1. Marbury Happenings: One of the few subplots actively brewing in the NBA right now is the Knicks’ dealings with Stephon Marbury. Before this week, there were strong rumors that Marbury was going to be released and the Knicks were going to buyout the $22 million left on his deal for 2008-09. The situation is very interesting because there really are a myriad of options here. Granted, the Knicks won’t be very good and Marbury has been a complete headache the last few years but it is not necessarily clear that cutting Marbury is the right move at this point. So let’s go through the options:
-Keeping or Cutting?: Marbury has specifically asked the team to get it over with one way or another. The problem is that Marbury has some value, he’s certainly better than Chris Duhon and there are plenty of teams that would take a flier on him for a cheap contract (he’d probably get a midlevel exception money from someone). He seems to fit quite well for the Heat, who need some depth and took a flier on Tim Hardaway in a similar situation in 1996 (who was also viewed as a declining malcontent) only to find T-Hard inspired by Pat Riley. Other places where Marbury on the cheap makes sense includes some pretty good teams that need more guards like Cleveland, Houston, and San Antonio.
The problem with cutting Marbury now is that the team would have to eat $22 million just to make him go away. There is no doubt that the Knicks would want some sort of discount from Marbury in exchange of letting him start over with another team. At this point, Marbury has no incentive to give a discount so long as he’s comfortable coming back to New York. If, on the other hand, he’s benched again and treated like a pariah by the organization, it might be worth a few million to protect his market value by going to a team that actually wants him as soon as possible. Ergo, he might agree to a discount of a few million to make this happen. The Knicks have actually publicly insisted they want Marbury, so it seems unlikely that they are putting public pressure on him to give a discount at this point.
–Trade Him?: Marbury has some value but there really is no way to trade him unless they can find another team with $22 million in cap room and contracts that won’t tie up the Knicks long term. The Heat could pony up Shawn Marion but they actually need him to compete now. As such, it is highly unlikely that Marbury would be traded unless the Knicks were willing to package some talent (i.e. David Lee). Such a trade, however, undercuts the Knicks’ goal of obtaining future cap room and amassing talent. Really, if the Knicks aren’t going to cut Marbury, they are better of keeping him because a trade is not likely.
–How Good Is Marbury Now? Marbury is only 31, and really shouldn’t be too far past his prime. His numbers, however, tell a story of deep decline. In fact, Marbury’s stats have fallen almost every year in New York and he bottomed out in 2007-08 at 13.9 ppg, 4.7 apg (both career lows). The only question is whether the toxic environment in New York with Isiah Thomas and Larry Brown contributed to Marbury’s decline and that once removed Marbury might improve. This is likely true. In 2007-08, Thomas made it clear he didn’t want Marbury around and looked to marginalize him early. Brown also seemed to go out of his way to antagonize Marbury. Of course, we’ve heard tons of stories about how much of a pain in the ass Marbury is to deal with and he likely has brought a decent amount of the contempt upon himself. All this is a long way of saying that Marbury is not as bad as he looked the last few years, he’s still an above average point guard. He’s not the explosive player he was in the early 2000s but he can help a team in the right situation.
–So What Should the Knicks Do with Marbury?: I think the Knicks have it right. Neither Chris Duhon or Nate Robinson are great options to be regular point guards. There is some risk to bring Marbury back in that he can go off the deep end mentally and create a circus. But it seems just as likely that he might play hard and try to rebuild his value for free agency. In either case, the Knicks won’t be competitive. Why not see if Marbury creates some value and wins? If not, you can always cut him later.
2. Injuries and Contracts: There are two ways to view contractual relationships. On the one hand, they memorialize and allocate legal rights and duties between parties. On the other, a contract is a symbol of two parties’ commitment to deal with each other long term and, presumably, in good faith. Both of these views are correct on some level but they often come into conflict with each other. We’ve seen this issue come up twice recently. First, we see that Gilbert Arenas is getting yet another knee surgery only a few months after squeezing $111 million from the Wizards. We discussed this back in July but this seemed like a bad idea. The Wiz looked at Arenas as more than just a player. Arenas is a character on and off the court and is seriously explosive when healthy. These attributes impart value but it just seemed hard to believe that Arenas, coming off two previous recent knee surgeries, was worth that kind of the money. To the Wiz the new contract was a symbol of their relationship with Arenas, a commitment to a star. Of course, they might’ve been better served valuing Arenas based upon what he was likely to do in the future and not his past accomplishments and this looks like it’s already blowing up in their face.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Warriors just committed $66 million to young and healthy Monta Ellis, only to see him violate his contract by injuring his ankle in a mo-ped accident (and then attempt to lie about). The Warriors now have all sorts of rights potential claims against Ellis, including fines or even possible rescission depending on the severity of the injury. When Vlad Radmanovic lied about being injured in a contractually prohibited activity (snowboarding), the Lakers fined him $500,000. Before that, Jay Williams’ ended his career in a motorcycle accident in 2003. The Bulls probably could’ve voided all future payments but agreed to give Williams $3 million of the $7.7 million left on his contract.
It does not seem that Ellis’ injuries are so serious as to end his career (he is reported to have a high ankle sprain and torn ligaments in that area) but they could become chronic and reduce his value. Teams are reluctant to really sock it to players for contract violations for a variety of reasons most likely because they don’t want a reputation that could hurt them in free agency. In this case, Ellis is a corner stone player and will likely play again. The best remedy is to get an assessment as to the severity of the injury and discount the contract accordingly. I would venture to guess that such a devaluation could be greater than that imposed on Radmanovic. No matter what, this will definitely be an interesting data point on dealing with contract violations.