Good question, DT.
It seems fairly certain that Boston thinks he’s worth what they’re paying him.
But that’s the view of every franchise that signs any contract. They would not sign the contract otherwise.
What’s a good decision or a bad one is determined down the road, after a player has delivered performances under his contract. Some work out very well, others not.
Take Chris Bosh. The Heat paid him well — and then lost him to his blood clot disease. His salary became an anchor around the Heat’s necks. Until they could rid themselves of that contract, their ability to fit talent under the cap space was hurt badly. That’s one reason it was surprising that Miami surged late in the season in 2017. They did not appear to have enough talent to have done that. Either some young players are outperforming expectations, or the coaching is so good that merely okay players are delivering the performances of their lives. Maybe a little of both. But it’s a classic example of a contract going bad, and also a classic example of how other factors can play into the result.
A contract going bad can happen to any team. There are no guarantees of player health, and no guarantees that what a franchise expects from a player will materialize.
I score the Horford contract as risky. I’d have avoided paying him as much as he got, if I were making that decision.
To be fair, *every* NBA contract is risky. And a lot of them will turn out to be disappointing.
As an aside, I score the Curry signing even riskier than Horford’s contract. That’s a lot of cash and cap space to bet on his continued ability to deliver at a high level. But again, there can be no doubt: the franchise made the deal because they thought the player was worth it. We’ll have to see if the franchise was right.
No franchise can eliminate risk; and you can’t be a GM for an NBA team if you’re risk-averse. A GM’s job is to calculate the risks and then roll the dice, and do it again and again. Success requires skill in calculating risks and luck, too.
Though of course high-quality coaching can also come into play. A guy like Eric Spoelstra may be capable of rescuing a franchise from a bad contract just by virtue of using the players he has cleverly and by training and drilling them in good tactics and teamwork.
Brad Stevens isn’t very experienced, but he has drawn high praise for the quality of his coaching. Whether the Horford contract looks good in a few years might come down to how well Horford and his teammates are coached in a system that can generate wins. It’s not *all* on the player; how the player is trained and coached, the minutes and tasks he is assigned, tactics, and teamwork matter, too.
Boston had enough cap space to pad out their roster despite the Horford contract, so there’s that. I think Boston is the favorite to take the number 1 seed in the East again, and they may even beat the Cavs in the Eastern Conference finals if Kyrie leaves. LeBron is a tough customer, but he’s not getting any younger, the Cavs bench hasn’t delivered much when it matters, and Stuff Happens, like it did in the 2015 finals, where the Cavs piled up injuries that did not bode well for their chances. With a little luck, Boston could get by them and into the finals. It’s a credible possibility, and it could happen even if time demonstrates that Horford’s contract overpays him.
But as a general rule, we should expect franchises to try to keep salaries down and to rely as much as they can on young, cheap talent and cheap veterans. They’re going to make exceptions for certain high-profile players, sure. But the player cap makes the NBA a league where it usually pays to be miserly.