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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Houston’s Retirement A Reminder Of Cap Consequences

Judging Allan Houston by his on the court persona, it’s hard not to like the guy. Houston’s jump shot was picture perfect, straight out of a basketball text book. Using his height and a quick pull up, Allan only needed a few inches of space between him and his defender to score. Number 20′s range extended from beyond the arc, and he was automatic from the charity stripe. Houston provided a valuable scoring presence on a Knick team that badly needed it, and he hit his fair share of big shots. For 10 seasons Houston was extremely durable, never missing more than 6 games in any of those seasons. Even after his body broke down, he tried to play through the pain for a Knicks team that had no hopes of a championship.

However there was another aspect of Allan Houston that was intertwined with his on court self. When the Knicks signed Houston to a $100M dollar contract in July of 2001, a transformation occurred. He went from a franchise savior to franchise millstone. From valuable to overrated. From a respectable player to the league joke. Houston’s retirement should be a reminder that today’s sports world is hand in hand with the financial. It’s no coincidence that the Knicks made 14 straight playoff appearances before they resigned Houston, and only twice since. As one of the better shooting guards of his time he aided his team on the court, while his contract harmed them off of it. Many fans recognize that it was the Ewing trade that hampered the Knicks ability to improve themselves through free agency. Nonetheless it would be Houston’s contract a year later that cemented the door shut.

There isn’t a basketball historian that would argue the Knicks would have been better on the court in 2002 with Shandon Anderson as their starting shooting guard, but I would doubt that you would find one that would have given Allan Houston that 7 year deal. That’s the rub with modern sports. A team can get a good player and seemingly improve their team in the short term, but if they are fiscally irresponsible the long term effects can be damaging.

33 comments on “Houston’s Retirement A Reminder Of Cap Consequences

  1. Tim

    Amen, brother. You would have thought, though, that mogels like the Dolans would have had the financial savvy to get a realistic appraisal of Houston’s market value and not bid against themselves. It astounds me how people so business savvy in one industry can be complete dunderheads in another.

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  3. Gabe Farkas

    Wait a sec, I thought Allan Houston retired like 3 years ago…..oh, you mean *officially* retired?

  4. Ted

    This is probably the best assesment of Houston?s career that will be written as it recognizes the dicotomy between Houston and his contract, and between Houston (and the Knicks) pre-contract and post-contract.

    Not sure that Dolan is particularly business savy. He operates a business in a market that is at best an oligopoly and from everything I have heard he is not only unpleasant to work with but also not at all savy (or intelligent). For example, at Cablevision he brought in entirely new marketing execs and put them in charge of the old ones. Needless to say there was a slight lack of cooperation.

  5. Ricky

    Perfect summary, KB. Great guy, good player, nice turtlenecks, deplorable contract. He’ll be missed, but his retirement is a little over-due and I’m glad to see it happen now.

  6. James Hoffa

    Well I won?t miss Houston that?s for sure. He only had two 20ppg seasons during which the Knicks only won 67 of 164 games. Hardly impressive really. If Houston is your number one option, you know you are in trouble. Basically Houston was Reggie Miller without the clutch performances (other than the one obvious and extremely lucky play). An above-average player with an excellent jump shot but minimal rebounding, passing and defensive skills. In other words a poor-man?s Reggie Miller, who himself has to be maybe the most overrated player of all-time.

    That would be OK, if it weren?t for the fact that he hung around the benches for the last two seasons and generally frustrated the hell out of everybody with his doomed attempts to return to the court, not to mention the obscene amount of money that was thrown at him. Can somebody please tell me why he was so overpaid? I can understand why a similar player in a smaller market (eg. Milwaukee) might command a higher salary to stay there (Michael Redd, anybody?), but why pay such a premium to play in NYC? I just don?t get it.

    I won?t miss him for sure ? and I sure as hell don?t feel sorry for him. I guess he?s just going to have to cry into his silk pillowcases.

  7. Jay G.

    Hoffa…I’m not so sure I agree with you that Houston is “maybe the most overrated player of all time.” I say this because even at the time of Houston’s mega-deal, people all over the league were scratching their heads. The Knicks essentially bid against themselves and gave houston nearly 30 million more than any other team could (or would). As for your question, I think the Knicks rationalized it at the time because we figured that team (Houston, Spree, and co.) would stick together for a while with Van Gundy as coach, so in Dolan’s mind, he thought it was ok to overpay for his own players so long as that playoff team stayed intact. Flawed thinking, obviously, but at the time, Dolan and Layden thought it seemed reasonable. Also, Dolan is very close personally with Houston and that probably factored into the excessive dollar amount.

  8. Ricky

    Jay,

    That’s exactly why I think his contract came to be. I’ve also read that when the Knicks lost Xavier McDaniel is pissed of Dolan so much that he gave his GMs a direct order to never lose their own free agents, regardless of the cost. It’s an extremely hot headed and stupid idea in a salary cap-constrained world, but nonetheless part of the explanation.

  9. James Hoffa

    Sorry for the misunderstanding, I meant Reggie Miller, as clutch as he was at times, was the most overrated player of all time.

    Houston on the other hand, I don’t think anyone ever rated him that highly, except for Knicks management.

    I still don’t really understand why the Knicks bid against themselves though. Dolan himself doesn’t really seem to care how much money he throws at the Knicks, whilst Layden is a complete moron as we all know. Or maybe he was a double-agent working for Utah…

  10. dave

    Two comments:

    1. Well said as always KB. You pull out the central tension in assessing Houston’s career. He’s a decent player who could not possibly have played up to his contract. However…

    2. Most of us consistently gloss over the fact that the Knicks paid to keep Houston off the market and to make him the undisputed face of the franchise post-Ewing. Detroit was in fact a serious suitor for Houston. So while the Knicks certainly overpaid they weren’t exactly bidding against themselves nor were they exactly paying solely for Houston’s picturesque jumper.

    The Knicks paid to settle the soon-to-emerge Houston vs Sprewell controversy off the court by protecting him from the market and installing his as the face of the franchise. Those are not necessarily good basketball or good business decisions. But, they weren’t nonsensical – just wrong.

  11. Jay G.

    You could be right, Dave, but the thing that you might be forgetting is the cap rules in place at the time had no maximum dollar amount under the Larry Bird rules (resigning your own free agents). That is how Kevin Garnett got an unprecedented 126 million dollar extension, and how declining players all over the league (Shawn Kemp, Juwan Howard, etc.) became dead weight for years. There is no reason why Houston should have gotten 100 million dollars instead of 60 or 70.

  12. Kareem

    I know I must have just missed this, but did Houston retiring save the knicks the 20 mil or so he was owed this year? Or was there a buyout? Can someone clear this up for me?

  13. KnickerBlogger Post author

    From what I know, I don’t think a cent comes off the cap. He had to retire over the summer for that to occur.

    Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

  14. Jay G.

    “Depending on how the league rules on Houston’s injury, his retirement could save them as much as $72 million but will not provide salary-cap room.”

    I got that quote from some New York Newspaper (forget which one, maybe the Post). From what I understand, Houston’s retirement will only save luxury tax money for James Dolan. Also, insurance picks up a large percentage of his contract for this year and next (something like 80%). It still counts agianst the cap, however.

  15. dave

    My understanding is that no cap relief is coming for 2005-06. This is luxury tax relief. And yes, insurance will pick up some portion of the contract – depending on the specifics of the policy. Houston had to of course give a “good faith effort” to come back in order to get the insurance. So I suspect he’d made up his mind this summer, if not before, but he couldn’t utter the word retirement without jeopardizing the insurance, much like the Mo Vaughn situation a few years ago with the Mets.

  16. Kareem

    Ok, that was what I was wondering. I thought he was just giving up the 20 mil. If he’s still getting the paid by insurance this makes a lot more sense to me.

  17. M. Calor

    Regarding Houston – Regardless of his basketball abilities/disabilities, his manner, comportment and appearance on and off the court are the virtual prototype of what a basketball player and a gentleman should be. Re: his skills/talent: Frequently in basketball, one players excellence detracts from his teammates achievements.(see Ewing, P.) The sad thing is that Houston is one of the very few scorers who can adorn other stars. If the Lakers of Shaq, Malone, and Payton featured Houston instead of the far more talented Kobe Bryant, they’d likely s Unhappily,

  18. William Avery

    M. Calor is right on. Houston is a first class act, if not quite b-baller. Still, let’s not forget that if Scott Layden hadn’t traded for McDyess, and instead kept Marcus Camby while drafting Amare Stoudamire, with the pick the Nuggets used to select Nene, we’d be talking about whether the Knicks would repeat or three-peat whoever they’d unseat. And the salary cap wouldn’t matter any more than Fredric Weis.

  19. Jay G.

    William Avery…I hear what you’re saying, but I don’t think its fair to play the hindsight game. Were you pulling for Layden to draft Stoudemire at the time, because I sure wasn’t. I wanted Chris Wilcox, and barely knew anything about Amare. The criticism is only fair if its reasonable to have expected a different outcome at the time, not 3 years later.

  20. Ted

    Houston’s contract was probably among the largest overpayments of an era of overspending: a time when 20 ppg or the prospect of that kind of production equaled a max deal. However, I think that many people make the mistake of blaming Houston’s contract for the Knicks’ downfall.

    The fact is that the Knicks had been morgaging their present with their future for a while and in the end it caught up to them. Resigning Houston obviously hurt the Knicks in free agency, but it did not mean that the Knicks also had to acquire and overpay lousy players while putting together an aging team that lacked athletism and talent. It did not force them to be completely irrelevant in the draft for a decade nor did it force them to trade young prospects and picks for aging veterans and Mirsad Turkcan.

  21. Ted

    Houston’s contract was probably among the largest overpayments of an era of overspending: a time when 20 ppg or the prospect of that kind of production equaled a max deal. However, I think that many people make the mistake of blaming Houston’s contract for the Knicks’ downfall.

    The fact is that the Knicks had been morgaging their present with their future for a while and in the end it caught up to them. Resigning Houston obviously hurt the Knicks in free agency, but it did not mean that the Knicks also had to acquire and overpay lousy players while putting together an aging team that lacked athletism and talent (especially Shandon Anderson and Howard Eisley). It did not force them to be completely irrelevant in the draft for a decade nor did it force them to trade young prospects and picks for aging veterans and Mirsad Turkcan. And it did not cause Camby and McDyss’ injury problems.

  22. James Hoffa

    Speaking of overpaid contract, how bad is Jerome James looking? I mean, we all knew that $5 million a year for five years was high, but now it looks beyond absurd! The funny thing is that he’s completely untradeable with that kind of contract too. Butler on the other hand is looking good and Frye is starting to look better too. James looks like he’s basically going to get in the way right now and him just being around is going to mean less time for guys like Lee, Butler, Frye etc.

  23. KnickerBlogger Post author

    JamesHoffa – I’ve been waiting for someone to apply the final sentence: “A team can get a good player and seemingly improve their team in the short term, but if they are fiscally irresponsible the long term effects can be damaging.” to today’s Knicks.

    You win the KnickerBlogger “vague reference” prize. :-)

  24. Ted

    I wasn’t a fan of the signing, but if I have to have a bad contract on the books I?d rather have a bigman. On the other hand, if he proves to be a solid backup center, I don?t think he?d be unmoveable at all. A Nazr type run could make him quite attractive to a team with a hole at the 5.

  25. James Hoffa

    If you look at Nazr’s stats you can see that throughout his career, anytime he got a few minutes he has produced at reasonable rate – 9.7 ppg and 7.9 rpg in 26min pg for Atlanta in 01-02 or last year 10.9ppg and 8.1 rpg in 28 min whilst playing for the Knicks. Basically his stats at the Knicks last year were a consequence of him getting some minutes. James has never got those minutes, he averages 3 PF in 15 minutes, so its hard to see him ever getting heaps of minutes. He’s old, he’s unlikely to develop too much, particularly fighting for minutes. I guess he isn’t too bad a player to have on the bench but I suppose more than anything, it just shows what little cohesive plan the Knicks have, or have had, in building a championship team. In a word, the Knicks recruitment and team management has been “opportunistic”.

  26. Ted

    I?m not trying to defend the signing nor compare James to Nazr. All I’m saying is that with a little bit of production he might not be untradable.

    It seems to me that every team’s “recruitment and team management” are somewhat ?opportunistic?. If Grant Hill signed with the Bulls instead of the Magic Joe D might never get Ben Wallace. If Tim Duncan doesn’t stay for his senior year maybe he’s a Sixer and the Spurs are stuck with Van Horn or Billups. The draft is all about who you still have the opportunity to get and what kind of luck you have in the lottery. Building a team is basically a matter of getting and taking the right opportunities, all 29 other teams want to get the most talented players as well.

    If you were saying that the Knicks have been slapped together (that they are not cohesive) I also have to disagree. There are a thousand question marks, but offensively they have two extremely talented guards who can penetrate and create or score, at the 3 they have a solid three point shooter to stretch the D who can also post-up, with one of the better low-post scoring threats in the league and probably someone to handle the dirty work inside. Defensively they obviously need some work (although LB, Q, Davis, and the rooks should help some). Their bench is young and talented: Brown should be able to turn to it for some energy, defense, or scoring. If you’re an optimist that’s about as textbook a team as you can have, but, on the other hand, there are huge holes in terms of defense, shot selection, and effort (oddly enough these are three areas in which Larry Brown specializes).

    Will all the question marks work out in the Knicks’ favor, no, but one thing Isiah has done well is to spread his risk. The Knicks’ have solid depth. So, while for whatever reasons some players will not reach their potential, you have to hope that others will and that opportunities continue to present themselves. There is, of course, a chance that none of the players Isiah has brought in work out and/or the team chemistry/ effort/ cohesiveness is horrible, but you have to consider that he?s trying to rebuild an organization that won?t allow rebuilding overnight.

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