All-Overpaid NBA Free-Agency Team
Not every NBA free agent suffered from this summer's stifling, 2016-correcting market. For some of them, the offseason was quite nice.
This All-Overpaid free-agency team should not be confused with the league's absolute worst deals. Some of them are, but that list takes into account contract length. This one will not. It looks at per-year compensation alone, starting with next season, and the likelihood of each recipient producing up to that dollar amount.
Regular All-NBA designations apply. We're looking for two guards, two forwards and one center—a first-team who's who of mostly quality players who earned a big "W" at the bargaining table.
Team situations, roles on that squad and age all factor into these predictive outlooks. Was this done to spare us from including Jrue Holiday, whose five-year megadeal is an overpay but also easily justifiable? Maybe. (Yes.) But these handsomely paid players don't have his—or Otto Porter Jr.'s (damn you, Brooklyn)— contextual support.
Other situations basically didn't have viable alternative courses of actions. The teams bankrolling these deals did.
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
Contract Value: Four years, $71 million
Yo, can we talk about the New York Knicks' impressively bad spin job on the Tim Hardaway Jr. contract for a second?
"We felt like there are not that many opportunities in free agency that you have the opportunity to go after a 25-year-old,” team president Steve Mills said, per the New York Daily News' Daniel Popper. “Most times guys become free, as far as an age standpoint, later in their career. And we made the decision that if you want to pry a restricted free agent away from the incumbent team, you have to be aggressive."
Ah, yes. The ol' 25-and-under crutch. Totally valid. Except, typically, these approaches don't apply to players who will be 26 before next season ends. Maxing out Otto Porter, who turned 24 in June, fits this bill. Hardaway does not.
It gets better. Or rather, worse.
“So we made a decision to be aggressive," Mills continued, per Popper. "As we look at the numbers, we believe Tim is a starting 2-guard in this league, our trajectory for him is to be a starting 2-guard. [He has] the capability of being a starting 2-guard for the rest of his career. And those guys average 16, 16.5 million dollars in the NBA today."
Spoken like someone trapped in the summer of 2016.
Give Hardaway this deal last year, and few people choke on exasperation. Lucrative paydays were the standard. But almost everyone misread the salary-cap situation (myself included), and the market began to correct itself in 2017 long before Hardaway put pen to paper.
New York is now footing the bill for one of the 26 highest-paid guards. Hardaway's performance has yet to sniff that kind of value.
He placed 46th among all guards in box plus-minus last season. He was 31st in win shares per 48 minutes. His defensive stands improved—particularly in isolation, per NBA Math—but he spent a good deal of his court time matching up with second-stringers. That improvement won't translate to an everyday starting gig.
Everyone on this list is a quality player. Hardaway is no different. He's a more efficient scorer and facilitator than his first go-round in New York. But this contract was, and still is, and will probably remain, one of this summer's most egregious overpays.
Guard: George Hill, Sacramento Kings
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 16.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.2 blocks, 47.7 percent shooting
Contract Value: Three years, $57 million ($1 million partial guarantee in 2019-20)
Let's make one thing clear: I hate myself. After Hardaway, the list of bank-breaking per-year overpays is almost nonexistent. This spot could easily go to Jrue Holiday or Dion Waiters. Darren Collison, too.
Age and team situation tilt the scales in George Hill's favor.
His contract as a whole isn't terrible. The Sacramento Kings are overcompensating him until 2019 and can then hit the peace-out button for the cut-rate cost of $1 million. But they're paying him like a top-eight point guard...at the age of 31...after he missed 33 games last season...and couldn't finish out the Utah Jazz's second-round playoff series with the Golden State Warriors.
And you know what? Even that would be fine. Risk, schmisk. Teams invest in franchise point guards. The Kings need one of those.
Oh, wait. Right. They don't.
De'Aaron Fox owns that honor after being selected with the fifth overall pick. Hill can play next to him, but any time they spend together equates to fewer reps for the Fox-Buddy Hield alliance.
More complicated still, if Hill isn't interrupting the learning curve for Sacramento's backcourt of the future, it's because he's ceding status and minutes—in which case he's being paid star-level money to be a backup or quickly yanked starter.
Again: Contracts elsewhere, at other positions, are a lot worse. But the odds of Hill living up to this pay grade, without being traded or without cramping the development of Sacramento's young guns, aren't great.
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
Well, this feels awkward.
Serge Ibaka is the pre-Unicorn Era unicorn. He was swatting shots and swishing threes before it became cool, and then commonplace, for the league's biglets to do so. Shelling out less than max money for that guy, in the heart of his prime, shouldn't register as an overpay.
Times change, though. In the NBA specifically, they shift fast. One minute, you're the crowning example of evolution. The next, you've been leapfrogged by another level of progress.
Ibaka's skill set is no longer unique to his position. Hell, he's not even playing the right position. Almost 90 percent of his court time came at power forward last season, when really, he should be a full-time center. He doesn't have the rangy mobility to switch pick-and-rolls or chase around the glorified wings who populate the 4 slot nowadays.
Rival scorers torched him for one point per isolation possession last season (26th percentile). That average fell to 0.80 (61st percentile) during his final year with the Oklahoma City Thunder, but he's not a volume rotator. His teams cannot leverage him that way—especially at power forward, and infinitely more so when his primary frontcourt partner is Jonas Valanciunas.
To cap it all off, Ibaka is no longer a master at his own craft, as Sam Vecenie outlined for Sporting News:
"Over the last three seasons combined, he’s been league average in terms of scoring efficiency, a sharp drop from his previous five years where he was four points above average in terms of true-shooting percentage. Defensively, Ibaka’s formerly elite shot-blocking ability has declined in each of the previous five years, and his overall rim protection was right around the league-average mark among centers—allowing opponents to shoot nearly 53 percent on contested shots."
Tack on Ibaka's lack of progression as an off-the-dribble attacker—he hasn't averaged more than 0.9 drives per game since 2013-14—and situational passer, and it makes you wonder: Would the Toronto Raptors be more of a threat in the East had they re-signed Patrick Patterson and PJ Tucker instead of him?
Forward: Zach Randolph, Sacramento Kings
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 14.1 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, 44.9 percent shooting
Contract Value: Two years, $24 million
Zach Randolph's deal is mostly justifiable within the context of what the Sacramento Kings are trying to do—surround their young princes with kings of character (recent arrest for possession of marijuana with intent to sell notwithstanding). But the dollar amount is indefensible when looking at on-court production, and the veteran-presence argument gets harder to prop up when looking at their other moves.
Signing Hill and Vince Carter would have been more than enough. Randolph, at $24 million in guaranteed money, is arguably pointless excess.
Add the $12.3 million he's making next season to the Kings' remaining cap space, and they'd be left with close to $16 million in spending power—head room they could be using to take on a crappy contract in exchange for a first-round pick or intriguing rookie-scale prospect.
Slash Randolph's price in half, and he's still objectively too expensive. Something in the sub-$5 million range would make the most sense. The Kings have several big-man projects. Any minutes Randolph plays is time lost for Willie Cauley-Stein, Harry Giles, Skal Labissiere and Georgios Papagiannis.
Will the impact Randolph has as a mentor be worth that trade-off? Perhaps. His production sure as heck won't. He ranked as the Memphis Grizzlies' least valuable player last season (playoffs included), according to NBA Math, which comes as no surprise. The game has moved in a different direction, largely away from his preferred face-up ground-and-pound style.
Extending Randolph's range beyond the three-point line would go a long way toward extracting adequate value from his contract. But the Grizzlies already tried that to no avail. Randolph connected on 21 of his 94 long balls (22.3 percent), and their offense consistently pumped in more points per 100 possessions with him on the bench.
Sacramento can forget about him bringing defensive grit. He hasn't limited opponents to below-average clips within six feet of the hoop since 2013-14, and Cauley-Stein could teach him a thing or 50 about switching. Randolph's best contributions will be anecdotal. And while storytime with Uncle Z-Bo is no doubt an experience-and-a-half, it's not worth anywhere near $24 million.
Center: Pau Gasol, San Antonio Spurs
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 12.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.1 blocks, 50.2 percent shooting
Contract Value: Three years, $48.8 million ($6.7 million partial guarantee in 2019-20)
Pau Gasol unexpectedly opted out of his contract to, presumably, help the San Antonio Spurs chisel out more cap space.
So, naturally, they ended up signing him to a longer deal that eats into next summer's flexibility—all without parlaying that additional wiggle room into an impactful signing. (For the record: Rudy Gay doesn't count. They signed him using the non-taxpayer's mid-level exception, which would have been available to them even if Gasol opted in.)
Look, as far as 37-year-old skyscrapers go, Gasol is a 100 emoji. He's now the second player to average 17 points, 10 rebounds and three assists per 36 minutes multiple times after his 35th birthday. His company is some dude named Tim Duncan.
Head coach Gregg Popovich even gave Gasol the bright(ish) green light to fire away from downtown. He responded by launching a career-high 104 triples that he drilled at a personal-best 53.8 percent clip.
Bake in that shot distribution, along with his superior presence on the defensive glass, and Gasol might've been more valuable to the Spurs than LaMarcus Aldridge. He noticeably outpaced him in NBA Math's Total Points Added metric, checking in as the second-most valuable San Antonian. Facing off against backups and, again, his defensive rebounding buoys that total, but still: duh-amn.
Under no circumstances, though, should Gasol be getting this much, for this long. A one-year deal? Fine. A two-season flier? Maybe. But three years? That's overkill.
The partial guarantee in 2019-20 doesn't help the optics. Paying him nearly $7 million to go away isn't something the Spurs can just do. That money isn't chump change. The taxpayer's mid-level exception isn't even supposed to reach $6.7 million by then.
Guaranteeing Gasol $16.8 million in 2018-19 may also force the Spurs to table another superstar pursuit. They need to shed the player options for both Aldridge and Gay to have a puncher's chance of manufacturing max space without renouncing Danny Green or asking him to accept a massive pay cut.
Blindly trusting the Spurs in this situation is fine. They've built a dynasty at conventional wisdom's expense. But things are different now. The Warriors are the overlording standard for all contenders, and the Spurs just substantially overpaid someone who won't be able to stay on the floor if and when these two superpowers meet.