Ranking the NBA's Most Foolish Spenders
The NBA has a spending problem.
While some general managers and front offices are fiscally responsible, plenty more throw around money like it's nothing. At least that's what I'm assuming based on the number of players who completely fail to live up to the salaries they're given.
In order to determine which teams are the most foolish spenders, we'll be turning to an original metric called Contract Value, or CV.
CV is based on the principle that there's a relationship between salary and value, so to determine what that relationship is, I looked at every player who has suited up at least once during the 2013-14 campaign. That does free the Boston Celtics from Rajon Rondo's contract, the Denver Nuggets from Danilo Gallinari's and so on, but it's a necessary evil.
A player's value was determined by a combination of quantity and quality, as it's necessary to both play well and be on the court in order to maximize contributions. Since PER—despite its acknowledged flaws—is the best single-number summary of a player's effectiveness, that's what I'm using for quality.
Therefore, a player's value can be calculated simply by multiplying PER by the minutes played.
That quantity was then measured against salary during 2013-14, as given by Spotrac.com. Once the numbers were put in for all 422 players, I used a linear regression to create a formula for expected value. It looks like this:
Expected value = 0.0009*salary + 4674.6
The r^2 value (or correlation coefficient) of this regression is a weak 0.34, but that still indicates that there's at least some correlation. As a result, this isn't an exact science, but rather an educated estimate since rookie contracts, injuries and playing time all make it tough to find a perfect correlation.
Once the expected value was found for each player, his CV was determined by subtracting it from his real value. A positive rating would indicate that he's produced more than expected, and a negative would tell the opposite.
CVs were summed for each team, and the squads were ranked accordingly.
The Phoenix Suns came in first place—by a huge margin—with a 31,425.21 CV, but who was at the bottom?
Note: All statistics, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference and are current as of Jan. 8. That's especially relevant because the regression and values will change as the season progresses and players have more minutes under their belts while justifying their contracts.
10. Milwaukee Bucks, Minus-7,396.60 CV
Biggest Culprits: Ersan Ilyasova ($7,900,000), Caron Butler ($8,000,000) and Larry Sanders ($3,053,368)
General manager John Hammond built the Milwaukee Bucks with the idea that they could sneak into the Eastern Conference playoffs, relying on another year of mid-level mediocrity in order to generate a little more revenue while his team was treated like a sacrificial lamb in the first round of the postseason.
Except that hasn't happened.
Generally, a team that underperforms is going to be considered a foolish spender. It makes no difference if the expectations pointed toward a championship or just making the postseason, so long as they aren't reached.
Such is the case for the Bucks, who took on Caron Butler's large contract, counted on Ersan Ilyasova and watched as Larry Sanders hurt his thumb and was knocked out for a long portion of the campaign. John Henson and Khris Middleton have been the best values on this squad, but they aren't enough to make up for the mistakes.
9. Indiana Pacers, Minus-7,429.95 CV
Biggest Culprits: Danny Granger ($14,021,788), Chris Copeland ($3,000,000) and Solomon Hill ($1,246,680)
The Indiana Pacers really shouldn't be on this list, but they have one player who's holding them back.
His name is Danny Granger.
Because the small forward took so long to return from his recurring injury problems, he's failed to live up to his massive salary. Remember, Granger was the Pacers' leading scorer before Paul George took over and started his ascent into the realm of superstars.
But without playing—and then playing and working his way back into form—Granger has become the exact opposite of a bargain. In fact, only Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose and Amar'e Stoudemire have failed to live up to their expected value by larger amounts during the 2013-14 season.
Even George, who has produced the single best value in the NBA, isn't enough to negate the damage. Chris Copeland is the only other big mistake, but that's still enough for the Pacers to drop into the bottom 10.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers, Minus-8,682.11 CV
Biggest Culprits: Anthony Bennett ($5,324,280), Sergey Karasev ($1,467,840) and Henry Sims ($788,872)
The Cleveland Cavaliers don't know how to evaluate young talent.
Of their four worst values, three of them were picks in the 2013 NBA draft, and the other (Henry Sims) is a second-year big man out of Georgetown who signed on with the Cavs after the New Orleans Hornets waived him in March.
Anthony Bennett has been absolutely terrible, and he's emerging as arguably the worst No. 1 pick of all time.
ESPN's Chad Ford agrees, via The Plain Dealer: "It's very early, but right now, he's looking like the worst in the past 20 years. That includes Greg Oden. Oden was injured all the time, but when he played, he at least looked like a No. 1 pick."
Ouch. Well, double ouch when you remember he's being paid over $5 million to set lazy screens and miss shots.
Sergey Karasev has yet to crack the rotation, and Carrick Felix has played only 26 minutes during his rookie season.
When you've added three draft picks who all underperformed their contracts by more than Andrew Bynum failed to live up to the guaranteed portion of his, that's when you know it's time to get new scouts.
7. Memphis Grizzlies, Minus-10,342.19 CV
Biggest Culprits: Marc Gasol ($14,860,523), Seth Curry ($328,709) and Jamaal Franklin ($535,000)
Now we come to the first of the true superstars who have only underperformed because of injury.
Was it really "foolish" for the Memphis Grizzlies to give Marc Gasol this much money? Absolutely not, but they're still paying the price after he unluckily sprained his MCL on Dec. 22 in a loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
Injuries are part of the game, and teams have to develop contingency plans in case one of their stars go down.
Had Gasol stayed healthy and maintained his pre-injury level of performance (he might actually have improved), the Grizzlies would have a positive CV. They'd rank No. 11 in the NBA, which is a pretty substantial turnaround.
But that's not how it works. Injuries happen during the season, and teams are still left paying salaries to players in suits rather than uniforms.
6. New Orleans Pelicans, Minus-12,714.36 CV
Biggest Culprits: Greg Stiemsma ($2,676,000), Josh Childress ($223,333) and Darius Miller ($788,872)
The New Orleans Pelicans aren't foolishly spending on one player who drags the team down; they're paying too much money to a ridiculous number of guys, and the combined effect is quite negative.
Greg Stiemsma, who missed most of November and almost all of December recovering from a sprained left MCL, is the biggest culprit, and he checks in with a CV of minus-5,980.5. For reference, that's only the 36th-worst mark in the NBA, so it's not particularly egregious.
But problem is, the Pelicans have nine players falling between minus-6,000 and minus-3,000 CV: Stiemsma, Josh Childress, Darius Miller, Lance Thomas, Arinze Onuaku, Austin Rivers, Alexis Ajinca, Jeff Withey and Eric Gordon.
That's too much to overcome, even though Anthony Davis has become one of the best values in basketball. Only the Unibrow and Jrue Holiday are outperforming their contracts by significant margins, and that doesn't help the bayou escape from the bottom 10.
5. Washington Wizards, Minus-16,335.26 CV
Biggest Culprits: Otto Porter ($4,278,000), Eric Maynor ($2,016,000 ) and Kevin Seraphin ($2,761,114)
Missing on a top draft pick hurts.
After all, rookies end up earning a lot of money during their first professional seasons, and it's hard for an NBA team to pay over $4 million for a player who doesn't bring much with him. Such is the case with Otto Porter, who has been absolutely terrible since making his debut.
In 14 games, Porter has averaged only 2.2 points and 1.9 rebounds per game, earning a PER of just 5.4. That's hardly what the Washington Wizards expected from a player who was hailed as one of the more NBA-ready prospects in the lackluster 2013 draft class.
The Eric Maynor signing also hasn't panned out, and Washington is still feeling the ill effects of the essentially wasted draft picks it spent on Jan Vesely (No. 6 overall in 2011) and Chris Singleton (No. 18 in 2011).
John Wall is single-handedly preventing this team from surpassing the No. 4 club in these rankings of foolish spenders. How's that for proving that he's worth the deal he signed during the offseason?
4. Los Angeles Lakers, Minus-23,803.85 CV
Biggest Culprits: Kobe Bryant ($30,453,805), Steve Nash ($9,300,500) and Pau Gasol ($19,285,850)
Kobe Bryant is the highest-paid player in the NBA, and it's not even close. That means he's also expected to produce the most value: 32,083.02 CV.
However, he's failed to meet that by a rather large margin thanks to the Achilles injury that kept him out at the beginning of the season and the ensuing knee fracture that knocked him back out of the lineup only six games later.
In fact, with 177 minutes played and a sub-average 11.5 PER, he's provided the Lakers with 2,035.5 CV.
For those of you who have either forgotten the next step of the process or don't have a calculator, he's generating -30,047.52 CV for L.A., a number that makes everyone else's values pale in comparison. Derrick Rose is the second-worst, and he checks in at -17,371.87 CV.
It's just not even close.
While Mike D'Antoni has helped almost all of the role players—especially Nick Young—outperform their more minor contracts, the combination of Kobe, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol is a brutal one that simply can't be overcome.
3. Chicago Bulls, Minus-30,999.32 CV
Biggest Culprits: Derrick Rose ($17,632,743), Marquis Teague ($1,074,720) and Erik Murphy ($490,180)
As shown on the previous slide, Derrick Rose's reinjured knee hurts the Chicago Bulls' status as spenders rather significantly.
But he's not the only one, as the whole roster has to help D-Rose overcome the gap in CV between himself and Kobe Bryant.
Mike Dunleavy, Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson are literally the only four players on the positive side of the ledger. Kirk Hinrich is close, as is D.J. Augustin despite the limited time he's spent with the Bulls.
Marquis Teague has been sent down to the D-League. Erik Murphy and Mike James have actually managed to post negative PERs, so it's a good thing they've spent only limited time on the court. As for Carlos Boozer, he just isn't very good at this stage of his career, and he's now struggling on both ends of the court.
Tom Thibodeau may be milking a lot of defense out of this lackluster roster, but the offense counters all of his efforts.
2. New York Knicks, Minus-31,146.96 CV
- Amar'e Stoudemire: $21.7 million salary, almost zero production. Enough said.
- Tyson Chandler: Missed almost all of November and the first half of December with a leg injury, rendering his $14.1 million salary useless.
- Chris Smith: He's so bad that even his minimum deal ranks this high.
- Cole Aldrich: Only spent 44 ineffective minutes on the floor.
- Toure' Murry: There's a chance he could justify his minimum deal, but that would require Mike Woodson actually playing him.
- Metta World Peace: Wasn't playing very well even before knee problems knocked him out of the lineup.
- Raymond Felton: For Knicks fans, injuries and ineffectiveness have made him one of the most despised members of the roster.
Biggest Culprits: Amar'e Stoudemire ($21,679,893), Tyson Chandler ($14,100,538) and Chris Smith ($490,180)
Here's a one-sentence summary of how foolishly the New York Knicks have spent their money: J.R. Smith, the shooting guard who has shot 34.8 percent from the field while generating plenty more negative headlines than positive ones, has a better CV than seven other players the Knicks are paying.
From worst to best (if you want to consider a -1,734.97 CV as "best"), here they are:
That's all before getting to J.R.
1. Brooklyn Nets, Minus-45,740.31 CV
If you weren't expecting to see the Brooklyn Nets pop up at No. 1, you probably need to start paying a little more attention to the NBA.
This is a team with the largest luxury-tax bill in league history, and it needed a four-game winning streak to climb back into the postseason picture with a 14-21 record.
Andray Blatche, Shaun Livingston, Alan Anderson and Mason Plumlee are the only players in the positives, and Blatche has the highest salary of the bunch: $1,375,604. Obviously, those guys aren't going to making a particularly big impact.
In fact, let's take a look at where all the negative guys rank among the 422 NBA players used in this analysis, with No. 1 being the player in the league failing to live up to the expected value by the largest margin (Kobe Bryant). In other words, you want to be at No. 422 on this list (Paul George):
- Deron Williams: No. 12
- Kevin Garnett: No. 14
- Joe Johnson: No. 17
- Jason Terry: No. 23
- Paul Pierce: No. 27
It's worth nothing that the Nets have five of the 30 worst values in the NBA.
- Andrei Kirilenko: No. 51
- Tornike Shengelia: No. 58
- Brook Lopez: No. 120
- Tyshawn Taylor: No. 142
- Reggie Evans: No. 153
- Mirza Teletovic: No. 229
For reference, there are 244 players with negative CVs.
This isn't exactly a positive development for Brooklyn, though the Nets seem to be turning their season around now that D-Will is playing. That said, they still have a long way to go.