I'm going to use QCH's season review piece on Boris Diaw as a stepping off point. Go read it, then come back.
One of the things I can never seem to convince friends my age is that someone like Jared Dudley is massively valuable, whereas someone like Boris Diaw is not. This, even though we readily agree that Diaw is more talented and more productive in just about every facet of the game except, maybe, rebounding. If your choice for this upcoming season is to play Diaw at power forward or Dudley, I hardly blame you for choosing Diaw. The thing is, if you choose Diaw, you're also committing $9 million to him, and in the NBA reality, you're also committing $9 million each year through the 2012 season to him.
My back of the envelope calculations say we're paying Diaw to be 9-12 wins above replacement (taking a wide margin for error). Basketball Prospectus has him at the low end of that range, which seems about right. He was really good. But not Gerald Wallace good. Or Emeka Okafor good. Boris Diaw produced, optimistically, a little less than what we paid for, in relation to the going rate for production in the NBA. That's a good thing. We didn't get fleeced, but we didn't come close to a bargain.
Dudley, on the other hand, played 1158 minutes for Charlotte and Phoenix, and was middling. The thing is, he was better than a random D-League guy. He was better than the end of the bench guys in the league. Basketball Prospectus has Dudley at 1.5 wins above replacement, which, again, according to my back of the envelope calculations, made his dollar value roughly $3.8 million. That's below average for an NBA player, but it's also three times the dollar value of what he was actually paid. That $2.6 million, or thereabouts, is a huge sum of money that is now free to buy talent elsewhere on the roster. Dudley essentially took in $1.2 million and gave back $3.8 million for a profit to the team of $2.6 million.
Diaw took in $9 million and gave back $8.8 million, for a loss of $200,000 to the team. Obviously, you could build a minimum team that makes $44 million and only wins 15 games, and that would suck, but by gathering enough guys who are better than what they're being paid, you save up enough money for production elsewhere. Save enough, and you'll be able to pay a true superstar who outproduces the max contract.
Thus, while Diaw brings us pleasure and plays with a certain verve we can appreciate, he's not necessarily bringing much return on our dollars. The salary cap rules make it near impossible to trade him for cheaper players who outperform their salaries, but if we can get a deal like that, I'd love to see us jump on it.