Best and Worst Contracts in the NBA So Far in 2016-17
As the NBA adjusts to its new salary-cap climate, it's only right that we update the best and worst contracts accordingly.
Players on rookie-scale deals will not be a part of this conversation, since their earning potential is heavily capped. Likewise, superstars on max-level agreements will not be considered for bargain status. It's cool that LeBron James is worth more than the Cleveland Cavaliers are paying him, but they can't actually pay him any more.
Expiring contracts are also off limits. Single-year salaries, good and bad, are inherently more valuable because of the imminent financial relief they promise.
Trade values and player performances relative to their pay scales will shape the rankings. Team fit matters as well and will be used to weed out certain worst-contract candidates. Bismack Biyombo's $72 million deal, for instance, doesn't look so hot on the Orlando Magic, but it would have more value with a team that didn't employ a frontcourt pileup.
Every deal will be looked at through the lens of the new salary cap. And that, in turn, means recently signed pacts will dominate the overpriced standings, while contracts inked before last summer will rule the bargain bin.
Honorable Best-Contract Mentions
Will Barton, Denver Nuggets
Remaining Contract Value: Two years, $7.1 million
Salary Breakdown: $3.5 million in 2016-17; $3.5 million in 2017-18
Will Barton's per-game averages have dipped within the Denver Nuggets' super-deep rotation, but he's a Sixth Man of the Year candidate when he's on—one who doesn't even cost a top-200 salary, per Basketball-Reference.com.
Jordan Clarkson, Los Angeles Lakers
Remaining Contract Value: Four years, $50 million
Salary Breakdown: $12.5 million in 2016-17; $11.6 million in 2017-18; $12.5 million in 2018-19; $13.4 million in 2019-20
Jordan Clarkson has responded to his new reserve role by rivaling last year's scoring average on personal-best shooting while playing the most defense of his career. His annual average salary of $12.5 million feels justified now and should look amazingly thrifty entering next season.
Maurice Harkless, Portland Trail Blazers
Remaining Contract Value: Four years, $40 million
Salary Breakdown: $9.0 million in 2016-17; $9.7 million in 2017-18; $10.3 million in 2018-19; $11 million in 2019-20
If Maurice Harkless' 37-plus percent clip from three holds and the Portland Trail Blazers stop putting him in cruddy defensive situations, he'll end up being one of last summer's biggest steals—a younger, more explosive career-year Al-Farouq Aminu, if you will.
No. 5 Best: Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs
Remaining Contract Value: Three years, $30 million
Salary Breakdown: $10.0 million in 2016-17; $10.0 million in 2017-18; $10 million in 2018-19
Back in July 2015, after signing a four-year, $40 million deal to stick with the San Antonio Spurs, Danny Green basically argued against making this list.
"People keep saying that I took less," he said, per Dan McCarney, then of NBA.com. "I think I took what I was worth."
A cursory glance at the salaries of other three-and-D specialists, from both that summer and this past offseason, will prove that Green needs to have a higher opinion of himself—especially now.
No other Spurs player has a higher net rating so far in 2016-17. San Antonio plays like a top-two squad on both sides of the court when he's in the game, and the team's aging vets wouldn't be nearly as effective if head coach Gregg Popovich couldn't use Green (and Kawhi Leonard) as multi-assignment safety nets.
Indeed, hardly anything Green does results in glamorous stat lines. But it doesn't take much for him to catch fire from three-point land, and he's one of the game's best shot-blocking wings.
If his current numbers hold, this will be the fourth time Green shoots 40 percent or better from deep while maintaining a block percentage of at least two. Just two active wings have ever done the same more than once: prime-time Paul Pierce and Kevin Durant.
Pretty good for someone who doesn't rake in a top-100 salary, wouldn't you say?
No. 4 Best: Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics
Remaining Contract Value: Two years, $12.9 million
Salary Breakdown: $6.6 million in 2016-17; $6.3 million in 2017-18
Isaiah Thomas' contract is so team-friendly, he has already sent out instructions for his next one.
“They better bring out the Brinks truck,” he quipped back in July, per CSNNE.com's A. Sherrod Blakely. “They’re paying everybody else. I gotta get something.”
We can talk about the market value for a 5'9" point guard approaching his 30th birthday in 2018 when Thomas is actually a free agent. Here, we'll marvel at how insane the Phoenix Suns were for trading him the luck of the Boston Celtics.
Thomas' deal was a bargain prior to the salary-cap boom; now it's just plain silly. He is an All-Star getting paid like a bit player. Last June's No. 1 overall pick, Ben Simmons, is earning almost as much as him ($5.9 million). Thomas brings home the same as a top prospect, but that might not even stand next year once the new collective bargaining agreement is complete.
This contract shouldn't exist when looking at what Thomas does. He is a defensive liability, but only because he's undersized. And he makes up for those deficiencies on the offensive end, where he's one of the most dangerous scorers and valuable spark plugs.
To wit: Thomas is averaging more than 20 points and six assists per game for the second straight season. Stephen Curry, James Harden, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook are the only other players on pace to do the same.
No. 3 Best: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
Remaining Contract Value: Two years, $17.1 million
Salary Breakdown: $8.3 million in 2016-17; $8.8 million in 2017-18
The four-year, $32 million deal Avery Bradley signed as a restricted free agent in 2014 now looks like a joke—and he knows it. Bradley switched agents last January, in part because he became unhappy with his contract, per the Boston Globe's Gary Washburn.
On the one hand, the summer of 2014 was a different time. Teams weren't thinking about an infusion of TV money, there were questions about Bradley's shooting and he missed more than 20 games in three of his first four seasons.
On the other hand, it's only natural to see Bradley suffer from bank-account envy. He has missed just 11 games since signing his $32 million pact, during which time he's averaged 14.9 points per game, shot better than 36 percent from long distance and helped turn the Celtics into a defensive terror.
Statistics don't always support Bradley's defensive worth, and Boston is a work in progress on that side this season. But he draws some of the toughest backcourt assignments, and head coach Brad Stevens doesn't shy away from using his 6'2" combo guard as a forward-stopper.
Regardless, Bradley has come far enough as an offensive weapon to render his contract a farce. As of now, four other non-point guards are matching his scoring average (17.9), assist rate (13.4) and three-point clip (39.5): Jimmy Butler, Rudy Gay, C.J. McCollum and Durant.
Next season, when McCollum's extension kicks in, Bradley will be the only one from that group making less than $18 million.
No. 2 Best: Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets
Remaining Contract Value: Three years, $36 million
Salary Breakdown: $12.0 million in 2016-17; $12.0 million in 2017-18; $12.0 million in 2018-19
Kemba Walker's four-year, $48 million extension looked just fine when he signed it in 2014. Then he exploded.
And then he exploded again.
Stupid people like me wondered whether Walker could follow up last year's career performance with an adequate encore. The Charlotte Hornets lost a ton of offensive talent via Courtney Lee, Jeremy Lin and Al Jefferson, while Walker's drastically improved three-point shooting felt like an aberration.
Funny, right? Walker is on track to break the career highs that he set last year in points per game (24.5), field-goal percentage (46.9) and three-point percentage (41.1). Only Kyrie Irving, Butler, Curry and Durant are matching those benchmarks, and Walker places sixth in win shares among point guards this season behind Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, Curry, Harden and Westbrook.
While he won't ever win any official defensive dap, Walker is a worker bee (sorry) who won't let opponents throw around his 6'1" frame. He forces a good number of turnovers, does a nice job contesting three-pointers and limits ball-handlers to sub-41-percent shooting within the pick-and-roll.
There's no reason to think Walker won't keep this up after last season, so he's a lock to earn his first-ever All-Star nod. And, to this point, you could even argue he's been the Eastern Conference's best point guard—a patented superstar taking home role-player money.
No. 1 Best: Jae Crowder, Boston Celtics
Remaining Contract Value: Four years, $28.2 million
Salary Breakdown: $6.3 million in 2016-17; $6.8 million in 2017-18; $7.3 million in 2018-19; $7.8 million in 2019-20
The salary cap never needed to change for Jae Crowder to get here. The combo forward's five-year, $35 million deal always looked good for Boston—particularly for its absence of any early outs.
Now, with Bradley's deal also in mind, team president Danny Ainge deserves the Nobel Prize in the Contract Negotiations with Restricted Free Agents category.
Consider this: Crowder will make $28.2 million through 2019-20. LeBron James is earning more than that this season. Next year, Crowder will have $21.9 million left on his deal. Twenty-eight players are slated to make more than that in 2017-18 alone—and that number will only rise.
This time next season, then, the remainder of Crowder's entire contract won't even equate to a top-30 salary.
There is no overreacting to this; Crowder is the Celtics' best two-way player. He defends guards and forwards. He logs time at the 4 despite standing 6'6". He has improved his passing, handles and three-point shooting. Boston posts top-five offensive and defensive ratings when he's in the lineup.
All this from a guy who isn't even one of his team's five highest-paid players—and who will be lucky to be one of its 10 best-paid talents by the time 2019-20 rolls around.
Dishonorable Worst-Contract Mentions
Wesley Matthews, Dallas Mavericks
Remaining Contract Value: Three years, $53.6 million
Salary Breakdown: $17.1 million in 2016-17; $17.9 million in 2017-18; $18.6 million in 2018-19 (player option)
Wesley Matthews' durability this side of his Achilles injury is impressive, and he still defends his butt off. But he isn't hitting threes like he was in Portland, his efficiency on two-pointers has plummeted and there's not as much zip in his step.
With Matthews' 30th birthday in the rearview mirror, the Dallas Mavericks must also ask themselves how much longer he can remain one of the league's 10 most-used players.
Greg Monroe, Milwaukee Bucks
Remaining Contract Value: Two years, $35 million
Salary Breakdown: $17.1 million in 2016-17; $17.9 million in 2017-18 (player option)
Greg Monroe has fallen out of head coach Jason Kidd's rotation despite being the Milwaukee Bucks' highest-paid player. That's a problem.
Monroe will end up being an expiring contract if he opts to explore free agency this summer, which helps. But low-post brutes who don't anchor defenses carry little cachet these days. He's more likely to play out the life of his deal without ever holding real trade value.
Nikola Pekovic, Minnesota Timberwolves
Remaining Contract Value: Two years, $23.7 million
Salary Breakdown: $12.1 million in 2016-17; $11.6 million in 2017-18
We can see the light at the end of Nikola Pekovic's contractual tunnel. He will be off the Minnesota Timberwolves' books following next season, and his declining salary doesn't break the bank in the new cap climate.
Nevertheless, shelling out eight figures annually for someone who won't take the floor is a highly unfortunate commitment. Pekovic is the rare player who will be immovable for the entirety of his deal due to his longstanding ankle injuries.
No. 5 Worst: Chandler Parsons, Memphis Grizzlies
Remaining Contract Value: Four years, $94.4 million
Salary Breakdown: $22.1 million in 2016-17; $23.1 million 2017-18; $24.1 million in 2018-19; $25.1 million in 2019-20
Unlike others on this list, Chandler Parsons has the ability to climb out of the fiscal doldrums.
Last year, in the 30 games leading up to a right knee injury that ended his season, he averaged 18.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.1 steals on 52 percent shooting—including a 47.4 percent clip from three-point range. The Memphis Grizzlies won't regret his max deal if he returns to that form.
For now, though, they have more than $94 million committed to a 28-year-old whose recent rash of injuries dissolved a seemingly happy-go-lucky marriage with the Mavericks, per ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon.
Each of Parsons' last two seasons have ended with right knee issues. He missed the Grizzlies' first six games while recovering from meniscus surgery he had in March, and now, six appearances into his Memphis tenure, is back on the injured list with a bone bruise in his left knee.
No NBA team can afford that kind of unpredictability from its second-highest-paid player—let alone a Memphis squad that ranks as one of the league's five oldest.
So while it's unfair to judge Parsons against his rust-riddled stat lines from this year, it's perfectly reasonable to accept that the Grizzlies have a real, potentially expensive problem on their hands.
No. 4 Worst: Austin Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers
Remaining Contract Value: Three years, $35.5 million
Salary Breakdown: $11.0 million in 2016-17; $11.8 million in 2017-18; $12.7 million in 2018-19 (player option)
Three-year commitments to 24-year-olds shouldn't have a place on this list—which speaks to just how bad Austin Rivers' deal is for the Los Angeles Clippers. As ESPN.com's Ben Alamar wrote:
Rivers is, by minutes per game, the second guy off the Clippers bench, but there is little evidence that he does much of anything well enough on the court to warrant being on the roster. Rivers is a guard who ranks ninth on his own team in 3-point shooting percentage, among players averaging at least one 3-point attempt a game. (Center Marreese Speights is currently hitting 3s at a higher rate.) He does not pass the ball well (his assist rate of 13.6 percent ranks 80th in the league), he ranks eighth on the Clippers in steals per 100 possessions and is the only player on the team to log more than 100 minutes with a negative box plus-minus rating on both offense and defense.
Shall we go on? OK, in real plus-minus, Rivers ranks 60th among just the point guards. RPM suggests Rivers is being outplayed by such luminaries as Jonathan Gibson and Malcolm Delaney.
Some of this has changed, albeit not by much. Rivers is now the seventh-best three-point shooter on the Clippers and seventh in steals per 100 possessions. And it's not totally fair to destroy his assist percentage—which no longer ranks among the top 100—when he spends time beside so many ball-dominant scorers.
But you still have to wonder what Rivers' market was this summer. What other team was getting ready to sling eight figures per year? Life is good when your pops is the team president, I guess.
Rivers' lone saving grace is his presence within an all-bench mob that's torching opponents. Jamal Crawford, Raymond Felton, Wesley Johnson, Marreese Speights and Rivers are a plus-12.1 per 100 possessions when playing together—the ninth-best mark of any lineup to log at least 100 minutes.
No. 3 Worst: Evan Turner, Portland Trail Blazers
Remaining Contract Value: Four years, $70 million
Salary Breakdown: $16.4 million in 2016-17; $17.1 million in 2017-18; $17.9 million in 2018-19; $18.6 million in 2019-20
Though Evan Turner is another candidate for contractual absolution, his trek toward redemption doesn't share Parsons' obviousness—largely because the Blazers pose such an awkward fit.
General manger Neil Olshey took a shot in the dark when signing Turner. He whiffed on Hassan Whiteside and Parsons, then backed up an armored truck for a 6'7" combo wing who only ever looked at home during a two-year stint with the Celtics.
It says a lot about Turner's contract that the 28-year-old himself couldn't contain his surprise or glee once it was offered, per ESPN.com's Zach Lowe:
He was almost as stunned as you by Portland's mega-offer, by the way, which turned out to be for four years and $70 million. Turner's agent made him promise not to tell anyone about the proposal until he signed it. Turner was too giddy, though. He hung up with his agent, immediately called Andre Iguodala, still a close friend and mentor, and blurted out, "Yo, Dre! They offered this!" Turner recalled, laughing. Iguodala told him to take the deal right away.
That shock is rivaled by how unfathomably bad the Blazers are with Turner on the court. He has the team's worst net rating by a mile, and his accuracy has cratered from inside the arc. He is shooting a career-worst 54.5 percent around the rim, and his shaky three-point marksmanship makes him a non-threat when playing off the ball.
Lineups that see Turner play alongside Lillard or McCollum are barely shooting 40 percent from the floor. According to NBAWowy.com, Turner has only played eight minutes without both. Head coach Terry Stotts either needs to stagger his minutes further or use Turner as the primary ball-handler while running the other two off more screens.
In the meantime, Turner's deal will sit here, a complete-bust-in-waiting.
No. 2 Worst: Omer Asik, New Orleans Pelicans
Remaining Contract Value: Four years, $43.8 million
Salary Breakdown: $9.9 million in 2016-17; $10.6 million in 2017-18; $11.3 million in 2018-19; $12 million in 2019-20 (early-termination option)
Jrue Holiday is the only New Orleans Pelicans rotation player with a better net rating than Omer Asik, but don't let that fool you. This big is borderline unplayable.
Asik leaves the Pelicans a man down on every offensive possession, failing to register as the most basic threat. He has below-average touch around the rim and isn't a viable pick-and-roll rim-runner unless left completely unguarded.
Even Asik's defensive accolades are tough to spin in a positive light.
Almost 75 percent of his minutes come next to Anthony Davis, artificially inflating his on-court value. He can grab rebounds and protect the house, but only if he's allowed to camp out under the basket. Ask him to guard a frontcourt playmaker with a lick of mobility, and you better hope New Orleans' defensive rotations are on point.
Head coach Alvin Gentry is lucky if New Orleans can survive 18 minutes a game with Asik playing in his faster-paced system. His spiral into futility has allowed—OK, demanded—that Davis see more burn at center, and the Pelicans' decision to offer him a five-year deal in 2015 looks worse with each passing year.
Another impending salary-cap spike won't help these optics. If the Pelicans successfully move Asik, it'll be right before his contract expires—or because they greased the wheels of a trade with a first-round pick or two.
No. 1 Worst: Joakim Noah, New York Knicks
Remaining Contract Value: Four years, $72.6 million
Salary Breakdown: $17.0 million in 2016-17; $17.8 million in 2017-18; $18.5 million in 2018-19; $19.3 million in 2019-20
(Googles "Inner Kermit.")
Us: It hasn't even been 20 games. Let's give Joakim Noah the benefit of the doubt.
Inner Us: Ah hell, who we kidding? Noah's contract has been the worst in the NBA since he signed it.
Much of the initial disdain for Noah's deal was rooted in his playing what is already Kristaps Porzingis' best position (center). That's not on him.
Look beyond the New York Knicks' willing logjam, though, and Noah's contract still doesn't hold up. He is averaging under five points per game for a second consecutive season, his free-throw clip has dipped below 40 percent and he's not excelling as a finisher around the basket.
You can tell Noah is working hard to get up and down the floor, but he looks eight steps slow, and his apparent diligence isn't registering on the defensive end. Opponents are shooting better than 60 percent against him at the rim, and New York is allowing fewer points per 100 possessions with him watching from the pine.
Maybe the Knicks always intended to use Noah sparingly, as a $72 million emotional bellwether. Perhaps they mistook him for a center who wasn't injury-prone, on the wrong end of 30 and two years into a stark decline. Maybe Carmelo Anthony asked team president Phil Jackson really nicely.
Whatever their reasoning, the Knicks missed the mark. And now they have the next few years to make peace with it—because, right now, they don't have the pot-sweeteners necessary to unload the NBA's worst deal.
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @danfavale.