The 20 Worst Free Agent Signings in NBA History
"The Summer of LeBron" kicks off July 1st, when NBA teams are allowed to start contract negotiations with free agent players.
The depth and quality of the 2010 star-studded free agent class is well known and has dominated discussion in the basketball world for the past eight months.
Will LeBron James stay in Cleveland? Will Chris Bosh join Dwyane Wade in Miami? Will Dirk Nowitzki walk away from Mark Cuban and the Mavericks?
There has been so much talk about who's going where and which teams can improve that everyone has seemed to forget about the ugly side of free agency.
The blockbuster signings who have busted. The franchises that have financially ruined themselves by committing too much to one player.
The bad decisions that happen every... single... year.
With that in mind, let's look at the worst free agent signings in NBA history.
#20: Mitch Richmond
For several years in Sacramento, Richmond was regarded as the best shooting guard in the league not named Michael Jordan.
In 1999, the Washington Wizards needed a shooting guard and had a handful of quality big men to spare. Knowing they wouldn't extend Chris Webber's contract, the Wizards shipped him off to the Kings for Richmond.
Richmond was 33 years old and on the decline but helped fill a need and presented some "star power" for the troubled franchise.
The Wizards had a disappointing season and Richmond averaged 19.7 points per game, a personal low.
At 34, Richmond became a free agent and received a four-year, $40-million pact from the Wizards.
After two back-to-back seasons of declining performance (he missed 45 games the second year), the Wizards bought out the last two years of his deal for $10 million.
#19: Bobby Simmons
Four seasons into the league, the 24-year-old Simmons broke out with a surprising season in which he averaged 16 points and six rebounds for the L.A. Clippers.
He was named the NBA's Most Improved Player.
A restricted free agent, Simmons was offered a five-year, $47-million contract from the Milwaukee Bucks. The deal was finalized a month later when the Clippers decided not to match the offer sheet
Who says the Clippers only make bad moves?
Simmons busted big-time in Milwaukee, averaging just 10.6 points over two seasons before being traded, along with Yi Jianlian, to New Jersey for Richard Jefferson.
#18: Darius Miles
The Portland Trail Blazers were so high on Miles' potential they signed him following the 2004 season to a six-year, $48-million deal. He was just 22.
Miles would go on to play two controversy-marred half-seasons before sustaining a career-ending knee injury.
The Blazers were able to get out of having to pay Miles the last two years of his deal, only to have that ruling reversed after Miles insisted on appearing in 10 games with the Grizzlies. This kicked in a clause that forced the Blazers to pay him $18 million just to sit at home.
In a nutshell, the Blazers paid $48 million for a part-time bench player who embarrassed the franchise by cursing out the coach (and challenging him to a fight), violating the league's substance abuse policy and being an all-around cancer.
#17: Elton Brand
The Philadelphia 76ers won't be good any time soon thanks to Elton Brand's monster contract, which takes up a quarter of the team's payroll.
Why the 76ers signed him to a five-year, $80-million free-agent deal, following a season in which he missed 74 games with a separated shoulder, is beyond anyone's comprehension.
Brand missed 53 games his first year in Philadelphia due to shoulder surgery.
This season, Brand managed to stay healthy enough to play in 76 games, averaging just 13 points and six rebounds.
He's scheduled to make $16, $17 and $18 million per year, respectively, over the next three seasons.
Somewhere out there Udonis Haslem is punching a wall, cursing God and wondering why he can't get paid double the amount for the same production.
#16: Gilbert Arenas
After four productive seasons in a Wizards uniform, a 25-year-old Arenas tore the MCL in his left knee, missed much of his team's first round exit in the 2007 Playoffs and returned to appear in only 13 games the next season.
Seeking a bigger and better deal, Arenas opted out of the final year of his contract and became a free agent.
During negotiations Arenas made it clear to Washington management he would return if teammate and friend, free-agent-to-be Antawn Jamison, was re-signed.
Washington responded by extending Jamison with a four-year, $50-million pact; Arenas inked a massive six-year, $111-million deal soon after.
After signing the deal, Arenas missed all but two games in the 2009 season, thanks to various injuries. The Wizards finished 19-63.
Arenas opened the 2010 season as a starter and played 32 games, posting shooting percentages and a turnover-rate worse than his career average.
On Christmas Eve, with the underachieving Wizards boasting a 7-16 record, it was discovered Arenas had brought handguns to the team's Verizon Center locker room. This transgression led to a criminal conviction and sentencing, along with NBA commissioner David Stern suspending him for the rest of the season.
Jamison and Caron Butler were later dealt as the franchise cleaned house to make a fresh start.
Whether or not Wizards brass will attempt to void the remainder of Arenas' contract remains to be seen.
#15: Ben Wallace
Looking for a defensive presence in the middle, the Chicago Bulls signed free-agent center Ben Wallace to a whopping, four-year $60-million contract.
Wallace would have one good, yet seemingly underwhelming and unappreciated season (10.7 rebounds, 2.0 blocks per game) in which he helped the Bulls win 49 games and reach the second round of the playoffs.
The next year Wallace battled knee injuries and under-performed, becoming the scapegoat for a struggling Bulls team that eventually finished 33-49.
Wallace was traded at the deadline to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a three-way, 11-player deal that would further complicate and damage Chicago's financial situation.
#14: Peja Stojakovic
The 2006 New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets was composed of second-year forward David West, rookie point guard Chris Paul, veteran PJ Brown and a collection of kids and vagabonds.
They finished a respectable 38-44 despite finishing near the bottom of the league in scoring and shooting.
Needing help in those areas, along with a veteran presence, the Hornets turned their attention to free agent Peja Stojakovic and netted him via a sign-and-trade with the Indiana Pacers. He received a five-year, $64-million deal.
Stojakovic's first season in New Orleans was ruined due a back problem that required surgery. He only played 13 games.
In 2008, Stojakovic stayed healthy enough to appear in 77 games. He finished with the second-most three-pointers in the league, and the Hornets won 56 games and came within one game of the Conference Finals.
In 2009, Stojakovic battled injuries again. He missed 21 games and shot a career-low 40 percent from the field. The Hornets looked to deal him during the season but couldn't find a taker.
He is scheduled to earn $14.3 million next season.
#13: Jermaine O'Neal
After a 2003 season in which O'Neal averaged 21 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks a game, the Indiana Pacers rewarded him with a maximum, seven-year, $126.6-million deal.
The result? O'Neal helped lead the Pacers to 61 wins and a trip to Game Six of the Conference Finals.
However, things would only go downhill from there.
O'Neal missed half of the 2005 season due to injuries and a 15-game suspension regarding his role in the ugly brawl against the Detroit Pistons.
From 2006 on, O'Neal would only appear in at least 70 games just once due to various injuries. He played 51 in 2006, 69 in 2007, 42 in 2008, 68 in 2009 and then 70 this season.
During this injury-riddled, five-year span, O'Neal averaged 15.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and two blocks a game on 47 percent shooting. His teams have hovered around .500 and have been knocked out of the first round of the playoffs in three consecutive seasons.
#12: Raef LaFrentz
In 222 games with Denver, LaFrentz averaged 13 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game while shooting 38 percent on three-pointers.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was so impressed with the 25-year-old, former No. 3 draft pick, that he traded for him at the deadline and later awarded him a seven-year, $70-million deal at season's end.
LaFrentz battled injuries his first full season in Dallas and disappointed in what was a limited role. The Mavericks traded him one year after signing the deal.
LaFrentz would never return to form again.
#11: Eddy Curry
Remember when this guy was supposed to be "the second coming of Shaq?"
Hey, look on the bright side, at least Harold "Baby Jordan" Miner isn't lonely.
Few teams were interested in the overweight Curry after it was discovered he had a potentially fatal heart abnormality. The Knicks felt he was worth the risk and acquired him through a sign-and-trade with the Chicago Bulls.
The Knicks got Curry and the 23rd pick (Wilson Chandler) in the 2007 Draft. Curry got six years and $60 million. The Bulls got the second pick (LaMarcus Aldridge) in the 2006 Draft and ninth pick (Joakim Noah) in the 2007 Draft. All other players involved were expiring contracts or inexpensive fringe players.
What did Curry do as a Knick?
In five seasons, he appeared in 222 out of a possible 410 games, averaged 15.2 points and 5.8 rebounds in 28.5 minutes per game.
The Knicks were 72-150 in games he played.
Curry is scheduled to make $11.3 million next season in what could possibly be his last season in the NBA. He turns 28 in December.
I don't need to tell you what Aldridge and Noah are doing.
#10: Kenyon Martin
Martin became a restricted free agent after four successful seasons in New Jersey during which the Nets made two trips to the Finals.
Despite suffering injuries that made him miss an average of 11-plus games per season, the former No. 1 pick routinely posted 16-and-8 while playing tough defense and electrifying fans with an array of alley-oop dunks.
The Denver Nuggets offered him a maximum contract of seven years and $92.5 million. Instead of matching the offer, the Nets worked out a sign-and-trade, giving the Nuggets Martin for three first-round draft picks.
In six years in Denver, Martin has never played more than 71 games in a season, and has missed 169 of 492 games. He has averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per contest.
He will make $16.5 million next season in what will be the last year of his deal. That's $3.5 million more than Chauncey Billups, and just $600,000 less than what Carmelo Anthony will receive.
Martin's lone All-Star appearance came as a member of the Nets.
#9: Brian Grant
In his first two seasons in the league, Grant averaged 13.8 points and 7.2 rebounds as a member of the Sacramento Kings.
Fans loved this guy because he was a class act, played hard and showed occasional flashes of brilliance.
Grant then tore his rotator cuff and underwent surgery, which caused him to miss 58 games in what was a disappointing season for the Kings.
He opted out of his contract and signed with Portland, for whom he would play three injury-plagued seasons, averaging 10.2 points and 7.9 rebounds.
Now this is where things get wacky.
Grant would again opt out of his contract to become a free agent.
Despite coming off a miserable year in which he posted averages of 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds a game, Miami signed him to a maximum contract totaling $86 million over seven years.
At the time, Heat president Pat Riley called Grant the final piece to his championship puzzle.
In four years with the Heat, Grant averaged 11 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. The Heat went 153-175, made the playoffs twice, reaching the second round just once.
#8: Juwan Howard
And the first $100-million contract signing in NBA history is...?
Howard was, and still is, a good basketball player. But to say the Washington Bullets overdid it by giving him such a contract would be a gross understatement.
He averaged 18.4 points and 7.3 rebounds a game in his seven years in Washington. He made one All-Star appearance in 1996, the same year he made Third Team All-NBA. His teams totaled one playoff appearance and zero wins.
#7: Vin Baker
The Sonics traded an unhappy Shawn Kemp in a three-way deal to acquire Baker from the Milwaukee Bucks. Baker was a three-time All-Star his first four seasons in the league.
After his first season in Seattle, in which he averaged 19 points, 8 rebounds, and made his fourth All-Star appearance, Baker became a free agent.
The Sonics decided to sign the soon-to-be, 27-year-old to a seven-year, $86.7-million contract.
Baker would end up becoming an alcoholic and drinking away his pro career.
#6: Grant Hill
Ask anyone who watched Hill play in the late-1990s and you might be surprised by what you hear--comparisons to Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. Yes, Grant Hill was that good.
After six seasons in Detroit, in which he averaged 21.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.6 steals, Hill became a free agent and was looking at a maximum contract of seven years and $93 million.
Pistons general manager Joe Dumars knew a roster composed of Hill, Jerry Stackhouse and fringe players wasn't championship-caliber. Thus, he dealt Hill to the Orlando Magic in a sign-and-trade for Ben Wallace and Chucky Atkins.
The Magic just had acquired free agent Tracy McGrady in a sign-and-trade (also a max deal), and thought a Hill-McGrady duo would be unstoppable.
They were wrong.
Due to career and life-threatening (he almost died) complications from ankle surgeries, Hill played in only 47 of 328 Magic games his first four seasons in Orlando.
He would return to play 67 games in 2005, at the age of 32, but then missed 78 games his final two years.
Unable to move him at any point during the seven years, the Magic finally got relief when his contract expired in July of 2007.
#5: Joe Smith
Following the start of the strike-shortened season in February of 1999, a signing frenzy took place in which every player was getting a multi-year, mega-million contract.
To give you a few examples--Bo Outlaw signed for fives years and $28 million; Lorenzen Wright got a seven-year, $42-million deal; Michael Stewart got six years and $24 million.
Meanwhile, the 23-year-old Smith, just three seasons removed from being chosen the No.1 pick in the NBA Draft, signed a one-year deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves for a meager $1.75 million.
Sound fishy, right?
Turned out the Wolves and Smith had struck another deal under the table. The plan was to sign him to three minor one-year deals, which would allow the Wolves to use cap space on other players.
After the third year, in which Smith would gain Bird rights, the Wolves would then re-sign him to a large contract, possibly even a maximum $80-plus million deal.
The NBA caught a whiff of this agreement and voided the third of Smith's contracts, making him an unrestricted free agent. In addition, Minnesota was fined $3.5 million and forced to forfeit five first-round draft picks (two were later returned).
What did Smith average with the Wolves? 10 points and six rebounds a game.
And for that the Wolves lost first-round picks in 2001, 2002, 2004?
#4: Allan Houston
As a former diehard New York Knicks fan, it pains me greatly to even think about this. Thus, let me just break this down in three points.
1. Houston was a good (two-time All-Star), but far from great basketball player who could best be summed up as a middle class man's Ray Allen.
He was consistent, durable (until years later when his knee blew out) and generally well-liked by teammates and fans.
2. Scott Layden was the worst general manager in Knicks history and the man most responsible for turning the franchise into a laughingstock.
Layden's biggest and worst move was signing Houston, who at the time was 30 and had never averaged 20 points per game in a season, to a six-year, $100-million deal.
The move all but guaranteed the Knicks would have no cap flexibility for years to come.
3. Houston would go on to play two-and-a-half more seasons before blowing out his knee, an injury that knocked him out of action and eventually forced him to retire.
It took the Knicks almost a decade to recover from the cap-suffocating wheel created and put into motion by Layden.
Of course, blame shouldn't only go to Layden and Houston, but they were undoubtedly the biggest reasons why this franchise went into the sewer.
#3: Jim McIlvaine
Prior to signing a seven-year, $35-million free-agent deal with the Seattle SuperSonics, McIlvaine had averaged the following lines in two seasons with the Washington Bullets:
1995: 55 games; 1.7 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 9.7 minutes per game.
1996: 80 games; 2.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game in 14.9 minutes of action.
Seattle had just been beaten in the Finals by the Chicago Bulls and felt the lack of interior defense was a huge reason why. Thus, they went out to get the best shot blocker available with a by-all-means-necessary attitude.
Signing McIlvaine pissed off the team's star forward, Shawn Kemp—who was looking for his own new deal—and set in motion what would ultimately do in the Seattle franchise.
The Sonics dealt the disgruntled Kemp, who was in his prime and an absolute beast, for Vin Baker, whom they would sign to a max contract.
Baker and the Sonics would have one great year but came up short in the playoffs. Baker would soon after bust and the Sonics would enter an era of mediocrity that would last until the sale of the team 11 years later.
McIlvaine would play only two seasons in Seattle and averaged 16.8 minutes per game.
#2: Jon Koncak
The next time you and your buddies are arguing about the great Dominique Wilkins and someone asks, "Well, if 'Nique were so great, how come his teams never reached a Conference Finals?" this is what you should do:
Climb atop your neighbor's car, bash the windows in, and then spread your arms out wide and yell "Jon Koncak" like Michael Jackson screaming "ohhhhhhh" in the "Black or White" music video.
Then don't just grab your crotch, hit it with a tire iron.
In 1989, the Atlanta Hawks re-signed their backup center to a six-year, $13.2 million deal.
That may not sound like much money in today's terms, but in 1989 it made Koncak one of the highest-paid players in the NBA.
In 1991, he made $50,000 more per season than Larry Bird. Wilkins, his superstar teammate, made just $500,000 more.
The signing handcuffed the Hawks from making any big personnel decisions for several seasons.
In 1994, Wilkins was traded and Hawks fans were devastated. One has to wonder "what if" the team hadn't signed Koncak; would it been able to retain Wilkins and surround him with better talent?
Koncak averaged 4.6 points and 4.9 rebounds in a 10-year career in Atlanta.
#1: The 1998 Chicago Bulls
The worst free agent signings in NBA history were the ones that didn't happen on the Chicago Bulls following their sixth championship in an eight-season span.
Believing his team's stars were aging and unlikely to win another title, Bulls owner Jerry Krause dismantled the greatest basketball dynasty since the Boston Celtics of the 1960s.
First, Krause refused to bring back coach Phil Jackson. Reportedly, Krause had told Jackson, "I don't care if you go 82-0, after this season you're f**king gone!"
With Jackson told to hit the road, Michael Jordan, a free agent, announced his retirement. Jordan was 35 years old but had just finished a year in which he played all 82 games, averaged 28.7 points (32.4 in the playoffs), and won the MVP award in both the regular season and Finals.
Free agent-to-be Scottie Pippen, who at age 33 had just made First Team All-Defense for the seventh time, was traded for Roy Rogers and a second-round pick.
Dennis Rodman wasn't re-signed. He was 37 but had just appeared in 80 games and led the league in rebounding with an average of 15 boards per game.
Instead of signing these four short-term deals, Krause just waved them goodbye and kissed off the organization's chances of winning additional titles.
Since the dismantling, the Bulls have had two seasons above .500 in 12 years.