Bad NBA Contract of the Week: Desagana Diop

(There are bad contracts in every league. There is no sports organization in the world that hasn’t  overvalued a player, had a superstar radically lose his luster or had a veteran get injured too soon. Millions upon millions get doled out every single year so that a few guys can throw a ball around to the delight of people they never met before. Just the other day, Jonah Keri of Grantland named the worst contracts in MLB, including Barry Zito’s 1 year, $26 million dollar salary, Carl Crawford’s 5 years, $100-plus million payday and Alex Rodriguez’s massive 5 year, $118 topping them all off. But the other players on the list? Jayson Werth, Ryan Howard, John Lackey, Vernon Wells, Johan Santana, Brian Roberts and Adam Dunn. All former stars.
But it just seems that in the NBA, out of every sports league, seems to have the silliest contracts given to the most marginal of players. Sure, you’ll still have Gilbert Arenas on 2 year, $43 million dollar contract for a team he’s already been cut from, as well as Rudy Gay making superstar money (2 years, $34 million) to play well below that standard. However, you’ve also got guys on the fringes of NBA rotations, making $8 million dollars a year. Hell, there are guys making that much money to not play at all.

Which brings us here, to our first installment of Bad NBA Contract of the Week. In the vein of the highly esteemed David Shoemaker, AKA The Masked Man’s Deadspin column entitled “Dead Wrestler of the Week”, we here at MAMBINO are going to parse our way through the worst contracts the NBA has to offer. Part dedication to the great men who have swindled their way to big checks, part commemoration to GMs that should have been fired and part commentary on the ills of a capitalist society gone wrong, we’ll be here every week with a look at the L’s worst deals. We begin of course, with the great Charlotte Bobcats center, Desagana Diop.)
Desagana Diop
Contract: 6 years, $32 million
Signed by:
Dallas Mavericks
Salary this season: $7.3 million
2013 Slash Line: 0.6/2.3/0.6 in 19 games
Expires: 2013

“The first time I played basketball, I was 15 years old. Before that, I was playing soccer all the time. In Dakar, the capital of my country, you do not see many basketball courts. I thought basketball was a girls’ sport.”–Desagana Diop, July 2002

Personally, DeSagana Diop deserves your praise. In 1997, when the future Bobcats center first picked up a basketball in Dakar, the GDP per capita in Senegal was $458.08. For many Americans, that doesn’t even pay rent for a month. For Diop, that was merely the average gross income a person made every year.

Despite growing up in such an impoverished country, ‘Gana–as his friends call him–used his 7 foot frame and picked up basketball rather quick. While everyone around him was playing soccer with dreams of playing for the Senegalese national team in the Africa Cup of Nations tourney, Diop honed his craft on the dusty courts in East Africa in preparation to be the next Hakeem Olajuwan or Dikembe Mutombo. Would the Americans want to sex Diop as they had Mutumbo? It would take a lot of hard work and a bit of luck to get there.

But as luck would have it, a scout for the Dallas Mavericks had seen the lanky giant, and suggested that if ‘Gana ever wanted to make it to the NBA, he’d have to learn how to play the game on the continent it was created. Months later, Diop was headed to rural Virginia, home of the prestigious basketball prodigy factory, Oak Hill Academy.

Turns out that the Senegalese big man was more than just a 7 footer with an impressive body–he was just as much a legitimate prospect as every American teenage boy enrolled at the boarding school. His senior season, Diop led the Warriors to a flawless record, dominating with 14.6 ppg, 13.2 rpg and an unearthly 8.2 bpg. Quite simply, he was the best player on the best high school team in the country.

That all changed for Diop after he was drafted 6th by the Cleveland Cavaliers right out of high school. In his first four years in the NBA, he played in just 193 games (an average of 48 per season), starting just 5 and averaging 1.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg and 0.9 bpg, far cries from the destructive defensive force he was in Virginia. He hadn’t harnessed a jump shot that was creaky in high school, and hadn’t progressed defensively as he grew into his early 20’s. His athleticism and size wasn’t enough to get him onto the floor for the Cavs, who saw Diop as awkward and undeveloped….as if the man had only played basketball for six years up until that point. Hmm. If you missed NBA basketball a decade ago in Cleveland, Desagana essentially looked like Serge Ibaka, except if Serge forgot what footwork was, fouled three times as much as he blocked shots and had his 15 foot jumper turn into Josh Smith’s. In his first four years, Diop had scored in double digits once and even worse, had gotten double digit rebounds only once.

Worse yet was the fact that the Cavaliers were terrible most of those seasons–they won 29, 17, 35 and 42 games in his four campaigns in Cleveland. Diop couldn’t even get the slightest burn as a high lottery pick on some of the worst teams in the league. That’s how terrible he was.

By the time he got to Dallas, many would say he would turn a corner, but only if that pivot meant taking a detour to Mediocre Town. Though his rebounding and scoring numbers hadn’t gone through any great revolutions, Diop had finally begun to understand how to guard in the paint, encouraging Mavs head coach Avery Johnson to finally give his 7 footer some minutes. Eventually, his playing time increased to the point where the former 6th overall pick was a nominal NBA starter. Diop never finished games for the Mavs, but he gave them 18 hustle-heavy minutes, fouling at an extremely high rate (3 fouls in 18 minutes? DeAndre Jordan just shot out Diet Rite through his nose he was laughing so hard), but providing solid post defense and finally blocking shots again. Though the Mavericks lost the Finals at the end of the 2006 season, they had a young-ish team who had just made their first championship series ever. Could this be a core Mark Cuban could invest in?

Naturally, a year and a half later, Diop, who was on the last year of his contract, was on his way to New Jersey in a trade for a 34 year-old Jason Kidd. The Mavs expressed much regret in having to deal a 24 year-old Devin Harris and a 27 year-old now-defensive stalwart in Diop, but felt that they needed the veteran calm of Kidd to take their team to championship glory.

The Mavs didn’t have to wait long to rectify such a regretful situation. Dallas barely waited at the July 1st buzzer, signing their former and then-current big man to a 6 year, $32 million dollar deal on July 9th 2008.

Soak that in, 2013. Six years. 32 mil-lion dollars. For a player that couldn’t get on the floor for more than 18 minutes a game, score more than 3 points per appearance, shot 43% as a 7 footer and owned a 51% career FT percentage. It was a different time; Kobe wore the number 8, and both Lindsey Hunter and Jacque Vaughn were active players.

At a closer look, the contract wasn’t completely inexcusable. Diop’s Per-36 minute stats were extremely impressive; just a hair over 10 boards and blocking 3 shots per 36 minutes, though he still wasn’t scoring much (just 4 points per 36). Extrapolated from the 18 minutes he got per game, with more experience and time, the Mavericks felt as if the young big man was just coming into his own as a basketball player. Still, at $36 million and six freakin’ years, Diop’s defense would have to develop at such a sky high rate as to throw off the lack of offense that no one could ever see progressing very much.

That optimism withered away after just 9 games. Dallas tried to play the Senegalese center more than 20 minutes, but found that he was still a magnet for fouls with a broken jump shot. As if hit with a Tony Danza backhand, the Mavericks soon realized that they gave a six year commitment to a player that could never create his own offense, shoot foul shots or guard intelligently enough to stay on the floor for the team to use his shot blocking efficiently. To put it in a modern context, it’d be as if Lakers rookie center Robert Sacre continued on his current trajectory of 1.6 points and 1.3 rebounds, but with a ton of energy and defensive desire, and the Lakers gave him 4 years and $20 million based on sheer speculation. The Los Angeles radio market would find a way to project actual vomit over the airwaves and through the speakers. It’d be that devastating.

Still, as stupid as the Mavericks were for taking on the contract, they found an even dumber front office to pawn the contract off on: the Charlotte Bobcats. Just over five months after signing Diop, they shipped the remaining $30 million dollars on his deal over to the Cats, who were just a year and a half into Matt Carroll’s awful 6 year, $27 million dollar deal. So was born a true “your problem for my problem” swap. It’s hard to imagine in the current NBA world giving players like Matt Carroll, Desagana Diop and Luke Walton six year contracts–even LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving can’t get deals that long if they wanted to.

And with the upcoming end of this season comes to close one of the worst current deals the NBA has going. Over the past four seasons in Charlotte, Diop has become even more relevant than he was in his first four seasons, playing in just 89 games, starting 10 of them in an average of 10 minutes scoring 1 point, grabbing 2.6 boards and blocking half a shot per contest. Aside from a handful of buy-out candidates such a Gilbert Arenas, Baron Davis or Brandon Roy, there’s very few, if any NBA players who provide less production per dollar than Desagana Diop. But what sets the center out even more than any of those former stars, is that many can argue Diop never did anything in the first place to earn that money. His six year, $30 million dollar deal might be, pound for pound, one of the worst NBA pacts in the past two decades.

Desagana Diop, we salute you. Mostly with this youtube clip that says it all.

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