2010 NBA Free Agency: Hawks Clearly Overpay Joe Johnson

| by David Berri

For more than a century, sports owners have

  • complained that players cost too much money.
  • volunteered to pay some players more money than they are worth.

The latest example of the latter is the money the Atlanta Hawks will be paying Joe Johnson. Matthew Yglesias essentially captured the problem with the Johnson deal:

Johnson is a prototypical overrated NBA player. A perimeter scorer on a middling team who takes a lot of shots and therefore scores a lot without being notably efficient at it or notable good at any other aspect of the game. He’s not a bad player. In fact, he’s a good one. But he’s not great. And at his current age, the odds are that Atlanta is purchasing a declining asset. What’s odder is that nobody seems to deny this. Nobody thinks Johnson is going to improve. Nobody thinks Johnson is one of the top ten players in the game. Nobody thinks “Joe Johnson plus guys who are worse than Joe Johnson” sounds like a recipe for a championship.

Despite not being a “great” player, Johnson will be collecting $119 million across the next six seasons. And given his age, and past performance, here is a prediction of the production this money is going to buy.

Across Johnson’s first nine seasons he was paid $74,989,401. And as the above table indicates, he produced 56.1 wins.  In other words, he was paid $1,336,019 per win. 

Across Johnson’s next six seasons it is projected – given his age and productivity last season – 42.1 wins. With a price tag of $119 million, this works out to $2,827,937 per win. And if an entire 60 win team was paid this much per victory, it would cost the owner of the team $169,676,214 in payroll.

According to Patricia Bender, this is more than $100 million more than the Hawks paid their players last season. And it is about $80 million more than the Lakers were paid in 2009-10.

In sum, the deal the Hawks are making with Johnson is not very wise. But it is important that the Hawks are volunteering to pay Johnson $119 million. So as the NBA owners demand concessions from players, remember this deal. 

Obviously what the owners want is a world where the rules prevent them from making these deals.  Because – as the past century has made very obvious –many owners are incapable of stopping themselves.

- DJ

P.S. Do you like the shorter posts? This was a topic discussed during the panel on sports and blogging at the Western Economic Association. Justin Wolfers says the posts at Freakonomics are supposed to be 400 words or shorter. I responded that I struggled with the 800 word limit at Huffington Post. Although this is true, I am going to start trying to make whatever point I am trying to make (as if I am always trying to make a point) a bit quicker. And one last note… I am now back in Cedar City. So all the stuff I promised to post might appear soon.