Maybe we aren't completely out of the fiscally irresponsible woods, but the massive contracts given to guys like Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Emeka Okafor and Hedo Turkoglu are finally coming off the books, offering some much-needed cap relief along with (hopefully) a lesson learned.
You won't find those players or any other expiring contracts on this list of toxic contracts, however.
A big expiring deal is actually considered an asset regardless of the player's production, as it can be used to bring back locked-up talent. There's value in having options, and expiring deals provide that.
The following 10 players haven't produced enough to justify their deals, usually because of injuries or a decline in athleticism. Whether it's the size of the contract or the length, these deals are damaging because they keep their teams from having flexibility, both with the cap and the direction of the team.
Of course, not all awful deals are created equal, and some teams are more easily affected by a bad contract. For that reason, we'll also rank these contracts on the toxicity meter, with a "1" being palatable and a "10" being deadly for the team unlucky enough to be saddled with the deal.
Contract Details: Three years, $10.8 million per year (on average)
No one has been on the cusp of a breakout longer than Danilo Gallinari, but it's probably time to put your eggs in another basket.
Gallinari has shown he can be a complete scorer with his shooting touch, size and ability to get to the line, but inconsistency and injuries have robbed him of sustained success.
It's the injuries that are the biggest factor here. Coming off a partially torn ACL, it may take a while for Gallinari to rediscover his pump-and-go game and play with the same confidence attacking the basket. Already a pretty ineffective individual and team defender, Gallo really doesn't offer much unless the ball is in his hands.
When fully healthy and surrounded by plus defenders, Gallinari could be worth the money he's receiving. But at least for this season (and possibly next) with the Denver Nuggets, neither of those things seem very realistic at this point.
JaVale McGee could make the leap in extended minutes (he'll be on this list next year if he doesn't), but the Nuggets don't have the support system Gallinari needs, or the ability to go out and get it because of his contract.
This could work out, but it doesn't appear likely.
Toxicity Meter: 2 out of 10
Contract Details: Four years, $9.5 million per year
With good size and stunning athleticism, DeMar DeRozan certainly looks the part of an elite player.
Appearances can be deceiving, however, and this wouldn't be the first time former Toronto Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo bought into perceived ability and ignored actual production.
The 24-year-old swingman has plenty of room to grow, but his first four seasons don't provide a lot of hope that he'll ever live up to his hefty deal.
In a league obsessed with floor spacing and perimeter shooting, DeRozan is just a 24 percent career three-point shooter and has failed to make it a part of his game. Mid-range specialists like DeRozan are high maintenance, and it's hard to say how much he helps everyone else on the floor.
To that point, the Raptors were four points better per 100 possessions offensively with DeRozan off the floor last season.
Despite his athletic gifts, DeRozan isn't a great defender and has never posted a player efficiency rating over 15. DeRozan's improvement will have to be more of a leap forward than a steady climb to justify his deal. The holes in his game are massive.
Toxicity Meter: 3 out of 10
Contract Details: Three years, $13 million per year
Let's make one thing clear: Nene is really, really talented.
He can play in the high or low post, he can pass, and he can score. Big men with his skill level don't grow on trees, and they shouldn't be taken for granted.
You know who else is really talented, though? Andrew Bynum. Greg Oden. You see where I'm going here?
Nene's injuries obviously aren't on that level, but he still hasn't been able to stay on the floor at all lately. The big Brazilian has missed 48 games over the last two years, and his minutes have been in a steady decline as well. Twenty-seven minutes a game just isn't enough to justify that contract.
Nene's body is breaking down, he's 31, and he still has three years left on his sizable deal. He may not have enough left in the tank to justify his salary, and the way this is trending spells trouble for the Washington Wizards.
Toxicity Meter: 4 out of 10
Contract Details: Two years, $18.5 million per year (on average)
Can you compete for a title with Rudy Gay as your best player?
Even the most ardent supporter of Gay would have to answer "no," simply because he doesn't make enough of an impact. Gay has long been the beneficiary of receiving plenty of touches on offensively inept teams, posting big yet inefficient scoring totals.
While he's a talented player, Gay isn't great at much.
He's a turnover-prone, decent rebounder who has never quite put it together defensively. Just about everything outside of his transition scoring, athleticism and post-up game could probably be deemed somewhere between average to good. With fewer touches, how effective would he really be?
Could you replace Gay's production at forward with $18 million in virtually any free-agency class? You'd have to try hard not to.
Luckily, the Toronto Raptors are only stuck for two seasons, but it's still hard to watch a team limp toward mediocrity. New GM Masai Ujiri did get rid of Andrea Bargnani's contract, however, so maybe there's hope he can move Gay.
Toxicity Meter: 5 out of 10
Contract Details: Three years, $14.8 million per year (on average)
40, 57, 26, 20.
No, we're not playing Bingo. That's the amount of games Eric Gordon has missed in his last four seasons due to injury.
It's a shame, because we've seen how great of a scorer and defender Gordon can be when healthy.
Gordon's decline in production last year (he uncharacteristically shot 40 percent from the field) may have been a result of all those injuries, and you never like to see a young player take such a big step back.
The New Orleans Pelicans are an exciting young team that could be just one big piece away from truly contending, especially if Anthony Davis fulfills his vast potential. Gordon just doesn't seem to be that piece to the puzzle, and the Pelicans added Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans to the backcourt. Those guys need the ball to be effective offensively, but Gordon might need it even more.
Gordon could be less toxic if he had his health and were on a different team, but for the Pelicans, that contract is the one thing that may hold them back the next few seasons.
Toxicity Meter: 5 out of 10
Contract Details: Two years, $9.2 million per year (on average)
You hate to punish a guy for the decisions his franchise made, but is James Harden still in Oklahoma City if Kendrick Perkins isn't on the books? It's one of the great questions of recent memory and may go down as the one glaring error on Sam Presti's resume as the GM of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Thunder probably should have used the amnesty provision on Perkins' bulky contract while they had the chance, but the damage has already been done.
Perkins has seen his scoring and rebounding numbers decline for the past three seasons, and traditional thinking has kept the Thunder from giving Nick Collison, the more effective player, more minutes in his place.
From the signing to the retaining, Perkins' contract has been a compounded mistake. Considering how desperately OKC wants to avoid the tax, Perkins' deal is very troublesome for a team with championship aspirations.
Durant, Westbrook, Harden. Oh, what could have been.
Toxicity Meter: 7 out of 10
Contract Details: Three years, $23.1 million per year (on average)
Imagine if Joe Johnson had played for Tom Thibodeau his whole career, and then add a few extra minutes per game to his totals.
That's how much Johnson has been on the floor in his career, and the heavy minutes might finally be taking a toll. Johnson wasn't worth his massive deal when he signed it originally, but it has the potential to get even worse as time goes on.
With over 35,000 regular-season and playoff minutes on the odometer, it's hard to imagine a scenario where Johnson plays anywhere near his contract number three years from now. That big salary completely limits any flexibility the Nets may have had under the cap in the next three seasons, but given Mikhail Prokhorov's penchant for spending, Johnson is in the one place where his contract isn't a complete and total drain.
That doesn't mean the Nets aren't paying about $13 million too much a year for Johnson's services. But his contract is uniquely palatable for the Nets, like the one kid you knew who actually enjoyed liver and brussels sprouts.
Toxicity Meter: 2 out of 10
Contract Details: Three years, $10.1 million per year
As we've seen, usually the worst contracts are the result of injuries or bodies wearing down.
Gerald Wallace's case is a little different.
For whatever reason, Wallace completely lost all confidence in his abilities last season. The man they call "Crash" became apprehensive, and it was painful to watch the wheels turn when he hesitated on wide-open jumpers.
Wallace's falling off was more mental than anything, and while we're used to that sort of thing in baseball, it's rare to see it in basketball.
Perhaps a fresh start will get Wallace back on track. You just have to hope the mind catches back up with the body before Wallace's athleticism really begins to fall by the wayside.
Even if Wallace regains some of his initial form, he still has no business on the Boston Celtics. Clearly entrenched in the beginning stages of a rebuild, Boston is just weighed down by Wallace's contract and can only hope to dump it at some point.
Toxicity Meter: 7 out of 10
Contract Details: Two years, $11.6 million per year (on average)
Given his complete ineptitude on defense and the glass, it's hard to make the argument that Bargnani's impact on the game is a net positive. That's particularly true if Bargnani's three-point percentages of 29.6 and 30.9 in the last two seasons are indicators of his future performance on the remaining two years of his contract.
Mid-range shooting at the cost of virtually everything else is literally the least effective production for which you could ask.
Perhaps Bargnani can be protected by Tyson Chandler and get more open looks as a third or fourth option, but a lot has to go right.
All that said, the New York Knicks are in a situation where they can survive Bargnani's absurd contract. They had no chance at cap flexibility in the next two seasons anyway, so Bargnani is only an on-court risk instead of a financial one. He'd be near a nine or 10 on the toxicity scale for most other teams, but not for the Knicks.
Toxicity Meter: 4 out of 10
Contract Details: Two years, $22.5 million per year
And now, the player responsible for the New York Knicks having no cap flexibility: Amar'e Stoudemire.
Stoudemire has the perfect toxic contract. He's not even close to being one of the best players on his team, he couldn't lead you to a title on his own, he's always hurt, he's declined due to a loss of athleticism, his embarrassing defensive play limits flexibility on the court, and his contract is so massive that it inhibits a team from doing anything but playing him for right now.
The truly toxic contract affects a franchise in virtually every possible area, and Stoudemire's has done that. The Knicks have done a wonderful job containing the mess, but you have to think the team is counting down the days until that massive mistake is finally off the books.
Toxicity Meter: 10 out of 10