I recently recieved an interesting email from Ryan, a thoughtful fan of Forum Blue who has written me before, and he asked an interesting question: Should Miami really shell out $25 -$30 million a year for another three years of Shaquille Oâ€™Neal. Shaq has one more year left on his deal that will pay him $30 million next year, but he wants another three after that, taking him up to age 36. Should Miami spend that money with a rising star like Dwyane Wade carrying so much of the load (and getting his own max deal before Shaqâ€™s extension would be up)?
What follows is an edited and slightly better thought out version of my response. I thought Iâ€™d repost it here because this is an interesting discussion.
I will say this about Shaqâ€™s current contract â€” he did it at the right time. His got more money and his pay increased faster because it was done under the old CBA eight years ago, and because teams can resign their own players for more than they make now. He can still make $30 mil per year in a new deal.
I think you’re right Shaq’s skills and physical condition are deteriorating, but he is still a force on the court. You pointed out his per-game numbers are down from his peak years with the Lakers and rebounded only slightly this year. Thatâ€™s mostly due to his minutes being down this season, something I think youâ€™ll see drop faster as he starts rolling on the downside of the age curve. That said, his advanced statistical numbers were solid â€” his points per shot attempt were right at his career average of 1.17, his fG% was 60.1% and his rebound rate was a still good 17.7%. Even an older slower Shaq is unlike any other player in the league.
The question is, is this Shaq worth what you are paying? I think it depends on the perspective of the owner doing the paying.
From the Lakers perspective and in pure basketball terms, I think they sold high and got out at the right time Shaq was motivated and bounced back this year, although when you look at his season numbers this was still not the Shaq of 1999-2002. But that motivation will fade. You are right, paying Shaq $30 million or whatever will limit the players any team can put around Shaq to build for the future. The Lakers made their move with the future in mind, picturing being a contender again in 2007-08 or so when Shaq had faded (whether or not they can successfully execute that plan is another question entirely).
But I donâ€™t think the Heat are thinking that far down the road, and if I were Micky Arison, I wouldnâ€™t be.
First, they think they can win a title this year or in the following two and they are going for it. If you have a championship window you need to go for it (the question that plauges Laker fans was whether their window with this team had closed, I think it had but that is another debate).
More importantly for Arison, Iâ€™d resign Shaq for $30 million because Shaq sells tickets. Mark Heisler pointed out in the LA Times last week that Miami used to block out parts of the arena with curtains because large areas went unsold â€” now they sell out every night. Heat merchandise outsells every other team in the NBA now. The owner is making a lot more money, the value of the franchise is going up, and $30 mil to Shaq is well worth the return to him.
Arison is coming from a very different perspective than Buss, who has a few years to rebuild before ticket sales really fall and the team starts to take a serious financial hit (and they will never be as bad as the Heat were). That means Buss can worry more about the on-the-court issues than the financial ones.
The bottom line, I think O’Neal will get overpaid for what he produces on the court, but for what he makes the Heat (or any second-tier team) off the court I would do it.