25 August 2010
I'm proud to break a pretty long silence (work, holidays bla bla bla) to write about one of my favorite Sixers moves of all time: the signing of Greg Buckner.
Wait, wasn't that ten years ago or something? Yeah, exactly, but the geniuses at The Real Shaq decided to gather the Bloguin NBA community during this offseason to compile a series of articles that want to 'honour' the worst contracts in the recent history of the NBA. And God knows if Sixers have something to say in that regard...
Last articles include Knicks Fanatics coverage of the immortal (contract of) Allan Houston, and TWolves Blog remarkable tribute to Troy Hudson and his crazy deal. While here is the complete list of posts.
Given the impressive amount of money and the level of players that made the team (Brian Grant, Raef La Frentz, Vin Baker etc, some of them reaching even triple figure in $), the 6-year/$ 18 M deal that Billy King gave Buckner in the summer of 2002 might seem even modest and not worth mentioning.
After all, the contract started at "just" 2.4 mill for the first year. That's less than ...Jon Koncak was making !!But I'll try to explain why the move definitely deserves a place in the list and a dedicated post. It's surely "a niche" contract but there are many reasons to analyze it. Follow me.
1) first off, the move was TOTALLY UNMOTIVATED. While many of the other players listed were coming off good/great seasons, or at least had showed some potential, when he was signed by the Sixers ("hoping to add more depth and versatility", to quote the official press release...), Buckner was nothing more that a marginal player in the NBA, with little-to-zero hopes of becoming significantly better.
We are talking about a #53, second round pick, then already 26 y/o, that was coming off a 5.8 PPG campaign with the Mavericks, where he spent his first three NBA seasons. By the way he had played just 129 games in Dallas, for a (worrying) average of 43 per year.
And you committ yourself to such a player for S-I-X years?
2) the funny thing is that Buckner had a 100% correct perception of himself.
Known merely mainly for his defensive ability - something that coach Larry Brown always appreciates - , in his first words as a Sixer Buckner basically admitted that he sucked at pretty much everything else:
"I've been told many times that I don't have a position," Buckner said. "I like to guard the best players on the wing. My game has been to strictly play defense and rebound, do the scrappy things."
Gotta love the honesty here. "Scrappy" is the key word. Do you sign people for six years to clean the garden, flip burgers or walk your dog? No, right? Well, Buckner was doing those things in the NBA and was perfectly aware of that. Still, he got that deal.
3) So it was the Sixers, and only them, that completely, dumbly overrated him, signing him to a too long-too fat contract that he probably never imagined of, even in his wildest dreams. How many takers could have a 6'4 guard that hit a total of 17 threes in 3 seasons and finished the last one with 69% from the line ??
I can envision the scene:
(before getting into Billy King's room) Buckner's agent - whispering: "Greg, I will propose two years, three millions, let's see if they bite. Please don't say a word, let me talk, you just pray".
Billy King (in his best "Hey, I am an NBA GM and you won't fool me, suckers !" voice): "Ok guys, let's make this quick, we can't offer more than six years and eighteen millions. Take or leave !"
Buckner & agent: "Signatures at the bottom of the sheet, right?"
4) Buckner's production with the Sixers was mediocre at best. Not his fault, again.
In fact he spent "only" two of those f'n six years in Philly. In 2002/2003 he increased his production to 6 PPG (wow !) in a good season for the team, that, coached by Larry Brown finished with a 48-34 record and got to the conference semifinals, where it eventually lost to Detroit 2-4. Buckner had his role in Brown's rotation, as a perimeter stopper off the bench. A "tactical weapon" that was asked to do the ..scrappy things for 20 min a game, exactly.
But already in his second season, with Brown and his defensive system gone, Buckner was completely useless. It was a terrible year for a team that had no identity or direction: passing from Randy "juicy face" Ayers to Chris Ford, in 2003/2004 Sixers finished with a 33-49 record, and Buckner was involved in that 82 game-long unbelievable mess. 3 PPG with 37% FG in just 13 min per game were awful even for a scrub like him.
In the summer of 2004, with new coach Jim O'Brien bringing his philosophy based on offense and three point shooting, Buckner's days in Philly were numbered. So it was barely a surprise when he was waived by the team, and signed (another contract !) with the Nuggets.
According to Billy King, Sixers should have finished paying Buckner in 2008.
5) Buckner was not alone. Many Billy King apologists keep saying that basically it was Larry Brown that signed Buckner, so they tend to give the GM a free pass at least for that move.
While it's 100% sure that Brown asked to have a player like Buckner (or Buckner himself, why not), I didn't/don't see any reason to give the dude six years, and that is completely on the GM. You can find dozens of specialists like him in the NBA - or in minor leagues - but you usually sign them for 1-2 years max. Franchise players get six years, not the Greg Buckners of his world.
[Uhm, wait: Billy King made A TON of other similarly idiotic moves, that can be filed under the "Buckneresque" category and f'd the Sixers for nearly a decade. Before Buckner there were Eric Snow (1999, 7 year/$ 29 M), Aaron Mc Kie (2001, 7-year/$ 35 M), Dikembe Mutombo (2001, 4-year/$ 68 M !!).
After came Brian Skinner (2004, 5-year/$25 M) and Kenny "Jenny" Thomas, who got 7 year/$ 40 M in the summer of 2003, exactly one year after Buckner... But this is another story, that will be told next week in a specific post].
NOTABLE NICKNAMES: Brickner - Benchner - Suckner
THE GEM: the sixth year of Buckner's contract with the Sixers was a PLAYER option. That's simply a-w-e-s-o-m-e and perhaps my favorite part of the story. Talking about the icing on the cake.
Last Sixer to benefit of a similar gift, and always by the same Billy King of course, was another stiff player of the 1976 class: mr. Calvin Booth, ladies and gentlemen (*applause*). Booth was signed by the Sixers in 2007: King was kind enough to leave him the opportunity to decide if he wanted to stay in Philadelphia for a second year. Guess what Booth picked.
As they say, after all there is a reason if they are GMs and we are just fans !!!