You could say the Emeka Okafor situation was all about the money, and you'd be right.
You could say the Emeka Okafor situation was about so much more than money, and you'd also be right.
Makes no sense, but that's pro sports. Sometime soon, Okafor will sign a six-year, $72million contract. There will be smiles and back-slaps all around, but this sidesteps a calamity. Okafor wondered if he should remain a Charlotte Bobcat.
Last fall he politely turned down a different contract offer – shorter term but also in the $12million-per-year range. Looking to prove he was worth more, he suffered through an awful coach, Sam Vincent, who messed with his head, and still averaged a double-double.
So the same ownership that hired and fired that coach initially offered Okafor less this summer than it did last summer. Arguably that's good business – did you ever walk into a car dealership and say, “Hey, I want that exact car and I'll pay sticker price right now!'' – but the posturing angered Okafor's camp.
It raised legitimate questions you'd ask yourself if you were Okafor: Does the team that drafted me value me as much as some team I've never played for? Does the team that drafted me have the will and resources to win over time?
Bobcats general manager Rod Higgins did a good job managing this mess. He didn't panic by chasing a sign-and-trade, but he knew things would only get worse if Okafor signed that one-year, $7million qualifying offer.
(Trust me that Okafor signing that qualifier would have been a point of no return, on the hostility scale.)
Somewhere along the way, Higgins got the green light to offer $12million again and go up to six years.
That gave Okafor fair-market value in a summer when Milwaukee's Andrew Bogut and Golden State's Andris Biedrins got comparable deals.
The remaining question is whether Okafor is now overpaid.
Though teammate Jason Richardson will make more next season, Okafor becomes the largest investment in this franchise's short history. That's how it should be.
“Value” is a tricky concept in sports because there's no objective measure. You're attempting to pay players for what they will do, based on what they have done. That's a risky exercise in a league full of guaranteed contracts.
I know all the knocks on Okafor: That he's offensively limited, that he's mechanical in his movements, that he'll never improve.
He's also a great defender-rebounder on a team that is otherwise horrible in those areas. Richardson might be this team's best player, but Okafor is the hardest to replace.
The Bobcats hired a hall-of-fame coach in Larry Brown, whose priorities are defense and teamwork. Those happen to be Okafor's strengths.
Extract Okafor from the equation, and you might as well have brought back Vincent.