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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

NBA Postmortem: A Record Salary, Major Investment … and For What?

  • The Pistons and Wizards made big financial moves last summer.
  • They ended up with the fewest wins in the league this season.
Reggie Hildred-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a little easier to buy a few wins in professional basketball than it is in a sport like, say, football. And last summer, one NBA team handed out the most expensive head coach contract in league history while another received a landmark investment for major American sports franchises. And the results? Historically bad performances on the court and the two worst records during the regular season, which ended on Sunday.

Money Can’t Buy Everything

After the Pistons finished the 2022–23 season with the NBA’s worst record, Detroit owner Tom Gores opened up his wallet to bring in Monty Williams, who signed a six-year, $78.5 million contract that at the time was the largest for an NBA coach. (The Spurs’ Greg Popovich and the Heat’s Eric Spoelstra have since passed Williams’s deal in total value.) Meanwhile, the Wizards’ parent company, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, sold a 5% minority stake in the organization to the Qatar Investment Authority last offseason for $200 million, representing the first time a sovereign wealth fund had invested in a franchise from one of the top four U.S. leagues.

But as the playoffs get underway, Detroit and Washington are staring up at the rest of the league. The Pistons again finished with the worst record in the NBA, at 14-68, which is tied for the 12th-worst win percentage in league history. The Wizards were only one win better at 15-67, the worst season in franchise history. 

Time to Reinvest?

Along the way, Detroit endured the longest losing streak in NBA history (which actually led to some positive business for one local vendor) and is now searching for a new president of basketball operations to oversee general manager Troy Weaver and the pricey Williams. 

In Washington, D.C., as the Wizards lost game after game, owner Ted Leonsis tried, unsuccessfully, to move the team, as well as his Washington Capitals, to a new $2 billion arena in Alexandria, Va. In the end, Monumental reached a deal with D.C. officials to stay and renovate Capital One Arena, and the Wizards are searching for a new head coach after Wes Unseld Jr., who was said to be making $7 million per season, was fired just a few months after the team picked up his fourth-year option for the 2024–25 season.

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