Bad NBA Contract of the Week: Drew Gooden

(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)
Drew Gooden
Contract: 5 years, $32 million
Signed by:
Milwaukee Bucks
Salary this season: $6.8 million
2013 Slash Line: 3.4/2.1/0.4 in 15 games
Expires: 2015
Tough post defense. Solid rebounding. A bit of shot blocking sprinkled into a decent array of post moves and a soft touch around the rim.
This was the general buzz in the scouting report surrounding Kansas’ star forward Drew Gooden. Coming out of college, Drew looked like your prototypical, old-school power forward who would make his bones on crashing the boards, defending the paint and scoring anywhere between 10 and 15 points a game. For a team that would end up in the 2002 NBA Draft lottery looking for a 4, it seemed that they’d be in luck.
Turns out there were a lot of franchises with those same needs. An astounding 9 big men got taken in the first 14 picks, including All-Stars Amar’e Stoudemire (9th) and Yao Ming (1st), along with NBA vets like Nene (7th), Chris Wilcox (8th) and Jared Jeffries (11th). Gooden turned out to to be the second front court player taken at the 4 spot by Memphis, but as his career has progressed, the former Jayhawk has gotten lost in a sea of 6’10” and over guys from the 2002 Draft. Looking back on it, he may not be one of the ten most talented guys selected that year. His potential was tantalizing, but obviously there was something within Gooden’s personality and game that led him to be traded twice within his first two seasons, extremely uncommon for a top-5 pick.
Not entirely unlike a two year period between February 2008 and February 2010 when the forward was traded four times and cut once. Many NBA onlookers simply got lost in trying to keep track of Gooden, who received six paychecks from six different teams in in 24 months, though he only ended up playing for five of them. Looking at his career numbers of 11 points and 7 rebounds, it’s hard to understand why he’d have such a journeyman’s career.
But none of this previous employment history was a deterrent to the Milwaukee Bucks GM  John Hammond, who ended up offering Gooden one of the most preposterous contracts residing in the NBA today.

For a lot of teams, the summer of 2010 was the Summer of LeBron James. The King himself  had no shortage of suitors, but only a handful of true contenders. Thus, for a few other select teams, the Summer of LeBron was downgraded to the Summer of Wade or the Summer of Bosh. For even those less fortunate, like the New York Knicks or Chicago Bulls, it was the Summer of Amar’e (don’t forget the apostrophe, now) or the Summer of Boozer.

The Milwaukee Bucks however, had no such disillusions about what their summer was about. The least valuable franchise in the NBA knew that they wouldn’t be attracting any premiere, second-tier or even third-tier free agents starting on July 1st. Luckily for them, they thought they already had two future All-Stars drafted and in-house. Center Andrew Bogut had his finest season to date, averaging almost 16 points and 11 rebounds, while showing some of the best defensive instincts in the league. On the other side of the court, rookie point guard Brandon Jennings had just played a surprisingly incredible rookie year, making the 1st Team All-Rookie squad and including an unbelievable 55 point outburst in just his seventh NBA game ever.

With such young, talented and cheap blue chip talent in the fold, Bucks GM John Hammond decided that even with enough money to take a run at a max free agent, he’d instead use those funds on several smaller pieces to augment what could be a formidable core going forward. After all, LeBron surely wasn’t going to sign up to play with a mid-market Midwest town for the next six years over the lights of New York or the warmth of South Beach. Right? No one would think that.

Hammond’s summer moves started in early June, when he traded for 3 years and $30 million remaining on Corey Maggette’s hefty deal with the Golden State Warriors. His next two moves would come after the July 1st free agent bell; first, he’d re-sign mid-season acquisition John Salmons to a lengthy 5-year, $39 million dollar deal, strangely adding another shoot-first wing player to a team that already had Brandon Jennings and now Corey Maggette. Days later, Hammond would answer those questions in a move he thought would allay any of those concerns specifically…by signing Drew Gooden to a 5 year, $32 million dollar deal.

Just like that, in a one month period, John Hammond signed or traded for three contracts that will all eventually end up featured on this Bad NBA Contract of the Week column.

Much like his murky post-mortem draft standing or his previous transaction history, many found themselves confused by Gooden’s new deal. He had been traded twice the season before after signing a one-year, make-good contract with the Dallas Mavericks. This, after he’d been let go by the San Antonio Spurs, widely known as one of the smartest and shrewdest teams in the league. This, after being traded the in-season previous (for John Salmons, oddly enough) and then being cut by the Kings. This, after being traded for three washed up players in Joe Smith, Ben Wallace and Wally Sczerbiak and then-prospect Delonte West. Certainly, transaction histories don’t always tell the story for every player–but it is telling that playoff teams like the Mavericks, Cavaliers and Spurs all let him go while in postseason races.

Two years, six teams and four trades didn’t tell the story for John Hammond. How on Earth could he justify such a ghastly deal?

Because like a blogger looking back on past performance from simply the numbers, John Hammond made like he owned Jurassic Park and brushed over the details. Except in this situation, no one was eaten alive.

Upon a cursory review, 2008-2010 doesn’t look too bad on the stat sheet. After all, what could be negative about around 11 points and 7 rebounds per game (almost exactly his career numbers) for a player that doesn’t demand the ball and doesn’t mind taking a secondary role?  Simply going on the numbers, Gooden looked like a great fit with Jennings, Maggette and Salmons. For a little less than $7 million a year, 11/7 with solid defense is a bargain if those are your nightly numbers.

And for his entire career, that’s been the most frustrating component of Drew Gooden. Those are never his nightly numbers. He’s wildly, insanely inconsistent, to the point that a stretch of scoring and rebounding variables throw the entire aggregate out of whack. Take a look at the first 20 games of his 2009-2010 season. He went without a pulse for five games, then ripped off a string of five out of six games with double-doubles. His next 15 games in that stretch? Averaged 6 points and 5 rebounds (perhaps without coincidence, Drew’s best game as a Maverick came in a 22 point, 14 rebound performance…in Milwaukee). Gooden was traded to the Clippers at the deadline later that year and played undoubtedly the most consistent basketball of his career; he had 19 double-doubles all year long, and 10 of them were in his 24 games in LA. Unsurprisingly, Drew played extremely well when it was time to get paid.

Gooden’s maiden season with the Bucks was emblematic of his entire career. His numbers vacillated from night to night, and after missing two months with plantar faciitis in his foot came back to register his first career double double. Amazing.

It’s not that Gooden’s numbers haven’t justified the contract–it’s that his incredibly staggering inconsistency on a daily basis nullifies everything he could potentially contribute to a basketball team. Is he lazy? Is this a confidence problem? Is he out of shape? Ironically enough, the only constant about Drew Gooden is his predictable inconsistencies.

New Bucks coach Jim Boylan has obviously seen enough of this, and just two years and more than $13 million dollars left on the deal, he’s giving Gooden DNP-CDs. There’s no telling whether or not he’ll show up with a monster 13 point, 15 rebound game or simply mail it in with 6 points on 8 shots and a paltry 2 boards.

We’d salute you, Drew, but we just don’t feel like it today.

Like this post? Check out our other Bad NBA Contracts of the Week:

Desagana Diop

Travis Outlaw

Andris Biedrins

Charlie Villanueva

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