HoopsHype Columnist
(July 9, 2002)

Earning a maximum salary in the National Basketball Association should be the reward for giving maximum effort, year in and year out.

Proven leadership, productivity, hustle and heart are aspects of a player’s game that front-office personnel should look at when deciding to offer a player maximum money for long-term deals.

Potential and youth are two other ingredients that should factor into the decision.

One up-and-coming player immediately comes to mind who fits this description: Mike Bibby of the Sacramento Kings.

Bibby is flashy, quick, confident and he makes his teammates better. And as he showed in the playoffs he has a knack for making big plays in big games. This is the kind of player you want to keep around for as long as possible, especially if a prime-time player like Chris Webber thrives on the hardwood when Bibby is in the game.

Blessed with arguably the best fans in the NBA, Sacramento would be foolish to not re-sign Bibby. By not doing so, the Kings would be sending the wrong message: We have already given up. We have already concluded that we can’t dethrone the Lakers in 2003. We blew our best chance at a title.

Another can’t-miss-long-term investment would be to sign point guard Baron Davis to a long-term deal. It says here he deserves a lucrative deal. The Hornets would be wise to re-sign Davis, and other teams would be wise to pursue Davis, too. Not only is he young (23), but he is maturing and becoming one of the league’s top point guards.

Davis has increased his scoring and assist totals in each of his three seasons in the NBA. Last season, he had averages of 18.1 points and 8.5 assists per game.

Remember, signing free agents is often a hit-or-miss deal. General managers must be careful. Once a player gets a long-term deal, a lot can go wrong. Motivation to work hard isn’t always important anymore, and with that a lack of commitment may be the evil twin.

And let’s not forget about injuries. A classic example is Anfernee Hardaway. A few years back he signed a blockbuster deal with the Phoenix Suns. The oft-injured, once-dominating player is now the Rolls Royce of reserve players. Teams are not willing to risk trading for him, because his knees have had more wear and tear than 20 typical players combined. This means the Suns are stuck with Penny.

When a team is stuck with a player, it also becomes stuck with a salary cap problem, i.e., a contract taking up too much of their allocated resources. So it’s important to sign a guy who’s going to remain a key contributor or who’s going to fill a void that existed the previous season.

One thing that never changes is a need for size. The league’s lack of true quality big men is nothing new. That’s why a mediocre center like Michael Olowokandi may actually be signed to a maximum free-agent deal by the Clippers or another team.

For a league that’s constantly looking at the next crop of free agents, 2003 is really the year. Superstars like Gary Payton, Jason Kidd and Tim Duncan are all waiting to sign astronomical contracts. In short, this year’s talent pool does not match up to what’ll possibly be out there this time next year.

So, for the Bonzi Wells of the world, shoot for the maximum contract. But if you don’t get it, realize teams are slashing their spending now and playing a waiting game before going on an all-out spending spree next summer.