Every NBA Team's Best and Worst Current Contract
You take the good, you take the bad, bake in an NBA spin, and what do you have?
The best and worst contract from every team.
Inventorying each squad's crowning jewel and bookkeeping blemish is always pertinent in the aftermath of free agency. But this compilation is especially important now, with the Association still trying to restore balance following a dizzying number of overpays in 2016.
Best-contract picks are reserved for players who provide the most bang for their buck. Their deals are team-friendly in both length and price, and they're exceeding expectations incumbent of their pay grade.
Worst-contract selections vary by the team. Some of them are truly bad. They belong to blatantly overpaid players, many of whom cannot be traded without steep incentives or, sometimes, at all. Other choices won't be flat-out terrible. They're merely unsavory when viewed against their team situation. They're slightly overpaid, out of place, unlikely to live up to the price tag or a mix of everything.
Rookie-scale deals are ineligible for inclusion, but second-round picks and undrafted prospects who brokered contracts outside those confines have the green light. Yes, these salaries are inherently curtailed, but teams warrant recognition for signing guys who detonate, and players deserve major ups for said detonation. Let these bargains have their day.
Most max contracts are excluded, since yearly salaries are capped. Exceptions will be made in the rare case a deal was timed so that its recipient is now offering outrageous value relative to the superstar field. Expiring pacts get the boot, because they can be interpreted as either good or bad looking beyond next season. Player options, team options, qualifying offers and partial guarantees are OK.
Gripes over a constantly changing salary cap should be held in check. All of these deals were signed under different circumstances, within unique markets. Fluid cap climates are part of the NBA experience. Teams show foresight, lack reason, get lucky and whiff for factors beyond their control. Acknowledge the context, and then move on, because the driving forces behind good and bad agreements don't detract or enhance the present-day value.
Best Contract: Dewayne Dedmon (2 years, $14 million)
Look, Dedmon isn't Howard. And that's a good thing. He's more complementary and easier to incorporate. At the very least, he does a lot of what Howard does and should be doing, all for about one-quarter of the cost.
Worst Contract: Miles Plumlee (3 years, $37.5 million)
(Double-checks the Atlanta Hawks' return in the Dwight Howard trade.)
(Checks Atlanta's haul another seven to 70 times.)
So, um, the Hawks traded Howard while taking back Miles Plumlee without getting a first-round pick. This no doubt says more about Howard's value—or lack thereof—but Plumlee needs to recapture and then improve upon the blend of rim-running and paint protection he flashed in 2015-16 before his deal escapes the doldrums.
Meanwhile, the payout within this contract will only get worse once Mason Plumlee, still unsigned, winds up settling for much less.
Best Contract: Isaiah Whitehead (3 years, $4.5 million)
Isaiah Whitehead's rookie season did not prove beyond a shadow of a doubt he'll have a long career at the NBA level. But he did validate the Brooklyn Nets' decision to give him a cheap look.
Jeremy Lin's hamstring injuries gave way to an experimental point guard rotation, and Whitehead gained valuable experience defending some of the toughest ball-handlers in the game. No one on the Nets guarded more pick-and-roll initiators. A relatively high foul rate and work-in-progress closeouts drummed up the points he allowed per possession, but he did hold opponents to sub-40 percent clips in those situations.
Despite his 29.5 percent success rate from deep, there might be a consistent three-point shooter within him. He drilled 38.8 percent of his catch-and-fire opportunities and buried 52.2 percent of his corner triples.
Brooklyn needs him to become more comfortable running pick-and-rolls, limit his turnovers and keep his fouls to a minimum, but this project is not a lost cause. The Nets have him under team control, without a qualifying offer, through 2019-20—a welcomed bargain with other players coming up on raises and given all the contracts general manager Sean Marks absorbed over the summer.
Worst Contract: Timofey Mozgov (3 years, $48 million)
Remember when the Los Angeles Lakers gave Timofey Mozgov $64 million about three seconds into 2016 free agency, even though he was unplayable for most of the Cleveland Cavaliers' championship run merely weeks earlier?
And then remember how, less than a year later, they used D'Angelo Russell, a top-two prospect, to shed his salary?
Mozgov is never living up to this deal. The Nets can only hope he'll regain his stationary rim protection and, perhaps, launch the occasional three for entertainment value. As long as they're hoping for stuff, they should cross their fingers that Russell is worth footing Mozgov's bill for the next three years.
Best Contract: Jae Crowder (3 years, $21.9 million)
Two-way players aren't supposed to come this cheaply. The Boston Celtics lucked out when they landed Jae Crowder as part of the Rajon Rondo trade. Fate threw them another bone when he accepted their five-year, $35 million offer the following summer.
In the two full seasons Crowder has spent with Boston, just four players are matching his box plus-minus value on both sides of the floor while rivaling or exceeding his 36.9 percent three-point clip: Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul and Otto Porter.
All four will place in the top 50 of individual salary next season. Crowder checks in at 155th, and with no outs through the life of his deal, his standing will only continue to fall.
Worst Contract: No one
I tried. I really did. Promise. But not one of the Celtics' contracts are worth mentioning in this space.
Gordon Hayward and Al Horford are their two highest-paid players—max talents on max deals. Singling them out for not taking a per-year discount is lame.
After them, we have Crowder. Seriously. The 155th highest-paid player in the NBA is the Celtics' third-largest cap hit. They don't have bad contracts. They have market-value deals, expiring pacts and ridiculous bargains.
But yeah, let's troll team president Danny Ainge for not acquiring Jimmy Butler or Paul George.
Best Contract: Kemba Walker (2 years, $24 million)
Kemba Walker's four-year, $48 million deal looked fine in 2014. Not great, not terrible, just fine. It couldn't be anything better unless he developed into a dependable outside shooter.
Walker is shooting 38.6 percent from beyond the arc over the past two seasons, and this uptick isn't coming on fluffernutter volume. He's jacked 1,092 threebies during this stretch—sixth-most in the league.
Suddenly, just like that, Walker is one of the more system-friendly point guards. He chewed through fewer isolation possessions than Wesley Matthews last year, and the Charlotte Hornets can now slot him beside however many ball-dominant attackers they please. Walker will make it work. Playing off the ball is no longer a problem. He counts it as a strength.
Worst Contract: Nicolas Batum (4 years, $99.1 million)
Nicolas Batum's first season as a max player could not have been less inspiring. He notched a career-worst effective field-goal percentage and appeared, at times, incapable of serving as Charlotte's secondary playmaker.
For the second straight year, Batum registered one of the two worst turnover percentages among players to jumpstart at least 100 pick-and-rolls. He compounded matters with a nosediving accuracy; his 34.1 percent knockdown rate as the ball-handler outpaced only Whitehead and Andrew Harrison.
Overpaying Batum now isn't a huge deal when Walker works on the cheap. He's still 28. The Hornets are getting his best years, and he's a rangy defensive pest. But this contract doesn't look as good more than a year later—particularly when Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's return has left him to play so much shooting guard.
Best Contract: Justin Holiday (2 years, $9 million)
Justin Holiday, at 28, doesn't fit the Chicago Bulls' rebuilding timeline. But when you can get a wing who switches on defense and has canned 36.3 percent of his standstill treys since 2015-16 while playing within two crummy offenses on a salary outside the top 200, you do it.
Plus, think of all the "Justin Holiday makes 28 percent of what Tim Hardaway Jr. earns" tweets Bulls fans will be able to fire off this season.
Worst Contract: Cristiano Felicio (4 years, $32 million)
Cristiano Felicio is a victim of the Bulls' roster situation.
Dwyane Wade's $23.8 million salary is obscene, but he comes off the books next summer. Robin Lopez offers OK value at $28.2 million over the next two years. The rest of the docket basically consists of rookie scales and Paul Zipser, who could take down Holiday's team-best contract by mid-December.
That leaves Felicio. His four-year, $32 million agreement isn't egregious, but the Bulls didn't need to make this gamble. Not so soon. They needlessly hammered out a deal before the start of free agency. Felicio has fewer than 1,400 minutes of experience, and the market for big men dissolved into nothingness. No one was coming over the top right out of the gate. If they did, Chicago owned the ability to match.
Maybe the Bulls misread the fallout from last summer's spending craze. Perhaps they're really high on Felicio, a so-so rim protector who doesn't space the floor. Either way, they should have waited.
On the bright side, plenty of teams would kill to have Felicio as their worst contract.
Best Contract: Cedi Osman (4 years, $12 million)
LeBron James could technically fall here under the max-contract exception. Every deal he signs is a bargain, because he's an all-time great still at the peak of his powers.
At this point, though, his contract holds the Cavaliers hostage. He has a player option for 2018-19 most expect him to decline, and people around the Association started talking about his leaving before last June's NBA Finals officially reached a conclusion, per The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor.
Tack on Kyrie Irving's trade request, and the Cavaliers are stuck, in large part because of James. They can't flip Irving for a package built around picks and prospects out of fear the four-time MVP will bolt. They also cannot bend into strictly win-now returns, lest James actually leave and Kevin Love's expiring contract (player option for 2019-20) become the face for a 2018-19 reinvention.
And so, we land on Cedi Osman, the 6'8" 22-year-old who should be able to defend across multiple positions and rain down spot-up threes—provided the Cavaliers stick him beside adequate ball-handlers, both during and after (?) the latest James era.
Worst Contract: JR Smith (3 years, $44.2 million)
JR Smith's contract could be worse. He's only guaranteed $3.9 million in 2019-20, so this can be viewed as a two-year, $32.2 million commitment if you assume the Cavaliers waive him. But that doesn't help.
So much of Smith's value rests on James' remaining in Cleveland and simplifying his offensive contributions. His field-goal percentage plummeted last season when playing without him. It dipped even further when Irving joined James on the sidelines.
Right now, Smith is plain overpaid—a luxury of being buddy-buddy with James. But if Irving gets traded and James follows him out the door, Smith doesn't have Tristan Thompson's defensive hustle to use as a crutch without them.
Best Contract: Dirk Nowitzki (2 years, $10 million)
Dirk Nowitzki needs an award named after his contract flexibility. His $25 million salary last season helps offset the discount he accepted this summer, but he's been signing on for however much the Dallas Mavericks need him to since the end of his last big deal, in 2013-14.
Look at how his salaries have fluctuated during that time:
2014-15: $8 million
2015-16: $8.3 million
2016-17: $25 million
2017-18: $5 million
2018-19: $5 million (team option)
Mash the past four seasons together, and Nowitzki has cost the Mavericks an average of $11.6 million per year. Who wouldn't pay that for a 7-foot floor-spacer making a Vince Carter-esque transition from superstar to high-end, and highly effective, complementary player? (And yes, it's perfectly cool to dig Dirk's deal over Dorian Finney-Smith's for-pennies contract.)
Worst Contract: Harrison Barnes (3 years, $72.3 million)
Sticking Harrison Barnes on Bleacher Report's ranking of the five worst contracts at every position caused quite a stir. Half the argument was dedicated to applauding his transition from the Warriors' fifth wheel, and the power forward section began with a disclaimer that its truly bad deals stretched maybe one deep.
Surprise, surprise: That wasn't enough.
Some criticism remains fair. As Mavs.com's Bobby Karalla pointed out at the time, Dallas' injury-infested point guard rotation through the month of November warped Barnes' on-off splits—important context. But the Mavericks were only a slight plus with him on offense from Dec. 1 onward and a net negative over the latter half of the season.
Breaking down their month-by-month offensive-rating differential with him doesn't yield anything spectacular, either:
Barnes is a good player—much more capable as a No. 1 option, with cross-position defensive tricks. Compile a straight ranking of the NBA's worst contracts, irrespective of position, and he won't crack the top 40. His stock may explode beside the inbound Dennis Smith Jr. But that doesn't change his placement within the context of this discussion.
Dallas' highest-paid player and leading scorer should be having a more profound impact on the offense.
Best Contract: Nikola Jokic (2 years, $3.1 million)
What comes first: Nikola Jokic's second contract or his first top-five finish in MVP voting?
This question is not the least bit tongue-in-cheek. Jokic graded out as the Association's 16th-best player last year in Bleacher Report's top-100 rankings—and he could have landed a little higher without hyperbolizing his performance.
He finished ninth in NBA Math's Total Points Added (TPA); sixth in ESPN's Real Plus-Minus (RPM); 10th in Basketball-Reference's Value Over Replacement Player (VORP); and eighth in player efficiency rating (PER). Three others secured top-10 placement in all four categories: James, Leonard and Russell Westbrook—or, three of the top four MVP vote-getters.
Talk about a steal for the Denver Nuggets. Even Jokic's raise comes on their terms. They can decline his team option next summer to make him a restricted free agent or let his $1.6 million salary ride into 2019 and use a five-year megadeal to hedge against the threat of his unrestricted status.
Worst Contract: Kenneth Faried (2 years, $26.7 million)
Kenneth Faried's contract isn't awful in the grand scheme of things. It comes off the books in two years, and the Nuggets shouldn't need to heavily sweeten any potential salary dump.
They don't even run into any overlap with Jokic. Faried doesn't shoot threes and effectively protect the rim, but the two work together. The Nuggets outscored opponents by 10.6 points per 100 possessions with them in the game. Most of those minutes came after Jokic assumed control of the starting center slot, and while their differential remained mostly intact, the defense vomited 113.1 points per 100 possessions—by far a league-worst mark.
Paul Millsap is a better two-way fit beside Jokic, which will eat into Faried's playing time. Ditto for the Nuggets' overflow of other forwards. And shelling out nearly $27 million for someone who'll struggle to clear 20 minutes per game doesn't sit all that well.
Best Contract: Tobias Harris (2 years, $30.8 million)
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope played like the Detroit Pistons' best player until he suffered a left shoulder injury in January. Tobias Harris took over after that, establishing himself as a serviceable wing defender and the team's most consistent scoring option.
Getting him to fling meaningful passes remains a chore, and he's cleared 35 percent shooting from deep just once for his career. But the Pistons found success using him as a pick-and-roll orchestrator, and he drills enough of his standalone treys to play off the ball (35.8 percent).
Calling Harris a bargain would be a stretch. His deal, with a now-declining salary, is closer to market value—which, relative to Detroit's cap sheet, makes it a steal.
Worst Contract: Andre Drummond (4 years, $105.1 million)
Chastising the Pistons for maxing out Andre Drummond in 2016 is bad form. He waited on a new deal to enhance their cap flexibility, and another team would have doled out a four-year windfall if they balked at paying him.
Obligation does not excuse Drummond's lack of progress, though. The market for bigs is Greek mythology these days. Skyscrapers better be damn good if they're making max money. Drummond isn't yet living up to that bill—not as the league's second-highest-paid center.
His junky post-ups have to go. Blather on about deeper positioning all you want. He can ditch unnecessarily far-away hooks, and it wont matter. He doesn't pass enough for more than one-quarter of his offensive possessions to come with his back to the basket.
Out of 127 players to receive 100 or more post touches last season, Drummond's pass percentage (8.6) ranked 126th, while his assist rate (1.1) placed 118th. The Pistons could gloss over this if he thrived on the less glamorous end, but he didn't. Their defensive rating improved by 9.2 points per 100 possessions without him, and he finished 454th among 486 players in value saved at the rim.
Golden State Warriors
Best Contract: Draymond Green (3 years, $52.4 million)
Allow SI.com's Rob Mahoney to outline Draymond Green's team-friendly contract:
"Championship goodwill coupled with restricted free agency netted the Warriors one of the best deals in the league. All told, Green accepted a deal for around $11 million less than the max in 2015—and thus $11 million less than he arguably deserved.
"Green is easily a max-worthy player within this experience bracket. To edge down even further from those CBA-imposed limits is an incredible boon for Golden State, both in terms of easing the luxury-tax burden and making the very idea of a max-salary addition like Durant more feasible."
Durant could just as easily go here after accepting nearly $10 million less than he was eligible to make next season, but Green gifted a longer-term discount. He's on the ledger through 2019-20 without any opt-outs, during which time he'll make just $4.4 million more than Andre Iguodala.
Worst Contract: Andre Iguodala (3 years, $48 million)
Speaking of the 2015 NBA Finals MVP, the Warriors won't regret forking over so much to keep him. Another team would have overbid on his services just to spite them, and Durant's generosity offsets the market difference for at least one year.
Things aren't as peachy within the big picture. Iguodala will turn 36 by the end of this deal. Golden State has the depth to manage his minutes and try prolonging his career, Gregg Popovich-style, but his $17.2 million salary in 2019-20 looms as a roadblock to Klay Thompson's return.
The Warriors will be drowning in luxury-tax penalties by then, with Durant's presumably playing at cost, and Iguodala's expiring pact won't be readily dumpable at that price point. Management may have to make a choice between Green, when he's a year out from free agency, and Thompson.
Iguodala's overpay could be part of the reason why.
Best Contract: Nene (3 years, $11 million)
Nene's contract looks even better than the Houston Rockets tried to make it. Their initial four-year, $15 million agreement violated the league's over-38 rule, so they re-negotiated a tidy three-year, $11 million deal.
Centers speeding toward their 35th birthday (September) are not typically clearance-rack steals. But Nene embodies everything a traditional big should be under head coach Mike D'Antoni.
Long twos have been traded in for dives toward the basket off screens. He's a coin-toss rim protector. He has mobility to switch some pick-and-rolls and the brawn to ward off post-up brutes. The Rockets are lucky to have him as a Clint Capela alternative—especially against frontcourts that tear through the lanky 23-year-old like wrapping paper.
Worst Contract: Ryan Anderson (3 years, $61.3 million)
Ryan Anderson's deal isn't supposed to look this bad. Few trumpeted his four-year, $80 million contract last summer, but the Rockets weren't roasted for padding his bank account.
Next summer's expected market crunch coupled with a de-emphasis on stretch bigs who don't dabble in rim protection, pick-and-roll annihilation or playmaking has rendered Anderson close to immovable.
Certain teams wanted multiple first-round picks to swallow Anderson's contract leading into free agency, according to ESPN.com's Zach Lowe. Now, almost two months later, he remains the primary hangup in Carmelo Anthony trade talks, per Adrian Wojnarowski, also of ESPN.com.
Best Contract: Cory Joseph (2 years, $15.6 million)
Cory Joseph remains the San Antonio Spurs of backup point guards. He wows with his work ethic and, in most instances, provides a steadying second-unit presence at both ends.
Don't let his wonky on-off splits from 2016-17 fool you. He remains that guy. The Toronto Raptors' affinity for Kyle Lowry-plus-bench lineups did Joseph a disservice, leaving him to fend for himself beside DeMar DeRozan. He doesn't have the toolbox to mask DeRozan's defensive warts on his own.
Life was even harder next to both him and Lowry. Neither the latter nor Joseph could routinely hang with the larger wings those smaller combinations demanded they cover.
Use him alongside Lowry, without DeRozan, and the party changed. The Raptors played like a top-three offense and top-eight defense. Joseph is enough of a three-point threat to operate inside dual-point guard lineups and, at 6'3", can dance between backcourt assignments.
The Indiana Pacers should test out similar models with Joseph-Victor Oladipo and Joseph-Darren Collison partnerships. Either pairing has a chance to carve out two-way gains—in large part thanks to Joseph, the team's sixth-highest-paid player, who may remain a bargain even if he declines his $7.9 million player option for 2018-19.
Worst Contract: Victor Oladipo (4 years, $84 million)
Oladipo is making star money despite the glaring absence of a leap from his resume. His per-minute production has been in gradual decline since his sophomore season. Though he has upped his shooting percentages every year, he's otherwise peaked.
Ample blame belongs to the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder. Orlando stunted his growth by placing him next to Elfrid Payton, surrounded by a cast of brick-layers. Oklahoma City never gave him enough solo time, away from Westbrook, to help spread his wings.
Indiana might be a refreshing destination for Oladipo. Or it might not. He should be more of a featured weapon, but the Pacers have their share of dribble-first talent—Collison, Joseph, Lance Stephenson, Thaddeus Young, etc.—and floor-spacing question marks.
They're taking a flyer here, on a player, in Oladipo, who cannot be treated like a cornerstone until he makes the overdue jump associated with one.
Los Angeles Clippers
Best Contract: Patrick Beverley (2 years, $10.5 million)
Patrick Beverley has a stake in the NBA's best-contract argument. Crowder's deal probably leapfrogs him—because, length—but the value here is unfathomable.
Beverley gives his team an opportunity to win the point guard battle every night, regardless of the opponent. From Curry and Westbrook, to Lin and Dennis Schroder, Beverley's scrappy defense is, on its own, a matchup-swaying trump card that can tilt the balance of a playoff series.
That he's so easy to squeeze into an offensive scheme only magnifies the bargain. He is the rare point guard who doesn't command the ball. Close to 40 percent of his total field-goal attempts last season came as spot-up triples, on which he shot 39.9 percent.
Losing Paul hurts the Los Angeles Clippers, but it doesn't ruin them—not with Beverley under team control through 2018-19, at a pay grade that barely rests inside the league's top 200.
Worst Contract: Danilo Gallinari (3 years, $64.8 million)
The Clippers are different. Gallinari should be a 4. The Nuggets caught on to this by the end of his tenure. More than 60 percent of his court time last year came at power forward, where he's less likely to be a defensive liability.
Those same minutes will be hard to come by with the Clippers. Griffin sponges up the majority of their power forward duties, and pairing him with Gallinari at the 4 and 5, respectively, isn't sustainable on defense. Head coach Doc Rivers will have to stagger their minutes perfectly if Beverley and DeAndre Jordan cannot ferry the team's stopping power by themselves.
Let this be a lesson to everyone: Giving three years, $64.8 million to a should-be power forward isn't a good idea after signing your actual power forward to a four-season, $171.2 million max.
Los Angeles Lakers
Best Contract: Ivica Zubac (3 years, $4.8 million)
Small samples are dangerous forms of evidence, but Ivica Zubac crushed last season's stint as the Lakers' starting center.
Through the nine games he mustered before being shut down with an ankle injury, the 20-year-old rookie averaged 12.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 0.9 blocks on 58.5 percent shooting in under 25 minutes of action. He is already a sneaky passer and sound, if slightly below-average, rim protector. His finishing out of the pick-and-roll will come as the Lakers manufacture more space, and he's flashed range between 16 feet and the three-point line.
Zubac may never be more than a small-burst stud, and that's fine. Turning him into a viable rotation player is a huge victory. They need cut-rate contributors to preserve breathing room as they pursue and potentially acquire outside superstars, and Zubac's salary won't make a dent in the books until 2019 at the earliest, when he's ticketed for restricted free agency.
Worst Contract: Luol Deng (3 years, $54 million)
Luol Deng's contract didn't look great after he signed it. Then 2016-17 unfolded. And then the great 2017 offseason crunch took place.
And now, his deal ranks among the NBA's worst.
To get a feel for just how bad, consider this: The Lakers "dangled an unprotected first-round pick in front of every team with cap room to dump" Deng or Mozgov ahead of the draft and unearthed zero nibbles, according to Lowe. Their future selections hold little appeal if you believe they're in line for a superstar signing or two next summer, but still: wow.
Coughing up Russell eventually spared the Lakers from Mozgov's contract, and they'll likely need sweeteners of equal value to shed Deng before next July. He'll have just two years and $36.8 million left on his deal if they wait until the summer, but with cap space coming at premium, they'll be fortunate to lop him off their bottom line without forfeiting multiple picks and prospects.
Best Contract: Rade Zagorac (4 years, $6 million)
When all else fails, and no truly good contracts are anywhere to be found, roll with the 6'9" 22-year-old second-round pick who might, if the Memphis Grizzlies are lucky, fill a roster's switchy-wing quota.
As Mike Schmitz, then of Draft Express, wrote in 2016:
"Though Zagorac often prefers to pull up when he puts the ball on the floor, he does a nice job getting to the rim as well. Very smooth with the ball in his hands, Zagorac lacks elite quickness, but he's very crafty, particularly in transition, and his handle and ability to change speeds help him turn the corner in the half court.
"Able to play above the rim when he has space, Zagorac shot an average 56 percent around the rim last season in the half court, as his lack of strength and speed often allowed defenders to recover and challenge his shots inside, leading to mixed results. He'll face a steep learning curve translating his ability to create as prolifically as he has in the Adriatic and Serbian Leagues to the NBA level, but the fact that he is far from a one-dimensional prospect gives him a lot of appeal as a role player considering his physical tools."
Zagorac won't replace the defensive stands from Tony Allen or Vince Carter. He'll need to be used at the 4 to have a positive impact on the preventive side. But the Grizzlies picked up an intriguing wing who costs $3.9 million over the next three years before being due a $2 million qualifying offer. They win.
Worst Contract: Chandler Parsons (3 years, $72.3 million)
Holding out hope for Chandler Parsons is understandable. The Grizzlies' cap situation is messy. They won't come within knocking distance of real wiggle room until at least 2019 if they give JaMychal Green any kind of money. A Parsons resurgence is their most plausible route to impactful growth and continued survival in the Western Conference.
Parsons' performance through his final 38 games with the Mavericks can only sustain optimism for so long. Pushing 29, with three consecutive season-ending knee injuries to his name, it doesn't seem like he'll ever make good on his max contract.
Best Contract: Rodney McGruder (3 years, $4.8 million)
Rodney McGruder's role on the Miami Heat outstrips his salary by considerable margins. He is their resident defensive hustler—someone they lean on to pester one-on-one scorers, extinguish pick-and-rolls and salvage 50-50 possessions.
No one on the Heat tracked down more loose balls per 36 minutes, and McGruder defended more isolations than any of their other wings. Josh Richardson was the only wing to see more time against pick-and-roll architects.
Incidentally, McGruder's thrift-shop price tag mushrooms in value with Richardson set for restricted free agency next summer. The Heat have him under team control for two more seasons at roughly $2.9 million total, after which time he'll enter restricted free agency—another form of team control, albeit with more risk.
Worst Contract: Tyler Johnson (3 years, $44.4 million)
Tyler Johnson's worst-contract designation is nothing personal. His total cost isn't even that bad. Paying him an average of $14.8 million per year is not irrational.
Poison-pill structures are just a mother.
Johnson's cap hit will balloon past $19.2 million in the final two years of his deal. Barring a roster-rattling trade, the Heat are slated to pay their backup point guard more than the starting floor general for one or two years, depending on what happens with Johnson's and Goran Dragic's player options in 2019.
That salary distribution is less than ideal when your primary guard doesn't play on his rookie scale, and it means Johnson's contract is more difficult to work around than James Johnson's four-year, $60 million agreement—at least for now.
Best Contract: Malcolm Brogdon (3 years, $4.8 million)
The Milwaukee Bucks needn't worry about paying the reigning Rookie of the Year more than $1.6 in a single season before 2019-20, on the heels of his scheduled restricted free agency.
Malcolm Brogdon offers incomprehensible bang for his buck. He needs to work on his finishing around the basket and making better decisions as the pick-and-roll quarterback, but he's the quintessential point guard to have on a roster stocked with other playmakers.
Almost one-quarter of his shot attempts as a rookie came from spot-up threes, of which he buried 42.7 percent, and more than half of all his made buckets received a helping hand. This complementary capacity extends to the defensive end, where he shoulders an array of responsibilities within the Bucks' ultra-aggressive scheme. Please forgive me as I quote myself:
"Milwaukee parlayed Brogdon's length into usage at three different positions, and he seldom looked overmatched. He held his own when facing solo acts and wreaked havoc against pick-and-roll figureheads. Ball-handlers averaged just 0.67 points per possession when challenging him (88th percentile), and among the 169 players who defended at least 100 of these players, only Tony Allen forced turnovers with more frequency."
Bonus tidbit: Parse the NBA's Rookies of the Year winners, and you'll find that Brogdon, with his $925,000 hit, is the cheapest recipient since Mitch Richmond and his $700,000 paycheck...in 1989. Tinker with this for inflation, and Brogdon comes out as the as more cost-effective option nearly three decades later.
Bonus tidbit to the bonus tidbit: Arguing in favor of Giannis Antetokounmpo's near-max deal or Khris Middleton's uber-reasonable annual rate will not be met with much, if any, opposition 'round these parts.
Worst Contract: Matthew Dellavedova (3 years, $28.8 million)
So, um, maybe giving Matthew Dellavedova four years and $38.4 million to play for a team without LeBron James on its roster was a bad idea?
Brogdon jacked Dellavedova's starting spot by year's end, an adjustment head coach Jason Kidd could have made before the end of November. Then again, the prospect of his leading the second unit, without a safety net, probably made Kidd's stomach turn.
Although the Bucks survived when Dellavedova soaked up time without Antetokounmpo and Brogdon, he's not a practical game manager. He placed in the 34th percentile of pick-and-roll efficiency while turning the ball over more than 21 percent of the time, and his finishing at the rim is suspect at best.
Mirza Teletovic shot a higher percentage on drives, and Dellavedova's 39.3 percent conversion rate inside three feet ranked dead last among the 331 players to fire up 50 or more shots from that range.
Best Contract: Jimmy Butler (3 years, $59.6 million)
Just in case you needed another reminder of how badly the Bulls bungled the Butler trade, here you go.
Spinning max and near-max contracts as bargains is difficult territory to navigate. Earnings are capped. They're getting about as much as they can. Comparing them to predominantly bought-for-a-song contracts feels disingenuous to the spirit of these exercises.
Every so often, though, enough time passes and enough salary-cap tweaks are made for a max player to be a fundamental steal. Mahoney explained why while identifying Butler's contract as one of last season's 30 best:
"The 28th-highest-paid player in the NBA this season does everything. Solo shot creation? Check. Facilitating for others? Butler makes it look easy. Those defensive assignments most of the league’s load-bearing superstars pass off? Butler somehow finds the energy to handle them in between high-energy offensive possessions. Having that kind of two-way pillar is an incredible luxury for a franchise, particularly when he has another three years remaining under contract beyond this season at a rate hardly becoming of a superstar."
Again: The salary-cap eruption made Butler a bargain. But that's not enough grounds for disqualification when he'll have taken up 20 percent of his team's spending power only once by the time he hits free agency in 2019 (player option). Contracts don't get more friendly than when their owners are top-10 talents earning what was, for a brief time in 2016, known as "Allen Crabbe money."
Worst Contract: Taj Gibson (2 years, $28 million)
Minnesota Timberwolves head coach and president Tom Thibodeau yawns. It's late, and he's been poring over an iPad FaceTime session that has shown members of his staff poring over data at a separate location for hours.
Sure, they acquired Butler and signed Jeff Teague. And yes, Andrew Wiggins is coming off a career year from beyond the arc, while Gorgui Dieng adds roughly 3.77892 feet to his jumper every year. But what if that doesn't hold? What if Nemanja Bjelica doesn't find the touch he wielded as a rookie in 2015-16? Minnesota needs a cushion, a floor-spacing buffer—preferably a wing-type who switches a ton of defensive assignments.
Thibs' staff relayed some variation of this to him a few dozen times. He scrolls through the list of free agents who remained on the board. CJ Miles? Thabo Sefolosha? Patrick Patterson?
"I've got it!" he exclaims, causing his equally exhaustive crew members to collectively turn their attention toward a 72-inch screen hooked up to an iPad that now displayed an ecstatic Thibodeau.
"We'll give Taj Gibson money he probably won't get elsewhere to not shoot threes for us!"
New Orleans Pelicans
Best Contract: Frank Jackson (4 years, $5.8 million)
Apologies to Anthony Davis. He doesn't get the Butler treatment.
Ian Clark, Jrue Holiday, E'Twaun Moore and Rajon Rondo will limit Frank Jackson's rookie-year exposure, but he's a low-cost dice roll this team needs. At 6'3", he can defend some bigger wings, and his catch-and-shoot acumen is necessary insurance against efficiency dips from any of the New Orleans Pelicans' other guards.
Foot surgery damaged Jackson's stock, but Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman had him going at No. 21, to Oklahoma City, in his final mock draft. Getting him at No. 31 (via Charlotte) is big time. He gives the Pelicans late first-round talent at Brogdon pricing.
It's a luxury-bordering-on-necessity when they could have 80-plus percent of their cap tied up in Davis, Holiday and DeMarcus Cousins by 2018-19.
Worst Contract: Omer Asik (3 years, $33.9 million)
Omer Asik should begin 2017-18 as the fifth big man in New Orleans' rotation, behind Cousins, Davis, Alexis Ajinca and Cheick Diallo. If he sees the court, something terrible has happened.
That, or it turns out the Portland Trail Blazers are higher on Meyers Leonard than the depth-chart makeup suggests and the Pelicans don't want to be the lone team paying their fifth big man approximately (or actually) eight figures.
New York Knicks
Best Contract: Kyle O'Quinn (2 years, $8.6 million)
Kyle O'Quinn is suffering from rampant deja vu with the New York Knicks. He never saw consistent playing time with the Magic, and the Knicks have kept up the tradition of curbing his minutes.
Conditioning might have something to do with it. That much is never quite clear. New York's glut of bigs definitely has something to do with it.
Kristaps Porzingis arrived way ahead of schedule, Willy Hernangomez exceeded expectations as a rookie by playing at all and former team president Phil Jackson inexplicably overpaid Joakim Noah. Allocating chunks of time at power forward to Anthony, Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Lance Thomas shrinks the amount of spin that's up for grabs even further.
Still, O'Quinn remains a small-sample stud. No one else in the league is clearing 14 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and two blocks per 36 minutes over the past two seasons. Just him. Another team would channel the touch he's shown outside 16 feet into three-point range, and he's an imposing defender when permitted to roam the interior.
Worst Contract: Joakim Noah (3 years, $55.6 million)
How bad is Noah's deal?
So terrible, it might be the NBA's worst.
So indefensibly dreadful, the Knicks would consider moving Porzingis, a premier cornerstone, to escape it.
So indescribably immovable, Porzingis may not be enough to get New York out from under it.
Jackson's insistence on attaching Noah to Porzingis factored into the 22-year-old's remaining with New York beyond draft night, according to ESPN.com's Ian Begley. The Cavaliers have eyes for Porzingis in any Irving deal, but that's a "non-starter" for the Knicks unless Cleveland "unburdens" them from Noah's financial millstone, per Wojnarowski.
Dangling Porzingis as a glorified pot-sweetener would be some acid-trip front office-ing, even if it means acquiring Irving. Team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry are smarter than that. But it says a lot about Noah's deal that the Knicks can't plausibly discard it without unloading one of the NBA's five best 22-and-under building blocks.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Best Contract: Patrick Patterson (3 years, $16.4 million)
Oklahoma City announced that Patterson will miss four to six weeks as he recovers from an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee. Protracted absences aren't the best way to start a marriage, but this deal is too dang cheap to strike from consideration.
Besides, the Thunder now have a built-in excuse for Patterson's shoddy playoff performance with the Raptors. He dealt with a bruised left knee in mid-February. Maybe he never fully healed, and this injury is an extension and/or exacerbation of his rush to get back on the floor.
Whatever the case, the Thunder won't feel pangs of buyer's remorse, now or ever. Patterson isn't dominant in any one area, but he prospers in a bunch of different ones.
Off-ball offense? He shot 37 percent on catch-and-launch threes. Spot rim protection? You got it. Opponents have hit under 50 percent of their point-blank attempts against him in each of the last two seasons.
Defensive switching? Sign him up. He guarded more one-on-one sets through 65 appearances than anyone else in Toronto. Souped-up small-ball lineups? There's a Patrick Patterson for that. He'll supercharge Oklahoma City's most versatile assemblies by jumping center without issue. Extreme plus-minus value? Well, wouldn't you know it, he finished second on the Raptors in 2016-17 (plus-348) and first in 2015-16 (plus-401).
Excuse me while I go drop a mic on Patterson's behalf.
Worst Contract: Enes Kanter (2 years, $36.5 million)
Enes Kanter's deal was bad before giving out bad deals become cool. He works as a revved-up engine within the second unit's offense, but low-block and long-two specialists who don't bolster the defense shouldn't be making more than $17 million per year.
Post-2016 bias is not at play here. Kanter's four-year, $70 million contract didn't make sense in 2015, when the Blazers delivered that astronomical offer sheet. And it most certainly doesn't move the needle now, more than two years later, when the NBA is firmly trending in a wing-heavy direction and Kanter is taking home more per season than Draymond Green.
Best Contract: Jonathon Simmons (3 years, $18 million)
Jonathon Simmons does nothing to alleviate the Magic's cramped spacing. He put down 38.3 percent of his long-range jumpers as a rookie but shot only 29.4 percent from deep during last year's sophomore crusade. He's nailing 37.5 percent of his threes in the playoffs, but that accuracy comes on 40 attempts across 18 games.
Unless Simmons has a secret talent for swishing threebies within clunky offenses, Orlando accentuated its greatest flaw by signing him. And we should be all for it.
The Magic didn't enter this summer with an enviable amount of cap space or stacked deck of kiddies. They are a rebuilding squad with more overpaid names than cornerstone candidates. They need talent, and upside, wherever they can muster it—the defensive side included.
Adding Simmons appreciably diversifies a team that ranked 24th in points allowed per 100 possessions. He can harass positions 1 through 3 and unlocks smallish-ball lineups the Magic couldn't dream of deploying last year.
Locking him up for $18 million, on a declining salary, with a partial guarantee in 2019-20, is as good of a move as they've made over the last half-decade.
Worst Contract: Bismack Biyombo (3 years, $51 million)
Trade Bismack Biyombo to a different team, and his contract doesn't look as grim. It won't look good, to be sure. A situation in which he's worth $17 million per year, with a player option for his final season, doesn't exist outside the tiny bubble from 2016.
But the Magic are a uniquely bad fit for his services. Biyombo is at his best when slashing toward the basket off high screens on offense while patrolling the paint at the other end. They don't have the roster to prop up that skill set. They cannot decongest the lanes enough to get him unencumbered rolls to the hoop, and his shot-swatting abilities don't mean as much within clumpy frontcourt duos that demand he contest more looks away from the basket.
Orlando hasn't done anything to revamp the situation. Biyombo is no longer jostling for time and position with Serge Ibaka and Nikola Vucevic, but he isn't surrounded by the shooters necessary to leverage his downhill cuts. And if he's not contributing on the offensive end, he can't stay on the floor.
Best-case scenario: The Magic discover they have a top-notch backup center on their hands...who they're paying about $1 million less than Cousins.
Best Contract: Richaun Holmes (2 years, $3.1 million)
Sam Hinkie's legacy just lives on and on and on.
Richaun Holmes isn't linked to the former general manager's time with the Philadelphia 76ers nearly as much as Robert Covington, Joel Embiid, the team's draft position through 2017 or future incoming picks. But he should be. He is that good.
Cherry-picking time: Holmes was one of three players to clear 16.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes last season while making more than 25 three-pointers. His brothers-in-swag: Embiid and Davis.
Micro samples can be misleading, and Holmes didn't surpass the 1,200-minute marker. (Though, to be fair, Embiid didn't either.) But the 23-year-old showed out after the All-Star break, averaging 13.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.2 blocks in almost 27 minutes per game—with a respectable 34.5 percent three-point clip to boot.
Holmes is not a superstar prospect. He will never anchor the defense like Embiid or create shots for himself in volume. He is, however, a potential higher-end, floor-spacing, shot-swatting, rim-running big who the Sixers have under control through 2018-19 (team option) for less than $3.2 million.
Worst Contract: Jerryd Bayless (2 years, $17.6 million)
Jerryd Bayless torched twine on a Splash Brotherly 47.2 percent of his receive-and-heave threes in 2015-16.
That, right there, is the extent of his value to Philly.
Deadeye shooters are always good to stockpile, but Bayless is overkill at $9 million this upcoming season and a fully guaranteed $8.6 million in 2018-19. Never mind that the Sixers aren't hurting for head room. They don't need him. They have JJ Redick.
Time he spends on the court are now reps some combination of Justin Anderson, Markelle Fultz, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, T.J. McConnell and Nik Stauskas won't get back. That exposure is more precious than ever with Anderson, McConnell and Stauskas all up for new deals by 2019.
If nothing else, his contract is just the regular brand of bad following a wrist injury that limited him to three games during his first go-round in Philly.
Best Contract: Eric Bledsoe (2 years, $29.5 million)
Eric Bledsoe is the best point guard hiding in plain sight. Plop him onto a team in the East, and he's an instant All-Star candidate—potentially one of the three best guards of the conference.
Cleveland appears to recognize his ceiling remains on the rise. He's one of the players that could "inspire" the organization to finally move Irving, according to Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher. The interest is justifiable, even with James one season out from free agency.
Going on 28 (December), with an annual cap hit that falls outside the league's top 75 for the next two years, Bledsoe toes that line between finishing piece and key rebuilding element. Lowe unpacked this further during a midseason deep dive into the Phoenix Suns' outlook:
"A Bledsoe who pounds the ball and takes possessions off on defense is of limited interest. A Bledsoe who thrives as the second- or third-best player in a motion-style offense and smothers opposing point guards—that's the guy people want to see. Great defense and passing is how the eighth-best version of Chris Paul becomes a championship-level player on a better team."
Defense and Bledsoe will always have a topsy-turvy relationship, unless he enters a situation in which he doesn't need to expend a ton of energy on offense. But the scoring is there, and the elite vision is close. Bledsoe is shooting north of 61 percent inside three feet for his career, he'll be an above-average outside marksman on a team that emphasizes spacing, and the 15.2 points per game he generated off assists last season beat out marquee names like Irving, Mike Conley, Damian Lillard and Isaiah Thomas, among others.
Giving him up for Irving isn't something most would award a second thought. That majority might be right. But Bledsoe averaged out as a top-40 player when looking at his finishes in TPA, RPM and VORP. Irving, by comparison, ended up 38th. The conversation is closer than many care to admit.
Worst Contract: Brandon Knight (3 years, $43.9 million)
Phoenix has both one of the league's best backcourt contracts, with Bledsoe, and perhaps the absolute worst, in Brandon Knight.
Oh, what symmetry.
Knight won't turn 26 until December. Hope is not lost. But the Suns couldn't get rid of him this past February while asking for an expiring contract and second-round pick, according to USA Today's Sam Amick. Moving him now is out out of the question; he's expected to miss all of 2017-18 with a torn ACL.
Suitors seldom gamble on injured trade bait, and Knight was at a stark disadvantage when healthy. He tallied career-low numbers across the board after being demoted to the second unit, and it's not yet clear whether he's best suited as an off-guard or ball-dominant decision-maker.
The earliest Phoenix can hope to move him without sending out primo kickbacks is the middle of 2018-19—if, and only if, he's healthy and producing up to snuff.
Portland Trail Blazers
Best Contract: Al-Farouq Aminu (2 years, $14.3 million)
Finding a two-way player on the Blazers' roster is an impossible task. They don't have one. They have maybes and what-ifs, but no well-rounded balance.
Al-Farouq Aminu is the closest they come, with Maurice Harkless nipping at his heels. The 26-year-old combo forward is a defensive nuisance in pretty much every area. He has the mobility and reactive IQ to nuke pick-and-rolls; strength to bang with plodding post players; long strides to erase open looks on closeouts; and doomsday-device hands and footwork to erase iso scorers.
Turn him into a league-average sniper, and the Blazers have a prime-time three-and-D weapon in their rotation. And Aminu has it in him. He sank 36.1 percent of his deep balls in 2015-16, and while he drained just 33 percent in 2016-17, his success rate climbed to 37.3 percent after the All-Star break.
Jusuf Nurkic's arrival is a crucial ingredient to this uptick. Aminu dropped in 53.3 percent (8-of-15) when sharing the floor with him, Lillard and CJ McCollum. Trotting him out next to that many above-average playmakers increases the likelihood he'll transform into an everyday two-way force—a first-rate glue guy who'll earn less through 2018-19 than DeMarre Carroll brings home in 2017-18 alone ($14.8 million).
Worst Contract: Evan Turner (3 years, $53.6 million)
Evan Turner looks more out of place in Portland than when he first signed a four-year, $70 million deal that shocked even him.
At least back then the Blazers could envision a scenario in which he played pseudo point guard as Lillard and McCollum orbited the space around him—not unlike his career-defining role under head coach Brad Stevens in Boston. Peddling a turnaround now, after a rather disastrous debut season, boils down to an investment in continuity.
"While Turner has never been a particularly efficient offensive player, he is effective at getting into, and scoring from, the mid-range," Peter Sampson wrote for Blazer's Edge. "He features a bevy of turnarounds and post moves that can catch defenders off guard and shot a fairly respectable 47 percent from inside the arc. It's reasonable to expect that, after a full season in Portland under his belt, he will be more comfortable in the offensive flow this season."
Familiarity won't salvage this deal. Only jump-shooting miracles will complete the rescue mission.
Turner won't ever get the chance to steer into his niche. More than 26 percent of his looks came inside three feet during his final season with Boston. That number plunged to 19.7 percent in Portland and isn't going up with Nurkic's sopping up touches and space in the middle.
The Blazers went belly-up whenever they tried playing the two together; opponents pummeled them by 33.6 points per 100 possessions through the 39-minute test run. Over that time, they shot 20-of-69 from the field (29 percent), including a 2-of-19 magazine from behind the rainbow (10.5 percent).
Limited samples work both ways. The good isn't beyond reproach, so the bad is not above a grace period. But Turner's deal will not look any better, or even remotely digestible, until he's back to being an asset. And that, in all likelihood, won't happen with the Blazers unless he morphs into a league-average three-point spotter.
Best Contract: Garrett Temple (2 years, $16 million)
Garrett Temple is the Sacramento Kings' most versatile player. Skal Labissiere will give him a run for his status—or overtake him by default if the 31-year-old declines his $8 million player option in 2018—but the race isn't close at the moment.
Temple plays and defends three positions, from point guard up to small forward. He doesn't need the ball in his hands—more than 47 percent of his attempts came off the catch—but he can jump-start pick-and-rolls in a pinch.
He's probably the Kings' top stopper, even with Labissiere's imitation wing stands, and most certainly their best all-around player. No one else on the roster wrapped 2016-17 as a plus-performer on offense and defense, according NBA Math's TPA.
Imagine the functional middle ground between Wesley Matthews and E'Twaun Moore. Temple lies somewhere on that spectrum while making less than both.
Worst Contract: Zach Randolph (2 years, $24 million)
Offering Zach Randolph way above market value is making less sense by the day.
"The veteran power forward can still be a quality rotation piece, but adding him in addition to George Hill and Vince Carter was just overkill. The Kings never needed that many aging pieces to supplement their youngsters, and Randolph's game made him a questionable fit. Even if he performed well, he'd be taking minutes away from the plethora of frontcourt options—Skal Labissiere, Harry Giles, Willie Cauley-Stein and Georgios Papagiannis chief among them."
Portraying Randolph's arrival as a character-building move no longer inoculates Sacramento against the frontcourt pecking-order crunch. He was arrested Aug. 9 for possession of marijuana with intent to sell—a felony. If convicted, as the Commercial Appeal's Ronald Tillery noted, he could be subject to some sort of ban.
Jumping to conclusions isn't the correct course of action. This whole thing still needs to play out. But Randolph's sticker price was bad before, and the spirit of Sacramento's investment looks even worse now.
San Antonio Spurs
Best Contract: Kawhi Leonard (3 years, $60.3 million)
Say hello to our second max-level exception.
Leonard's five-year, $94.3 million deal is the Jae Crowder of superstar contract commitments. Every other agreement on this level pales in comparison.
Consecutive salary-cap spikes help Leonard's cause, but they don't define it. In the two seasons since putting pen to paper, he has turned into one of the NBA's most prolific scorers, nabbed a second Defensive Player of the Year Award and secured two top-three finishes on the MVP ballot.
He is a top-five player by every meaningful measure.
And by 2018-19, one year before he's eligible for free agency (player option), this top-five player won't even own a top-50 salary.
Worst Contract: Pau Gasol (3 years, $48.8 million)
What in the...the thing is...I mean...maybe the Spurs are trying to...
Yeah, screw it. Pau Gasol's deal is bad—shockingly so giving its bankroller.
San Antonio is an expert at maximizing career twilights, and a straight-faced argument can be made that Gasol closed out 2016-17 as the team's most valuable big, ahead of LaMarcus Aldridge. The Spurs can even rebrand this as preternatural foresight to win over pessimists. Maybe they have an inkling a restrictive big-man market will coax Aldridge into picking up his $22.3 million player option for 2018-19, thus negating the need to preserve cap space.
Had Gasol's deal spanned two seasons, this sales pitch might fly. But he's owed $16 million in year three, his age-39 march, with $6.7 million guaranteed. Paying him to go away in 2019 won't be easy. That $6.7 million is more than the taxpayer's mid-level exception will be worth. The Spurs might talk themselves into keeping him if they can't find a trade partner selling off an impact player for cap flexibility.
Implicit goodwill could be at play. Gasol afforded the Spurs financial muscle for this summer by opting out in the first place. Signing him to a longer-term deal, at a similar per-year price point, may be their unofficial thank you. But that wouldn't make this deal look any better.
On the contrary, it envenoms the optics, as informal proof that San Antonio misjudged this offseason and agreed to overpay someone who (probably) can't stay on the court versus Golden State for no quantifiable gain.
Best Contract: CJ Miles (3 years, $25 million)
What if someone told you that your favorite team could land a 6'6" wing who can tussle with some power forwards? What if you were told that same wing spent last year pumping in more points per spot-up possession than Stephen "Flamethrowers for Hands" Curry?
And, finally, what if you were then told your squad could get him for the Associations 137th-highest salary?
Raptors fans are living this dreamy scenario with Miles. His arrival cost Joseph, but this contract is so good, this fit so perfect, it doesn't matter.
Miles alone, in fact, almost makes you forget Toronto let both Patterson and P.J. Tucker walk in free agency. But only almost.
Worst Contract: Jonas Valanciunas (3 years, $49.6 million)
Jonas Valanciunas is suffering from a fast-spreading case of "Not a Unicorn-itis."
His four-year, $64 million extension wasn't painted as blasphemous in 2015. Now, around two years later, the Raptors can't find a taker for his final three seasons—despite searching since February, per the Sporting News' Sean Deveney.
As one general manager told him:
"With him, there are still a lot of questions, and like a lot of big men—not just Jonas—you have to try to find their place in the way everyone is playing the game now. He is talented and he still is young. But he is pretty much the same player he was three years ago. So what his national team coach said about him, about dedication, that sticks out. I think that hung over their ability to trade him these last few months."
Some of the knocks against Valanciunas are overblown. His ebbing value is more about the direction of the NBA and Toronto's roster. He is a high-functioning pick-and-roll finisher who can create his own shot, and he'll add value as a rim protector when he's not being tasked with regularly rotating beyond 15 feet.
Study roster compositions across the league, though, and you won't find a team in need of a non-shooting 5 bringing home more than $15 million per year. This includes the Raptors. They didn't pay Serge Ibaka $65 million to exclusively play power forward. He needs time at the 5, as does Lucas Nogueira, who comes close to mirroring Willie Cauley-Stein's switching ability on defense—appeal neither Ibaka nor Valanciunas tout.
Best Contract: Ricky Rubio (2 years, $29.3 million)
Quality starting point guards don't come cheaply, not even in a league overrun with them. Ricky Rubio's middle-of-the-road salary is a welcomed asset for the Utah Jazz when looking how much Hill ($20 million), Holiday ($25.7 million) and Teague ($19 million) commanded on the open market.
Granted, Rubio doesn't pack the shooting punch assured from most of his contemporaries. But he guided a top-eight offense in Minnesota last season amid constrictive spacing and offered hints of a maybe, possibly, potentially improving jumper. He posted a career-high clip between 10 feet and the three-point arc and shot 24-of-68 (35.3 percent) from downtown out of the All-Star break.
Piloting the Jazz will be a more challenging endeavor. They don't have the ancillary shot creators Rubio ran with in Minnesota. Rodney Hood, Joe Ingles, Joe Johnson and Donovan Mitchell will help out, but the quality of looks Utah generates will be tightly tethered to Rubio's on-ball guile.
Forging pick-and-roll chemistry with Rudy Gobert is imperative. Defenses will collapse on his beelines toward the basket, and they're both good enough passers to find the players left unattended as result.
"I think I can help him play at an All-Star level," Rubio said of Gobert, per the Salt Lake Tribune's Kyle Goon. "It's going to be great having a teammate that good that fits my game a lot. We're going to be buddies."
The catch: Rubio is a turbulent orchestrator out of the pick-and-roll. He's registered one of the two worst turnover percentages among high-volume ball-handlers since 2015-16. So while this deal looks great now, the chance exists that it turns should the Jazz find they're asking too much of their new floor general.
Worst Contract: Alec Burks (2 years, $22.4 million)
On those rare occasions he's been available, Burks has been uninspiring at best. His efficiency cratered in 2016-17 through 42 appearances—his most since 2013-14—and he's proved to be an awkward fit within head coach Quin Snyder's equal-opportunity offense.
Hayward's exit leaves the Jazz short another shot creator, a specialty of Burks' once upon a time. But Ingles' standout 2016-17, Mitchell's summer-league explosion and the ongoing Dante Exum project don't bode well for his spot in the rotation.
Best Contract: Markieff Morris (2 years, $16.6 million)
The more expensive the Washington Wizards get, the more important Markieff Morris becomes. He's now their sixth-highest-paid player following Otto Porter's new deal, a spot he will hold through 2018-19 unless the team embraces a wholesale pivot on the trade market.
Washington's reliance on Morris is understated. He switches just about everything on defense, with the frequency and capability not mastered by the still-marinating Porter and Kelly Oubre Jr. Some of the Wizards' best small-ball lineups don't exist without him. They trust him more than their other wings to battle in the post against burlier bigs, and his off-the-dribble game remains a distinct mismatch at the position.
Morris continues to be a wild card on offense. He hits enough of his catch-and-shoot threes (36.8 percent) to play around Bradley Beal and John Wall, but his off-action arsenal doesn't stretch much deeper. He isn't someone you have in perpetual motion without the ball, and the Wizards' knockoff "Death Squad" has a finite offensive ceiling until he, the de facto tiny 5, improves as a pick-and-roll diver. (He is already a pretty good screener.)
These offensive complaints fall under the "nitpicking" umbrella. Morris found a groove on the more glamorous end after his early-season slump, and he's integral to the Wizards' identity even when he's not hitting shots or protecting the ball. The floor balance he injects as their full-time power forward, when melded with his defense, is well worth the price of admission—infinitely so when he's barely earning mid-level-exception money.
Worst Contract: Ian Mahinmi (3 years, $48.1 million)
Maybe Ian Mahinmi plays through 2017-18 without any further health issues. Maybe he replicates his form from 2015-16, when he established himself as a reliable rim-runner and legitimate defensive anchor in the middle.
Maybe him and Marcin Gortat are able to survive for stretches in a dual-big frontcourt, with their physical screens replacing jump shots as floor-spacing mechanisms. Maybe this time next year, we'll look at Mahinmi's contract and think "Hey, it's not so bad."
Until that day comes, skepticism reigns.
Mahinmi turns 31 this November and is working off a season in which he made 31 appearances while coping with injuries to both knees. Given the stigma being placed upon non-shooting 5s in general, let alone ones on the wrong end of 30, the odds of Washington's reversing present buyer's remorse aren't good.