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Michael Beasley is the argument for more conditional NBA contracts

The NBA should borrow a concept from the NFL and stop guaranteeing so much money to mid-rung players. Michael Beasley is a prime example of how that could work. Plus, appreciating Bill Russell's psychological warfare and Johnny Salmons's coach parade.


Back when Michael Beasley signed his free agent contract with the Suns a year ago -- one worth a reported $18 million over three years -- many of us shrieked in horror. And alas, we were right for a change: Phoenix waived Beasley on Tuesday, eating the remaining salary on his deal.

Well, part of the remaining salary on his deal. SB Nation's Bright Side of the Sun explains how the Suns got out of this pickle more cheaply.

Beasley was bought out by the Suns in the following manner:

  • 2013-14 contract reduced from $6 million to $4.66 million, a savings of $1.34 million on salary cap and wallet
  • 2014-15 contract reduced from $3 million guaranteed to $2.3 million, which will be stretched per the CBA over 3 seasons at $766K per year

But the interesting part is in the "character standard." Incentive-based contracts are the future of smart NBA team management. They've existed for a long while, but the form we most typically see them in isn't quite what I mean. What we see now is what I'll call incentive-laden contracts: they are bonuses piled on top of already-high salary figures. As in, "here's $10 million a year. If you make the All-Star Game, we'll give you another $1 million. Have fun!" That's not at all what I'm talking about.

Things like Beasley's "character standard" need to become more common, and not just for off-court transgressions. Part of the draw of the NFL's player contract business model is so little is guaranteed. The power is in the hands of the teams: you sign a player to a massive deal with only a portion of the deal guaranteed. If the player works out, you keep him. If not, you waive him. It allows teams to clean their cap sheet much more quickly than NBA teams can: you take a year of pain, and you can make it back to Square 1. In the NBA, one bad injury or total player regression can kill your cap sheet for years. (Ask the Wizards and Magic about Gilbert Arenas and Rashard Lewis, respectively.)

When it comes to regression, you can usually blame that on the team for making a bad bet, as in the 'Shard example. (Beasley would also be an example: his off-court issues weren't well-hidden.) But injury is not foreseeable in most instances. While the NBA has a few mechanisms in place to help teams whose players suffer major injuries, it's nothing like the NFL where beaten players just get shuffled off.

I have a heart, so I much prefer the NBA system where athletes are guaranteed their salary even if they have the misfortune of breaking themselves in action. But there's certainly room to improve on cap sheet malleability when it comes to using partial guarantees based on performance.

Right now, most of the partial guarantees act like quasi-team options, not real performance-based salary. (Though arguably performance plays into team-option decisions.) The issue that needs to be solved is that a lot of players producing the most are stuck in smaller contracts, while there's a good bit of dead weight hanging around on bigger deals. This is very much a league where you get paid almost entirely on your performance in the past, not your performance in the here and now. Using heavy incentives to replace a portion of base salary could fix that and help keep cap sheets more easily cleaned.

It's always tricky when you add in individual thresholds for a team game, but a vigilant set of observers (including coaches) can battle abuse. If a guy is just above his contractual shooting percentage threshold in the final game of the season and he refuses to take a shot, we'll know. If a guy with a fat rebounding incentive starts knocking his teammates out of the way for a board, we'll know. The opportunity for mixed motivations is there, but it's arguably there now, too: we know that scoring is the biggest factor in salary. So plenty of players knowingly take bad shots to boost their points per game, implicitly understanding that it will get them a bigger payday. Moving to a more incentive-based system can diversify what gets people paid. (Man, would I love to see DeMarcus Cousins get paid for every time he beats his match-up back down the floor on defense.)

To be clear, this can and already does happen. But my argument is that it needs to happen much, much more frequently, to the point where news like Beasley's character standard clause isn't a surprising treat as much as it is an obvious move.

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Pro Hoops History is one of my favorite NBA blogs, and its writer, Curtis Harris, gave us some Bill Russell talk on Tuesday, so obviously I'm going to link it and tell you to go read it. An excerpt:

To be sure, by 1956 there'd been many great rebounders and defenders in basketball's history, but Russell changed the game. He blocked shots that previously were unblockable. He did so by combining a nearly unparalleled vertical leap with gazelle-like speed and a frightening psychological acumen. He'd allow you to make a shot and then block another to show that he was in control of the situation. The points you got were at the mercy of Mr. Russell's grace, not because of anything you actually earned.

The only defender with that sort of attitude in the modern era I can think of is Kevin Garnett. With peak Ron Artest, it was hard to tell if the psychological manipulation was intentional. It was probably mostly his iron strength, lightning-bolt hands and refusal to stop bugging the crap out of the ballhandler. Ben Wallace just outworked almost everyone and had the steel cable arms to push people around. Bruce Bowen was his nickname: The Rash, an annoying, persistent problem for shooters. Tim Duncan is ridiculously fundamentally sound on defense and knows how to cover his guards.

But with Garnett, every possession is a skirmish in a greater war of wills. He's the closest thing to Russell as a competitor as I think we've seen in this generation of stars. (Based on the tape I've seen, Dennis Johnson might have been one of the stylistic links.)


"NBA Player and iCarly Actress Find Love Through Instagram."


Over at Sactown Royalty, we're trying to figure out what John Salmons is going to do this season given the Kings' acquisition of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. An enterprising commenter counted up how many coaches Salmons has had in his journeyman career: he's had 10 head coaches in 11 years. He'll get Head Coach No. 11 on opening night, and probably No. 12 when he becomes a free agent at the end of the season and signs a veteran's minimum contract somewhere in 2014-15.

That's just not a good situation for a player. The money helps, but geez.

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