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NBA players better at money management

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / December 25, 2011
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The perception when NBA players agreed to the new collective bargaining agreement last month was that their salaries would be considerably lower because they would get less basketball-related income. Deals such as the four-year, $22.5 million contract Chuck Hayes got and the four-year, $33 million contract Marcus Thornton got with the Kings have changed minds.

The long-term question, however, is whether players will be able to secure such rich contracts and parlay them into comfort after their playing careers end. The average NBA salary is expected to soar to $7 million at the conclusion of this collective bargaining agreement.

Several former players have found themselves in financial trouble because they were unable to retain their earnings, sometimes through questionable investments. But the Players Association has a number of programs designed to instruct players on how to handle their money.

Executive director Billy Hunter explained that the number of players having trouble may have been intentionally skewed, but it wasn’t supposed to become this much of an issue.

“I think the vast majority of them are handling their money,’’ said Hunter. “A couple of years ago, we had individuals present a financial awareness program. They were meeting in Toronto, and in order to scare players into saving their money, they falsely represented that X number of players ended up bankrupt five years after they leave the game. That’s nowhere near the truth.

“It was said simply for emphasis. But one of the players in the meeting then conveyed that information to a member of the media, and they wrote it, and for the last seven, eight years, we’ve been battling against that one because surprisingly a vast majority of the players do save their money. Many more so than people think.’’

While former players such as Jay Vincent, Tate George, and Kenny Anderson faced post-career financial issues - some of which Hunter attributes to the lower salaries during their eras - the current players have improved their money management.

“The players are more sophisticated and enlightened when it comes to managing their money than their predecessors were,’’ said Hunter.

The issue may be the drastic decrease in income once athletes retire, even for those who transition to television or coaching. Players who take assistant coaching positions are likely to make less than $1 million per season - a significant cut in a league in which the current average salary is $5.8 million.

“I think the biggest problem with ballplayers, professional athletes, is adjusting their lifestyle,’’ Hunter said. “Because they don’t compare themselves to me or you in terms of where they are.

“They don’t realize they are in that 1 percentile during their playing careers. And they live at that level. And they don’t realize the dropoff they are going to experience when they leave the game.

“Let’s say you played 10 years and you averaged $7 million. You made $70 million. Of that $70 million, you bring home maybe $35 million. And then you go out and buy a $4 million house, take all kinds of trips, get two or three cars, got your kids in private school.

“Even at that number, if you have prudently saved, you still can’t continue to live at that level. You’ve got to downsize. You have to make an adjustment.’’

Hunter noted that Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Junior Bridgeman (who owns 160 Wendy’s Restaurants) are among the very few former players who come close to matching or exceeding the income they earned as players.

“The problem with athletes, irrespective of what sport, is they don’t compare themselves to you or me or their family members,’’ said Hunter. “Because they get blinded by the guys who they work with and play with, and that’s who they judge their success by.

“They need to take advantage of all the relationships they develop that will help facilitate their transition after basketball.’’


Another loss for 2006 class

Brandon Roy was the shining star from the 2006 draft, reaching the All-Star Game twice in his first three years. But chronic knee problems felled the Trail Blazer, who was forced to retire this month.

Roy’s departure just adds to the misery of that draft, which has been the worst in recent memory.

Of the 30 first-round picks, 15 are now out of the NBA.

Andrea Bargnani was the No. 1 overall pick, and while he is a productive player, he has never been close to making an All-Star Game. Second pick LaMarcus Aldridge, Roy’s teammate in Portland, was swapped on draft night for Tyrus Thomas, the fourth pick.

Adam Morrison was the third pick. Shelden Williams was fifth and he quickly turned into an NBA journeyman. Roy, chosen sixth, was the jewel of the class but was forced to retire after just four years.

Other first-round busts include former Celtic Patrick O’Bryant, Mouhamed Sene, Hilton Armstrong, Cedric Simmons, Oleksiy Pecherov, Quincy Douby, Marcus Williams, Josh Boone, Sergio Rodriguez, and Mardy Collins.

The final pick of the round, Joel Freeland, was a British standout who never came over to play in the NBA - rather apropos for this draft.

Obviously, if teams had a do-over, Rajon Rondo (drafted by Phoenix at 21 and traded to the Celtics) and Paul Millsap (47th overall by Utah) would be in the top 10.


O’Neal is on Howard’s side

The Magic pulled Dwight Howard off the market for now, but the center said his trade demand still stands. Coach Stan Van Gundy chided reporters recently for asking about Howard’s focus after a poor preseason game against the Heat, but unless there is a dramatic change, league insiders believe Howard will get moved.

“I’m keeping my eye on the Orlando situation,’’ said Shaquille O’Neal, himself a former Magic center. “I’m anxious to see if they make the same mistake twice. They just built an arena, $550 million. It’s talks of trading him or keeping him, but I think they should keep him.’’

If you recall, O’Neal used an unusual clause in his contract 15 years ago that made him a free agent after four seasons in Orlando. And despite speculation that he would re-sign with the Magic, he was snatched away by the Lakers. O’Neal has blamed Orlando management for not being aggressive enough to bring him back and assuming he would return because the Magic were an Eastern Conference contender.

He chided the current management, including general manager Otis Smith, saying sarcastically that it “has been doing a good job with that situation’’ regarding Howard.

“Otis got on TV and said, ‘We’re gonna make strides to make this a championship team, but we’re not gonna do what Dwight wants us to do,’ ’’ O’Neal said. “Most general managers that I know always concur with their star players about what needs to go on.

“Otis is going to be famous for making the Rashard Lewis deal and letting Dwight Howard go, and hopefully he doesn’t let him go.

“One, they should show him a little bit more respect. And two, they should really get another dominant player in there.

“If you look at the history of the league, most [successful] teams have had a definite 1-2 punch. Right now in Orlando you only have a 1 punch, so . . .

“No one can really do it by themselves. When you have Otis on TV saying, ‘We’re not going to do what he wants us to do,’ you just give a guy ammunition to say, ‘You know what? I’m tired of this, I want to go somewhere else.’ ’’


Nuggets can’t be extracted

Signing with a Chinese team appeared to be an astute move when the lockout threatened to cancel the season, but now the three former Nuggets who went there are seemingly stuck, having committed to the Chinese Basketball Association for the entire season, which ends in February. Kenyon Martin just negotiated his release, but because of FIBA rules, he is not eligible to sign with an NBA team until the Chinese season is over, leaving him in a three-month limbo. Wilson Chandler and J.R. Smith remain in China.


The league lost its first player to an Achilles’ tendon injury when Memphis’s Darrell Arthur went down in practice and will miss the season. It may not be the first major injury potentially caused by the compressed schedule. Expect players to have trouble with leg injuries in the first few weeks of the season. Paul Pierce, for example, sustained a bone bruise in his right heel during the Celtics’ opening scrimmage. “I thought they could have waited until January and gave everybody another two or three weeks,’’ said TNT analyst Charles Barkley. “I just think it’s too much, to be honest with you. I’m really concerned about injuries. I think about the football thing. There’s been a greater amount of injuries in the NFL than in the past because there was a short training camp.’’ . . . Baron Davis signed with the Knicks last week but his agent insists he won’t be available for about two months because of a back injury. Mike Bibby will take over until Davis returns, but he was ineffective with Miami last season (7.3 points, 2.5 assists), finally being replaced by Mario Chalmers in the NBA Finals.

Gary Washburn can be reached at Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report

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