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July 2, 2012
Names vs. Production
Steer Clear of These Guys

by Bradford Doolittle

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The biggest pitfall in the free agency process of any sport is to overpay a player based on a level of past performance that is unlikely to continue. You see it all the time in baseball, where players earn hefty multi-year deals based on a career year that is unlike any they've put up before and, ultimately, never repeat. In basketball, you don't see the career year syndrome that often because year-to-year performances in hoops are more stable. Nevertheless, you still see teams overpay players based on what they've done, as opposed to what they're going to do.

This year's free agent class is littered with candidates for those kinds of poor decisions. That's not unusual. It happens every summer. The problem in the NBA of course is that with the salary cap, poor investments can haunt teams for several years, making it more difficult to add younger impact talent or to plug in holes with truly productive veteran free agents. Just ask new Hawks general manager Danny Ferry how much fun it is to work around the bloated max contract his predecessors in Atlanta gave to Joe Johnson.

I'm not sure there are any Joe Johnson-sized follies to be made in this year's market, though some have already cried foul at the size of the offers received by restricted free agents Omer Asik and Roy Hibbert. However, there are a few players who are being hotly pursued that might be better left alone. Let's look at five of players whose names may no longer be synonymous with production.

Brandon Roy
Look, I think everyone that loves NBA basketball would be thrilled if Roy was able to overcome his chronic knee problems and resume an All-Star career that once looked so promising. He underwent a similar regimen of platelet rich plasma therapy that helped Kobe Bryant, among others. But nevertheless, we're talking about a player that hasn't been an above-average performer since 2009-10. He put up just a .491 true shooting percentage in 47 games the next season and last year, wasn't able to play at all. Nevertheless, he has a number of high-profile suitors. According to the rumor mill, some of those teams are willing to offer as much as the full midlevel exception and/or more than one year. If ever there was a player that needed to prove his ability to stay on the court, much less to produce at a winning level, it's Roy. Sports medicine has improved a lot since the days of Penny Hardaway, but there is no way Roy should get more than one season, with perhaps a partially-guaranteed second season.

Chauncey Billups
The 36-year-old Billups is in a similar boat to Roy except he's got an extra nine years of age piled on top of the injury concerns. While Billups hasn't relied on a high level of athleticism for a number of years, he's long past the days when he could guard other team's point guards. Last season, he primarily played off guard for the Clippers and we saw diminishing returns in his offensive game with the lowest true shooting percentage he's posted since early in his career. And that's before he blew out his Achilles'. Even if Billups is able to get healthy enough to return to action, you have to wonder if he's going to be able to guard anyone at all. There are reportedly a few teams already considering Billups, including the Clippers. Billups has full Bird rights and if there is truly a market for him, it's easy to imagine a team overpaying for him in both dollars and years. As with Roy, Billups is best suited for a make-good contract.

Antawn Jamison
Jamison has been grossly overpaid in recent seasons and entering his age-36 campaign, he's unlikely to receive the same level of remuneration to which he's become accustomed. Last season, Jamison put up decent superficial numbers for a Cavaliers squad starving for scoring options. While Jamison averaged 17.2 points for Cleveland and played more than 33 minutes per game, only two double-digit scorers in the NBA put up a lower true shooting percentage -- Kemba Walker and Tayshaun Prince. In many respects, it was the worst offensive season of Jamison's career and he's not at an age when it's reasonable to expect him to bounce back. Jamison has only really pulled back on his game to become a role player once in his career, back in 2003-04 for a loaded Mavericks squad. Even if he were willing to accept a reserve role, it would be as an off-the-bench gunner and he's just not efficient enough to do that effectively. He's also one of the worst defensive players in the league. Jamison is a solid citizen who, to his credit, put up a career-best assist rate last year. I'm still not sure I'd want him on my roster. At any cost.

Kenyon Martin
When Martin signed with the Clippers after a lockout stint in China, it garnered a lot of headlines. He was going to be the glue player that helped pull together a rising power that was just learning to play together in its first season of contention. The numbers didn't really justify the excitement but even objective-based forecasts couldn't have foreseen just how bad Martin turned out to be. His PER of 9.9 was about 25 percent lower than the second-worst season of his career. His .445 true shooting percentage was remarkably poor and was driven down by a 37-percent showing from the foul line. His defensive rebounding rate was also near his career nadir. As for his lauded defense, the Clippers were 4.1 points per 100 possessions better when he was off the floor. After the season, L.A. quietly let him walk off into free agency. You'd think some team will give him a minimum salary job, though I'm not sure what purpose it would serve. It would be shocking to see a team go after Martin for any kind of rotation role at this point.

Jamal Crawford
Crawford is drawing a lot of buzz in the early stages of free agency and it's not easy to understand why. After a career season in Atlanta a couple of years ago, Crawford has reverted to his earlier form as a possession killer. Last year, he used nearly 27 percent of Portland's possessions while was on the floor, the highest rate of his career. His true shooting percentage of .506 was fifth-worst for a player at his level of usage. That said, bench scoring is always at a premium. Crawford hit just under 31 percent from 3-point range last season, a number you'd expect to move towards his career mark of 35 percent going forward. If so, then his true shooting percentage should rebound to a level where you can justify 23-24 percent usage. With the right team and in the right culture, it's reasonable to expect that to happen. But Crawford is 31 and you have to be concerned that a drop in quickness may be more at root of his efficiency problems than a shooting slump or shot selection. He's worth a flier by team that can get him to accept a sixth man role for maybe two years at the mini midlevel exception. However, I suspect Crawford is going to end up with more dollars, years and a bigger role than he probably deserves at this point in his career.

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Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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