So I was off by one year but I got the per-season pay about right. Instead of four years and $30 million Gooden signed with the Cavs today for three years and $23 million. The more I think about this contract the more I like it. Here are six reasons why:
1) Gooden was a very productive player last season and keeps improving. The average big man had a per-minute Win Score of .22 last season. Gooden had a per-minute Win Score of .29. In his first season his per-minute Win Score was .172, in his second season it was .182, and then in his third season (his first with the Cavs) his per-minute Win Score was .305. If we go by Wins Produced, a more complete metric of player productivity, Gooden produced 9.6 wins last season and had a WP48 of .214. Ilgauskas produced only 7.9 wins, for comparison. Of all the players in the NBA last season, Gooden was one of the ten most underpaid with respect to Wins Produced. So the Cavs gave him a bump in salary, as they should have given how well he’s played. He’s still not paid as much as Ilgauskas or Hughes, though he out-produced both players, and next season he won’t be paid as much as James. $7.65 million per season is not much higher than the average salary in the NBA (about $5 million per year). Gooden, however, is an above average player by a considerable amount.
2) Gooden shoots fairly well for a power forward. No, you won’t find Gooden floating around the three-point line knocking down long-range shots. But his effective field goal percentage on jump shots last season was a very respectable 42%. For comparison’s sake, Ilgauskas shot 39%, Marshall shot 45%, and James shot 41%. Gooden also led these players in crunch-time effective shooting percentage (47%). In the clutch–defined as the fourth quarter or overtime, no more than five minutes remaining, neither team leading by more than five points–Gooden upped his effective shooting percentage to 64%. So Gooden shoots well, particularly on jump shots. Why does this matter? Because LeBron James is adept at drawing double teams and kicking the ball to open players, who are often left open for jump shots. Gooden can shoot jump shots. This is good.
3) Gooden is capable of adjusting his play and remaining effective. Two years ago Gooden averaged 14.4 ppg on 11.5 field goal attempts per game. Last season he averaged only 10.7 ppg but on only 8.3 field goal attempts per game. His rebounding numbers dropped across those seasons, too, but his rebounds per minute increased last year from the previous season. Mike Brown asked Gooden to become less of an offensive force, and he did, but he remained just as effective. If Brown asked Marshall or Jones to dial it down on offense it’s not hard to imagine that neither player would see the court. Not only that, but Gooden never complained about his role, which goes a long way when you consider that last season was his contract year. NBA GMs overpay for scorers and the contract year phenomenon is real, but it didn’t faze Gooden.
4) The contract Gooden signed is probably front loaded, meaning that Gooden will be paid more in his first season of the new deal than in the last. That’s the only way this contract makes sense for the Cavs given their current situation with respect to the salary cap. Simply put, the Cavs can afford to pay Gooden $23 million, but it only makes sense to do so if a large portion of the contract is paid this season, when the Cavs have a little room to operate under the cap, rather than next season, when the Cavs will be facing James’s new contract and signing Varejao. So the Cavs get to keep Gooden and have the flexibility to sign Varejao.
5) The short, front-loaded deal makes Gooden very tradable. If in one or two years the Cavs want to trade Gooden he’ll be quite attractive to other teams because they won’t have to absorb what is usually the most financially heavy portion of the contract (the last years) and Gooden will still be young (he’s only 24). And that team won’t have to commit to additional years since there is no player or team option for a fourth season.
6) The short-term deal doesn’t burden the Cavs with any more long-term contracts (see: Hughes, Ilgauskas, Snow). If Gooden starts to decline, the Cavs aren’t locked in to a fourth or fifth year. If you’ve followed Eric Snow’s career as a Cav you’ll know how important this is. In 2009 the contracts for Gooden, Marshall, Snow, and Jones all end. Should all of these players remain with the Cavs through the full length of their contracts, in 2009 more than $20 million will come off the books for that offseason. This is the same offseason that precedes the last year of LeBron’s new contract (assuming he doesn’t take the player option for the fourth year), meaning that should the Cavs need to make a big free agent signing or two to entice LBJ to stay, they’ll have the flexibility to do so. This is huge, as you can imagine.
So there you go. I like the deal.
UPDATES: There are conflicting reports about the terms of the Gooden deal. One newspaper speculates that “Gooden is expected to earn $6.9 million in 2006-07, $7.6 million in 2007-08 and $8.4 million in 2008-09” while the Akron Beacon Journal reports that “one option being discussed is giving Gooden a descending value contract, which pays him the most in the first year of the deal and decreases the following two years. This would ease a potential luxury tax burden the Cavs might face.” I can’t believe that Gooden’s contract would be back-loaded given how mush sense it makes to give him a descending contract. Gooden is getting all $23 million either way and the Cavs are paying more for him per season than they’d like. But that a newspaper would report the annual terms of the deal with specific numbers concerns me, but only just a little.