Ranking the Worst 2022 NBA Free Agency Signings So Far

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured Columnist IVJuly 8, 2022

Ranking the Worst 2022 NBA Free Agency Signings So Far

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    Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

    Riffing on the worst contracts signed during NBA free agency always—and rightfully—invites heated reactions. So, let's get some disclaimers and housekeeping notes out of the way first.

    This exercise is not anti-player. Nor is it personal. Everyone in the league is either underpaid or getting exactly what they're worth in my book. Players do not swindle teams. They agree to contracts they're offered. Those deals are their market.

    Identifying the worst contracts from this offseason (so far) is more about the teams and the circumstances under which they've bankrolled these signings.

    Did they unnecessarily hamstring their future? Or spend big on a player who doesn't jibe with or adequately accelerate their timeline? Are they taking an especially notable risk? Or needlessly creating a logjam? What other suitors, if any, would've paid as much for the player whom they poached or retained?

    These will be the guiding questions that determine which contracts end up under the microscope. Perhaps some, or all, end up being misfires. I am rooting for myself to be wrong. For now, though, these deals don't profile as the savviest investments by the teams footing the bill on them.

    *Note: Certain contracts remain unverified estimates. Additional details that eventually trickle out could change perception of any given deal. This will be noted wherever necessary.

Notable Exclusions

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    Lu Dort, Oklahoma City Thunder

    Contract: Five years, $82.5 million ($64.8 million guaranteed; 2026-27 million team option)

    The initial reporting on Dort's deal with the Thunder left many suffering from sticker shock. They could've kept him on a $1.9 million team option, and he has never shot 35 percent from three for an entire season. That $82.5 million figure looks massive.

    It also isn't egregious. Especially now. Only the first four years of the deal are guaranteed, and the entire contract would only take Dort through his age-27 season.

    This price tag also won't look nearly as egregious as the cap rises, and it marks only the second significant player investment by Oklahoma City (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander).

    Maybe the Thunder are paying a "You were underpaid for so long because of the first contract we got you to sign" tax. That's cool, too. Teams shouldn't be penalized for (finally) taking care of their own. Plus, for all his offensive imperfections, Dort has improved as a bulldozing driver and ball mover and remains a monster-truck defender.


    Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers

    Contract: Four years, $70 million

    Nurkic's $70 million deal is an estimate right now and will look a lot more team-friendly if there's a non- or partial guarantee on the final year. Even if there isn't, this only profiles as a slight overpay for the Blazers.

    Portland is compensating Nurkic, as of now, like a top-12 center. Is that where he belongs? Debatable. But he is a resourceful offensive player who can smash opponents on screens, drop dimes and get buckets out of the short roll. He has upped his three-point attempts ever so slightly in recent years, too.

    Steady defensive play in the middle is valuable. Nurkic is rock-solid at holding his own in drop coverage. He can be mismatched into issues against certain opponents, but not so much that he's ever unplayable or a flat-out postseason liability.


    P.J. Tucker, Philadelphia 76ers

    Contract: Three years, $33 million (2024-25 player option)

    Giving the 37-year-old Tucker a longer-term deal with a player option on the back end is pretty gutsy. His game isn't rooted in explosion, but the defensive mileage on him is real.

    Still, Tucker has averaged fewer than 28 minutes per game in each of the past two seasons. Philly should be fine so long as it doesn't need to work him like he's on the 2019-20 Houston Rockets.

    Beyond that, if the Sixers didn't give Tucker the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, another team would have. Going three years on a plug-and-play defensive force who opens up all sorts of lineup possibilities is perfectly fine.

5. Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks

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    Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

    Contract: Four years, $104 million

    Everyone who feels the need to burp out "Knicks for clicks!" war cries, please do so now.

    This contract is not about Jalen Brunson. Repeat: This contract is not about Brunson.

    He is really good! New York has needed an actual starting point guard since approximately the dawn of time, and the pressure he puts on opposing defenses in the lane with his footwork and finishing is genuinely impactful. Out of every player who had 500 or more drives this past season, Brunson's 56.7 percent shooting clip ranked fourth, trailing only Giannis Antetokounmpo, Karl-Anthony Towns and Chris Paul.

    Something must also said for streamlining the development of your youth. R.J. Barrett and Obi Toppin, specifically, should benefit a great deal from playing beside someone who knows how to break down a defense, and whose first inclination isn't to settle for junky off-the-bounce jumpers.

    Not even the hoops through which the Knicks jumped to open up cap space for Brunson is unforgivable. In the end, they used the No. 11 pick, six second-rounders (one of which was top-55 protected) and $6 million of cash to offload three expiring deals, scoop up three conditional first-rounders and cap space. Excessive? Sure. Franchise malpractice? Not so much.

    This signing is more so damning for what it implies about the Knicks: a measure of aimlessness. Brunson is now either their best or second-best player. The former isn't getting you very far...at all. The latter is only palatable if your best player is near or around Luka Doncic's level. The Knicks don't have that player. Nor do they have the prospect who can turn into that player. And as much as the Dallas Mavericks screwed themselves by not signing Brunson to a four-year, $55.6 million extension when they had the chance, it should absolutely mean something that they actually have Doncic and were still basically offering Brunson over five years what the Knicks gave him across four.

    There is no guarantee Brunson thrives in a more prominent role, either. The Mavs were a net-plus when he played without Doncic last season. Cool. Many of those lineups included four- or five-out setups, and the combinations that featured two or more questionable shooters weren't the bee's knees. New York doesn't promise that same floor balance. It will routinely play two to three iffy or outright non-shooters.

    Cap sheets are forever fungible, and free agency is no longer the primary mechanism through which stars shift around. Contracts can always be dumped, and the Knicks have plenty of extra firsts to toss around the trade market. This was still an awful lot of trouble to go through for someone who isn't The Guy, though. So while Brunson's deal is not catastrophic, it's a harbinger of an uninspiring, if not incoherent, franchise vision.

4. JaVale McGee, Dallas Mavericks

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    Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

    Contract: Three years, $17.2 million (2024-25 player option)

    JaVale McGee's contract is looking a little better now that we know the Mavericks used part of the taxpayer mid-level exception to sign Jaden Hardy, the No. 37 pick in June's draft. As CBAMavs astutely unpacked for Mavs Moneyball, this should put the total value of McGee's deal at $17.2 million rather than north of $20 million.

    Hooray?

    Sure, McGee gives Dallas a viable rim protector and above-the-basket finisher. His 100 dunks last season rivaled the 108 from the Mavericks-leading Dwight Powell, who logged 626 more minutes.

    To that end: Dallas has Powell. And Maxi Kleber. And just traded for Christian Wood. Even if the Mavs wanted a larger and longer big, who else was giving McGee most of the taxpayer MLE? And did they really have to gift him a player option ahead of his age-37 season?

    Maybe the Mavs already had the McGee deal hashed out before acquiring Wood. (Not that they, or any other team, would negotiate free-agent contracts before free agency, of course.) But some good ol' tampering is merely an explanation, not an excuse. And burning what turned out to be your best spending tool on someone who may not average 20 minutes per game or be on the floor during high-leverage crunch time is questionable at best but reeks of terrible business at worst.

3. Marvin Bagley III, Detroit Pistons

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    Nic Antaya/Getty Images

    Contract: Three years, $37.5 million

    Marvin Bagley III looked reinvigorated after the Sacramento Kings traded him to the Detroit Pistons. His movement off the ball was opportunistic and consistent, and he provided a nice downhill outlet for Cade Cunningham. His 78 percent clip at the rim should not be ignored, and he flashed nice touch on turnarounds, hooks and floaters.

    But three guaranteed years at $37.5 million? Seriously?

    The Pistons acquired both Jalen Duren (No. 13) and Nerlens Noel on draft night and still have Isaiah Stewart and Kelly Olynyk on the roster. Both Noel (non-guaranteed) and Olynyk are scheduled to come off the books next summer—if they're even in Motor City that long. But a Bagley-Duren-Stewart trio isn't what you'd call effortlessly navigable. In an ideal world, all three should be tallying exactly zero minutes at power forward.

    Detroit is not operating on an urgent timeline, and Bagley won't turn 24 until March. Rolling the dice on youth is hardly inexplicable. Paying him this much to create an unnecessary logjam just doesn't sit right.

2. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

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    Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

    Contract: Five years, $251 million (15 percent trade kicker; no-trade clause; 2026-27 player option

    Good for Bradley Beal. Seriously. We romanticize loyalty from NBA stars who win championships but tend to look down upon those who refuse to #runfromthegrind if they aren't in line for a ring. That's inconsistent.

    The Washington Wizards also had little choice other than to offer Beal this deal. The time to move on from him was roughly two years ago if they were going that route. They couldn't let him walk for nothing now, and exploring sign-and-trade scenarios is both complicated and seldom provides the team dealing a star with fair compensation.

    That does nothing to minimize the risk of this super-duper max. Beal is a certified All-Star, but he isn't an All-NBA lock. He's also coming off a down year in which he knocked down a career-low 30 percent of his threes and saw his true shooting percentage plunge by more than five points compared to 2020-21.

    A left wrist injury didn't help matters, but that's also sort of the point. Beal is now 29. Stuff happens. And this deal takes him through his age-33 season.

    Once more: I get why the Wizards had to pony up. But the full max? With a player option? And the only no-trade clause in the NBA, per ESPN's Bobby Marks?

    As someone who fancies Washington much more flexible and interesting moving forward than the consensus, this contract ostensibly erases any leverage the franchise will have if it fails to reinvent a middling fringe playoff team into a contender and decides to pivot.

1. Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks*

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    Contract: Four years, $60 million*

    Pay special attention to the asterisk(s) up top. Mitchell Robinson's contract is so far an estimate. There could be unlikely incentives or a non-guarantee on the final year that drive the price down.

    If there aren't any safeguards for the Knicks, then, well, sheesh.

    Robinson is only 24 years old and has offered glimpses into his peak. He can be a devastating finisher around the rim, and when he isn't struggling to straddle the line between defensive overaggression and underreaction, he is a matchup-proof skyscraper who can contain the ball and contest shots from all over the floor.

    For the intrigue, though, Robinson remains an incomplete project. He no longer plays like he gets paid by the personal foul, but he's an erratic defensive force and, more importantly, one the league's most limited offensive players.

    Asking him to make decisions with the ball or do almost anything at all more than three feet away from the basket amounts to self-sabotage. His average shot distance since entering the NBA is 1.3 feet.

    Gambling on youth is hunky-dory and all that. But the big-man market did not warrant a fully guaranteed $60 million for Robinson (if that's what this is for him).

    Kevon Looney is only 26 and received $25.5 million over three years (including only $3 million guaranteed in 2024-25). Isaiah Hartenstein, whom the Knicks also signed, is 24 and coming off a more impactful year than Robinson and got $8 million annually. Boston Celtics big man Robert Williams III, who is better than Robinson at both ends of the floor, got a four-year, $48 million extension before this past season.

    Unless additional details emerge, or unless New York is paying a "We picked up your team option in 2021 instead of paying you then" tax, the numbers here don't compute.

    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Stathead or Cleaning the Glass. Salary information via Spotrac.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast.

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