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Luke Walton with a reminder: it’s not always fun to be an epitomic overpaid NBA player

Aug 27, 2011, 11:00 AM EST

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There are obviously worse things than being paid millions of dollars to play professional basketball, so many in fact that the experiences of NBA players are often discounted on the basis of their privilege. This, for the most part, is understandable; those who have much have less theoretical reason to complain, as a successful burst of an NBA career (not to mention all of the opportunities that arise as a result of that status) has the ability to sustain a player and their family for some time — if not their entire lives.

Still, with the contemporary sports media culture dissecting players, teams, and the finances behind them at every turn (and this portal can surely be counted among that group), a few names get dragged through the mud on a regular basis for reasons of bloated contracts alone.

Stephon Marbury. Steve Francis. Eddy Curry. Jared Jeffries. Jerome James. Just about anyone who suited up for the Knicks in the mid-2000s, apparently. These players — who have worked their entire lives toward the singular goal of succeeding as an NBA player, mind you — made it to the best basketball league in the world and were/are openly ridiculed because some general manager or owner was willing to let go of a bit more money than was necessary. The player’s only fault was not being quite as good as advertised, and for that horrible injustice they shall never be forgiven.

Luke Walton doesn’t quite deserve to be grouped in with the aforementioned overpaid players (he’ll make $5.8 million, an excessive but league average salary, in the final year of his contract in 2012-2013), yet he’s often used as a cautionary tale for teams misusing the power of Bird rights. Walton is not deserving of pity for this reason, but the targeted, incessant negativity that seeps from NBA coverage towards players like Walton is something that the average NBA fan either refuses to acknowledge or refuses to understand. Walton reflects on the subject of being cast as unworthy and overpaid in an interview with Petros and Money of Fox Sports Radio in Memphis (via Sports Radio Interviews):

“It obviously bothers me. I haven’t really noticed it because I kind of stay out of the media during the offseason. But obviously it bothers you as a player. You want to feel your worth. Obviously I’m getting paid a salary that was for a much larger role back when we agree upon the deal. I was a playmaker, I was playing 30 minutes a game and I was able to do a lot of things for a team. And I had offers from other teams to do the same thing. … For the most part, fans have been great out here. Then, all of the sudden you bring in Pau Gasol and other players of that caliber and my role kind of gets smaller and smaller. I can still play the game … then all of the sudden my back goes bad on me and mentally I’m frustrated. … The role that I was paid that money to do kind of got taken away in a sense.”

Again, this isn’t about poor, pitiful Luke, just obtaining a fuller understanding of the experiences of marginal — and yes, overpaid — NBA players. It’s true, Walton doesn’t produce at any level even remotely near what his salary would suggest. But he’s correct in asserting that he signed his current deal to return as a member of a very different Lakers team, one that saw him as an active creator in the triangle offense. The Lakers have improved significantly since that point, and though retaining Walton once seemed important, his presence is now superfluous in terms of the team’s success.

Yet when the unwavering criticism falls, Mitch Kupchak — the man who brought Gasol to L.A., and elevated the Lakers to contenders once again — is more or less spared. Walton’s shortcomings as a player are something he owns, but along with those, too, comes any perceived responsibility for the team agreeing to overpay him. There was no trickery involved, no sleight of hand; just a different player playing a different role for a different team, and a series of natural and organic changes that marginalized what once was.

  1. rayrsatx - Aug 27, 2011 at 12:59 PM

    5.8 million dollars a year for a third stung bench warmer? Luke Walton accumulated more splinters in his @ss then minutes on the floor! Thanks to unions, marginal players are awarded salaries not commensurate to their hyped skills. The socialist union scale wages base salaries based on years on the job instead of performance. In this day & age where people are either losing jobs or struggling to keep there jobs, I would like to know if you or I could get away from defrauding an employer?

  2. cosanostra71 - Aug 27, 2011 at 2:51 PM

    I’m sorry, no matter how many qualifiers you put on it, I won’t feel bad for Walton. Almost 10% of Americans are unemployed. He makes $5 million a year and a few people make (entirely truthful) statements about his basketball skills. What a terrible life.

    • passerby23 - Aug 27, 2011 at 6:12 PM

      It’s never fun hearing criticism when you bust your ass no matter how much you are paid. But, it would be nice to hear something like, “I’m not complaining about $5 mil a year to play basketball, but I bust my ass trying to contribute to this team so the criticism stings a bit.”

      Walton was overpaid. It’s pretty hard to imagine there aren’t more athletic playmakers who could do exactly what Walton does for the same price, but better. Walton has never been a stout defender either.

  3. dysraw1 - Aug 27, 2011 at 3:18 PM

    Again the owners hire these brilliant guy who shell out these crazy contracts, without any regard to salary cap.So the guys you pay to gamble with your money should be held accountable.

  4. mamow74 - Aug 27, 2011 at 3:41 PM

    Please take Eddy Curry off your list of guys who were unfairly blamed for not being as good as advertised. He probably was as good as advertised, but he simply took his money and loafed. I understand that he was having personal problems at the time, but come on. Really the only thing that a general manager and team can expect of a player day-in and day-out is to stay in shape, it’s not like they can ask you to be good, there are just far too many factors outside of one’s control for that. And Curry couldn’t or wouldn’t do it, despite the obscene amounts of money he was being paid. Seriously, not only did Curry have zero respect for the Knicks, he had no respect for himself if he wasn’t able to appreciate how hard he worked to get to the NBA and wasn’t willing to work hard enough to be an elite player once he got paid (until recently when he realized nobody was interested in having an out of shape, entitled malcontent on their team). Unlike the other players you mentioned, I have no problem hating on this guy.

  5. craigw24 - Aug 28, 2011 at 11:52 AM

    This article wasn’t about feeling sorry for Luke Walton – it was about the ridiculous mentality of blaming the player for the contract. There are people, perhaps your boss, who don’t deserve the salary they are being paid. Many of these people got this salary by ‘gaming’ the corporate system they were working in.. Luke’s agent negotiated his contract openly with the Lakers and within the rules of the CBA in force at the time. That might be reason to question the CBA, or the owner’s intelligence, or the game itself, but it certainly isn’t reason to question the player himself – unless, of course, you are envious of his abilities.

    Perhaps we should be spending more time looking at what the player does with his time. In the case of Luke Walton, he spends a lot of time in the community and contributing to expanding other’s lives and chances. Just recently he worked with other Lakers to insure some of the staff laid off by the club at the time of the lockout would get some additional share of the playoff monies the players earned this year. That doesn’t sound like someone we should be despising or railing against because of their circumstance.

  6. therealhtj - Aug 28, 2011 at 1:16 PM

    The argument of who’s to blame for the ridiculous contracts is moot. The fact that even one bad MLE contract like Walton’s is enough to severely hinder a team’s chance to compete is the real problem. ANY new CBA that still allows for fully guaranteed contracts is a complete disservice to US – the fans. Any real NBA fans should be lobbying the owners to accept nothing less. NBA players CAN’T renegotiate their contracts to free up some cap space even if they wanted to. Do any of you think that’s right? Teams should be able to dump any player they feel isn’t living up to the terms of their contract. PERIOD. It works in the NFL, it’ll work in the NBA too. So long as the BRI split is acceptable, who gives a crap who’s earning it, right NBAPA?

    I don’t care if Luke Walton only had 30 or so good games and Mitch Kupchak decided to sign him to a max, 6 year, MLE deal – the only boneheaded move he hasn’t made up for. And who’s Luke kidding, there were no other offers, Mitch signed him at 12:01 the night free agency started. Luke’s role didn’t diminish – Luke did. He couldn’t live up to that role regardless of what other SF’s were on the Lakers. Luke should have retired last year, everyone knows this. He’d have still gotten his undeserved money, paid for by insurance, and been off the Lakers books this year. I have no sympathy for Luke Walton and could give a crap that he gave his playoff share to some more deserving Lakers staff. Dude makes a ton of money, dates gorgeous women, and then has the nerve to try and justify his ridiculous contract? please . . . don’t even get me started on Curry.

  7. havlicekstoletheball - Aug 30, 2011 at 7:50 AM

    So what is the point of this article? That Walton is somehow unfairly criticized and we should all be understanding? YGBSM. He makes half a million dollars a MONTH to play that game, $112,000 a WEEK.

    He’s a pretty good player, smart, and by all accounts not an idiot, which sets him apart in professional sport these days. But he isn’t worth that kind of money.

    I don’t begrudge the players getting that kind of coin. Owners wanna pay, go ahead and take it. But I do begrudge them complaining about much of anything if they do. Patrick Ewing complained some years ago about how the rookies and marginal players had to somehow “get by” on the league minimum of $450,000.

    Almost six million dollars may be the league average, but it represents more money than someone can make in a 30-year military career. A couple of times over.

  8. jdillydawg - Aug 31, 2011 at 12:13 AM

    Walton is worth every penny he gets paid. Why? Because Kupchak agreed to the deal.

    Don’t hate the guy because he has a good agent. Most people are pissed because he earns a lot of money. Big deal. Lots of people earn a lot of money and lots of people do stupid things with it. It’s LA’s problem, not his. If I were Luke, I’d just be giving the finger to all the critics. (Ok,that might be an ill advised LeBron move, but still, I have no problem with the guy’s paycheck or his playing ability.)

  9. hillzmickelzon - Dec 27, 2011 at 7:12 AM

    Lukw walton next coach of the Lakers… You heard it here first give it about 3 years maybe at the end of Kobes run i can see luke being a poor mans phil jackson..

  10. missmomo1 - Dec 30, 2011 at 4:03 AM

    What’s really sad is that ungrateful Laker fans boo him every time he touches the ball. What kind of garbage is that? This guy can’t catch a break.

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