Some contracts were born to be bad and other contracts were born bad upon inception. Most contracts fall in the former category where given the circumstances a general manager (or fans smarter than the average general manager) can reasonably expect a player to live up to the value of an agreement barring some malady or misfortune. Unfortunately, physical (take Antonio McDyess for example) or psychological (ok, don’t take Stephon Marbury) injury takes the player out of his potential game before he is able to adequately perform under the contract. A contract which could have been decent turns bad because of bad things that happen after the contract.
Other contracts fall in the latter group: they are horrible at the very moment a sports agent injects the proposed contract terms into the weak minds of a susceptible organization. In 1989, Jon Koncak’s 6 year contract for $13 million, giving him a higher annual salary than Michael Jordan, Larry Bird or Magic Johnson, was such a contract. That contract for a player averaging 5 points and 6 rebounds in 20 minutes per game was so bad that TheRealShaq at Bloguin has organized The Jon Koncak Commemorative Awards which is a series about the worst contracts in NBA history.
To date, the series has identified 15 contracts including Eddy Curry, Malik Rose, Larry Hughes, Tim Thomas, Kevin Garnett and Kwame Brown. However, no contract was as bad, horrific or putrid as the one handed out by Scott Layden to Allan Houston of the New York Knicks. Houston joined the Knicks in 1996 as a free agent out of Detroit with a deft shooting touch and not much else in his game. He provided the Knicks with some thrills, leading them to the finals in 1999 with the shot heard around the NBA and two all-star appearances. But then there was the contract extension in 2001 — $100 million spread over 6 years to a 29 year old man. How do you say “managerial handcuffs” in curse words?
The Allan Houston contract falls in the latter category; it was a bad idea destined to become worse. As a general unspoken rule, in 2001, any contract worth over $98.9 million to any player not a franchise player was a bad contract no matter how many years the payout was spread over. Almost two years after his dramatic last-second shot, against the Miami Heat in the playoffs, and the Knicks subsequent finals appearance, Houston was rewarded with a contract which would devour cap space and derail the team for years to come.
There was absolutely no way Allan Houston, an excellent 29-year old sharpshooter, poor rebounder and assist man and devout locker-room Christian (divisively so, it has been reported), could live up to the contract on the court or as the team leader for six years.
After Houston entered his contract at almost $20 million per year he had individually decent seasons (2001-2003) as a scorer on bad teams. In 2003-2004, the team’s franchise player was limited to 50 games because of a knee injury. The following year after refusing to have surgery to repair the knee he missed 62 games. Houston retired in 2005 but the impact of his contract, exacerbated by other bad contracts brought on by Layden, did not subside. In 2006, Allan Houston’s salary was $20,718,750 against the cap although he was no longer playing for the team.
The seismic shake of Houston’s contract impacted the entire league (including its junk yard dog) and resulted in the inclusion of an “amnesty clause” in the 2005 collective bargaining agreement which came to be known as the “Allan Houston Rule.” The amnesty clause offered teams a one-time exception to waive a player between August 2nd and August 15th, 2005 in order to avoid paying the luxury tax based on that salary. Waiver, however, would not impact the team’s obligation to pay the player or how the salary was computed against the salary cap. Allan Houston wanted to continue to play and the Knicks fully expected him to eventually retire, so instead of waiving Houston under the amnesty clause exception, the team decided to waive the “Junk Yard Dog,” Jerome Williams, to avoid a significant portion of the luxury tax. In fact, as a result of Thomas’ decision, in 2006 the Knicks only paid $49,102.60 in luxury tax when they were $76,246,359 above the tax threshold. The Knicks received additional dollar for dollar relief when Houston was declared medically unfit. However, Houston’s decision before August 15th ultimately led to the retirement of Williams who didn’t want to play for another team although he considered himself capable.
The one good thing about bad contracts is that they are good for somebody. Houston’s contract continued to pay additional dividends for the former star as the Knicks gave him two opportunities to make a comeback with the team. In October 2007, Houston aborted his comeback attempt shortly before the season began after showing very little in one pre-season game. The New York press blamed the failed comeback (as it did with almost every Knicks-woe) on Isiah Thomas. His second attempt at a comeback, this one under Donnie Walsh in 2008, ended again in training camp and morphed into a position as a “special assistant training to be a general manager” under Donnie Walsh. Just goes to prove that in everything bad, there is a silver lining somewhere.
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