Salary Series: John Wall, CP3, and the Burdens of Commitment
Welcome back to the Business Casual Basketball "Salary Series."
In these weekly posts, we will take a look at a particular player or team with an interesting salary structure.
For example, certain contracts around the league have with interesting incentives, rare escalating, or declining dollar amounts, or vary significantly from typical market value.
When it comes to teams, there will be a deep dive on their spending habits, how they got to their current position, and what they can do to take advantage of their spending power. Conversely, if they are deep into luxury tax territory, we will look at what they can do to mitigate the damage as much as possible, both short-term and long-term.
Post All-Star break, we're turning our attention to two players in particular who were recently payed a hefty sum by their teams due to their elite status in the league. Just over a year after these transactions, their value relative to when they were first signed has dropped significantly for similar reasons.
Let's dive into this issue and the massive repercussions that will become prevalent down the line.
As a college graduate, I can appreciate the hard work and sacrifice that it takes to eventually walk across a decorated stage to receive a diploma. A stressful journey that takes anywhere from three to five years or even longer to see come to fruition should be recognized as an impressive achievement when it does come to pass. All-nighters, unhealthy amounts of coffee, and emotional breakdowns are common, which is why not everyone who embarks on the quest is built to ensure the barrage of struggles. This is why John Wall deserves the fair amount of support and respect he has generated across the league recently after announcing he will return to Kentucky to finish his undergraduate education and snag that elusive milestone. He plans on finishing his education after his recent setback...more on that in a bit. It means even more to him to return for that degree when taking into account the wishes of his late father. Wall is determined to follow through on the promise he made to his parent years ago to graduate college.
Speaking of college, Wall initially attended the University of Kentucky back in 2009-2010 where he solidified his status as a undeniable #1 overall pick with speed and explosiveness that could make some of the greatest athletes on earth jealous. He jumped straight to the NBA after his lone season, classifying him as one of many "one and done" players that have graced the NBA since the rule was reintroduced in 2006.
His career to this point has been what'd you expect from a player selected with the first overall pick. His career averages stand at 20.7ppg, 3.6reb, and 8.7 assists. He has been one of the premier playmakers in the league for awhile, culminating in his dime-filled 2016-2017 campaign where he dished out 10.7 helpers per game. Many would consider that season to be the absolute peak of John Wall's career thus far.
It may seem like a lifetime ago now, but at the end of the season, Wall spearheaded a near-elite Wizards team that finished with an impressive 49-33 record and reached the 4th seed in the Eastern conference. They dispatched the Atlanta Hawks in round one then fought to the death against Boston in the semifinals, where they fell in seven games. (The Wizards have still never sniffed the Conference Finals, by the way.)
Just over one year later, he was offered a lucrative 4 year Designated Veteran Player Extension worth $170 million dollars. Whew. With that background information on his career to that point, would you say that was a safe investment? Wall was clearly the franchise icon and cornerstone that was just entering his prime at 26 years young. Additionally, he was a four time All-Star and wasn't much of an injury risk. He had played at least 77 games in the previous four seasons. This was an easy decision for Wizards management at that moment and Wall would continue to proudly and reliably lead DC Nation entering the second half of his career.
Or so they thought.
Chris Paul (aka the Point God) has obviously had a storied career. His official introduction to the NBA lifestyle came on November 1, 2005 but his first season wasn't anything to write home about.
He finished that 05-06 rookie journey by scoring 16.1 points per game, assisting 7.8 time per contest, and stealing opponent possessions 2.2 times a game. Pretty run of mill stuff.
Before you start pulling out your hair in frustration of my statistical ignorance, please know that the preceding sentences were delivered in a strong mood of sarcasm. Of course 7.8 assists per game in year one is excellent. 2.2 steals per game is game changing not only for a rookie, but for any player in the league.
If we look at his entire career excluding playoff success, he has done everything necessary to be considered one of the best PGs of our generation and even one of the best lead guards of all time. He is arguably the best defensive PG ever, he has recently forced his way into the top ten in assists all time, and has a bulldog mentality that has allowed him to overcome his extreme size disadvantage. His list of achievements is quite long and would take far too many words to list in detail. In any case, it's clear that he deserves much praise.
Much like John Wall, he has ranked in the top five in assist almost every season in his career and is a picture perfect floor general in an era that features multiple scoring guards on every team. Despite this, these two point guards are quite a bit different in many aspects.
First of all, CP3 did not feel the desire to remain with the team that drafted him 4th overall in the 2005 draft. He got a well-deserved 4 year/$63 million rookie scale extension in 2008, but forced his way out of New Orleans in 2011 after several early playoff exits.
Secondly, Paul was far more injury prone leading up to the prime years that Wall is currently in. He was a slightly more risky investment, but his sheer dominance at his position was too much to overlook and he was blessed with nice extensions in New Orleans at age 23 and in LA at age 28.
His past success worked out well during the lifetime of the deal for both of those ball clubs, but it presented the Houston Rockets, his current team with a difficult decision of sorts.
They could give a 32 year old 6 foot guard with severe injury concerns a mammoth 35% maximum deal, or let this hot commodity walk and risk angering their younger superstar James Harden.
The choice was obviously quite clear in hindsight. However, seven months after the ink dried on that lucrative deal, the Rockets are beginning to feel the aftershocks of this transaction.
So there is an point of convergence when we go about tracing the backstory of both of these primetime NBA point guards. The key word that brings both of their current situations together is 'burden.' There is a price to pay when a NBA team decides to give an extension or new deal to a current employee. Sure, CP3 was acquired via trade and the Rockets are not the team that drafted him, but they are in a tough position, nonetheless.
In simpler terms, Chris Paul is a used automobile and the Rockets are a new buyer. The problem is CP3 has two previous owners and over 12 years of professional experience on the odometer. Oh, and it's not like they acquired this car on a discount. CP3 is a limited edition model, one that has some of the premium features in the business. They don't make many point guards players like Paul anymore and his basketball IQ is pretty much off the charts.
When you want something that's abundantly rare and desirable, you're gonna pay a premium, even if that something is advanced in age. That premium hit Houston hard in the form of a 4 year/$159 million contract that will be the 3rd maximum contract deal of Paul's career and most likely the last contract he will sign prior to retirement.
Backtracking to John Wall, why does he share this space with a much older Christ Paul? Wall is five years younger and did not shun the team that drafted him fresh out of college almost ten years ago.
If you consider the fact that both will make in access of $30 million each year for the three and four years respectfully it makes sense. These two contracts in particular were highlighted because they will be enormous financial problems for the Rockets and Wizards to navigate around. Wall has sustained several debilitating injuries since his extension was signed, which calls the value of his contract into question.
Here are the games played for John Wall going back to the 2013-2014 season:
13-14: 82 games
14-15: 79 games
15-16: 77 games
16-17: 78 games
17-18: 41 games
18-19: 32 games (out for the season)
His worst two seasons in terms of total games played have occurred directly after the extension was signed, which is definitely a worst-case scenario for Washington. Wall is just entering his prime and should be at the peak of his physical powers, not breaking down like fellow veteran Chris Paul. He is currently out rehabbing his achilles, which is tore while roaming his house. (It's anybody's guess as to what he was doing to cause such a severe injury outside of basketball.)
Paul has not fared any better after signing his new deal. He famously suffered a hamstring pull towards the end of the most important playoff series of his career against Golden State last Spring. Things don't seem to be improving health wise for him going into this season, as he has already missed 23 games due to...SURPRISE! A hamstring strain.
Luckily for the Wizards, Wall's extension does not kick in until next season, so they have had time to make some house cleaning moves to lessen the impact of his upcoming $37.8 million cap hit for 19-20. The trade deadline came and went earlier this month and the Wizards were basically forced to take extreme action to compensate for this massive salary the Wizards will be paying Wall to sit on the bench while nursing his devastating injury.
3-D extrodinare Otto Porter was sent to Chicago in exchange for the expiring (EMPHASIS ON EXPIRING) contracts of Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker. They are due $2.4 million and $20 million respectfully and can be let go in free agency this Summer if the Wizards don't feel like ponying up the cash to retain them.
Houston won't be very flexible in roster for the next few years as long as Paul and Harden are on the books, not to mention Capela and Gordon.
They will be capped out at somewhere between $119 million and $122 million so tax payer exceptions will be their only path towards improvement. That's good enough for some decent role players. Nothing more.
On the DC side of the ledger, they managed to duck under the salary cap and will have up to $8.8 million in space. This depends on what happens with players like Jabari Parker (team option) and Dwight Howard (player option). It still bring a bit of abdominal pain to the average human seeing $38,150,000 next to John Wall's name on the cap sheet, though.
This is the price of commitment for team management.
Hopefully these two extreme cases serve as cautionary tales to other teams in position to sign their number one athletes to lucrative deals. They may be young and injury free, or be a future 1st ballot Hall of Famer, but the nature of the sport brings significant risks all the same. That's how it goes when you have to dedicate several million dollars to players well in advance of the production you expecting to get from them.
There can't always be a happy ending, especially when there's money involved.
Coming next week: King's Gambit: Inevitable Evolution of LeBron's Supporting Cast