Casey recalls some cracked financial moves.
by Casey Jacobsen
Basketball is a game, but it is also a huge business. Throughout my short career, I’ve seen some decisions made on a business level that don’t follow any logic or rationale. Millions of dollars (and Euros) are spent on players and coaches. One would think that because of the amount of money changing hands, the people making decisions would take their time and think a little harder about what they wanted to do with all that money. Here are some of my most memorable “business of basketball” decisions I witnessed during my career:
• After Jim Jackson was traded from Houston to New Orleans during the NBA season of 2005, he decided he didn’t want to play for the lowly Hornets. After refusing to report to his new team, they had no choice but to fine him for every game missed. After the total reached over $200,000 with no end in sight, the Hornets finally gave in and traded Mr. Jackson to a better team: the Phoenix Suns. My team. He was traded for me (and Jackson Vroman and Maciej Lampe). I went from playing on one of the best teams to one of the worst, all because Jim Jackson would only play for a “contender.” Thanks, buddy.
• The Dallas Mavericks thought Steve Nash was too old (30) following the 2004 season to receive the kind of contract extension he was asking for. They let him go to the Suns, who were beyond excited to sign him to a bargain five-year, $65 million deal (the Mavericks rumored to offer Nash $45 million). The Mavericks, needing to sign someone to help them, decided to give Erick Dampier $73 million. On what planet does this chain of events make sense? Nash, over the previous four seasons, averaged 17 points and 8 assists for one of the League’s best teams. Dampier, on the other hand, had just come off of a career season where he averaged 12 points and 12 rebounds for a struggling Golden State Warriors team. He never produced even similar numbers before that contract year and never produced them again, although he is a solid NBA center. Regardless of how Dampier performs, will he ever be worth that kind of money? I know 7-footers are at a premium in the NBA, but so are great point guards. It might be the worst investment Mark Cuban has ever made. (Sidenote: Erick Dampier is only one year younger than Nash.)
• The Phoenix Suns had just been sold to majority owner Robert Sarver. The summer he took over, decisions about exercising team options for three of our players, including myself, needed to be made. Our GM, Bryan Colangelo, approached me the day before the deadline to tell me that only Amar’e Stoudemire’s contract was going to be extended. He told me it was the new owner’s decision and not his. I was disappointed, but then I started to scratch my head over the fact that the other player who would not be getting an extension was JOE JOHNSON. How could the new owner not pick up Joe’s inexpensive option (around $3-4 million for a 25-year-old player averaging close to 15 ppg)? After putting up All-Star numbers the next year, he promptly left to play in Atlanta. Can’t say I blame him. Do you think the Suns could have used Joe Johnson a couple years back during their playoff series with the Spurs?
• I reported to Houston Rocket training camp during the summer of 2007. I signed a non-guaranteed contract, meaning I would have to play well in camp to make the team. After two months of playing for Jeff Van Gundy, he called me into his office to tell me that I was being released by the team. He then told me that I had made the team, but that the Rockets no longer had any roster spots available. According to him, the Rockets expected Bob Sura, a veteran guard who had career-ending back surgery the year before, to announce his retirement. They were then going to give me his roster position. But Sura called the organization two days before my release to tell them he was going to attempt a comeback. The team owed him over $7 million that season and had no choice but to keep him on their official roster. He never played a game that season, and I continued my career in Europe.
• Marc Iavaroni takes his first head-coaching job of his career with the ’07-08 Memphis Grizzlies. He signs a three-year contract and takes over a team that went 23-59 the year before. For some reason, expectations are pretty high in Memphis. Following a dismal start to the season, team owner Michael Heisley and GM Chris Wallace decide to pull the trigger on what has to be the worst trade in NBA history: Pau Gasol to the Lakers for Aaron McKie, Kwame Brown, and Javaris Crittenton and a conditional draft pick! Of course, the Grizzlies finished at the bottom of the League that year. The next season, after another dismal start, the Grizzlies fired Iavaroni. I feel bad for Marc — he is a good coach who was set up to fail by the owner and GM. John Wooden wouldn’t have been able to help our group win! The head coaching position in Memphis is one of the most impossible jobs there is. For the upcoming ’09-10 season, the team signed Zach Randolph and Allen Iverson to help them win games. Are you kidding me?! Even if the Grizzlies win more games than they did last season (which shouldn’t be too difficult), that team still has no identity going forward. I feel really bad for all the fans in Memphis.
• I played for a team in Spain (TAU Ceramica) who, after starting the season 8-1 in arguably the best league in Europe, dropped two consecutive games in our home arena. We fell to 8-3 and went from first to third in the standings. Our first year coach, Pedro Martinez, was fired the next morning… after only 11 games! Of course, because the season was already underway, there were no good free agent coaches to replace him (they had all signed new contracts the past summer). TAU ended up bringing in a coach with hardly any experience, and it was clear to us players that he was in way over his head. Despite our coach, we continued to win and even reached the Euroleague Final Four before losing to Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2006. That coach, Velamir Perasovic, suffered heart problems the next season in his early 40s and was released from his contract (although he has resumed his career with a successful team in Croatia). A new coach was brought in the following season and the team ended up winning the Spanish League Championship. Then, for reasons unknown to anyone on Earth, TAU fired that coach and brought in a new guy during that summer and haven’t won a title since. I swear I’m not making this up.
Casey Jacobsen is a former SLAM High School First Team All-American and NCAA First Team All-American. He currently plays for Brose Baskets in Bamberg, Germany.