5 Worst NBA Contracts at Every Position
Remember last summer, amid the NBA's salary-cap explosion, when there was almost no such thing as a bad contract?
Welcome back to reality.
The league's cap boon has leveled off, suddenly and substantially, and teams are now left dealing with the fallout. Last year's position of strength has, in essence, regressed into one of weakness. Certain good deals are blah. Justifiable agreements have no defense. Bad contracts look worse. And inexcusable pacts are simply crippling.
This is 2017.
In honor of the NBA's cap climate tumbling back down to Earth, it's only right we re-evaluate the worst deals at every position.
Positional designations were determined using Basketball-Reference's play-by-play data and confirmed by looking at NBA.com's lineup numbers. Remember: These contracts are viewed from a team's perspective alone. They are not clearance-rack deals a player should regret; they're ones that have incited buyer's remorse.
Expiring agreements are not eligible for inclusion, because we're not trying to be aimlessly cute. LeBron James' deal isn't bad just because he can opt out and leave the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2018. Don't overthink this.
Overpriced long-term pacts are the focus. They will be ranked according to length and remaining balance relative to a player's potential trade market (or lack thereof) and on-court value now through the life of the deal. Someone like Andrew Nicholson, for instance, doesn't make the cut, because the three years and $19.9 million remaining on his contract don't destroy a team's cap sheet and won't take much sweetening to offload.
No. 5 Worst Point Guard: Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 15.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.7 blocks, 45.4 percent shooting
Remaining Contract Value: Five years, $126 million
Whether or not Jrue Holiday lives up to his new, near-max contract depends on how you view the situation.
Optimists will note this deal only takes him through his 31st birthday. He should end up playing through his best years without dropping off a cliff by the end of this agreement—a rare combination for those signing the third pact of their career.
But Holiday's price point is more about the New Orleans Pelicans than his outlook. They didn't have any other options. Letting him walk wouldn't have even left them enough money to realistically poach Patty Mills from the San Antonio Spurs.
Where the Pelicans weren't paying Holiday out of necessity, they were compensating him for functional concession. He won't have the ball in his hands as much playing beside DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis, and his role blurs further with New Orleans' addition of Rajon Rondo.
Dangling the fifth-year sweetener with an above-market annual salary was the most efficient way to render Holiday's foray onto market a non-issue. That's fine. Again, the Pelicans had no other choice. But now they're left to reconcile the iffy end result: paying Holiday like a top-seven point guard to cede touches and status to a pair of bigger names.
No. 4 Worst Point Guard: Reggie Jackson, Detroit Pistons
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 14.5 points, 2.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.1 blocks, 41.9 percent shooting
Remaining Contract Value: Three years, $51.1 million
Studying Jackson's efforts from 2015-16 yields no qualms about his deal. He tallied a career-high 18.8 points and 6.2 assists per game while improving his three-point clip (35.3 percent) and quarterbacking a top-10 offense when on the floor.
Jump ahead to 2016-17, and the optics didn't just shift. They cratered. Jackson labored through a left knee injury all season, struggled to assimilate into a tweaked offensive pecking order and rattled morale with his unenthusiastic demeanor. The Pistons spent much of the year trying to stave off train-wreck status and fared 10.6 points per 100 possessions worse whenever Jackson was in the game.
This didn't appear to send Detroit into widespread panic at season's end. On the contrary, coach-president Stan Van Gundy waxed hope for 2017-18.
"I think the thing he really looks forward to, and we look forward to, is getting a fresh start in the offseason and being able to go through the preparation for a season like he did last year," he told reporters in March. "And not only get right physically but really get his confidence back."
Recent trade rumors won't do much to help Jackson's confidence. The Pistons have reportedly talked shop with the Pelicans about a deal that would land them Alexis Ajinca, Quincy Pondexter and E'Twaun Moore in exchange for their floor general, according to Basketball Insiders' Michael Scotto.
It says a lot that Jackson is available at all. Detroit just cut the cord with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marcus Morris. Even with Avery Bradley and Langston Galloway coming in, Jackson should be considered a treasured asset—or at least someone worth more to the Pistons than a collection of odds and ends.
No. 3 Worst Point Guard: Tyler Johnson, Miami Heat
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 13.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.6 blocks, 43.3 percent shooting
Remaining Contract Value: Three years, $44.4 million
Remove money from the equation, and there's no real reason to shine a negative light on Tyler Johnson.
Plenty of teams will take a guard who almost splits his minutes at the 1 and 2, on and off the ball, right down the middle without issue. Stir in his defensive hustle, which includes sneaky shot-blocking, and many squads won't even flinch at paying him $44.4 million over the next three years.
But the context of Johnson's deal kills his curb appeal.
Though he's a bargain at $5.9 million next season, his cap hit mushrooms past $19.2 million in both 2018-19 and 2019-20, courtesy of the structure on that four-year, $50 million offer sheet levied by the Brooklyn Nets in 2016.
For context: Goran Dragic's contract also runs through 2019-20. He'll earn $37.3 million in the final two years—around $1.5 million less than his backcourt partner's cap hit. Johnson is on the come-up, but that money will be immovable without some serious sweeteners—particularly when factoring in his 15 percent trade kicker.
If not for a couple other humdingers of an investment and the salary-matching potential in the final year of this poison pill, Johnson would, by default, place higher on the red-alert scale.
No. 2 Worst Point Guard: Matthew Dellavedova, Milwaukee Bucks
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 7.6 points, 1.9 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.0 blocks, 39.0 percent shooting
Remaining Contract Value: Three years, $28.8 million
It turns out paying Matthew Dellavedova to play for a team other than the Cavaliers isn't a good idea.
Buyer's remorse is already in full swing for the Milwaukee Bucks. One season into his four-year, $38.4 million deal, Dellavedova has made the list of players they want to move, as ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst noted on a recent episode of The Basketball Analogy podcast.
Good luck finding a taker.
Dellavedova finished 2016-17 as a demonstrative negative on both sides of the floor. In fact, according to NBA Math's total points added, he was the Bucks' least valuable player.
There's little hope that changes in 2017-18. Dellavedova's defensive reputation is steeped in lore more than fact, and his offensive flaws are accentuated when he's not playing the part of glaring afterthought beside Cleveland's superstar trio.
Expecting him to create for himself or for others is asking too much. He is a turnover machine out of the pick-and-roll, and on the off chance he gets into the lane, he's not a dependable finisher. Of the 290 players to attempt 75 or more shots in the restricted area last season, his 40.9 percent clip ranked 289th, ahead of only Alec Burks.
Paying Dellavedova close to eight figures annually is inexcusable in the currently oversaturated point guard market. Salaries that eat up roughly 10 percent of the cap aren't typically detrimental, but the Bucks are at least two years away from being able to move him without attaching a first-round pick or absorbing an equally bad deal.
No. 1 Worst Point Guard: Brandon Knight, Phoenix Suns
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 11.0 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, 39.8 percent shooting
Remaining Contract Value: Three years, $43.9 million
Is Brandon Knight a point guard? Shooting guard? Perennially undervalued? Unfairly judged? Completely hopeless?
Might he be a little bit of everything?
No one seems to know. What's more, teams aren't lining up to dig deeper into one of the league's most prominent Rubik's Cubes.
The Phoenix Suns couldn't give him away at the trade deadline. They were asking for an expiring contract and a second-round pick, according to USA Today's Sam Amick, and didn't get any bites—something SB Nation's Tom Ziller couldn't wrap his head around:
"Brandon Knight is only 25 years old. It feels like he is a nine-year veteran at this point. But he came into the league at age 19 and is a journeyman only because he keeps getting traded (first for Brandon Jennings, then in the Isaiah Thomas deal). Point guards take a while to reach their potential. There’s still hope of improvement."
These are good points. But Knight also devolved into unplayable as a reserve, which is a big problem when you're being paid like a starter. His field-goal percentages plummeted from all over the floor, and he failed to register as an off-ball threat. When he was shut down for the season in February, he owned the league's second-worst plus-minus, beating out only Trevor Booker.
Stick Knight on a team with more shooters and better defenders behind him, and maybe he flourishes. For now, until he's in the perfect situation or proves he can maximize his role with Phoenix, he's forfeited the benefit of the doubt.
No. 5 Worst Shooting Guard: Evan Fournier, Orlando Magic
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 17.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.1 blocks, 43.9 percent shooting
Remaining Contract Value: Four years, $68 million
Evan Fournier's five-year, $85 million deal looked like a good value last summer, when lucrative contracts were being passed out like Tic Tacs. Now? Not so much.
Part of that's beyond his control. He wouldn't crack this list if a few certain somebodies (cough, Kent Bazemore and Allen Crabbe, cough) didn't spend the bulk of their playing time at small forward.
The Orlando Magic aren't doing Fournier any favors, either. They lack shooting at nearly every spot in the lineup and shrink the floor further by slotting guys—namely Aaron Gordon—down a position.
More than 41 percent of Fournier's buckets went unassisted in 2016-17, up from 38.5 the year before. A smaller share of his looks came with a defender four or more feet away (31.8 percent, down from 38.9), and lineups overstocked with bigs prevented him from reaching the rim and drawing fouls.
Orlando has lined Fournier's path to progress with unnecessary obstacles. It's fair to wonder how his deal—which, again, isn't flat-out awful now—would look in a different situation.
Still, the luster has worn off from last summer's spending spree. Fournier's flat-rate salary ($17 million) cushions the yearly blow, but committing 17 percent of your cap to a defensively challenged scorer who cannot prop up an average offense is a recipe for regret.
No. 4 Worst Shooting Guard: Nicolas Batum, Charlotte Hornets
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 15.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.4 blocks, 40.3 percent shooting
Remaining Contract Value: Four years, $99.1 million
Nicolas Batum remains one of the NBA's most versatile players. That much isn't up for debate.
His 7'0" wingspan is a defensive boon, and a standing reach of nearly 8'9" helps him switch across three positions. Pair these tools with a keen passing eye and strong finishing around the rim, and it's not hard to see why the Charlotte Hornets threw him a five-year, $120 million contract last summer.
It's also not hard to imagine them eventually lamenting the decision—if they're not already stricken with regret.
Batum followed up his nine-figure payday by notching the lowest effective field-goal percentage of his career. He continued to be a two-way plus on both ends of the court but couldn't adequately make up for the Hornets' dearth of playmaking. He shot 34.1 percent out of pick-and-rolls while coughing up possession nearly 25 percent of the time, and the offense as a whole went stale whenever he took the reins from Kemba Walker.
Charlotte needs more bang for its buck. Batum's deal isn't yet untradeable, but it's heading in that direction. His efficiency has fallen off since a career performance in 2013-14, and at an average of $24 million per year, there's little to suggest he's someone the Hornets or anyone else can count on entering his 30s.
No. 3 Worst Shooting Guard: Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 15.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.3 blocks, 44.2 percent shooting
Remaining Contract Value: Four years, $84.4 million
There is a hint of to-be-determined intrigue surrounding Victor Oladipo's contract. He has plateaued statistically—the Serge Ibaka of shooting guards, if you will—but he's young enough, at 25, to be portrayed as an unknown.
Stints with the Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder are Oladipo's safety nets. Orlando bungled his development by trying to make him coexist with Elfrid Payton, and Oklahoma City never gave him a genuine opportunity to distinguish himself within units that didn't include Westbrook.
The Indiana Pacers promise a noticeably better fit. They have ball-dominant talents who'll clash with Oladipo's own need for possession, but Darren Collison, Lance Stephenson and Thaddeus Young aren't veterans who transcend him in the offensive hierarchy.
"I think he’s motivated to be great," Pacers president Kevin Pritchard said after acquiring Oladipo from the Thunder, per the Indianapolis Star's Clifton Brown. "Sometimes guys get paid and they put it on cruise control. Victor is not on cruise control at all."
This all sounds amazing until you remember Oladipo is earning more than Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard through each of the next two seasons.
Context, as always, is important. The Thunder gave Oladipo his extension in a totally different cap climate. There is a certain level of fluff in these comparisons. But that financial free-for-all has since been dealt a reality check. And the reality is the Pacers are taking on an undefined project with an All-Star's price tag.
No. 2 Worst Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 27.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.2 blocks, 46.7 percent shooting
Remaining Contract Value: Four years, $111 million
DeMar DeRozan's inclusion is bound to ruffle some feathers. He is a three-time All-Star and followed up his 2016 payday with an All-NBA bid. He even accepted less than the max to stay with the Toronto Raptors.
Should he really be penalized because his mid-range-heavy style is so divisive?
Funneling superstar money into a swingman who doesn't shoot threes or move the defensive needle would usually be painted as reckless. DeRozan is different, because he's damn near perfected his niche. But that only means we're inventing nice ways of saying he verges on one-dimensional.
Yank him from his very specific comfort zone, and his value collapses in on itself. The Raptors cannot remodel their offense to include more fluid ball movement and fewer one-on-ones when he's putting down less than 35 percent of his catch-and-fire opportunities. It should scare the hell out of them that he cost the team more points on the defensive end than anyone else, according to NBA Math. And it's most definitely concerning that he cannot headline even without Kyle Lowry in the fold.
DeRozan is a quality player and fantastic scorer to say the least. This isn't an assault on what he's done, or what he's still capable of doing. Before coming to his defense, though, ask yourself this: How many teams would be willing to trade for him while sending back close to adequate value?
No. 1 Worst Shooting Guard: Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 14.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.2 blocks, 45.5 percent shooting
Remaining Contract Value: Four years, $70.9 million
Please, friends, do not choke on your words in the rush to regurgitate counterarguments in support of Tim Hardaway Jr.'s $71 million deal. We're not hiding from them.
He's only 25! Look at how much Kent Bazemore and Allen Crabbe and Evan Fournier are making! He's only 25! How could the New York Knicks have known Detroit would jettison Kentavious Caldwell-Pope into restricted free agency? Isn't KCP trash anyway? He's only 25! He improved with the Atlanta Hawks! This deal really isn't that bad when you compare it to Joakim Noah's contract! He's only 25!
Look, first off, good for Hardaway. He's coming off one heck of a season. He's a much better passer than he was during his first go-round in New York. His one-on-one defense is better as well. He got paid. No one should take issue with him getting money. Players deserve every penny they're able to extract from billionaire owners.
The Knicks are the only party worth crucifying here. Close to 17 percent of their cap is going to a player who didn't crack the top 75 in any kitchen-sink metrics last season, and who has never been a plus-defender.
Justin Holiday received a two-year, $9 million deal from the Chicago Bulls. Andre Roberson grabbed a three-year, $30 million contract from Oklahoma City. Tony Snell got $46 million over four years from the Bucks. The Utah Jazz made the biggest leap with Joe Ingles, and he's only on a four-year, $52 million pact. Hardaway was not worth $71 million in this summer's market.
Excuses to the contrary are invalid. Bazemore, Crabbe and Fournier earned their money when it was raining hundy sticks in 2016. The Knicks paid Hardaway long after that illusion came crashing down.
Restricted free agents must be overpaid for outside suitors to have a chance, but the Hawks didn't want to fork over more than $48 million, according to ESPN.com's Zach Lowe. There isn't a shill job in the world that can justify the Knicks going $23 million higher.
No. 5 Worst Small Forward: Kent Bazemore, Atlanta Hawks
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 11.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.7 blocks, 40.9 percent shooting
Remaining Contract Value: Three years, $54.3 million
Kent Bazemore's contract is entering dangerous territory.
Like anyone else who signed a massive deal in 2016, he's being judged against a completely different financial outlook. That shift in perception is problematic for just about everyone, but it's especially damning for those who are working off a decline.
Bazemore falls into that category of regressors. His efficiency plunged to rookie-year levels as he tried adjusting to a more expansive job description. Atlanta's thin supply of secondary creators necessitated more playmaking responsibilities, and Bazemore never looked comfortable. His per-possession assist rate improved, but that uptick comes with an increase in volume. The Hawks came to favor Hardaway over him, and he was invariably pushed out of the starting lineup.
Banking on a resurgence in 2017-18 goes against the facts. Atlanta is down more playmakers after bidding farewell to Hardaway and Paul Millsap, and 28-year-olds aren't known for making gargantuan leaps six seasons into their career.
At the same time, Bazemore's contract is not a lost cause. He's almost everything teams look for in a complementary wing. He was more effective on offense when he didn't have the ball as much, and his defensive grit seldom suffered as a result of his warts at the other end.
Without a return to 2015-16 form, though, Bazemore is more roadblock than asset. The Hawks are rebuilding, and he runs counter to their new timeline. A trade feels inevitable, but they can't hope to get more than cap relief, if that, unless he recoups some of his squandered goodwill.
No. 4 Worst Small Forward: Allen Crabbe, Portland Trail Blazers
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 10.7 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks, 46.8 percent shooting
Remaining Contract Value: Three years, $56.3 million
Say hello to yet another Brooklyn Nets special. They tendered Allen Crabbe an offer sheet worth nearly $75 million last year, and the Portland Trail Blazers, not wanting to relinquish a primo asset for nothing, opted to match.
Maybe another team comes along if the Nets don't and overpays Crabbe. Gaudy deals were flying around all over the place last summer. But $75 million was always a stretch. Crabbe apologists knew it (raises hand). They were just more OK with it (raises hand again), because the NBA was entering a lawless salary-cap era in which no deal could ever truly be bad.
So much for that.
Crabbe didn't improve in proportion with his salary-cap hit. The Blazers don't lean on him for improvisation off the bounce, and on the rare occasions they do, he looks uncomfortable when he has to make decisions after one or two dribbles. The idea that he could cover up for Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum on defense has also proved to be overblown.
Teams will always pay for elite shooters, and Crabbe posted an effective field-goal percentage of 63.0 off the catch last season—fifth-best among 92 players to burn through at least 175 spot-up looks. His deal isn't immovable. But, at an average of more than $18.5 million per year, it will cost the Blazers a first-rounder to get rid of him, according to Lowe.
No. 3 Worst Small Forward: Evan Turner, Portland Trail Blazers
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 9.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks, 42.6 percent shooting
Remaining Contract Value: Three years, $53.6 million
Most of us knew this day would come, when Evan Turner's four-year, $70 million deal would appear on its jillionth worst-contract list. Deep down, so did the Blazers. They had to. All the signs were there—including genuine shock from Turner himself, as Lowe relayed in November:
"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."
Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was also among those "so happy" for Turner. And as a rule of thumb, if you're getting in the good graces of a free agent's incumbent team, you're doing something wrong.
Hindsight is a crappy crutch, and Turner's situation is comparable to Crabbe's mammoth deal. It didn't look as egregious 12 months ago. But it also didn't look great.
Borderline supporters—me, again—knew the Blazers were taking a huge risk. They already deployed two ball-dominant scorers in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Turner's addition wouldn't work if they didn't precisely stagger minutes and run both Lillard and McCollum off him almost full-time.
Surprise, surprise: Things haven't panned out. Turner isn't suited to playing off the ball. He doesn't have a consistent three-point stroke, and the frequency with which he reaches the rim is headed in the wrong direction. He'd be better on a team that needs a primary or secondary distributor, but the Blazers can't reasonably send him packing without giving up a first-round treat or two.
No. 2 Worst Small Forward: Luol Deng, Los Angeles Lakers
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 7.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.4 blocks, 38.7 percent shooting
Remaining Contract Value: Three years, $54 million
Luol Deng's deal might not edge out Turner's for second-worst on the small-forward docket if he were a little younger. Alas, at 32, coming off a disastrous 2016-17 campaign, Deng gets the penultimate dishonor.
After all, if you're a general manager, who would you rather acquire: the 28-year-old wing who can't shoot but might be able to run your offense and guard four different positions? Or the over-30 grinder with a shaky jumper, receding lateral quickness and more than three years of Tom Thibodeau duty to his name?
Leading into this year's draft, the Los Angeles Lakers offered an unprotected future first-round pick to whichever team absorbed Deng's deal, according to Lowe. Turner's nosediving star won't need that type of kickback.
Nor will Deng's for that matter. The Lakers used D'Angelo Russell to flip Timofey Mozgov instead and needn't worry about shipping out Deng until 2018, when he'll have a more digestible two years and $36.8 million remaining on his contract.
And who knows, maybe Deng recaptures the mojo he appeared to regain during Miami's 2015-16 playoff run. Until then...yikes.
No. 1 Worst Small Forward: Chandler Parsons, Memphis Grizzlies
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 6.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.1 blocks, 33.8 percent shooting
Remaining Contract Value: Three years, $72.3 million
Chandler Parsons' first year with the Memphis Grizzlies could not have deviated further from the intended plan.
Memphis signed him to a $94 million deal knowing he suffered season-ending knee injuries in each of the two previous campaigns. It was a gutsy move—one that had "Buyer Beware" written everywhere when it became clear Mark Cuban wouldn't pull out all the stops to keep him with the Dallas Mavericks.
And yet, even by minimalist standards, Parsons was a letdown. He barely played enough to qualify as an authentic bust, mustering 34 appearances before his season was cut short by another knee surgery.
The time he did spend on the court wasn't reassuring. There were some nights when he appeared to be moving just fine. Mostly, he looked like a shell of his former self—an eye test backed up by the career lows he posted across the board.
But don't worry: Parsons is taking the glass-half-full approach to his recovery.
"I look at it like I set myself up for Most Improved next year," he joked in June, per the Commercial Appeal's Ronald Tillery.
Most Improved Player, semi-available player—it's all the same to the Grizzlies. Pretty much anything they get from Parsons next season will be an upgrade over this past one.
No. 5 Worst Power Forward: James Johnson, Miami Heat
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 12.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.1 blocks, 47.9 percent shooting
Remaining Contract Value: Four years, $60 million
Let's start things off with a quick shoutout to the power forward position. Assembling a list of five bad deals is really hard, because there aren't that many to convincingly rail against.
Slotting James Johnson into fifth place is particularly painful. Who doesn't love a 6'9" athlete built like Thanos but with the downhill dexterity of LeBron James?
Miami unleashed Johnson more than it reinvented him. Head coach Erik Spoelstra gave him the freedom to run fast breaks and attack the basket at will—luxuries Johnson has never known without a quick hook. And that extended playing time birthed a new defensive identity. Johnson now switches nearly every position, and the Heat don't shy away from stashing him on All-NBA wings or bigs.
Just three other players closed 2016-17 clearing 20 points, nine rebounds, six assists and two blocks per 100 possessions: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and Marc Gasol. Write this off as statistical cherry-picking if you hate fun, but that's serious company.
And that begs the question: What in the heck is Johnson doing here?
Well, you see, $60 million is a lot of money. And four years is a long time. Johnson will turn 35 before his deal expires. It's convenient his breakout came so late, but that also means the Heat are working off a teensy-tiny sample. Last season marks the first time he's ever eclipsed 2,000 minutes or 600 shot attempts, and they responded with a $60 million vote of confidence.
Is this his reward for waiting out the Gordon Hayward situation? Did the market dictate he get this much money? Has team president Pat Riley gotten—gulp—sentimental since steering Dwyane Wade to Chicago? Whatever this is, it's expensive, and risky, and it has tied a great deal of Miami's future to the likelihood a first-time standout continues an upward march into his mid-30s.
No. 4 Worst Power Forward: Marvin Williams, Charlotte Hornets
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 11.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.7 blocks, 42.2 percent shooting
Remaining Contract Value: Three years, $42.3 million
Singling out Marvin Williams here has everything to do with last year's regression, and his ability—or lack thereof—to come back from it.
The Hornets aren't built for him to be a lights-out shooter anymore. Adding Michael Carter-Williams and Dwight Howard to the rotation does nothing for their spacing. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a non-threat, and Batum hasn't been a league-average shooter since 2013-14.
If Williams ever drills 40 percent of his threes again, as he did in 2015-16, it's because he's on a different team. Suitors would have lined up a year ago, when he looked like a more defensively aware version of Ryan Anderson. But the league-wide weeding out of plodding 4s and too much time spent moonlighting at the 3 obliterated much of his defensive appeal.
Opponents scored at a 57.3 percent clip when challenging Williams at the rim, the seventh-highest mark among the 85 players to contest at least four such shots per game. He isn't someone who should switch pick-and-rolls, and teams that run out glorified wings at the 4 will target him in one-on-one situations.
Permanently moving to center would be ideal for Williams, but the Hornets don't have minutes to go around at the 5. The teams that do aren't going to make a $40-plus million gamble without getting something else of value or offloading an albatross contract as part of the deal.
No. 3 Power Forward: Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 14.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.6 blocks, 48.0 percent shooting
Remaining Contract Value: Three years, $65 million
Ibaka would keep climbing this ladder if not for the brevity of his contract. The Raptors only have him for the next three years (no options)—long enough to enjoy the fruits of possible success, but short enough for them to see the light at the end of a worst-case scenario.
As Rob Mahoney wrote for SI.com:
"Three-point shooting and rim protection are form-fitting skills, and Ibaka is better than most bigs when it comes to containing smaller players in switch situations. He might never be comfortable making decisions on the move or taking advantage of should-be mismatches. There’s reason for skepticism about Ibaka’s rebounding, too, if he’s forced to play more center minutes than usual. But what Ibaka already does at a high level is valuable enough to serve the Raptors well, particularly when they’ve only committed to a three-year deal. Ibaka’s game is rooted in athleticism, and Toronto protected itself here somewhat by only committing to pay Ibaka big money until around his 31st birthday."
Contract length doesn't matter as much as the dollar amount if Ibaka doesn't ensure the Raptors win the nightly battle at his position. He is an anomaly at the 4 no more; power forwards who shoot threes are the standard.
Matching him up with enemy 5s is similarly uninspiring. Playmaking shot-blockers aren't quite dime-a-dozen, but they're widespread enough that Ibaka's tools are average at best in comparison. He doesn't make things happen off the dribble, and his defensive switchability is moot past the free-throw line.
Even his rim protection might be overrated. Opponents shot 52.6 percent against him around the basket this past season, the 27th-best mark among players to contest six or more point-blank looks per game.
Sweet-shooting bigs will always find a home, and Ibaka might fare better after logging a training camp with Toronto. But he may have also peaked before his arrival, in which case he'll be no more of an asset to the Raptors than Patrick Patterson, who will cost the Thunder less over the next three years ($16.3 million) than Ibaka earns in 2017-18 alone.
No. 2 Worst Power Forward: Harrison Barnes, Dallas Mavericks
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 19.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.2 blocks, 46.8 percent shooting
Remaining Contract Value: Three years, $72.3 million
Harrison Barnes exceeded the most whimsical expectations in his first season outside the comfy confines he enjoyed with the Golden State Warriors. He led the Mavericks in scoring by a comfortable margin while tallying surprisingly efficient clips in isolation (45.7 percent) and out of the post (47.6 percent).
Dallas' most popular lineups featured Barnes at the 4, where he tackled both explosive and traditional defensive assignments with relative ease. He wasn't enough to roll out at power forward when Dirk Nowitzki played the 5, but the dependability oft-overlooked during his time with the Warriors shone through.
The upshot: Barnes isn't a cornerstone.
There are too many nights when his scoring feels empty—irrelevant and not within the flow of Dallas' offense. He doesn't get to the foul line, and his teammates aren't noticeably better because he's a threat. Of the 36 players to surpass 19 points per game, he ranked 34th in free-throw rate and dead last in assists per 100 possessions.
Not even head coach/confirmed magician Rick Carlisle can fudge together an average attack around such a limited No. 1 option. The Mavericks placed 23rd in offensive efficiency and scored 0.3 fewer points per 100 possessions with Barnes in the lineup than they did with him on the bench.
Inserting Dennis Smith Jr. into the rotation could make everything hum and everyone, including Barnes, look better. But max players shouldn't need rookie parachutes.
Perhaps that tracks, because Barnes isn't a max-caliber player. He's just being paid like one.
No. 1 Worst Power Forward: Ryan Anderson, Houston Rockets
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 13.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.2 blocks, 41.8 percent shooting
Remaining Contract Value: Three years, $61.3 million
What a difference one year makes.
Ryan Anderson's four-year, $80 million deal wasn't met with overwhelming fanfare last summer, but it wasn't considered a sinkhole, either. After he splashed in 40.3 percent of his triples during his first season in Houston, including 42.6 percent when launching off the catch, you wouldn't expect that worldview to tilt in the completely opposite direction.
But here we are.
Before the Knicks hit pause on Carmelo Anthony trade talks, finding a new home for Anderson was the primary holdup, according to the New York Daily News' Stefan Bondy and Frank Isola. The Houston Rockets needed to include him so the money would match, but New York didn't want him. The two parties recruited a third team to take on Anderson, but that squad wouldn't bite without a fourth participant to eat salary from its own stash, per ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski.
This keeps in line with Lowe reporting other suitors demanded two first-round picks from the Rockets in any Anderson dump. The cost of shedding salary is rising as the cap levels off, and Anderson doesn't pique interest the way he did when all stretch 4s needed to do was shoot threes.
Worse still: If there's a franchise that can find value in a spot-up specialist who doesn't have the defensive chops to consistently man one position, it's supposed to be Mike D'Antoni's Rockets. Their attempt to bail on him thus eviscerates whatever intrigue he might have engendered.
No. 5 Worst Center: Ian Mahinmi, Washington Wizards
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 5.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.8 blocks, 58.6 percent shooting
Remaining Contract Value: Three years, $48.1 million
Ian Mahinmi's four-year, $64 million deal passed the bad-idea test when it was fielded amid the flurry of other 2016 overpays. The Washington Wizards already had Marcin Gortat on the books, and expensive interest in Mahinmi felt like a knee-jerk reaction to never getting a fair shake in the Kevin Durant sweepstakes and losing the race for Al Horford.
That subjectively flawed gamble turned into an objective disaster before the regular season tipped off. Mahinmi underwent surgery to repair a torn left meniscus in mid-October and didn't make his official debut until Nov. 26—after which he missed another two-plus months with a right knee injury.
It gets worse.
After appearing in 30 consecutive games between February and April, Mahinmi suffered a strained left calf that again required time off. He returned during the second round of the playoffs, just in time to see the Wizards into the offseason.
Bigs nearing their 31st birthday who are coming off 31-game seasons are liabilities until they prove otherwise. Mahinmi has value as a rim-runner, and he anchored a top-notch defense in Indiana not two years ago. But his trade value is nonexistent at this current price point—as his is capacity to change that while playing behind Gortat or out of position at power forward.
No. 4 Worst Center: Bismack Biyombo, Orlando Magic
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 6.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.3 steals, 1.1 blocks, 52.8 percent shooting
Remaining Contract Value: Three years, $51 million
Youthful upside is all that saves Bismack Biyombo from shooting up these ranks and settling into place as the league's most overpaid center.
Anyone who has watched an NBA game over the last half-decade knew the Magic would immediately regret hurling four years and $72 million at Biyombo when they already employed Ibaka and Vucevic. Biyombo thrived during his one-year stay in Toronto because the Raptors had the personnel to incorporate him on offense. He could operate as a screen-setting rim-runner without being in the way.
No such luxury existed in Orlando. Biyombo took up the same space Ibaka and Vucevic occupied, not to mention Aaron Gordon. The Magic didn't have the shooters to compensate and lanes weren't as open, which rendered Biyombo useless. He barely cracked the 40th percentile in scoring out of the pick-and-roll, and rookie Domantas Sabonis was the only player in the league who generated less offensive value, according to NBA Math.
Defensive sets offered no reprieve from Biyombo's nightmare. His rim protection didn't mean as much when he was the big usually tasked with chasing around 4s. He challenged fewer shots around the hoop (5.6 per game) compared to 2015-16 (6.8) despite logging identical minutes, and opponents found more ways to score around him.
If another team plopped Biyombo into its rotation as the sole skyscraper, he'd likely reclaim some of his 2015-16 roots. But no team is bankrolling the rest of his contract without primetime goodies. And that isn't changing anytime soon—not with players of a similar ilk, such as Dewayne Dedmon, signing for less than half the annual cost over a shorter term.
No. 3 Worst Center: Timofey Mozgov, Brooklyn Nets
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 7.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.6 blocks, 51.5 percent shooting
Remaining Contract Value: Three years, $48 million
The Lakers handed Mozgov a four-year, $64 million deal as soon as 2016 free agency began. After all, why wouldn't they dole out $16 million per year to a lumbering big man who averaged fewer than six minutes per playoff game for the then-champion Cavaliers?
To get out from the previous regime's irresponsible spending, team president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka sent D'Angelo Russell, the No. 2 overall pick in 2015, to Brooklyn in June along with Mozgov for Brook Lopez's expiring deal and a late first-round pick.
So yeah, this is a bad contract.
Fortunately for the Nets, Mozgov isn't hurting them. They're years away from title contention, and Russell is the type of prospect they're unable to draft until 2019 at the earliest. Plus, while Mozgov cannot switch defensive assignments or put the ball on the floor, he's more than willing to inherit Brook Lopez's green light.
"I'm the guy that does what coach says," he said at his introductory presser in Brooklyn, per Nets Daily's Bryan Fonseca. "If [Kenny Atkinson] says shoot from half-court, I shoot from half-court."
No. 2 Worst Center: Omer Asik, New Orleans Pelicans
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 2.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.3 blocks, 47.7 percent shooting
Remaining Contract Value: Three years, $33.9 million
Omer Asik's deal shouldn't be worse than the contracts of Biyombo, Mahinimi or Mozgov. It spans the same length and costs at least $14.1 million less than any of their agreements.
Here's the thing: We can envision Biyombo contributing in the perfect situation, Mahinmi finding his defensive groove in short bursts and Mozgov perhaps turning into a quarter-baked three-point weapon under head coach Kenny Atkinson. Asik isn't subject to those same projections, however, as he's basically unplayable.
It doesn't matter if he's healthy or going up against second- and third-stringers. The NBA passed him by years ago. He has no touch outside of three feet, and even his point-blank accuracy is depressingly low (51.7 percent). He isn't coordinated enough to be a consistent threat out of the pick-and-roll or quick enough to remain on the floor against mobile 5s or positionless offenses.
The Pelicans had no business signing him to a five-year, nearly $58 million deal in 2015, and they aren't close to free from their colossal mistake now. His annual salary is small enough to dump alongside a first-round bounty or two, but they're short on assets. They're more likely to waive him via the stretch provision this season or next, guaranteeing their misstep sticks with them for upward of a decade.
No. 1 Worst Center: Joakim Noah, New York Knicks
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 5.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.8 blocks, 49.0 percent shooting
Remaining Contract Value: Three years, $55.6 million
It's almost like the Knicks shouldn't have given Noah a four-year, $72.6 million because he offered to let then-team president Phil Jackson use his arm as a pull-up bar.
Ankle, hamstring and shoulder injuries limited the 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year to 46 appearances last season, and his performance when on the court was less than encouraging. He is still a skilled passer and defensive hustler, but he carries zero cachet elsewhere.
His free-throw shooting is abysmal, and he hasn't been a league-average finisher around the bucket in at least three years. He doesn't work as a rim-runner out of the pick-and-roll, and his defensive stands are a house of cards. Force him to guard high pick-and-rolls, and he's probably cooked.
There is almost no scenario in which the Knicks ditch his contract before its final year. He will serve the balance of a 20-game suspension to start next season for violating the league's anti-drug policy with an over-the-counter supplement, and no resurgence thereafter will convince trade partners to pay him through his 35th birthday without a treasure chest of sweeteners. Even a buffet of goodies might not be enough.
One of the primary hangups in Kristaps Porzingis trade talks was the Knicks' insistence on Noah's deal being unloaded with him, per ESPN.com's Ian Begley. Other moving parts were involved, but still: If one of the NBA's premier to-die-for prospects isn't enough to get Noah off the books, what is?