Sports

Did Al Jefferson Really Cause an NBA Lockout?

| by David Berri

This is the question asked by Matt Moore at CBS Sportsline. Moore’s argument (click on the link to read the entire story) is as follows:

  • The Utah Jazz decided after Carlos Boozer departed to maintain a high payroll by adding Al Jefferson.
  • This decision was based on the expectation the team would still be a playoff team with Jefferson.
  • When this didn’t happen, revenues fell and the team lost money.
  • This situation – where a team makes a “good” decision that doesn’t work out – needs to be addressed in the new collective bargaining agreement.  Teams shouldn’t suffer significant losses just because of “bad luck”.

To understand the problem with this argument, let’s begin with the following three stories I wrote on the Utah Jazz from October to January.

These stories indicate that what happened to the Jazz in 2010-11 was hardly the result of “bad luck”.  Replacing Boozer with Jefferson was not a “good” decision.  Boozer has generally been more productive than Jefferson.  So as the following table indicates, the Jazz should have expected to be worse in 2010-11.

Table 1: Utah Jazz 2009-2010 vs 2010-2011 Numbers

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Utah Jazz

Pos

MP

WP48

09-10

WP

09-10

WP48

10-11

WP

10-11

Change

in WP

DeRon Williams1.020090.2339.70.2138.9-0.8Paul Millsap4.026050.1407.60.1538.30.7Al Jefferson4.929400.1207.40.1338.20.8Andrei Kirilenko3.419990.2078.60.1656.9-1.8Jeremy Evans*3.04630.3012.90.3012.90.0Earl Watson1.115670.0812.60.0732.4-0.3Derrick Favors*4.04440.1191.10.1191.10.0C.J. Miles2.51969-0.019-0.80.0261.11.9Gordon Hayward*3.012180.0240.60.0240.60.0Raja Bell**2.020970.0693.00.0090.4-2.6Devin Harris1.05300.0510.60.0260.3-0.3Kyle Weaver2.0690.1490.20.0510.1-0.1Marcus Cousin*5.018-0.0640.0-0.0640.00.0Mehmet Okur5.01680.0550.2-0.097-0.3-0.5Francisco Elson5.0610-0.134-1.7-0.076-1.00.7Kyrylo Fesenko5.0456-0.103-1.0-0.167-1.6-0.6Ronnie Price2.07170.0080.1-0.134-2.0-2.1    41.2 36.2-5.1

* – Rookie in 2010-11, so 2009-10 numbers are the same as 2010-11

**- Raja Bell played less than 200 minutes in 2009-10.  So his 2009-10 numbers are from 2008-09

As one can see, had Jefferson maintained what he did in Minnesota in 2010-11, he would have produced 7.4 wins for Utah.  Jefferson did improve (ever so slightly), so he actually produced 8.2 wins for the Jazz.  In contrast, Boozer produced 16.2 wins for the Jazz in 2010-11.

Yes, the trade of Deron Williams also didn’t help.  But even when Williams was in Utah, this was not a title contending team in the West (as noted in the above posts).   And even with Williams the playoffs were not a certainty (and even if the team made it to the post-season, the team’s stay would probably not have generated much revenue).

So Utah’s decline was not a result of bad luck.  It was the predictable outcome of the decisions the team made in the past few months.

Matt Moore, though, suggests this is a problem.  Utah’s decision to spend slightly more for fewer wins is somehow a problem with the NBA’s labor market.  But as I have noted before, capitalism does not guarantee profits. If a firm makes bad decisions, then there should be bad outcomes. To create a system where this doesn’t happen is a very bad idea.

And in fact, Matt Moore knows this.  Here is how his article concludes:

We don’t want everyone assured of equal success. That provides no incentive for improvement or innovation. And the last thing we need is a fleet of Donald Sterlings walking around. 

In the end, Moore is exactly right.  A system that doesn’t punish failure is not a good idea.  The current system has certainly failed to punish Sterling.  Creating a system that is further tilted towards the “Sterling model” is not a good idea.

- DJ

(Editor Dre’s Note: I would just like to point out that Dave has still not answered my comment from his previous post. . . .)