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Doug Robinson: Big names no guarantee for huge success

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 7 2012 9:57 p.m. MST

The Dwight Howard Sweepstakes will soon be under way and the guessing game is on: Will the Orlando Magic trade him before his contract expires at the end of the season, or will the team take its chances only to see him pull "a LeBron" and join a ready-made winner.

Here we go again. Another NBA superstar is likely to be moving soon and, like Amare Stoudemire, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, etc., Howard will be trying to form his own superteam and score a big payday. The Lakers, Mavericks and Nets are reportedly at the top of his wish list. If he winds up with the Mavs or Lakers, well, so much for all the NBA's talk about creating more competitive balance (if the Jazz or any of the other small-market teams are in the hunt, he hasn't mentioned it).

Thankfully, there's no guarantee Howard will transform a team into a powerhouse by pairing up with another superstar, or that he will even be worth all the money he is likely to receive. Superstar + superstar doesn't always equal superteam.

Paul has transformed the Clippers, and James and Bosh have joined Dwyane Wade to make the Heat a top contender, although they are hardly the superpower everyone envisioned.

But many, if not most, of the headline-making free agent signings have produced disappointing results.

The acquisition of Anthony has been an embarrassment and a colossal waste of money. Anthony, who was in the final year of his contract a year ago and let it be known he wouldn't re-sign with Denver, was considered a championship-maker when he essentially forced the young yet promising Nuggets' hand. He was traded to the New York Knicks so he could team up with Stoudemire. The Knicks are 23-29 since 'Melo joined the team; the Nuggets are 32-15 in the post-'Melo era.

The Knicks are paying Anthony and Stoudemire about $37 million combined; that will jump to about $40 million next year. Not exactly money well spent. Meanwhile, the Knicks have tied their hands financially when it comes to improving the team. As for the Nuggets, their entire roster costs $49, with $13M of it going to one player, Nene.

Deron Williams, who pretty much forced the Jazz to trade him before he became a free agent and made a dash for cash, will be a free agent this summer. He's likely to have teams lining up to pay him the salary of a Fortune 500 CEO, but why? What has he done to earn the $16.3 million he is receiving this year ($18M next year)? The Nets were 17-40 when Williams joined the team; they are 15-36 since then.

If winning is the measure of value, then why are these players being paid hundreds of millions of dollars? Nobody this side of the federal government wastes more money than NBA owners. When star players demand to go elsewhere, it results in too much money for too few wins.

Rashard Lewis will be paid $22.1 million this season. Can you even name the team he plays for? Lewis, who once left the SuperSonics to sign a six-year deal worth $118 million with the Magic, was eventually traded to the Washington Wizards for Gilbert Arenas, a trade that proved to be pointless for both sides.

The Wizards are 5-20 and Lewis is averaging 8.5 points per game and shooting 38 percent from the field. Arenas is unemployed and one of the most overpaid players in history. In 2008, after averaging 25.6 points a game for four seasons, he was offered a five-year contract worth more than $100 million by Golden State and a six-year deal worth $124 million by Washington. He re-signed with the Wizards. The Magic cut him in December. No team has claimed him. Maybe there is an ascending learning curve after all.

Just as the Phoenix Suns seemed on the brink of championship contention in 2005, Joe Johnson signed a free-agent deal with the Atlanta Hawks for a relatively small raise. The Hawks haven't done anything since then, but Johnson will "earn" $18 million this season.

It's an old cycle in the NBA, where teams seem more intent on bringing big names to the arena than wins.

Over the years, there has been a parade of stars who didn't make a difference in the wins column after commanding bigger salaries with a new team — Tracy McGrady, Antawn Jamison, Kwame Brown, Baron Davis, Erick Dampier, Elton Brand, Ben Wallace.

Maybe, as economics professor David Berri asserts, the NBA simply doesn't know how to evaluate players. Berri, professor of applied economics at Southern Utah University and co-author of "Stumbling on Wins" and "Wages of Wins," believes the NBA greatly overvalues and rewards the wrong players. The big money goes to scorers.

As he explained in this column a year ago, "What determines the outcome of games are possession of the ball — rebounds, turnovers, steals — and then, once you get the ball, you've got to score, and scoring should be measured by shooting accuracy, not total points."

Anthony is Exhibit A. In his nine-year career, he has averaged 24 points a game – but also 19 shots a game. He's a 45 percent shooter.

"Anthony doesn't have a huge impact on the outcome of games," says Berri, "but he's paid a lot of money. He is only a little a little above average in production of wins. Sure, he scores a lot of points; that's because he takes a lot of shots."

email: drob@desnews.com

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