He’s got a face I don’t recognize and a name I’m not sure how to pronounce, but I know how much money Ian Mahinmi now stands to make as a Washington Wizards center.
Over the next four years, Mahinmi will be paid $64 million. Even though he’s a reserve who averaged fewer than 17 minutes a game with the Indiana Pacers this past season, Mahinmi was able to secure his $64-million jackpot because he was in the right place at the right time: An unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2016, when NBA teams began a competition to determine which one could offer the silliest deal to the most obscure player.
Between this past Friday and July 4, free agents around the league agreed to $3 billion in contracts. As the Associated Press reported, that translated into $9,000 a second, every second, for four days. What’s amazing is how nobody familiar with the NBA is amazed by this. A new television-rights agreement with ESPN/ABC/TNT, which put $24 billion into the owners’ pockets, raised the annual salary cap for each team from $70 million to $94.1 million.
Which explains why Ian Mahinmi, with a career average of 5.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, won’t be doing business with an advance-payday loan company any time soon. Nor will Evan Fournier, who has decided to stay with the Orlando Magic for five years at $80 million.
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Wow. I just included the name “Evan Fournier” and “$80 million” in the same sentence, and I don’t know whether to laugh or gag. It’s like putting the words “private-public partnership” and “NBA arena” in the same sentence. As free agents salivate over eight and nine-figure contacts, a construction crew is building a new home for the Milwaukee Bucks. The project is expected to cost $524 million, almost half of which — $250 million — will be funded by taxpayers.
Since advocating for the public assistance the Mariners requested two decades ago in anticipation of the outdoor ballpark that would prevent them from relocating to another market, my thinking about private-public financing for pro sports stadiums has taken a turn of, oh, 180 degrees.
I couldn’t figure out why Seahawks owner Paul Allen, among the wealthiest men in the world, wasn’t keen on building CenturyLink Field without public assistance. Allen’s fellow NFL owners, I came to understand, loathe the idea of a privately-funded stadium, as it puts pressure on them to do the same thing.
The devils made him do it, but still ...
Anyway, as the years went by, and contracts of pro athletes got dumber and dumber — Albert Pujols, who at 36 years of age has regressed into mediocrity, providing nothing to the Angels but the occasional home run, will be paid $30 million in 2021 — I soured about taxes funneled toward stadium projects that easily can be underwritten by a majority owner’s signature on the bottom of a check.
This is an assumption, granted, and I realize no pro-sports franchise is bankrolled by somebody as wealthy as Paul Allen. But when the Brooklyn Nets, who entered into a private-public partnership for the construction of the Barclays Center — a complicated boondoggle that ended up in court — commit $50 million for four years of Tyler Johnson, it’s an affirmation of a league swimming in money.
I’ve got nothing against Tyler Johnson, and how could I? I had never heard of Tyler Johnson until I saw the Nets were $50-million crazy about an off-the-bench shooting guard one season removed from the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League.
Johnson is averaging 7.4 points per game over his NBA career, but to borrow a term associated with baseball’s advanced-stat community, it’s a small sample size. Johnson’s NBA career has consisted of 68 games.
No joke. This is a third guard for a playoff team who maybe starts for a tanking-it-for-a-top-lottery-pick team, and when he signs a contract Thursday, he’ll be quite luckier for life than he was on Wednesday.
Good for him. Tyler Johnson may not be a household name, but he’s converted a 68-game career spent mostly as a reserve into a $50-million contract. I envy him, almost as much as I envy Timofey Mozgov, who is looking at a four-year, $64-million contract with the Lakers.
You might recall the role the 7-foot-1 Mozgov played for Cleveland in the NBA Finals, which found the Cavaliers recovering from a 3-1 deficit in their best-of-seven series against the Warriors. Then again, you might not. Mozgov’s participation in those seven games was limited to a total of 25 minutes.
Mozgov will turn 30 years old next week. He underwent surgery to remove a cyst from his knee a year ago, and the recovery was problematic to the point he may need additional knee surgery.
But he’s a 7-1 center with a 2016 championship ring, and how many of those guys are available? The Lakers concluded there is only one, and are investing $64 million to bring him on board.
Meanwhile, the Orlando Magic identified Bismack Biyombo as an elite talent. Biyombo is a specialist who attacks the boards — he’s averaging eight rebounds a game for his career — but it’s fair to wonder if a veteran with limited skills, looking at his fourth team in six years, is worth $72 million.
Sports Illustrated, which is giving grades to the prominent free-agent deals, rated Orlando’s acquisition of the former Raptors’ center a B-plus. When paying $72 million to a one-dimensional player gets a B-plus, it tells me the grading scale has become inflated since my high school days, when prayers for a C-minus in driver’s education finally were answered after two failed classes.
Parallel parking was an issue, as were left-handed turns at busy intersections and right-handed turns around vacant cul-de-sacs. Too bad my instructor, Mr. Sergeant, didn’t own an NBA team.
He’d have given me an A, and set me up to steer the planet’s fastest race car.