(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)
Contract: 6 years, $54 million
Signed by: Golden State Warriors
Salary this season: $9 million
2013 Slash Line: 0.5/8.0/0.3 in 47 games
Allegedly—and self-professed—Dwight Howard shot 90% on free throws in high school. Smiling, he weeks ago admitted to Stephen A. Smith that as he struggles to hit just 50% of his free passes in recent NBA seasons, in his formative years D12 was damn near automatic at the line.
How does that happen? As announcers and writers all over the league rave, Howard’s shooting stroke is sound. The rotation on the ball is crisp, coming out of his hands smoothly as the motion from his legs to his elbows collaborate in sync.
It’s all in his head. Howard surprisingly was completely self-effacing, professing that the problem with his free throws is between his ears. For most of his time in Orlando, Dwight shot close to 60%. But then it all went to hell. The All-Star center has either led the league or been towards the tops in free throw attempts in almost every of his 9 seasons. Yet, he’s gotten statistically worse, teetering on making less than half his attempts the last two seasons.
Luckily for Howard, it hasn’t completely changed his all-around game. He’s still a force defensively, controlling the boards and blocking shots at a prodigious rate. Offensively it’s certainly affected Dwight’s ability to be a fourth quarter world-breaker in the mold of LeBron or Tim Duncan. Coaches simply can’t rely on a player who won’t make his free throws down the stretch. Mike D’Antoni has learned this the hard way, as he’s been relying on four players well into their thirties—Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and even Metta World Peace—to close out games offensively, while his 27 year-old All-NBA center stands out there for defensive purposes and tip-ins.
But that’s just the fourth quarter. Dwight regularly calls for the ball in post isolation situations, boxes out in the paint waiting for alley-oops and put backs and maybe one day, far into the future, will operate a pick and roll with the best damn pick and roll point guard of this generation. Again, luckily for Howard, it hasn’t changed his game for all 48 minutes. Luckily for Howard, he’s still able to do many of the things that got him paid in the first place.
Luckily for Dwight Howard, he’s not Andris Biedrins.
Long and lanky, Andris Biedrins was taken 11th overall in the 2004 draft by the Golden State Warriors. He had dominated in the prestigious Latvian Basketball League, which I’m sure played to record crowds of dozens. Even after a pro career in his teens where he averaged 18.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.82 blocks, the 7 footer was a raw in every sense of the word, a project with potential but a long ways to go. And then there was that funny hitch in his shooting motion.
The transition from the Latvian Basketball League to the National Basketball Association was about as smooth a transition as it sounds like it would be. He only played in 30 games his rookie year, averaging almost as many fouls in 13 minutes a game (2.9) as he did points (3.6). The merciless, sad and mercilessly sad Warriors fan base mocked the latest in their long line of lottery picks often, nicknaming him “Beans” for reasons I’ve yet to divine. Coach Mike Montgomery didn’t play his 7 footer with plastic hair much, but how could he? The guy committed more fouls than Javaris Crittendon has felonies. Biedrins’ second season wasn’t much better. He played in 68 games, but still had a 1.3:1 point to foul ratio. For those of you that aren’t math majors, that’s pretty effing bad. Still, Biedrins was about as automatic as it gets when he shot the ball, pouring in field goals at an extremely efficient .638 percent. He was an abominable foul shooter, making just 22 of 72 at the line, but then again, he played in nearly as many games as he had charity shots. It wasn’t as if that was killing the team.
Then came Don Nelson. The all-time NBA coaching wins leader installed his run and gun offense as soon as he got to Oakland, playing Biedrins as his only rotation player above 6’8”. Nelson notoriously disregarded NBA standards and practices by sending in a high volume shooting blitzkrieg on opponents, primarily orchestrated by point guard Baron Davis. On his wings were players like Stephen Jackson, Matt Barnes and Mikael Pietrus, who regularly served as the team’s power forwards. Biedrins blossomed in his this situation, fouling at a less spectacular rate (3.7 fouls per 29 minutes, which at one foul per 7.3 minutes, was far better than his then career rate of one foul per 4 minutes), and adding 9.5 ppg and 9.3 rpg to go along with 1.2 bpg. He played in all 82 of the Warriors’ regular season games, as well as their first postseason berth in over a decade…and last to-date.
Beans built on his success from 2006-2007 with a career year in 2007-2008, shooting a league-leading .626 percent from the field, a career-high .620 from the line and 10.5 ppg to go along with a monstrous 9.8 rpg. Andris was a game-changer defensively, and no longer a liability on offense—in other words, he was a very good NBA starting center who did what he was supposed to do.
And the Warriors paid him accordingly with a six year, $54 million dollar deal. Biendrins had just turned 22 years old, so even at a $9 million dollar annual price tag, it seemed like a steal for such a young, productive player.
But if that were the case, he surely wouldn’t be the star of MAMBINO’s Bad NBA Contract of the Week column. It all started from injuries, but slowly mutated into something far more sad and tragic.
From the beginning of the 2008-2009 season, Biedrins has missed 121 out of a possible 366 games, a staggering 33% of contests. He’s been sidelined with back, ankle and groin issues, each of which has absolutely wreaked havoc on his timing and ability to defend without fouling. After the end of the 2008-2009 season, Biedins’ numbers cratered, moving from 11.9 ppg and 11.2 rpg to a pitiful 5 ppg and 5.9 rpg, with his minutes going down (23.1 mpg) but his fouls staying up (3.5 fpg). Robbed of the average athleticism he once had, Biedrins was now relatively immobile. And then there was that funny hitch in his shooting motion.
Beans was never a great free throw shooter, but hovering between 52% and 62% that at least kept him on the floor. After coming back from a laundry list of maladies, Biedrins simply could not hit penalty shots. Since 2009, here are the number of games the Latvian center has played in, and his free throw makes and attempts:
2009-2010, 33 games: 4 for 25
2010-2011, 59 games: 10 for 31
2011-2012, 47 games: 1 for 9 (!)
2012-2013, 44 games: 4 for 11
And it wasn’t as if he was missing them by a bit. These free throws were wide right, wide left, airballs and hitting the backboard but missing the iron. It looked like someone had described what basketball is to a member of the Soviet block, and then after negotiated for a pair of blue jeans, went out back and hurtled a 20 pound rock at a brick wall. What’s scary is that description wasn’t just written up for laughs; that’s actually what it looked like. It was sad and heartbreaking, like watching Elliott get separated from E.T. while Nemo couldn’t find his father and Hooch had to be put to sleep. But it actually gets worse.
His inability to hit from the stripe absolutely has a correlation with his field goal attempts, and thus diminishing performance. From 2006-2009, Biedrins shot 167, 187 and 216 field goal attempts. In the past two seasons, he’s attempted 64 and 19 shots, respectively. He is averaging 0.4 FGA this season. In over 9 minutes a game. Carmelo Anthony averages that many shots in less than a minute.
As just about everyone can predict, Andris is absolutely petrified of having to shoot free throws. It’s affected every part of his game—he’s never takes attempts, and even the thought of getting a rebound on an offensive possession spells out bad news of the worst order. It’s infected his confidence like a case of rampant, unmerciful herpes, which I can assure you, is really, really awful. And really contagious. Or so my roommate tells me. Second-hand knowledge.
Combined with his injury history, Biedrins hasn’t been able to get a rhythm back and turn into a productive NBA player in over three years. Free throw shooting has crippled his NBA game and turned what was once a beneficial, team-friendly contract into one of the worst albatrosses in the league. Beans is making $9 million this year, with worse yet a $9 million dollar option for next year that he’ll surely punch. Ain’t no free lunches around here. He’s the worst type of NBA bad contract offender—an unproductive player who can’t even stay healthy enough to re-establish some value and get traded.
However, not all of this is on Biedrins. After the lockout last season, each team had a one-time amnesty clause, in which every organization could choose to waive a player and his salary cap figure. Though they’d have to pay the player in full, he’d no longer clog up valuable cap space and cause his teams millions through potential luxury tax penalties.
Biedrins, who had been killing the Warriors for two seasons at that point with injuries and poor performance, seemed to be a shoe-in for this provision. Alas, the brilliance of the Warriors had showed again why the team had made one playoffs appearance in almost 20 years. Staring at one useless, crippled center, Golden State looked down south for another who could very well be awaiting the very same fate. That winter, the Dubs signed Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan to a four year, $43 million dollar offer sheet, very similar to the deal Biedrins had signed just three years prior. Knowing that the Clippers could match the contract and keep Jordan, the Warriors felt as if they couldn’t cut their only available center…even though he couldn’t stay on the floor, fouled ruthlessly when he got on it and was petrified of touching the ball. Instead, the front office waived Charlie Bell and his expiring $4 million dollar salary to simply have the cap space to offer Jordan the contract in the first place.
Well, the Clippers matched the contract, kept DeAndre and the Warriors were stuck with three more seasons and $36 million dollars of a Latvian human statue.
Oddly enough, Clips coach Vinny del Negro hasn’t been able to play Jordan in fourth quarters because of, yep, poor free throw shooting. DJ has settled into a Biedrins-like sub-.500 groove at the line, which in addition to his propensity to foul has limited the minutes of what should be one of the biggest defensive difference makers in the league. The Warriors have to be given recognition in this case for signing Andris to a terrible contract, keeping him when they could have cut him, and then creating the terms for yet another big man with a potential to replicate the same career Andris Biedrins is having. I grive daily for Warriors fans.
In the end, Lakers Nation has to be thankful that as damaging as Dwight’s free throw percentage is to the team’s chances for victory, it’s leaving large parts of his game unaffected. Though not a star of Howard’s caliber, Golden State’s center was young, full of potential and looking a long, successful career in the face.
And then there was that funny hitch in his shooting motion.
So for that miss, and this miss, and that miss, we salute you, Andris Biedrins.
Like this post? Check out our other Bad NBA Contracts of the Week: