The NBA may be a star-driven league, but its financial structure ensures that building a roster requires more than identifying talent. It’s not just about finding the right player; it’s about finding the right player at the right price.
With team values continuing to climb, owners can afford to pay an underachieving player. The real pain is in the opportunity cost: What could you have gotten for that money instead? How else could you have beefed up your roster?
It’s no surprise, then, that teams continue to search for new inefficiencies and measures of value, in a statistical revolution.
As with any bet, though, occasionally you gamble and lose.
Here are some of this season’s big losses.
How We Determined Who’s ‘Overpaid’
The inventor of the methodology we’re using here is David Berri, a sports economist at Southern Utah University and a former Forbescontributor. The number-crunching involves a few thorny decisions, but the premise is beautifully straightforward.
Figure out what a player should be making. Compare that against what he is actually making. The difference between the numbers is the amount by which he’s overpaid (or underpaid). Rinse and repeat.
Berri’s big contribution is the method he devised to produce the first estimate—what a player should be making. We start with the fact that, under the league’s collective bargaining agreement, players as a group are guaranteed roughly 50% of basketball-related income. Because we don’t yet know the BRI figure for the 2018-19 season, we’ll use last season’s: BRI was $7.147 billion, and the players’ share was $3.645 billion, according to Larry Coon’s NBA Salary Cap FAQ.
If we assume that teams are paying players to win, we can divide the players’ income by the total number of regular-season games (1,230) to produce an estimate of the value of a win: $2.963 million. (Yes, for the purposes of this analysis, we’re ignoring the fact that teams sometimes may not want to win or may be paying players for a reason other than winning, like boosting ticket sales. We’re also ignoring playoff games in computing the value of a win because players are paid out of their salaries solely during the regular season.)
From there, if we multiply our win value by the number of wins a player produces, we arrive at that player’s value for the season—his “expected” salary.
We have many win estimates to choose from in this player analysis, but all of them have the same basic goal: boil down a number of statistics (like points, rebounds and turnovers) into one number to measure how many wins a player contributed to his team. All of these metrics have their strengths and weaknesses, so in this analysis, we will be taking the average of three win estimates to try to minimize the blindspots of any one of them. Our three inputs: Wins Produced, a metric created by Berri and listed at BoxScoreGeeks.com; a wins estimate based on the metric Value Over Replacement Player, which is calculated by Basketball-Reference.com and is itself based on the metric Box Plus/Minus; and Win Shares, another metric calculated by Basketball-Reference.
Of course, these metrics are limited by the inputs they’re using; if the metric doesn’t account for something that’s inherently hard to quantify—for instance, a player’s ability to man up on defense—then that metric won’t fully capture a player’s value. But while it’s easy to point out that problem, it’s not so easy to solve it. We’re left with an imperfect measure.
Because these metrics are assessing a player’s contributions relative to a theoretical replacement-level player, they can be negative—that would suggest the player is actually worse than a replacement the team could pluck out of, say, the G League. In our analysis, though, a negative win estimate would make the player’s expected salary a negative number, suggesting the player was actually paying the team to play. While many fans might take that deal, we’ve substituted in zeroes whenever a metric turns negative so the lowest an expected salary can go is $0.
For player salaries, we are using data from Spotrac. Importantly, we are using the player’s cap figure—which is what the team is actually paying him—rather than his base salary. In the vast majority of cases, those numbers are the same, but when they differ, the cap figure will provide a more accurate measure of value.
Who We Considered For The ‘Honor’
We could perform this analysis on all 530 players who appeared in an NBA game this season, but because players accumulate wins across games, our overpaid list would be dominated by players who barely saw the court, many of them because of injury. To avoid that, we added in minimum thresholds of 41 games and 500 minutes played. Those are fairly arbitrary numbers, but they do measure a large enough portion of the season that a player’s real value should start to come through.
We also excluded players whose contracts are governed by the rookie salary scale. That left us with 257 players to analyze.
We compiled the data. We crunched the numbers. These are the 10 players who appeared to be the most overpaid.
10. Chris Paul
Point guard, Houston Rockets
- Wins Estimate Average: 7.4 (6.5 VORP wins, 6.6 Win Shares, 9.1 Wins Produced)
- Expected Salary: $21,906,447
- Cap Figure: $35,654,150
- Difference: $13,747,703
Paul is having a reasonably productive season—with 9.1 Wins Produced, he is tied for 45th in the league despite playing only 58 games—but his Win Shares and VORP wins figures are easily career lows and are noticeably down from the 10.2 and 11.6 he posted last year, when he also played 58 games. If he could stay healthy, this contract wouldn’t look so bad—he still has two years to go, plus a player option for 2021-22 at $44,211,146—but he’s missed 69 games across the last three seasons. Can the Rockets really count on having him for a full season?
9. Wesley Matthews
Shooting guard, Indiana Pacers
- Wins Estimate Average: 1.6 (0.8, 2.7, 1.4)
- Expected Salary: $4,849,443
- Cap Figure: $19,135,259
- Difference: $14,285,816
Matthews’ current contract might not look so bad—he counts $512,746 against the Pacers’ cap—but that’s only because he was waived by the Knicks in February. For this analysis, we combined his two cap figures, as well as his on-court production across his three stops this season.
8. Kent Bazemore
Shooting guard, Atlanta Hawks
- Wins Estimate Average: 0.5 (0, 0.7, 0.9)
- Expected Salary: $1,580,267
- Cap Figure: $18,089,887
- Difference: $16,509,620
Bazemore hasn’t come close to living up to a deal he signed in 2016—the year the salary cap spiked and the value of contracts surged. Bazemore still has a player option for next season; count on him taking the $19,269,662.
7. Tim Hardaway Jr.
Shooting guard, Dallas Mavericks
- Wins Estimate Average: 0.7 (0, 1.8, 0.3)
- Expected Salary: $2,074,100
- Cap Figure: $19,200,127
- Difference: $17,126,027
The Mavericks took on Hardaway’s pricey contract as a cost of acquiring Kristaps Porzingis. On top of his $17,325,000 base salary, he earned $1,875,127 when the Knicks dealt him as a result of a trade kicker.
Hardaway averaged a career-high 18.1 points this season, but he didn’t get there particularly efficiently, shooting .393 from the field and .340 from 3. With another year on the deal and a player option for 2020-21, he won’t be coming off Dallas’ books as soon as the team might like.
6. Allen Crabbe
Shooting guard, Brooklyn Nets
- Wins Estimate Average: 0.3 (0, 0.8, 0.1)
- Expected Salary: $888,900
- Cap Figure: $18,500,000
- Difference: $17,611,100
Crabbe’s contract is another from the fateful summer of 2016. He appeared in just 43 games this season because of injuries and had middling numbers when he did play, shooting an abominable .342 on 2-pointers. Coming off arthroscopic knee surgery, he seems likely to pick up his $18,500,000 option for next season.
5. Otto Porter Jr.
Small forward, Chicago Bulls
- Wins Estimate Average: 2.8 (2.7, 3.2, 2.5)
- Expected Salary: $8,296,400
- Cap Figure: $26,011,913
- Difference: $17,715,513
Porter, whom the Bulls acquired from the Wizards in February, is a good player, shooting .429 on 4.3 3-point attempts a game over the last three seasons. But he is more of a complementary piece, not the No. 1 option his contract would suggest. With a player option for 2020-21, the Bulls may be paying him $55,739,813 over the next two years. (Then again, who else are they going to spend their money on?)
4. Gordon Hayward
Small forward, Boston Celtics
- Wins Estimate Average: 4.4 (3.2, 4.9, 5.1)
- Expected Salary: $13,076,707
- Cap Figure: $31,214,295
- Difference: $18,137,588
Hayward is still scraping off the rust after returning this season from the leg injury he suffered in the 2017 season opener. If he can get back to the form he showed with the Jazz in 2016-17, this contract won’t be a problem. That season, he was worth 10.8 VORP wins, 10.4 Win Shares and 12.5 Wins Produced, for an average of 11.2. That translates to an expected salary of more than $33 million (using this season’s win value figure).
3. Jabari Parker
Power forward, Washington Wizards
- Wins Estimate Average: 0.5 (0, 1.4, 0.2)
- Expected Salary: $1,580,267
- Cap Figure: $20,000,000
- Difference: $18,419,733
Parker ended up on the Wizards in the big-money swap for Otto Porter Jr. Parker, though, performed little better than a replacement-level player this season. In a particularly bad sign, his Defensive Win Shares figure exceeded his Offensive Win Shares figure with both of his 2018-19 teams—and this is not a player known for lock-down defense. The Wizards hold a club option for next season that they will almost certainly decline.
2. Harrison Barnes
Small forward, Sacramento Kings
- Wins Estimate Average: 1.2 (0, 3.6, 0)
- Expected Salary: $3,555,600
- Cap Figure: $24,793,702
- Difference: $21,238,102
Barnes is the fifth player on this list to have changed teams this season, joining the Kings from the Mavericks in a February trade that earned him a $686,444 kicker. His shooting percentages perked up after the move, and his Win Shares Per 48 Minutes figure rose to .084, from .059. But that won’t be enough to justify the $25,102,513 salary Sacramento will have to pay him next season if he exercises his player option. He would probably offer more value at power forward, but the Kings have a big-man logjam.
1. Andrew Wiggins
Small forward, Minnesota Timberwolves
- Wins Estimate Average: 0.2 (0, 0.6, 0)
- Expected Salary: $592,600
- Cap Figure: $25,467,250
- Difference: $24,874,650
Wiggins essentially played at a replacement level this season; his $592,600 expected salary is about $1 million lower than the minimum a player of his experience could have been paid. In fact, his VORP figure was -0.6, suggesting he actually cost his team about 1.6 wins relative to a replacement player. The really bad news: This was just the first year in a five-year extension, with his salary rising all the way to $33,616,770 for 2022-23.
-Brett Knight; Forbes Staff
Staying Flexible: With The Postponement Of The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, This Gymnast’s Goal Hasn’t Changed
The 19-year-old South African gymnast was all set for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in July, for which she had qualified. With the event’s postponement, her goal hasn’t changed, she says, only the timeline has.
At just 19 years old, Caitlin Rooskrantz is South Africa’s gold medal-winning international gymnast.
From Florida, a small suburb in Roodepoort in Johannesburg, and currently in lockdown in the country, if the Covid-19 pandemic hadn’t happened, Rooskrantz would have now been intensely training for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in July, for which she had qualified.
“I qualified for the 2020 Games being the first woman in South Africa’s gymnastics history to have achieved an outright qualification at the world championships,” she told an audience of female powerhouses at the 2020 FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit in Durban on March 6.
Even as a child, when she first took to gymnastics, she had been set on making it to the Olympics one day.
The news of the Games’ postponement has been quite upsetting, but says Rooskrantz: “It is in the best interest of all the athletes because our health comes first, always!” Her favorite quote, in particular, comforts her at this time: “The goal hasn’t changed, just the timeline has, keep going!”
Her training has continued through the lockdown and it has kept her afternoons busy.
“We have set programs to keep up our strength, fitness and flexibility. To try and keep up my mental game, I watch videos daily of any past successful competitions. I analyse my training videos and try to mentally put myself in the video,” she says.
2019 had been “a spectacular year” for her.
“I managed to pass matric well with two distinctions and university entrance while training for my childhood dream. Not only did I bag South Africa’s first-ever gold medal on uneven bars on an international stage, but at just 18 years old, I made history,” she said at the summit, to an applauding audience.
In an interview with FORBES AFRICA, Rooskrantz reflects on the days when it all started, as a young child, when she was a bundle of energy and her parents knew early on that they had to redirect that energy to sport.
A teenager now, but if Rooskrantz has already seen much success, she has also experienced tragedy and hardship.
When she was just eight, her father, from whom she inherited her deep love for sport, passed away. He took his own life.
She had been training at a gymnastics center a few kilometers from home, but that had to stop because of the tragedy and transportation issues. But her former trainer took it upon herself to regularly drive her there.
“Everything started escalating and things took a turn. I dropped all my school sports because I didn’t have any time for them; I had to pick one, especially with the high demand of gym,” she says.
Rooskrantz was placed on a high-performance program and soon started traveling; training more than four hours a day six days a week at the age of 11. This was the intermediate level of her tumbling (a gymnastic feat including the execution of acrobatic feats) profession and the best was yet to come.
Her first overseas trip was to Australia for a training camp in 2012. A few months later, Rooskrantz competed in Serbia for her first international competition. It might have not been the best competition for her, but it was great exposure.
In 2014, South Africa hosted the African gymnastics championships with Rooskrantz the youngest member of the junior team.
“I did well, I don’t remember falling and I made it to the bar finals and that was the time I started to realize my potential on the asymmetric bar. I left that with a big boost to my confidence.”
The young student was progressing quickly, reaching new heights.
On her last year as a junior in the 2016 Junior Commonwealth Games in Namibia, she made three apparatus finals; asymmetric bar, vault and the balancing beam.
An injury kept her away from the Commonwealth Games in Australia in 2018, when she went in for surgery and was off the apparatus for months.
“I was in bed after my operation but back at gym a week after, still on crutches, working on my upper body. In a sport like gymnastics, when you are that injured, it is critical to do something because you lose strength, flexibility and fitness. I was also working on my mental state,” she says of those hard days. Her coach told her the surgery was either going to make or break her career. She was determined to return stronger. She did, and how.
All Home And No Play: Not Since World War II Has The Global Sports Industry Faced Such A Crippling Crisis
Not since World War II has the global sports industry faced such a crippling crisis, which is likely to cost billions of dollars in lost revenue and could yet see the permanent extinction of some teams and competitions.
The coronavirus pandemic that has spread across the world has the potential to change the face of sports forever, and Africa will not be spared, with one administrator suggesting the outbreak could set their game back 20 years.
The severity of the impact will be determined by how long it takes for society to live alongside the pandemic, but even if that were to happen in June, there has already been significant damage done.
Confederation of African Football (CAF) President Ahmad Ahmad has tried to provide a positive outlook, but knows the complexity of the situation on the continent is dire.
None of the 54 domestic leagues in Africa was still running in May, as Burundi was the last to close up shop the month before, but just when cross-border competitions such as the lucrative CAF Champions League, and qualifiers for the Africa Cup of Nations and World Cup, can resume, is anybody’s guess given travel restrictions are likely to be in place for some time, and vary from country to country.
“CAF is already focused on the conditions for relaunching our competitions and our events,” Ahmad said in comments supplied to FORBES AFRICA.
“Never has a crisis of such great magnitude crossed the world, never has world sport decreed so many postponements of its programs and never has such a tsunami struck the most basic sporting practice.
“We are now condemned to rebuild the basics, or at least to reinforce them, to energize them so that at the time of recovery, we will be the best structured and best disposed to conquer or re-conquer, the dry territories of sport and football.
It is Ahmad’s way of saying that any thought of returning to pre-coronavirus levels of engagement and sponsorship are fanciful in the short-term, or perhaps even medium-term.
His suggestion of having to “rebuild the basics” is a key admission and will be the same for many sports that face a sponsorship vacuum from some of the world’s leading brands.
When airlines, major sponsors of African sport, have been laying off staff and cut their schedules to next to nothing, can they justify pumping millions of dollars into sport?
The same for car manufactures, loss-making banks and oil companies hit by the drop in the price of crude.
The health conditions to allow play for many sports in Africa may return this year, but the question is whether there will be the financial support vital to being able to play the game.
Selwyn Nathan, commissioner of South Africa’s Sunshine Tour and a leading expert on global golf, suggests the pandemic may return the sport to the year 2000 in terms of financial capabilities.
“It could be like starting a business all over again, you can’t have an attitude that people [sponsors] will just come back,” Nathan says.
“It’s not something unique to Africa, or sport anywhere in the world, but we are going to have to change the way we do things.
“Players will have to accept that they are not going to be playing for the same money, and organizers must accept they will have to ask for less [money] and possibly do more just to retain sponsors.
“It is going to fundamentally change the way we operate and we have to adapt to that.”
Winners in some co-sanctioned Sunshine Tour and European Tour golf events can earn upwards of $1.5-million per tournament, but Nathan believes those numbers will be fanciful for the foreseeable future and it is likely to be a fraction of that.
The pandemic could be the death knell for ailing Super Rugby, the southern hemisphere club championship that has been hanging on for dear life, as it was, due to dwindling interest and its format that sees players criss-cross the globe between Argentina, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Japan.
In the case of world champion Springboks, that could actually work in their favor and see them looking north to Europe for club and country competitions, where the TV revenues are greater and load on players less, according to respected Stormers coach John Dobson.
“I believe there will be a restructuring of the game and that could be at Super Rugby’s expense,” Dobson says. “There could be stronger focus on domestic competitions with less travel and more tailored for television, because ultimately, that is where you get the revenue to run the game.
“It’s critical you have a product that is appealing to rugby fans, and after this period, maybe that will rather involve South African teams playing in the [European] Heineken Cup. I don’t know, but something has to change.”
Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard, who is chairman of the APO Group, a communication and business consultancy in Africa, says he has seen first-hand the toll the virus has taken on sports federations almost across the board.
“I think, unfortunately, it will have a devastating effect for many. First of all, athletes cannot train properly and when you are at the level of international competition, just a few percentage points off can compromise your body,” he says.
“Added to that, there is no competition and the longer this goes on, the longer it will take for athletes to return to peak performances, so in the near term, you will have a poorer product for television and sponsors.”
Pompigne-Mognard says cross-border competitions are vital in Africa and it is in these multi-national tournaments where many federations across different sports make most of their revenue.
“Each African nation is unlikely to return to full health at the same time, so, for example, the Basketball Africa League, which involves 12 teams from across the continent has to be put on hold until travel is possible.
“It will go ahead, but the question is when and what are the financial consequences of this? It is something that we cannot quantify now, so we live in this state of uncertainty and that is not good for anybody, sport or business.”
The postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games to 2021 has brought much relief for many athletes, who had seen their training regimes brought to a halt, or at best conducted in the confines of their own home.
Olympic gold medalist swimmer Chad le Clos had had to make do with what he has at home while in lockdown in South Africa, one of thousands of elite athletes from across Africa in similar situations.
“It is what it is and I am happy with the decision (to move the Olympics) that has been made,” Le Clos says. “I have a small pool at home, so I attach a cord that allows me to stay stationary as I swim.”
“We cannot afford to take a break, even in lockdown. You cannot let yourself lose the months and months of work that you have put into your body.
“I don’t know where or when I will compete again, but you have to stay positive. You have to hope for the best, that is all we can do.”
Ronaldo’s $105 Million Year Tops Messi And Crowns Him Soccer’s First Billion-Dollar Man
Add another zero to soccer’s most expensive rivalry.
Cristiano Ronaldo earned $105 million before taxes and fees in the past year, landing him at No. 4 on the 2020 Forbes Celebrity 100, one spot above his top rival in the sport, Lionel Messi, and making him the first soccer player in history to earn $1 billion.
The 35-year-old striker is only the third athlete to hit mark while still playing following Tiger Woods, who did it in 2009 on the back of his long term endorsement deal with Nike NKE, and Floyd Mayweather in 2017, who’s made most of his income from a cut of pay-per-view sales for his boxing matches.
Ronaldo, the first to do it in a team sport, has made $650 million during his 17 years on the pitch, and is expected to reach $765 million in career salary after his current contract ends in June 2022. Messi, who began playing at the senior level three years after Ronaldo, has earned a total of $605 million in salary since 2005. The only team athlete to even come within striking distance of those figures was former New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, who retired in 2016 after 22 years in MLB having earned $450 million in salary. Not even soccer legend David Beckham came close, ending his career with total earnings of $500 million, half of which came from off-pitch endorsements.
“Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the greatest players of all time, in the world’s most popular sport, in an era when football has never been so rich,” said Sporting Intelligence’s Nick Harris, whose Global Sports Salaries Survey ranks teams worldwide based on total salary expense. “He’s box office.”
Ronaldo and Messi’s head-to-heads heated up in Spain’s La Liga in 2009, where Ronaldo played for Real Madrid and Messi for Barcelona. Their faceoffs on the pitch ignited a nine-year battle for bragging rights as the best — and top-paid — in the sport, a highly personal tit-for-tat that had them re-negotiating contracts in lockstep and monopolizing the game’s highlight reel.
The rivalry was as entertaining as it was profitable, coming just as clubs around the world were seeing soaring attendance and an influx of television money. The two were perfectly matched for battle, on and off the pitch: Ronaldo perfected a shirtless, stylized showmanship while Messi played the quiet game, always a tad unkempt and as prolific a scorer as he was a wingman. Ronaldo strutted after every goal. Messi was a master at thanking his teammates.
Both backed it up. Barcelona won the La Liga title six times and two Champions Leagues trophies with Messi on the squad. Real Madrid won the Spanish title twice and the Champions League four times with Ronaldo. During their years in the league, each player nabbed four Ballon d’Ors (soccer’s MVP) and their El Classicos, the nickname for their clubs fierce clashes, were record-setting television events worldwide.
But when it came to leveraging celebrity, it has been no contest. Guided by Jorge Mendes of Gestifute, one of the world’s most powerful agents, Ronaldo has amassed an ever-growing following of fans and consumers drawn to his poster-boy good looks, trend-setting hair styles, impeccable fashion sense and, lately, his softer side as a family man whose toddlers pop up on his social media posts. In January he became the first person with 200 million followers on Instagram, part of a social media army of 427 million across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter that makes him the most popular athlete on the planet.
Nike pays him upwards of $20 million annually and signed him to a lifetime deal in 2016, making him just the third athlete after Michael Jordan and LeBron James hitched to the Swoosh for eternity. In May, the footwear maker announced the release of a 10-year anniversary edition of his first signature Mercurial Superfly and a child’s version to celebrate his son’s 10th birthday, complete with his famous celebration stance, signature and logo. Pitches for Clear shampoo, Herbalife HLF, and pharmaceutical maker Abbott help raise his endorsement tally to $45 million.
Ronaldo, Inc. even has a trademark — CR7, a mix of his initials and jersey number — part of a lifestyle brand that Forbes estimates accounts for a quarter of his annual endorsement income, including branded underwear that debuted in 2013 that was followed by a line of shoes, fragrances and denim wear. He partnered with Pestana Hotel Group in 2015 to open his first property a year later in his hometown of Funchal, Madeira, right above Museu CR7, a shrine for his trophies and a retail outlet for his merchandise. He’s since added CR7 clubs with Crunch Fitness, posts workout routines on YouTube and has attached his name to a social media influencing degree offered by Italian online university eCampus.
And the rivalry is far from done.
Ronaldo’s 2020 earnings include a salary of $60 million, slightly less than last year due to a 30% pay cut he agreed to take this April as a result of the pandemic. Messi, who earned $104 million in the past year after taking a 70% pay cut while coronavirus sidelined play, is poised to surpass $1 billion in all-time earnings as soon as next year, before his current Barca contract ends.
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