, because there was talk, speculation really, that we wouldn't have a luxury tax next season. Now, with the way we've all been spending, even that's now in doubt. Two years from now, a lot of people are going to look back on this summer as a disaster. The teams that were conservative will come out winners in the long run."

Maybe Cuban, in July, was right after all. The probability of a luxury tax next season is estimated to be around 30 percent now, due in large part to the summer spending spree of owners. If the luxury tax hits, owners will respond by tightening budgets, ordering GMs to make cap-cutting trades and refusing to sign or re-sign free agents in the future.

Nash and Dampier got their money this summer. But it may be the fans in Phoenix and Dallas who'll have to pay for it in the long term.

Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.

Chad Ford

ESPN Senior Writer