Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Shukran ya Ustaadh

Our Thanksgiving post has come a little late, but it took us a while to come up with the piquant content that we pride ourselves by. Our theme today is the giving of thanks, in honor of last week’s holiday here in the States.

We at Jordan Pushed Off would love to have a budget to hire research assistants to crunch some numbers for us. Unfortunately, money’s tight in these credit-crunched days, and we spend all of our spare cash on ESPN Insider and NBA Finals tickets. So, our capacity to run data analysis is not as broad as we might like. Let us still proceed with some speculation.

What do you think is the average tenure with a single team for role players — that is, players who have never made, and likely will never make, an NBA all-star team during their career? (I realize that this definition may capture several players who are certainly better than “role player”, like Tayshaun Prince, Richard Jefferson, Marcus Camby, and others, but I can’t think of a better line of demarcation.) I would guess that the average such tenure is three or four years. Every summer there is an active free agency market for role players, good general managers are not afraid to jettison unproductive bench players and try again the following fall with someone new. Joe Dumars tried Carlos Delfino, but he sucked. Then he tried Jarvis Hayes to play backup 3, but he sucked too. This year he’s going with Walter Herrmann. If Herrmann sucks, I am sure Joe will find a way to dump him in 2009.

Yet there are some role players who have somehow managed how to stick with their team, year after year, often drawing paychecks far out of proportion to their ability. (In fact, the causal relationship may go from bad contracts to lack of tradeability to unreasonably long tenure on a team). Longevity is nice: it means one home, stability for your kids, a secure relationship with management, the ability to pick out enjoyable community programs, perhaps favored groupies if that’s your thing, and fans who keep bringing the love year after year. It is these players of unusually long longevity with one team whom, we feel, have the greatest responsibility to give thanks for their lot in life. We will focus on role players who have played for the same team for at least six consecutive seasons.

Collison spent his rookie season in 2003-04 recovering from shoulder injuries, so this is really only his fifth active season. Still, Seattle/Oklahoma has continued to place faith in Collison as a starting power forward, when he has delivered only 10 points and 9 rebounds (in 28 minutes) in his best season. He can’t even block more than one shot per game. Those are “energy guy” numbers, folks. I suppose when your starting shooting guard registers at 6’9” and 215 pounds, you don’t have a lot of quality control. Sadly for the Thunder, they have Collison booked for two more seasons after this one, at over $6 million per.

The big Quebecois-née-Haitienne was drafted by the Sixers in 2001, just after Philly made the Finals with a center squad of Dikembe Mutombo, Matt Geiger, and Todd MacCulloch. Mutombo was looking wizened at the time (though incredibly, he played 7 more seasons, until 2008), Geiger was at the end of his career, and MacCulloch only played two more seasons due to a genetic foot disorder. So a fresh and spry center to play with Iverson seemed like a good idea.

It is said that big men take the longest to mature. Dalembert finally became a serviceable starter in his sixth and seventh seasons, averaging over 30 minutes, 10 points, and 10 rebounds. So far in this season, his eighth with the Sixers, he has regressed, though, averaging only 27 minutes and 6.5 points. Philly doesn’t really have another decent center on its roster (its fifteenth man, 35-year-old Theo Ratliff, has played only 5 times for a grand total of 35 minutes) so it is puzzling why Dalembert can’t get more floor time.

The giant from Holland (and then UCLA) was drafted by Milwaukee in 2002; this is his seventh season with the team. His high point came in 2004-05, when he started 81 games and averaged about 7 points and 8 rebounds. The following summer, with Gadzuric eligible to sign an extension at the end of his rookie contract, the Bucks
locked him up through the 2010-11 season. That’s right; unless Milwaukee can find a taker via trade, they are looking at nine seasons of the Gadzuric Era. After that transaction, Milwaukee brought in Andrew Bogut, the top pick in the draft, to play the 4, and brought in Jamaal Magloire to be their starting center. The following year, Bogut was promoted to starting center, and Charlie Villanueva or Brian Skinner got the nod at power forward. If you can’t beat out Magloire or Skinner for a starting spot on a non-playoff team, what are you doing? Gadzuric’s points per game hovered around 5 for the first two Bogut years, and have dropped to 3 in the subsequent two seasons. Yet Milwaukee is still happy to employ him.

My experience with Dutch men has been that they are uniformly very tall. Like, huge. And indeeed, the few Dutch players to make the NBA have all been centers: Rik Smits, Francisco Elson, and Dan Gadzuric. Incidentally, both Gadzuric and Elson now play for the Bucks.

These two were both drafted in 2001 (Michael Jordan acquired both) and have platooned at center for the Wizards ever since. Amazingly, this is the eighth year that the Wizards have employed Haywood and Thomas together, even though (i) they are mediocre pivotmen on a team that needs a powerful low-post scorer to succeed, and (ii) they hate each other. In recent years they have
fought at least three times. In their reluctant-tag-team roles, they remind me of Colin Powell and Don Rumsfeld, or maybe Cousin Balki and Cousin Larry, or Oscar Madison and Felix Unger, or maybe even Shawn Michaels and John Cena. In a way they sort of remind me of my cats (seriously, click the video, it’s short and funny): They bring a lot of bluster to their skirmishes, but ultimately don’t do a lot of damage.

I suppose together they would be a quality center, delivering about 15 points and 12 rebounds per 42 minutes, but paying a combined

12 million per year to these guys seems more inflated than the list price on a Palm Springs condo development circa ’06.

I have a strong hunch that this season will mark the end of the Thomas-Haywood pairing. The rise of rookie Javale McGee, plus the months-long wrist injury to Haywood, plus the ouster of coach Eddie Jordan, will surely upset the lazy equilibrium that kept the two big galoots together for over seven years.

Golden State picked up two centers in the summer of 1997: Adonal Foyle and Erick Dampier. Amazingly, Dampier stuck around for seven seasons until the summer of ’04, when his contract expired, and Foyle eventually played a total of ten years with the Dubs. During the seven seasons they played together, their combined average stats were as follows, by my calculations: In about 44 minutes per game, 13.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 3.3 blocks. About the same as Haywood and Thomas. Then why, in the summer of ’04, did the Warriors sign Foyle to a six-year, $42 million
contract? (And why did Dallas reward Dampier with a seven-year, $73 million contract at the very same time? Isn’t it clear that these guys suck? Dampier sure didn’t contain Dwyane Wade’s drives at the time Dallas most needed him.)

These guys remind me of Thomas and Haywood: one nerd, one jock. Thomas, of course, is an anti-war activist and a
published poet. Meanwhile, Adonal Foyle founded a network of college student clubs that push for public financing of campaigns. Not sure what Foyle thought of Obama’s every-day-is-Christmas routine.


In part 2, coming Thursday, we will consider more role players who should give thanks to their loyal teams, including Malik Rose and the monstrous Collins brothers.

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