It was bound to happen this summer. Too many teams cleared too much cap space in anticipation of the LeBron sweepstakes, and it was clear that the ones who missed out on LBJ would panic and overspend on a lesser free agent.
No one could have predicted the degree to which the owners spent this summer, though. It was like a Girls Gone Wild video, except instead of drunken girls shaming their families, it was money-drunk owners throwing cash around like confetti.
Owners this summer valued their cash about as much as they would in a game of Monopoly. This, in a league that reportedly "lost $370 million last season." Riiiiiight.
Some of these bloated contracts truly stand out among their peers—namely, they're the worst conceivable contracts that these players could have earned.
Take a look at 10 of the worst free agency decisions the NBA had to offer this summer. And keep your fingers crossed that your favorite player/team doesn't appear on the following slides.
In the months leading up to free agency, Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley repeatedly claimed that the Grizz would stop at no ends to retain restricted free agent Rudy Gay this summer.
Given Heisley's reputation of being notoriously stingy (see: Xavier Henry's current holdout), it was a bit of a shock to see him fire out a five-year max-contract offer to Gay on the first day of free agency.
Given that no other team could match the 10.5 percent annual raises that the Grizzlies could offer, Gay had a pretty simple choice to make.
The deal isn't awful, especially given some of the other bloated contracts shelled out this summer. At only 23 years old, Gay has plenty of time to expand on his 17.4-point, 5.5-rebound, 1.7-assist career averages, and the Grizzlies couldn't afford to backtrack after a surprisingly decent run last season.
On the other hand, there's a legitimate concern that Gay's too one-dimensional as a scorer, and those aren't the type of guys you hand max money. With Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol down low, it's understandable that Gay isn't pulling down eight or nine rebounds every night, but Gay must improve on his ball movement and his assist totals to justify such a lofty contract.
Considering that Drew Gooden signed close to this exact deal, Denver getting Al Harrington for this price isn't nearly as bad it could have been.
On the bright side, Harrington averaged 17.7 points and 5.6 rebounds coming off the bench for the Knicks this past season. While Harrington's scoring numbers may be a bit artificially inflated due to Mike D'Antoni's "You've Always Got the Green Light to Shoot" offense, his career scoring average of 14.1 PPG suggests Harrington knows how to score in all circumstances.
The big problem with Harrington is that he's a volume shooter—his 17.7 PPG average last season came with a field goal percentage of 43.5 overall and 34.2 percent from three-point range.
On a team with J.R. Smith, who already has the tendency to turn into an offensive black hole when it comes to ball rotation, the last thing you want to add is another chucker. Harrington's that chucker.
At 6'9", 230 pounds, Harrington has the versatility to play the 3 or the 4, and could end up being a prime replacement for Carmelo Anthony while he's resting on the bench. But given the propensity of Anthony, Chauncey Billups, and Smith to dominate the ball on offense for Denver, the Harrington experiment could add a volatile element that jeopardizes the Nuggets' on-court chemistry.
(This is the only known picture of Al Harrington actually trying to pass the ball.)
Wes Matthews just went from an undrafted rookie to a five-year, $32.5 million deal in one year flat.
The Jazz took a chance on Matthews, the senior out of Marquette, and ended up permanently promoting him to the starting lineup by February, when they traded Ronnie Brewer to the Grizzlies.
In his rookie season, Matthews averaged 9.4 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.5 assists in 24.1 minutes per game, shooting 48.3 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from long-range. Matthews started all 10 playoffs games for the Jazz, where he bumped his averages up to 13.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in 37.1 minutes per game.
Matthews brings a reliable long-range shot, and the body (6'5", 220 pounds) to guard opposing 2s effectively, but his ceiling doesn't scream "the next Brandon Roy." He'll be an active defender, and he'll be able to stretch the floor with his three-point shooting ability, but Matthews likely won't step up and put the team on his back many nights.
His talent level, while promising, doesn't warrant the full mid-level exception, which Portland readily handed him. Considering that a guy like Ron Artest just took a five-year mid-level exception deal last year…is Matthews really on the same level as Artest? It's certainly tough to make that argument.
While the money handed to Luke Ridnour pales in comparison to the rest of the players on this list, the timing of the deal couldn’t have been more questionable for Minnesota and GM David Kahn.
Kahn has announced his fascination with point guards to the rest of the league these past two years—first, he drafts Ricky Rubio No. 5 overall in 2009, then turns around and grabs Jonny Flynn with the very next pick; then, he signs PG Ramon Sessions to a long-term deal despite just drafting two point guards.
Now, with Rubio over in Europe for at least another year, Kahn adds a third PG in Ridnour with a long-term deal to his team. In other words, Kahn has no freaking idea what he's doing.
ESPN's John Hollinger wisely noted that Ridnour, like Sessions, largely thrives on the pick-and-roll instead of his perimeter game, making him a terrible fit for the Wolves' triangle offense. That's called not doing your due diligence.
Bringing in a third point guard when you're trying to convince your hopeful future star PG to leave his team in Europe? That's plain insanity.
The Raptors sprang into action right away in free agency, going in with the assumption that Chris Bosh already had both feet out the door. Their first move was to re-sign Amir Johnson, a five-year pro with 29 career starts to his name, to a contract higher than the mid-level extension.
To call this move anything but a reach would do no justice to the Raptors' gamble here. On one hand, the Raptors did need a replacement starting power forward; despite drafting Ed Davis with the No. 13 pick, they'd presumably want a veteran to shield the raw rookie from a starting role.
On the other hand, Johnson has averaged a whopping average of 4.7 points and 4.2 rebounds in 15.2 minutes per game over the course of his career—in other words, the Raptors just handed over $7 million/year to a completely unproven player.
As John Hollinger pointed out in his review of the deal, Johnson's got two gigantic red flags: 1) In the past two seasons, Johnson only knocked 31 total shots away from the rim; and 2) "Johnson had the highest rate of fouls per minute of any player in the league who played at least 1,000 minutes, and that's entirely consistent with his career history."
Hollinger predicts that with Johnson's career foul rate, it will be difficult for him to stay on the court for more than 24 minutes per game. And that's not someone you want to be paying $7 million/year.
This one will go down as one of my favorite moments from the summer: Matt Barnes thanks Orlando fans for the memories, announces his new two-year, $10 million contract with Toronto…and…oh, wait.
Apparently, no one bothered to consult the CBA while negotiating this deal. If they did, they would have known that Toronto didn't have the cap space to sign Barnes to this sizable contract outright, thanks to the Amir Johnson deal.
Not a huge problem…except Orlando couldn't consummate a sign-and-trade for more than $2 million annually, as they didn't have Barnes' full Bird rights.
Instead, the Magic and the Raptors couldn't reach a deal, and the Barnes sign-and-trade was dead before it even could happen. Barnes ended up signing a two-year, $3.6 million deal with the Lakers—a much more reasonable price for his services—and Toronto came up completely empty-handed in the attempted deal.
This non-contract makes the list solely due to the ridiculousness of negotiating a contract without verifying that it clears the league's bargaining agreement.
On its own, this deal isn't the fourth stupidest deal of this summer. Given all that T'Wolves GM David Kahn did with the Timberwolves this summer, largely based on this re-signing, and it becomes infinitely dumber.
By re-signing Milicic, Kahn felt that he suddenly had license to fire-sale Al Jefferson, which he promptly did in exchange for two conditional first-round picks, Kosta Koufos, and a trade exception with Utah. (Keep in mind, Jefferson is only a season removed from averaging 24 points and 10 rebounds.)
Now, were Jefferson and Kevin Love an incompatible combination defensively? It certainly appeared that way. Did Milicic provide the T'Wolves with a "real" center last season after joining them at the trade deadline? It appeared that way too.
But, as Zach Harper of Hardwood Paroxysm points out, according to Synergy Sports, Darko was ranked 420th in the NBA in Points Per Possession given up defensively. If every NBA team had 15 players on its roster, there would only be 450 players in the NBA. That's tragic.
Why Kahn felt pressured to give up Jefferson for pennies on the dollar once he re-signed Milicic, the world may never know. What we do know is that the T'Wolves ended up worse for the wear, and that makes this move one of the worst of the summer.
It's tough to fault Knicks fans for getting overly excited about signing Amar'e Stoudemire to a five-year, $100 million deal this summer. When your team intentionally tanks for two years, you'll take what progress you can get.
To objective outsiders, though, the Amar'e contract has to be one of the worst this summer, for one reason and one reason only—it's fully guaranteed. And as of now, due to Stoudemire's past injury history, the Knicks can't get the contract insured.
Whoever thought up the idea of handing a guaranteed, non-insurable $100 million to a guy who's already been through microfracture surgery on his knee and suffered a torn retina…that person deserves to be fired. Stoudemire is one injury away from turning into a worse bust than Elton Brand.
When healthy, Stoudemire is unquestionably one of the most dominant offensive big men in the league. However, given his apathy towards defense and rebounding, it's tough justifying a $20 million/year contract for a guy who only plays hard on one end of the court.
Ironically, the Suns' offer to Stoudemire—a five-year, $95 million deal, with only $71 million guaranteed (and the rest based on playing incentives), was a completely reasonable value for STAT.
Instead, Stoudemire sacrificed his chances of winning now to stuff his wallet; time will tell whether or not the Knicks grow to regret their decision to guarantee his deal.
I hate to pile on LeBron James here, because really, what sportswriter hasn't ripped James' "Decision" in some way in the past two weeks? With Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski leading the charge against LBJ, we haven't seen this much of a consensus bashing since Tiger Woods slept with half of the women in Florida.
But, honestly, yes, this "Decision" deserves the criticism it's received. No matter what happens with LeBron in Miami, the "Decision" debacle will be written on his career epitaph in some way, shape, or form—most likely, "Here lies the night Cleveland began hating their 'so-called King'."
James had every right to leave Cleveland and "take his talents to South Beach" (a quote that will also be remembered for a long time). I'm not ripping that.
It's the way he handled the "Decision" process that gets me. Why go on national TV to announce that you're leaving your hometown before you deliver on your promise of winning them a championship? Why add to your city's laundry list of miserable sports moments with one of the worst yet?
During his one-hour special, LBJ repeatedly said "I hope the fans in Cleveland will understand"—granted, once, he followed that up by saying "but I don't expect that to be."
There's a reason. As Wojnarowski said, "The Decision" was " an exercise in self-aggrandizement and self-loathing," "the worst idea in the history of marketing," and an overall disaster for James and his brand.
As fellow B/R writer Eric Felkey once said:"Hey, anytime you can give a guy who averaged 12 points and let his team get beat by 20+ points per game in the second round $120 million and cripple any chance you have of being relevant in the next five years, you have to do it."
Yup. That about sums up the Joe Johnson deal. Somehow, in the summer where LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh were all free agents, Joe Johnson signed the largest deal of them all.
It's not hard seeing Atlanta's reasoning in doing so—after progressively winning more each year for the past half-decade, they couldn't afford to lose their best player and risk a short-term regression, in fear of losing their fanbase.
It's also tough to believe that a fanbase would rather dole out $24 million to a 34-year-old wing player who's likely going to be a shell of his current self in five years. Loyal fans don't mind short-term sacrifice in favor of long-term gains, and thus, would have understood if the Hawks allowed another team with an abundance of cap space to overpay for Johnson.
Instead, the Hawks did the rest of the NBA a favor, and offered the most ridiculous contract of the summer to a guy who just averaged 12.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.8 assists in a four-game sweep of his team in the playoffs.
In the words of Lance Armstrong from Dodgeball: I'm sure that won't come back to haunt [them] for the rest of [their] lives.