Yesterday I read a sports item that claimed the first true test of Steve Ballmer’s ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers was coming up when this season ended. It had to do with DeAndre Jordan who plays the position of, uh, rim protector for the Clippers. Center is too old fashioned. Post player too all-encompassing since some of the skills that are attached to a post player, Jordan doesn’t possess, e.g. back-to-the-basket moves. Yet, it can be argued that DJ is as valuable to the Ballmer’s franchise as teammates Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. After all, the Clippers can’t bring home the “Larry” (the Lawrence F. O’Brien, Jr. trophy presented to the team that wins the NBA championship) that Ballmer so passionately spoke of during his inaugural address at the Staples Center without all of their top three guys.
DeAndre Jordan has range that extends no more than five feet. Since the free throw line is 15 feet from the hoop, it stands to reason Jordan isn’t going to excel at “one-pointers” either. However, since there are two elements that make up the game of basketball – having the ability to score and having the ability to prevent scoring – his deficiencies are more than overcome by his talent at the latter category. In a league where 95% of the players (give or take 3%) have the ability to dunk, having someone who can prevent that shot from happening is worth quite a bit of the team’s salary cap.
Also, in the NBA (and, now, most every other level), the offensive part of the game has evolved into 80% (again an arbitrary number, so give or take 10%) pick & roll (or pick & pop, fade, re-screen, etc.), it’s mandatory that, defensively, the team’s big man be strong, quick, agile (and willing) to guard on the perimeter – in whatever manner the coaching staff wants during whatever time in the game (help & recover, hard trap, push up on the screener, help to whichever side the on-ball defender is influencing, or any other wrinkle a coach dreams up). Jordan is just that versatile. Plus, and this is mandatory on a championship team, he’s a great “locker room guy.”
So, if he’s that good, why would Ballmer’s hesitate? Well, it turns out that the big fella’s contract is up this year and, naturally, he (and, even more naturally, his agent) will be looking for not only a lucrative deal, but a max one. Those type of contracts run as high as nine figures! Not counting the two that follow the decimal point.
By now, all Clippers’ fans are aware that Steve Ballmer’s net worth is in the eleven figure range, a range so far in the distance, it might as well be in another galaxy. But, since it’s easy to spend other people’s money, Clippers’ fans can see no earthly (or other planetary, for that matter) reason why Ballmer would ever balk at shelling out what would translate to pennies on the dollar (of his dough) to keep together the team that’s destined to bring a Larry, or two, or . . . (nah, it’s been proven going that route is a mistake).
Enter the luxury tax (a concept that Einstein would have to read twice before he understood it). Before you can say, “Larry,” those pennies can really add up. When Ballmer was introduced as the new owner and asked about his philosophy on running the franchise, he said, “We are going to be bold. Bold means we are going to be willing to take risks. If you are not being bold, you are going to be timid. We are going to be hard core. Hard core. Hard core. Hard core.” The luxury tax might just cut back a couple “hard cores.”
Without getting too technical (which is nearly impossible on this subject), when a team exceeds the salary cap (actually a little more than the cap), there is a penalty levied. For this season the penalty was $1.50 for every dollar (up to $5 million) over the cap, meaning if a team was over by $5 million, it would have to pay an additional $7.5 million. For the next $5 mil over the cap, the penalty would escalate to $1.75; the next $5 mil (i.e. between $10-15 million over), the penalty goes up to $2.50; the next $5 mil, $3.25; next $5 mil, $3.75, and after that, the team would be penalized an additional $.50 per every $5 million. Certainly not for the faint of wallet. Actually, it could get worse. If a team had been a repeat offender, i.e. if they’d been over the cap for three of the previous four years, the penalties increase $1 for every $5 mil, e.g. instead of, say, at the $3.25 level, the cost would be $4.25. Forget a second look, Einstein might have passed out!
And yet, for someone as driven as Steve Ballmer and his $22 billion net worth (which, if past performance is any indicator, will continue to grow), if he feels a player can help him deliver his “Larry” to Clipper Nation, his motto parallels Yo Gotti’s: