An NBA general manager has two jobs — evaluate talent and ensure that it is properly priced.
So far Rob Hennigan has had to do a very good job at the first part — evaluating talent. When he took over, he had the Dwight Howard trade lingering over him and he had to tear everything down. That meant eschewing large contracts and creating a ton of flexibility. Flexibility means those easily movable, high-value rookie contracts.
And it was not just about getting players for contracts sake but also finding some young players that can be part of the team’s final puzzle. So far is is hard not to argue Hennigan has done a good job establishing a solid base from which Orlando can build on.
Now comes the more difficult part: Assessing value properly and keeping cap flexibility while maintaining everyone on the roster.
To this point, the Magic are not worrying about any max players. That might actually be a point of disadvantage however. Both Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris are eligible for extensions to their rookie contracts. It is still unclear what kind of money they would get as restricted free agents — an important distinction as it seems more and more likely teams will hold off on extensions and let the market set itself. The going expectation is that Vucevic will get a deal similar to Larry Sanders at $44 million for four years.
Assessing value is going to be key for the Magic moving forward. They cannot afford to overspend on players like Vucevic and Harris. No matter how much they want them on the team. Every general manager has to know the point in which they will let players walk.
Even in today’s age of analytics, there is no magic formula for determining a player’s value. Statistics cannot predict future success. So far we can only look at statistics to determine if a player was worth his weight in gold.
Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight recently mused on the value of winning the Lottery and whether getting the No. 1 overall pick actually has an effect on gaining wins. In essence, it becomes an argument as to how much a win is worth. And the issue remains that rookie contracts are great, but winning championships still depends on how you allocate your salary cap. Few players are truly worth the max contracts they receive.
Silver calculates that each win is worth approximately $1.75 million. Obviously the Magic have not had very much of those this past year and so the Magic are likely not getting any bang for their buck. That would be $35 million for 20 wins and $40.25 million for 23 wins, that would be below the $66.2 million spent on the 2013 season and the $55.2 million spent on the 2014 season.
The Magic are not quite getting their bang for their buck as a team. It does not take a genius to figure that out.
So which players are producing at the levels they should? A quick review of the Magic’s key players:
|2014 WS||2014 Salary||“Earned” Salary||Difference|
It is clear that the Magic got some very good efforts from several players outperforming their contracts. Maurice Harkless, Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris and Kyle O’Quinn are helping the Magic cash in on those cheap rookie contracts. They are outperforming their current salaries according to Silver’s estimates of value compared to win shares.
Even a veteran like Arron Afflalo seemed to outperform his salary and provide the Magic some good value.
So what was the issue with this team? There is a lot of dead weight salary — Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu, Al Harrington, Quentin Richardson, etc. They are all still on the books and producing zero win shares. The Magic also lack those high-priced veterans that are expected to do a little bit more. Orlando’s roster is currently full of mid-level guys and reasonably priced veterans who can meet expectations.
This metric for determining value does not equal wins, in other words.
So the Magic appeared to have several players outperform their contracts. But it did not come together to make the team demonstrably better in the win-loss column. So far, at least, we can say Rob Hennigan is good at finding some gems. Now the question is can he properly evaluate their future worth as the Magic continue to build.