Breaking Down the NBA's Most and Least Desirable Contracts

Alec NathanFeatured ColumnistFebruary 19, 2013

Breaking Down the NBA's Most and Least Desirable Contracts

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    The NBA is a business, and just like any other enterprise, it's one that's predicated on good and bad investments.

    Being able to predict what the market for a player will look like two or three years down the road is crucial to building a financially stable franchise, one that will ideally be able to compete long term.

    However, paying for potential can often hurt clubs, but that's the risk-vs.-reward nature that accompanies making investments in a league like the NBA.

    With teams always looking for ways to get ahead, it can pay to be financially savvy.

    Note: Rookie contracts not considered in this evaluation. All salaries retrieved from HoopsHype, unless otherwise specified. 

Bad Deal: Amar'e Stoudemire

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    When the New York Knicks signed Amar'e Stoudemire to a five-year, $99.7 million pact in the summer of 2010, it was viewed as a deal that would change the fortunes of the franchise for the better.

    While that deal looked like a bargain after Stoudemire's first year in New York (25.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.9 blocks per game), the arrival of Carmelo Anthony complicated the big man's role quite a bit.

    Chemistry issues with Anthony hindered the Knicks' winning ways in 2011-12, and the team's stunning success without Stoudemire in the lineup for much of the 2012-13 season has forced Stoudemire into a reserve role—one he's thriving in.

    However, regardless of how well Stoudemire adjusts to the bench, the fact remains that he's playing just 22.8 minutes per game (down 10 minutes from last season and 14 from 2010-11).

    One silver lining that shouldn't go without notice: Stoudemire is averaging 13.6 points in 22.8 minutes per game, giving him a PER of 22.1, second on the team to Anthony.

    Stoudemire's transformation from a superstar into a complementary role player has been admirable, but  $45 million over the next two seasons is a hefty price to pay for such limited contributions.

Good Deal: Jrue Holiday

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    Point guards are the most valuable commodity in professional basketball today, so it's a good thing the Philadelphia 76ers locked up Jrue Holiday when they got a chance.

    When the Sixers and Holiday agreed to a four-year, $41 million contract extension on the eve of the 2012-13 season opener, it was viewed as a risk, but one that was appropriate given the circumstances.

    Had the Sixers not signed Holiday, they would have risked losing him as a restricted free agent this summer, when he would have presumably received significant interest from rival franchises.

    Although we're only four months into Holiday's new contract, it's one that can unquestionably be designated a good deal for the Sixers.

    In addition to raking in more substantial money, Holiday has posted some gaudy statistics for a 22-year-old, averaging 19 points and 8.9 assists (40.0 assist percentage, via NBA.com) per game to accompany a PER of 18.29.

    Holiday also recently made his first appearance as a member of the Eastern Conference All-Star team, a sight fans should get used to seeing for years to come.

    Considering the money doled out to youngsters Ty Lawson (four years, $48 million) and DeMar DeRozan this fall (four years, $40 million), Holiday's deal is starting to look like a real bargain.

Bad Deal: Carlos Boozer

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    It's hard to believe, but that massive five-year, $80 million deal that Carlos Boozer signed with the Chicago Bulls in the summer of 2010 only has two years remaining on it.

    Unfortunately for the Bulls, those two remaining years will cost them a shade over $32 million, making Boozer difficult to move in any proposed trade.

    In fact, according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, the Bulls have pushed hard to trade Boozer for Toronto Raptors' forward Andrea Bargnani.

    When you contrast Boozer's hefty contract with his above-average production, it's easy to see why the Bulls are keen on moving the 31-year-old power forward.

    Averages of 15.7 points (47.1 percent shooting) and 9.3 rebounds per game are respectable, but given the money the Bulls are shelling out for Boozer, you get the feeling that Chicago could find a replacement capable of posting similar numbers at half of the cost.

Good Deal: Omer Asik

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    If there's one thing that the Houston Rockets' front office knows how to do, it's make transactions that prognosticators will applaud.

    The one thing that sets Daryl Morey and the Rockets apart from several other NBA franchises is that they make moves in a calculated, financially responsible manner that leaves them with wiggle room under the salary cap.

    One of Morey's better moves in recent years was the acquisition of center Omer Asik, who had previously served as an apprentice to Joakim Noah in Chicago.

    The Rockets signed Asik to a three-year deal worth just over $25 million in the summer of 2012, and his production to this point has exceeded expectations.

    Asik has performed admirably in his first full season as a starter, averaging a double-double (10.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game) in 30 minutes of work per night.

    What's even better is that the Rockets are paying Asik just over $10 million for the first two years of his deal, affording the team the flexibility to make a big splash in the summer of 2013.

Bad Deal: Tyrus Thomas

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    The summer of 2010 will never be remembered as a time when NBA franchises were fiscally responsible.

    Case in point: The Charlotte Bobcats signing Tyrus Thomas to a five-year, $40 million contract.

    Once considered an athletic specimen, Thomas has slowly worked his way down the Bobcats' depth chart, as he's been replaced by Byron Mullens as the starting power forward under head coach Mike Dunlap.

    A 43.7 percent shooter for his career, Thomas is shooting a miserable 31.7 percent from the field in 2012-13, one year after shooting a career-worst mark of 36.7 percent.

    Due roughly $18 million over the next two years of his deal, the Bobcats would be elated if they were to find a trade partner willing to take on even one cent of Thomas's ghastly deal.

    With a PER of 7.37 and his numbers plummeting with each passing season, it looks like the Bobcats are stuck with their $40 million mistake for another two years.

Good Deal: J.R. Smith

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    While New York Knicks' guard J.R. Smith may not be the most efficient shooter around, he's a bargain at $2.8 million per year.

    There's no doubt that Smith's shot selection can be erratic at times, but that's a habit the Knicks are willing to accept for less than $3 million a season.

    The Knicks' second-leading scorer at 16.2 points per game, Smith made clear just how valuable he was to his team when he took on substantially more minutes as Iman Shumpert rehabbed his injured knee earlier this season.

    According to NBA.com, Smith's offensive rating (108.0) and usage rate (24.6 percent) are both up in his second season with the Knicks, as he's found a niche in Mike Woodson's up-tempo, three-point-happy offense.

    One of the league's best creators of instant offense, Smith figures to be an integral part of the Knicks' plans moving forward.

Bad Deal: Joe Johnson

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    Sensing a trend yet? Contracts doled out in the summer of 2010 were largely toxic for the teams involved.

    Perhaps the best example of a such a contract comes in the form of Joe Johnson's deal, a six-year, $123.7 million pact made with the Atlanta Hawks nearly three years ago.

    Fortunately for the Hawks, the arrival of general manager Danny Ferry led to a speedy trade of Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets in a move that can ultimately be labeled a glorified salary dump.

    As Mikhail Prokhorov backs the Nets with financial support that is largely unseen in today's NBA, the Nets felt comfortable making the move despite taking on the roughly $90 million remaining on Johnson's contract heading into the 2012-13 season.

    By and large, Johnson has disappointed in his first year in Brooklyn, averaging 17 points on 15.1 shots per game (42.4 percent shooting from the field), while posting a below-average PER of 14.40.

Good Deal: Rajon Rondo

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    When healthy, Rajon Rondo is the best player on the Boston Celtics. Given that designation, it would be fair to assume that Rondo is the Celtics player hauling in the most dough. Generally, that's how things work in professional sports.

    Fortunately for the Celtics, the fact remains that Rondo is the team's third-highest earner, making an annual salary of $11 million in 2012-13, $12 million in 2013-14 and $13 million in 2014-15.

    Assuming Rondo comes back from his partially torn ACL as the player we've grown to know, the Celtics' investment will appear to be just as sound as ever.

    Rondo technically still leads the league in assists per game (11.1) and was scoring a career-high 13.7 points per game on 48.4 percent shooting from the floor. 

    With the careers of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett drawing to a close, a healthy Rondo should be able to sustain that production and then some upon his return.

Bad Deal: Gerald Wallace

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    The Brooklyn Nets aren't exactly a franchise that's risk averse. Considering the money they've shelled out to acquire players like Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, that should come as no great shock.

    However, what was surprising was the team's willingness to spend big money on forward Gerald Wallace this past summer.

    The Nets committed $40 million over four years to Wallace after acquiring him in a trade with the Portland Trail Blazers. What's even more painful is that the Nets dealt a first-round pick—a lottery selection—that the Blazers ultimately used to select point guard and Rookie of the Year front-runner Damian Lillard.

    Wallace's unsightly deal has the Nets looking at the league's largest payroll next season, with $84.4 million in committed salary on the books for 2013-14.

    Thanks to the contracts of Wallace, Johnson and Williams, the Nets will likely find themselves well over the league's luxury tax threshold next season, leading to some hefty financial penalties that will be levied on Mikhail Prokhorov's wallet.

    What's even more painful is that despite Wallace's consistent effort night after night, his numbers are underwhelming, as the 30-year-old is averaging 8.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 31 minutes of work per game (13.17 PER).

    Whether you love him or hate him, it's hard to argue those numbers make Wallace worthy of $10 million annually.

Good Deal: LeBron James

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    It sounds ludicrous to say that a player who's signed to a six-year, $110 million deal is underpaid, but when that player is LeBron James, it's true.

    The league's reigning MVP is making less than the league maximum, and his gaudy numbers over the past few seasons are clearly worthy of the game's highest financial honors.

    And don't be fooled. James (via ESPN's Tom Haberstroh) is well aware of the fact that he's underpaid:

    "What I do on the floor shows my value. At the end of the day, I don't think my value on the floor can really be compensated for, anyways, because of the CBA," James said.

    "If you want the truth," James said, "if this was baseball, it'd be up, I mean way up there."

    James is earning every cent of his deal, as his PER at the moment is listed at 31.46, which would be the seventh-best mark of all time, according to Basketball-Reference.

    James is also shooting career bests of 56.5 percent from the field and 42.4 percent from three, while averaging 27.3 points, 6.9 assists and 8.2 rebounds per game.