The Hornets have signed Anderson to the precise sort of contract (a deal in the $6 million to $10 million range for a non-star) that a growing number of NBA geeks would recommend avoiding.
The Rockets, the NBA’s leading geeks, are certainly operating like a team that would prefer a combination of stars, expiring contracts and guys on rookie deals or minimum-level contracts, but even they are poised to snag Bulls restricted free-agent center Omer Asik on a contract in this exact range. The Thunder have one player in this salary range right now, center Kendrick Perkins, and he is already talked about around the league as a potential amnesty candidate. The Heat have two players nearly in this range, swingman Mike Miller and power forward Udonis Haslem, but they signed Miller via cap space, and they remain a close approximation of a team built on the stars-or-cheapies-only model.
That seems less true for both [George] Hill (already 26) and forward Jeff Green (turning 26 next month), who agreed to return to Boston on a four-year, $36 million deal that stands as a wild overpay — so wild that I’ll be shocked if at least the final season isn’t fully or partially non-guaranteed. Green has never posted a league-average Player Efficiency Rating, and save for nailing 38.9 percent of his threes in his second season, he’s never put up any major statistic that would rank above average for either forward position. Every team for which he has played has recorded a much better scoring margin with Green on the bench.
The Thunder often used Green at power forward, where he has been a disaster, and it’s possible he’ll function much better as a small forward on a veteran team that prioritizes defense above all else. His numbers, and those of his team, have always been much better when Green is at small forward. But at this price, I’d want some piece of sustained data I could point to and say, “This player does Thing X well, and his team’s scoring margin improved when he was on the floor over Extended Time Period Y.”
That track record doesn’t exist with Green. It does with Anderson. The Green contract — which comes after he missed last season because of a heart condition — is the kind of Bird Rights deal into which over-the-cap teams are trapped. Boston could have carved out major cap room this summer, but it understandably chose not to do so. The team looked at the free-agency landscape for this season and next, saw no star likely to sign there and went with a middle path of staying over the cap, bringing back several key holdovers (including Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass) and hoping new additions (such as Jason Terry, via the mid-level), young players and good health could keep it in title contention.
Boston has tried to do that and remain flexible at the same time, but these deals could tie up its long-hoarded cap space for the next two summers. Assuming all these new deals are fully guaranteed for 2013-14, the Celtics have something like $66 million already on the books for next season, putting the luxury tax in play next summer. Assuming the same for 2014-15, Boston could have nearly $52 million on the books before even considering cap holds for small forward Paul Pierce and shooting guard Avery Bradley, both of whom will be free agents after the 2013-14 season.
That $52 million figure will obviously drop if Terry’s and Green’s deals are partially guaranteed for that 2014-15 season. But deals like these — and upcoming ones for forwards Ersan Ilyasova (likely with Milwaukee) and Nicolas Batum (with Minnesota or Portland) — are risky, and a large portion of them end up being a source of regret for the signing team. This is why Cleveland is reportedly interested in taking on Kris Humphries in a potential Brooklyn/Orlando Howard deal only if the free-agent power forward signs a contract that is fully non-guaranteed after Year 1.