How the lockout led to Derek Fisher being overpaid

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

There are fewer ways for spendthrift owners to burn cash these days. Unproven coaches is one.

Back in 2004, Derek Fisher signed a six-year, $37 million contract with the Golden State Warriors. This was one of a number of bad deals Golden State made before its mini-resurgence with Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson. The Warriors ended up trading Fisher in a salary dump two years later.

The contract was exactly the type that slayed NBA teams' ability to field deep, good rosters. A couple of mistakes like that and you were capped out for years. Six seasons is a really long time.

In the 2011 lockout deal, the players' union, led by Fisher, made major concessions. One of those was that the new maximum length for a non-incumbent free agent is four years. (It'd gone down to five years in the 2006 labor deal.) These days, no one can sign a deal like the one Fisher signed back in 2004. Owners have successfully killed the folly of offering mid-tier role players long, expensive contracts. These days, a player like 2004 Fisher might get $20 million over four years at most. That's still a bit cringeworthy, but it's not terribly problematic, because the contract lasts just four years.

What the lockout deal has created is a league with very few ways for NBA owners to burn money. They'll still find ways, mind you. Fisher's new boss, James Dolan, is showing he is an elite cash-burner. High-dollar contracts to unreliable players (say, J.R. Smith) is one way to waste money in the new NBA. Paying non-stars like stars (Andrea Bargnani) and giving too-rich contracts to older players who will be useless if injured (Amar'e Stoudemire) are other methods.

But the stricter salary cap rules really do restrict the ability of teams to go whole hog buying players, especially relative to the pre-lockout days. What Billy King, aided by Mikhail Prokhorov's money, has done in Brooklyn is the exception, not the rule.

There's one other path toward spendthrift insanity: burn that cash where there is no salary cap. That'd be in the front office and on the bench. Case in point: Dolan gave Phil Jackson $60 million over five years to do a job he's never done before and is giving Derek Fisher $25 million over five years to do a job he's never done before.

It'll be difficult to tell whether new limits on player salary translates to higher salaries for more coaches and GMs across the board. Many suits are paid relatively modestly. (Last year's court-to-sideline star, Jason Kidd, signed for half of Fisher's annual salary, with only three guaranteed years.) Unlike the player pool, the population of potential coaches and GMs is huge. Salaries up and down sports team management are depressed by the huge interest in every opening. Any spike in salaries at the top level might misrepresent the situation -- owners are most likely pocketing the extra cash earned from the lockout, not re-investing it into the team.

But it's still interesting to compare the circumstances around the last time Fisher signed a contract considered too rich and this situation. At least this deal won't impact the Knicks' cap, just Dolan's pocketbook.

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