Reassessing the Best and Worst Contracts from 2016 NBA Offseason
Almost every contract handed out over the NBA's offseason was subject to fits of shock followed by sweeping declarations, both good and bad. Not all of those initial reactions hold up more than halfway through the 2016-17 campaign.
Player performances are often at the heart of these changes. Overachievers and letdowns force us to re-evaluate more than a few situations.
To find last summer's best and worst deals (from a front office's perspective), preconceived notions will be cast by the wayside. Past evaluations will sometimes jibe with what we dig up, but we're interested in how every contract looks right now, regardless of how it was originally received.
First-round picks who signed their agreements on the rookie scale will not be considered for this exercise. The emphasis will be on players who are with new teams, since it's easier to rationalize big-time pacts for tenured incumbents.
We will weigh contract length, team fit, age, tradeability, on-court impact and health when determining where each deal lands.
Notable Exclusions for Best Contracts
Dewayne Dedmon, San Antonio Spurs (two years, $5.9 million)
We turn to SI.com's Rob Mahoney for the lowdown on Dewayne Dedmon:
A targeted, low-cost specialist is the easiest way for an NBA team to clear up redundancy. Dedmon and the Spurs are a perfect case study. LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol will always be an imperfect pairing, and within certain matchups a damaging one. Through Dedmon, Gregg Popovich always has the option to fall back on a more balanced sort of pairing. To get that kind of player—just the sort San Antonio needed—while committing $14+ million to five different players is nothing short of miraculous.
Dedmond is fourth in defensive value added per 100 possessions among those who've logged as many or more minutes than he has, trailing only Draymond Green, Rudy Gobert and Lucas Nogueira. Were it not for the player option he holds after this season—and the impending raise he'll get after declining it—he would be one of this year's five best bargains.
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (three years, $99.9 million)
No, LeBron James didn't switch teams, but it bears repeating: The league's max-salary scale will never keep pace with what he's actually worth.
David Lee, San Antonio Spurs (two years, $3.2 million)
David Lee is proof the Spurs should be illegal. His rebounding and passing are nothing new, but the defense he's playing when he needn't be the primary rim protector is the best of his career.
Unlike Dedmon, Lee's player option for 2017-18 isn't dragging him down. He turns 34 in April, so the prospect of a massive raise isn't as real. But he's playing well enough, for cheap enough, to comfortably crack the honorable mentions.
Courtney Lee, New York Knicks (four years, $48 million)
Courtney Lee stands out for defensive efforts alone—mostly because he's one of the few New York Knicks players who try on a consistent basis. But he's also shooting the lights out from three (41.3 percent) and getting more on-ball work as head coach Jeff Hornacek tries to find playmaking from non-turnstiles.
At 31, Lee is the type of player every team wants—that low-usage dead-eye marksman who won't bounce off screens or commit a ton of turnovers. Whenever the Knicks officially start rebuilding, his play and reasonable cap hit will be among their most valuable assets.
Garrett Temple, Sacramento Kings (three years, $24 million)
Garrett Temple isn't setting the NBA ablaze with jazzy stat lines, but he's one of Sacramento's few two-way talents. His spot-up shooting makes him a great fit beside DeMarcus Cousins, and a 6'6" build lets him defend point guards and wings.
That bag of hardwood tricks should be costing the Kings far more than $8 million annually. And with Rudy Gay done for the season, they've never been luckier to have Temple, who is now their second-best player.
No. 5 Best: Jon Leuer, Detroit Pistons (4 Years, $42 Million)
Jon Leuer's four-year, $42 million deal initially looked like it could go either way.
Forward-centers who can shoot are always in demand, but the Detroit Pistons already had Aron Baynes and Andre Drummond, then went on to sign Boban Marjanovic. Add the need for both Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris to see spin at power forward, and you could see the frontcourt bundle going sideways.
And in some ways, it has. The Pistons struggle to space the floor and place 23rd in offensive efficiency, but Leuer has been fantastic even while shooting under 33 percent from distance.
DeMarcus Cousins, Ersan Ilyasova, Kevin Love, Kelly Olynyk, Dario Saric and Karl-Anthony Towns are the only other bigs clearing 14 points, seven rebounds, two assists and one made three per 36 minutes. That's good company for a post playing more than 20 minutes per night for the first time in his career.
These numbers aren't per-minute noise, either; Leuer is genuinely important to Detroit. Head coach Stan Van Gundy plopped him into the starting lineup, and he's the only Pistons player not named Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who is making above-average contributions on both ends, per NBA Math.
Not enough of Leuer's minutes come at center, where his plodding(ish) 6'10" frame is best suited. But that's a problem for another season, when Detroit hashes out its big picture—of which Leuer will surely be a part.
Case in point: The Pistons are shopping Baynes and Marjanovic rather than him, according to Basketball Insiders' Michael Scotto.
No. 4 Best: Eric Gordon, Houston Rockets (4 Years, $52.9 Million)
Eyes turned when the Houston Rockets signed Eric Gordon—and not in a good way. Maybe it's because he was so injury-prone with the New Orleans Pelicans, or because his arrival coincided with that of Ryan Anderson, another Big Easy leftover.
Whatever your original thoughts of Gordon's deal were, he has blown away expectations, both good and bad.
Every team in the league would take 17.3 points per game and a 38.6 percent three-point clip from its sixth man—especially when said efficiency is coming on 9.2 deep-ball attempts per night. And this output isn't solely dependent on James Harden, which makes it that much more meaningful.
About one-third of Gordon's court time has come without the bearded wonder, through which he's averaging 28.1 points per 36 minutes while putting down 40.1 percent of his threes. That solo efficiency is a big reason why Houston owns a positive net rating whenever Harden takes a breather.
"When James is off the floor, having [Gordon] on the floor is just massive," general manager Daryl Morey told The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor last month. "He's a do-it-all player."
Now seems like a good time to note the Rockets will pay Gordon $5 million less over the next four years than the Pelicans shelled out for him over the previous four seasons. That's absurd in the new cap climate—even more so when you realize Gordon has to be a Sixth Man of the Year favorite.
No. 3 Best: Seth Curry, Dallas Mavericks (2 Years, $5.9 Million)
Seth Curry's two-year, $5.9 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks never made sense. He finished 2015-16 on an offensive tear, plays at a time when three-point snipers make the world go 'round and, as we all know, has good genes.
That cut-rate agreement looks even more ridiculous now, with Curry joining Dallas' starting five and shooting 42.1 percent from beyond the arc in 27-plus minutes per game.
Suboptimal playmaking will always curtail his ceiling at point guard; he's a 2 stuck in the body of a 1. But his vision is improving, and he's learning how to create for others off the dribble.
Astounding still, the 26-year-old brother-to-a-Splash-Brother keeps developing as a defender. He does a nice job of disrupting pick-and-rolls and ranks as one of the Mavericks' best on-ball pests.
And now for Seth Curry's next trick: Just one player is matching his assist (16.4), steal (2.4) and effective field-goal (56.1) percentages while averaging at least 11 points per game: Stephen Curry. (Perhaps Seth has heard of him?)
Usage, shot selection, different roles, blah, blah, blah. Seth isn't Steph. We get it. But the Mavericks unearthed a true offensive gem out of the offseason's lost and found. If not for him being due a brain-bending raise in 2018, Curry's bargain-bin status would rate higher still.
No. 2 Best: Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks (3 Years, $2.9 Million)
Malcolm Brogdon is a human loophole.
First off, he's a rookie. He technically shouldn't make this list. But, as a second-round pick, his three-year, $2.9 million contract was negotiated outside the confines of the rookie scale.
Fine. There's still no way the 36th overall pick of last June's prospect pageant should register as a demonstrative bargain. And yet, as SI.com's Rob Mahoney explained, Brogdon is already that good:
Far steadier than a second-round rookie point guard has any right to be. How is it that his presence is already so calming? How could he possibly have this kind of command so soon after joining the league?
Brogdon is a clear first-round value who can swing between both guard positions and make his teammates look good. Shooting alone makes the 24-year-old worth much more than his deal. Factor in a more complete game and Brogdon registers an entirely different level of value and importance.
Never mind Brogdon's standing among newbies. Sure, he leads that crowd in total assists and steals. And his 42.5 percent three-point success rate trails only the seldom-used Dejounte Murray and Juan Hernangomez. But he's past first-year baby steps and on to rivaling veterans.
Brogdon slides between defensive assignments at the 1 and 2 with ease. He has seen spot time on rival small forwards and holds his own when left to body up in the post. Among the 84 players to defend at least 125 pick-and-roll ball-handlers, he ranks first in points allowed per possession.
Oh, and only two other players are matching his assist (24.1) and three-point (42.5) percentages: Goran Dragic and Kyle Lowry. That the Milwaukee Bucks don't have to think about giving him a raise until 2019 (qualifying offer) is a patented joke.
1. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors (2 Years, $54.3 Million)
Max salaries don't typically go down as cheap investments, let alone the top-most bargains. But Kevin Durant is an exception, because, well, he has to be.
His situation with the Golden State Warriors has a lot to do with it. They took a 73-win core and tacked on a top-five player in his prime. No price is too steep under those circumstances—infinitely so when Durant's integration has been seamless:
Melding the styles of Curry and Durant has proved tenuous, as ESPN.com's Ethan Sherwood Strauss outlined. But Curry is playing at an MVP level since Christmas, during which time Durant has been happy to defer.
Durant told ESPN.com's Chris Haynes:
"I just said to him, 'Don't worry about me.' I said, 'Just play your game. I'll figure it out. I'll figure it out around you. You're the engine of this team, and I know that. I'm not trying to come over and feel like everything just revolves around me. Just do you, man. I'm going to play around you. I've played this game long enough. I know how to score. I know how to find the ball. Just go out there and play your game.' And that's what he's been doing.
As if finding himself without an inimical learning curve isn't enough, Durant is also going to steal some Defensive Player of the Year votes—not enough to win or even sniff the victor, but just enough to remind you he's fifth in total points saved on the less glamorous end, according to NBA Math.
Through it all, the Warriors are first in offensive and defensive efficiency, pacing themselves toward 70-plus victories and, from the looks of it, another NBA title. So it's more than safe to say Durant's contract was the best of this past summer.
Notable Exclusions for Worst Contracts
Harrison Barnes, Dallas Mavericks (four years, $94.4 million)
Sorry to disappoint anyone who's here for the Harrison Barnes jokes. There will be none of those, because his contract appears to be...solid.
Barnes is not transforming the Mavericks into offensive assassins when on the court. His offensive repertoire is painfully predictable, and he doesn't create nearly enough shots for teammates.
He is, however, averaging more than 20 points per game with an above-average effective field-goal percentage (50.4) and giving Dallas sturdy defensive sets at the 3 and 4. That doesn't make him a bargain, but the Mavericks found a properly priced building block in him.
Luol Deng, Los Angeles Lakers (four years, $72 million)
There is a space in which you can defend the Los Angeles Lakers' signing of Luol Deng. It's this one.
Although Deng's ebbing career trajectory doesn't mesh with those from the Purple and Gold's kiddies, head coach Luke Walton is doing a phenomenal job of capping his playing time. You can at least envision Deng being fresh enough down the line to help a Lakers squad that needs defense (he's still good on that end) and can manufacture more wide-open catch-and-shoot bunnies.
Miles Plumlee, Milwaukee Bucks (four years, $50 million)
Miles Plumlee just got traded to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for Roy Hibbert and Spencer Hawes, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of the Vertical. He was previously stuck behind Greg Monroe, John Henson, Thon Maker and Giannis Antetokounpo.
Plumlee had trouble gaining chances to play in that logjam, and even more trouble actually doing anything with said chances. Here's to hoping a change of scenery changes everything we've learned so far. The only reason he doesn't warrant a slide is because he was apparently "worth" two rotational bigs in trade.
Rajon Rondo, Chicago Bulls (two years, $28.1 million)
The Chicago Bulls handed Rajon Rondo a significant amount of money, and it has blown up in their faces. He's barely in the rotation these days, and the offense averages more points per 100 possessions without him running the show.
Clearly, no one—or everyone—saw this coming.
Contract brevity absolves the Bulls of long-term harm. Rondo is signed through next season, but his $13.4 million salary in 2017-18 is non-guaranteed. Chicago might actually have a trade chip on its hands in the near future.
Evan Turner, Portland Trail Blazers (four years, $70 million)
Evan Turner comes close to worst-five territory, but he recently hit a semi-stride. While his shooting percentages remain a roller coaster, the Portland Trail Blazers are finding more ways to use him as a playmaker, and his defense has picked up.
Since Jan. 1, Turner is positively impacting the Blazers' statistical performance on both ends of the court. It's a small victory but a victory all the same. He's trending in the right direction, and it's easier to offload the contracts of combo wings who don't shoot than—spoiler alert—outdated big men.
No. 5 Worst: Chandler Parsons, Memphis Grizzlies (4 Years, $94.4 Million)
Contrary to many of his worst-contract peers, Chandler Parsons has the means to reverse his designation. We saw protracted stretches of stardom while he was in Dallas, and that player isn't necessarily gone forever.
But, in the here and now, we can't pretend like Parsons' $94.4 million agreement doesn't look awful. It seemed iffy at best with him coming off another right knee surgery, and the optics are worse now that he's back on the court.
Parsons is averaging 6.5 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 0.6 steals per game with an effective field-goal percentage of 40.8—all career lows. That's damning stuff even when you factor in his minutes cap.
And it's not like he's getting better.
A glimmer of hope presented itself over a three-game stretch during the middle of January when he averaged 11 points on 60.9 percent shooting against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz and Warriors. But he's put up 6.6 points on a 26.1 percent clip in seven outings since.
Hopeful romantics are free to focus on Parsons' increased assist rate or how he's no longer moving like he has 25-pound dumbbells tied to his ankles. And hey! Perhaps the player from his final 29 appearances last season shows up in time for 2017-18.
In the meantime, this version of Parsons isn't close to the one for whom the Memphis Grizzlies paid.
No. 4 Worst: Bismack Biyombo, Orlando Magic (4 Years, $72 Million)
Bismack Biyombo's deal would place much worse if there weren't a chance it could look better elsewhere.
Yes, his rebounding and block rates have dipped, and he's registering a noticeably higher turnover percentage amid a slight uptick in usage. And yes, the Orlando Magic's offense is usually a statistical eyesore when he's in the lineup. According to NBA Math, in fact, no player in the league is less valuable on the sexier end.
But should we have expected anything more?
Biyombo is best suited as a lone rim-running big surrounded by shooters. That's how the Toronto Raptors made him so appealing in the first place. Orlando is forcing a frontcourt timeshare with him, Serge Ibaka and Nikola Vucevic while complementing them with non-shooters who are playing out of position.
The Magic are setting him up to fail.
None of which makes Biyombo's contract OK. The Sporting News' Sean Deveney wrote there is "no chance" of Orlando finding any takers, and his salary would look worse if, at 24, he couldn't still play the youth card.
No. 3 Worst: Ian Mahinmi (4 Years, $64 Million)
Remove Ian Mahinmi's age (30) and injured knees from consideration, and this deal still wouldn't look good.
Similar to Biyombo, Mahinmi (and his contract) might be fine on another team. But the Washington Wizards didn't need an offensively limited center who can't play beside Marcin Gortat. And we know they were in the market for a stretchier tower, given their interest in Al Horford.
This problem isn't going away—it's about to get real. Per CSN Mid-Atlantic's J. Michael, Mahinmi is due back sometime before the All-Star break, at which point Washington must figure out how it's going to integrate him.
Stashing Mahinmi in the second unit is the likely play. The Wizards run four-out lineups that accentuate the John Wall-to-rolling big connection, and the bench is flat-out wasted.
But then Washington must come to terms with using its third-highest-paid player for spot minutes—an oxymoron that is not rendered acceptable in the new cap climate.
And this, remember, is without recognizing that Mahinmi has played just one game over the last nine months.
No. 2 Worst: Timofey Mozgov, Los Angeles Lakers (4 Years, $64 Million)
Where the Lakers can loosely justify their $72 million handshake with Deng, they cannot begin to rationalize a $64 million obligation to Timofey Mozgov.
At least Deng was working off a quasi-resurgence with the Miami Heat this past summer. Mozgov fell off a cliff during his final season with the Cavaliers and hasn't re-emerged in Hollywood.
Detractors can and should look past his field-goal percentage dropping from 56.5 to 51.4. He's taking more shots, and the Lakers' ball-handlers will never generate as many clean looks around the basket for him as Kyrie Irving or James did.
But Mozgov is grabbing just 13 percent of all available rebounds when in the game—a career-low mark that's bad for a lumbering 7-footer. His block rate (2.2) falls under the same umbrella, and he's allowing opponents to shoot 54.9 percent at the rim—bottom-five protection among the 50 players who challenge five or more such looks per game.
Traditional giants have a hard enough time distinguishing themselves from jump-shooting biglets. Take away their ability to wall off dribble penetration, and they don't have a place in the NBA.
The Lakers, in essence, took a declining iteration of an almost-archaic player and made him their second-highest-paid asset. And now he's losing minutes to rookie Ivica Zubac.
No. 1 Worst: Joakim Noah, New York Knicks (4 Years, $72.6 Million)
And then the Knicks followed in the Lakers' footsteps, only more so. We submit to you: Joakim Noah's $72.6 million atrocity.
Pretty much everyone other than team president Phil Jackson (apparently) knew signing Noah was a bad idea. Not only will he turn 35 in the final year of his deal, but he plays Kristaps Porzingis' best position.
For all the talk of Carmelo Anthony impeding New York's rebuild, Noah is doing more to hinder Porzingis' development than anyone. Though some of Noah's defensive splits are good—he is second on the team in value added per 100 possessions—he needs to play beside Porzingis, as a paint-squatter, to be the least bit effective.
Trot out Noah without Porzingis, and New York's defense gives up more than 118 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA Wowy.
Perception worsens when you stir in the play of 22-year-old rookie Willy Hernangomez. Head coach Jeff Hornacek doesn't use him regularly, but he's a proven sparkplug. He played most of the fourth quarter during the Knicks' Feb. 1 victory over the Brooklyn Nets as Noah watched from the sidelines.
Starting Noah because of his contract status is a futile move. He has a good outing—mostly on the glass—once every four games, and that's about it. Whatever leadership he offers behind the scenes isn't worth this price tag.
Judging from the Knicks' record (22-29), it's also not working—an inconvenient truth they're stuck with, because Noah's cap hit is as close to immovable as an NBA contract gets.
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @danfavale.