Interview: Mark Deeks


Mark Deeks har gennem flere år specialiseret sig i salary cap analyse, til stor glæde for alle lønningsglade fans verden over. Jeg tog en snak med Mark omkring den opkommende sæson.

The NBA just decided to change up the All-Star voting process by removing centers altogether and replacing it with “frontcourt” options. Your thoughts?

Good. Now they need to do the same the to shooting guard and small forward positions, and create “wings” Those spots are as interchangable as the power forward and centre spots; in both cases, not everyone can play both positions, but most can, so a differentiation doesn’t achieve much.

It is, however, ten years too late to be optimum. Ten years ago, Ewing, Mutombo, Robinson and Mourning had all fallen away, due to age or injury. We were left with a Shaq that was absolutely dominant at the position, Antonio and Dale Davis as the best the East had to offer, and no one else of any significance. It was those days, the days when we had to pretend Dirk could play centre, that we needed it the most. Still, a good policy change nonetheless.

The Lakers have positioned themselves not only for this year and next, but also for 2014. How do you think they will fare?

They have two years to win a title with this current incarnation. And I believe they will indeed win a title in one of those two, barring major health issues. As for how they will fare with the 2014 rebuild? Very well, I’d imagine. When don’t they?

Chicago “hard-capped” themselves this summer. Could you explain the meaning of that, and how it came to be?

The long version of the long story is this:


The shorter version of the long story is this:

In the new CBA, there are three versions of the Mid-Level Exception, and, if you use the biggest one, you become subject to something called the “apron,” which is effectively a hard cap. A hard cap is a limit on player salaries that you simply cannot go over under any circumstances, and, by using the big MLE to overpay Kirk Hinrich, the Bulls are now bound by it. And this is a real problem, because they are so close to it already that they can’t even sign a 14th player.

Why they did this isn’t clear. Theories range from inter-front office political battles to genuine misunderstandings over the new rules, both of which are unsavoury. The most likely scenario is that the Bulls valued signing Hinrich so much, and needed to pay him as much as they did to outbid Milwaukee, that they thought it was worth putting themselves into this position to get him. This is frankly rather tough to fathom, but it’s nonetheless happened, and this is the hand they’ve dealt themselves. We’ll see how they play it.

Last year’s NBA Finals match-up retooled very differently over the summer. Oklahoma City got cheap young talent, and Miami got older and more experienced. How could that affect a potential Finals re-match?

The biggest thing affecting a possible Finals rematch is what the Lakers did, frankly. Oklahoma City did little to improve. Their biggest improvements will come from internal improvement, and the return of Eric Maynor. Yet upgrading at backup point guard isn’t what will tip them over the top, nor will anything they did this summer. Contrastly, Miami upgraded their roster and, infinitely more importantly, will now have championship swag. It will be an upset if they don’t win it all again.

Once and for all – Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. Can they make it work?

No. Simple as.

Daryl Morey gave the Houston Rockets a new look this summer, acquiring Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin. Explain why Houston is paying them a balanced salary compared to how Chicago and New York would have paid them, had they matched Houston’s offer sheets.

The long version of the long story is here:


The shorter version of the long story is this:

Both Asik and Lin signed using what is known colloquially as the “Gilbert Arenas Provision.” It is a system that allows teams without cap space or Bird rights to pay as much for their own high quality free agents with only one or two years experience as other teams with cap space could; previously, due to a loophole the league had not properly considered until the day its usage made it apparent, this was not the case. Whereas teams with cap space could offer these players up to the max, their incumbent team could only offer the MLE, and would thus lose them unchallenged once an offer sheet had been signed. It happened with Gilbert Arenas in 2003 and Carlos Boozer in 2004, and it was ugly.

In the 2005 CBA negotiations, the NBA closed the loophole by introducing the Arenas Provision, which allowed teams in certain circumstances to use the MLE to match offer sheets offered to players that are actually being paid way more than that. It also determined the criteria of what those free agents could sign for with other teams, the convergence between the two serving to close the loophole.

In the seven years hence, no one had ever used those criteria. Be it due to a dearth of suitable candidates, or wariness as to the value in doing so, no team ever signed anyone using the new Arenas Provision rules. That is, until this year, when it happened three times. Two of those players were Asik and Lin, and the other was Landry Fields.

The more intricate details of what the criteria and mechanisms are are explained in the above link, hopefully simply enough to understand. But the crux of it is this – both Lin and Asik, who signed for exactly the same amount of money, will be listed on Houston’s salary cap for $8,374,646 in each of the next three seasons. Yet had Chicago matched Asik or New York matched Lin, they would have on their respective caps for $5,000,000 this year, $5,225,000 next year, and a whopping $14,898,938 in 2014/15. Chicago decided it was too much to pay for a backup (thereby stuck in an unfortunate Gortat-like situation where they knew their player was extremely good and also knew they could never get good value for him), while New York decided it would be a better idea to get older, fatter and considerably worse at the position instead.

In both cases, then, Houston got their guy. And in both cases, it will probably be worth it. Asik’s defense is almost perfect, amongst the league’s very best, comparable to that of Dwight Howard and Tyson Chandler, something which is always worth over $8 million to any team who can play him enough. And while Lin may only average 14 points, 7 assists and 3 turnovers in his Rockets era, he’ll earn all that money back in revenue alone. Houston did a lot of baffling and unjustifiable things this offseason, but those two signings were not the guilty ones.

Compared to previous off-seasons, do you think the new CBA had a positive effect on spending this summer, or no affect at all?

Somewhat, and perhaps as much as it is ever going to do. Some players will always get overpaid in free agency due to the necessary evils of restricted free agency and perceived market value. RFA, while it often drives up prices exhorbitantly to those not deserving simply as a deterrent to the incumbent, simply has to exist if the league is to attain any kind of parity. So the odd ridiculous contract born out of its existence is something we’re stuck with. The same is true of perceived market value – when media-driven juggernauts of perception get going, guys get overpaid as a result. This will always happen. Nevertheless, the new CBA has taken out some of the mechanisms that lead to overspending (not least of which is the shorter maximum contract lengths), as well as increasing the incentive for not doing so.

What the CBA does is not so much increase the punitive penalties for having enormous payrolls to the point that it serves as a significantly greater deterrent as it does enhance the value in having small ones. There is much more to gain now from cap space, due to greatly improved free agency movement (via shorter contracts, fewer extensions, greater salary flexibility in trades, and the effective removal of the renegotiation-extension), as well as the possibilities opened up by the amnesty waiver procedure. We had thirteen teams this offseason with cap room, compared to a paltry four only three years ago. There is more to gain from a flexibile payroll now than from a clogged one. Teams occasionally overspending to get their guy is a worthy price to pay if it takes us away from the days when teams have to overpay everybody to get them. It seems there is a greater awareness in the NBA today that it’s the above-MLE deals to non-stars that cripple a team’s financial flexibility and thus its on-court performance. Deals like Roy Hibbert’s will continue to happen. Deals like Jose Calderon’s likely won’t.

There’s a lot of talk of James Harden and the likelihood of him getting a maximum contract from Oklahoma City. Given that Brook Lopez and Eric Gordon both received max deals, it should be a forgone conclusion that Harden is offered one as well. Being a smaller market than Los Angeles for example, can Oklahoma City afford to pay him that, alongside their current salaries for Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka?

Put simply, they have to. What, really, is the alternative? If they lose Harden in free agency, they’ll still have a capped out team, but it will just be one that is worse, and without any means to replace the wonderful talent they just lost. And while a sign-and-trade is a theoretical possibility, there is not a trade out there that is more beneficial to them than keeping their third star. I personally don’t think Harden is a max player, but he’s probably worthy of 85-90% of it, and that’s as near as makes no difference. He simply has to be paid and kept.

The good news is that Ibaka’s extension is a move representative of a team willing to pay whatever luxury tax it costs to keep together a potentially championship winning core. So we’ll see.

The Lakers, Knicks and Bulls are widely regarded as the richest teams in the NBA. L.A. and New York both spend well into the luxury tax threshold. What is holding the Bulls back from doing that, and will their financial restraints prevent them from winning a championship?

Having had almost enough cap space for two maximum contracts in 2010, paying the luxury tax for the first two years after that was basically impossible. The limitations of exceptions make it very difficult to go from tiny committed salaries to big committed salaries any quicker than that. Irrespective of that, however, the Bulls infamously shed big money this summer, motivated solely by the luxury tax threshold. They don’t want to pay luxury tax for a team that isn’t “a winner,” and while “a winner” has never been truly defined, it likely means a top four team with a legitimate chance of winning the NBA title. The Bulls have never decisively been that since the dynasty.

They might have been, before Derrick Rose’s injury. We can only deal in hypotheticals as to how much of a difference that injury made; what we do know is that, after two straight years of the best record in the NBA, they were getting very close to the top. The deal given to Rip Hamilton – and, arguably, Carlos Boozer before him – was perhaps indicative of a team that had decided it was sufficiently close to the top to be prepared to spend. Signing Rip blew every last inch of Chicago’s flexibility under the luxury tax, and thus ensure that any future roster additions (which were surely going to be made) would result in significant tax payments. They were surely going to finally pull the trigger.

In reality, of course, all Rip’s contract did was cost them Asik. But you cannot legislate for everything. I contend that the Bulls would have paid significant tax this season had Rose not torn his knee so badly. And of course, I cannot prove that.

It is worth noting that, as of today, the Bulls are more than $3 million over the luxury tax threshold. It is also however important to note that luxury tax is only calculated on the last day of the regular season. And it is not in the least bit likely that the roster the Bulls will start the season with will be the same one they end it with.

When he was a rookie, you stated to me that Kyle Lowry was the new Jason Kidd, in terms of being an all-around player. The 6’0 Lowry averaged almost 14/5/7 last season in 32 minutes a night. What tipped you off to his potential, especially seeing as he was a late first-round pick who played just 10 games his first year?

Well, he’s not Kidd. Not unless we assume all good rebounding point guards are the same player, in which case we might as well call him the uber-Junior Harrington. But Lowry is a very excellent player and a game-changing NBA talent on his good days.

The point guard position in the NBA right now is insanely good, and Lowry isn’t in the top tier. That’s Rose, Westbrook, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, territory (and yes, Rondo is in it). But the second tier, with Tony Parker, Steve Nash and the like, is where Lowry lies. There’s no way someone that disruptive, aggressive, athletic, balls-to-the-wall-y and innately driven, cannot impact a game, every game, for the better. And while he’ll never have the shot creation skills of his peers, for both himself and others, he has worked at all his faults to the point he has no glaring weaknesses any more. Scant few players have Lowry’s mindset, and it’s truly refreshing.

Toronto made an extremely good move to get him for such great value, whereas Houston made such a baffling move to dump him for so little. What will be interesting is for how long the Raptors can capitalise on this. The problem will come when he hits the open market in 2014. Toronto could in theory extend Lowry starting from next summer, but such an extension could only be for below his real market value, and the renegotiation/extension option that would previously have been available to a team with as much cap space as Toronto figures to have no longer exists. Lowry, then, is going to hit the market in the prime of his life, in an era when so many teams have cap space now. Surely, he will get his money. Perhaps with it will come true respect.

Prediction time: MVP & Finals MVP?

LeBron, LeBron. In that order.

One Comment

  1. Jacob

    27. oktober, 2012 at 01:54

    Der er linket til dette interview fra Yahoo’s Ball Dont Lie blog, det er fandme godt klaret.. En af de bedste basket blogs på nettet.