NBA history dictates that Big Baby Davis will get paid this summer, sample size be damned.
The Contract-Year Signing is a well-established phenomena: a chronically underachieving player puts the pieces together in the last year of his deal and, conveniently enough, his boosted numbers are enough for a desperate team to throw way too much money at him. The player then goes right back to underachieving.
But there’s another, rarer NBA phenomenon by which mediocre players sucker unsuspecting teams into albatross contracts: a previously anonymous player plays just enough above his previously exhibited abilities during a crucial Playoff stretch—at which point, recall, passions run high and team execs can fall in love as easily as fans—and lands a ridiculously oversized contract; he then goes right back to his previous lows. We’re going to call it The Brief-And-Due-to-Sample-Size-Irrelevant-Flash-of-Brilliance-Coming-at-Just-the-Right-Time Signing (title’s still in beta.)
And the worst offenders are…
Croshere was a third-year bench player still establishing his role on the Pacers when the team made its 2000 Finals run. He showed flashes in the early rounds, going for 20 and 22 in wins against the Sixers and Knicks, but he saved the best for last: over six Finals games, Croshere came off like a revolutionary power forward specimen. Bleacher Report recalls: “He was an absolute match-up problem for those Lakers and he consistently exposed slower defenders on the perimeter, getting to the basket and finishing as well as hitting his trade mark corner jumper.” The highlight came in Game 2, when he scored 24 points in 25 minutes. In the offseason, Croshere landed a seven year, $51 million contract. “It’s a very surreal moment,” Croshere said at the time. “I don’t think it’s sunk in. Throughout the negotiations, hearing the numbers thrown out, it’s kind of like Monopoly money at that point.” (It was a little surreal for Pacers fans too, Austin). In the 2001-2002 season he averaged 10.1 points a game. He’d never average double figures again.
In the 2001 Playoffs, journeyman center Calvin Booth–a little-used reserve for the Dallas Mavericks—put together a neat little resume. He scored 16 points in 18 minutes in the Mavs’ only win during their second-round series against the Spurs, but his most memorable moment had come in the decisive fifth game of the first-round series against the Jazz. With the Mavs down one with less than 20 seconds to play, Michael Finley went iso on John Stockton but handed off to Booth, who converted the layup for a one point lead with 9.8 seconds to go. Dallas would hold on to win; the basket accounted for two of Booth’s three points in the game. The ensuing offseason, the Sonics scooped him up for $34 million spread over six years. At the time, then Sonics coach Nate McMillian called him “one of the best young centers in the League.” How’d that work out for everybody? Not so good! Since the signing, Booth has kept bouncing around, playing for the Bucks, the Wizards, the Sixers, the Timberwolves, the Mavs again, and the Kings, without ever putting up any numbers of note.
Statistically, James actually flashed the most potential in his fast-burning moment of glory: in 2005, while with the Sonics, JJ averaged 17.2 points and 9.4 rebounds in a first-round series against the Kings and 12.5 points and 6.8 rebounds overall for the Playoffs. Isiah Thomas signed him to a five-year, $30 million contract a few years later, and if it wasn’t for the phrase “are you going to get in the truck?,” James would still be the face of the Thomas-Knicks debacle. In the past three years, he’s played 89 games for the Knicks, including two each in the last two seasons; a Times article from earlier this year talks about James like he’s the kid with down syndrome that gets to be on the varsity team anyways: “There was James, who could not wipe the smile from his face, grabbing rebounds, palming the ball in one huge hand and scoring as his teammates erupted in glee on the bench.” Arguably the worst contract of all time. And, therefore, our personal favorite.
Big Baby Davis
Okay, he hasn’t landed a ridiculously oversized contract yet. But considering the way he played in Kevin Garnet’s absence, it’s inevitable, right? To be fair, Big Baby has been steadily improving over the last two seasons, most noticeably with the development of his jump shot, and he did put up an actual body of work in this year’s Playoffs: 15.8 ppg, 5.6 boards, one hell of a game winner, and one hell of a shove-some-random-kid-on the-sideline game-winner celebration. He’s a restricted free agent, but estimates are now for a contract with a yearly value in the $5-$10 million range, which the Celtics will most likely not match. Good luck to you, Baby—we hope you play your way straight off this list.
Amos Barshad is an Assistant Editor at New York Magazine’s website.