He Made HOW Much? Predicting the Worst Contracts of 2017 NBA Offseason
We interrupt your regularly scheduled NBA playoff programing to bring you the latest form of backhanded flattery, free-agency edition.
Predicting which players will get the worst contracts of the offseason is awkward territory. It's not possible to pick out the next Joakim Noah (four years, $72.6 million) or Timofey Mozgov (four years, $64 million). What makes those deals so unfathomably bad is they weren't supposed to exist in the first place.
This is more about players we can envision being grossly overpaid—the Evan Turner All-Stars. Turner wound up with a four-year, $70 million deal from the Portland Trail Blazers last summer, but while the amount was surprising, the general notion that he'd sign a bad contract was not.
The next batch of those pacts are in this space. And in a way, making the cut is upside-down praise. These are deals that should make people cringe before recipients have the chance to live up to them, which is bad. But players need to perform well enough during the regular season to earn them, which is good.
So let's build up some standout free agents in order to (politely) chop them down, shall we?
JaMychal Green, Memphis Grizzlies (Restricted)
During a March episode of The Lowe Post podcast, ESPN.com's Zach Lowe said the Memphis Grizzlies genuinely fear JaMychal Green's entry into restricted free agency—as they should. He has transformed into one of their most valuable defenders and one of the NBA's most versatile players.
Tony Allen and Marc Gasol are the only members of the Grizzlies who wrapped the regular season saving more points on defense, according to NBA Math. That Green remains a clear positive while shimmying between more coverages than anyone else on the team cannot be overstated. He sticks with rim-runners, rotates onto pick-and-roll orchestrators, shoots gaps on closeouts and even holds his own in one-on-one situations.
"I've been watching on my iPad before the games just to see everybody's tendencies from the 1 to the 4," he told NBA Math. "I know I'm going to be switching most of the time. I can't just look at my man and know what he's going to do. I've got to look for their entire team."
Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale compared his Green to Draymond Green back in December. He shouldn't have any regrets now. Defensively, in fact, he was dead on: Draymond is the only player in the NBA to defend as many pick-and-roll ball-handler (50), roll-man (45) and isolation (111) possessions.
Green needs to make strides on the offensive end, but he's an easy fit. He doesn't command a significant number of touches and canned 38.2 percent of his threes during the regular season.
It's really hard to make the contract of a 20-something power forward who shoots threes, battles on the glass and switches defensive assignments with ease look bad. But it'll take big-time money for Memphis to think twice about matching offers, so someone's going to try.
At least one team that whiffs on a star will try to offset the strikeout by offering Green the salary of the alpha option he's never been.
Ballpark Contract Prediction: Four years, $76 million
Tim Hardaway Jr., Atlanta Hawks (Restricted)
Remember when the Atlanta Hawks lost the Jerian Grant trade by forking over the first-round pick for Tim Hardaway Jr., a defensive sieve two years deep into an unimpressive NBA tenure? Oh, how have times have changed.
Initially tabbed as an inefficient spot-up specialist with a pre-Cleveland J.R. Smith shot selection, Hardaway is now one of the Hawks' most pivotal contributors. And with restricted free agency on the horizon, his rise comes at just the right time.
Hardaway still has an on-again, off-again relationship with bad field-goal attempts but is making better decisions. He's traded in long twos for threes and dribble drives that don't end with premature pull-ups. A career-high 29.1 percent of his looks came within three feet of the bucket, while a career-low 10.7 percent came between 16 feet and the three-point line.
Hawks head honcho Mike Budenholzer has also entrusted Hardaway with secondary playmaking responsibilities. He has never averaged more assists per 100 possessions and handles the ball a lot down the stretch of close games.
Even Hardaway's defense has improved. He can be a train wreck when guarding pick-and-rolls, but his off-ball awareness borders on above average, and he's held one-on-one maestros to 33.5 percent shooting. Though he'll never be an ace stopper, he's serviceable—good enough to usurp Kent Bazemore in Atlanta's rotations.
Rival teams have no doubt noticed Hardaway's progress, and he'll be rewarded handsomely for his leap. Blossoming three-and-D talents always fetch a pretty penny (see: Crabbe, Allen), and Hardaway's restricted status encourages offer sheets structured to try convincing the Hawks it's not worth matching (see: Crabbe, again). He won't get Bazemore ($70 million) or Crabbe ($74.8 million) money, but he'll come uncomfortably close.
Ballpark Contract Prediction: Four years, $58 million
Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors
Serge Ibaka will count against the Toronto Raptors' cap to the tune of $18.5 million until he signs a new deal. And he'll get more than that unless general manager Masai Ujiri hypnotizes him into taking less for the North's culture.
Consider how much other, less talented big men are earning next season: Timofey Mozgov is on the books for $15.3 million. Bismack Biyombo is taking home $17 million. Joakim Noah is getting $17.8 million. Enes Kanter and Greg Monroe are at $17.9 million.
Ibaka has the edge over everyone in this group, if only because he's half-unicorn—a shot-blocker who swishes threes and remains more explosive than not. It's possible he lands a max contract that starts at 30 percent of next year's $101 million salary cap ($30.3 million).
Don't scoff. The quality of frontcourt talent available this summer is that thin. Ibaka graded out as the third-best big man on the open market in Bleacher Report's free-agent rankings, finishing behind Paul Millsap and Blake Griffin.
Paying that much for someone who's perpetually the third or fourth option on his team is overkill—especially when his defensive value has plateaued. It's become clear since arriving in Toronto that he's now more valuable for his offense than defense, as Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal wrote:
The first half worked, as Ibaka averaged 14.2 points in a Toronto uniform while shooting 45.9 percent from the field and 39.8 percent from downtown. But he struggled to mesh defensively, to the point that he posted a negative defensive box plus/minus (DBPM) for the first time in his NBA career. He even allowed opponents to shoot 51.3 percent at the hoop while defending 6.8 attempts per contest—a far cry from the 43.6 percent to which he held foes during his final season with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
No amount of money will keep the Raptors from re-signing Ibaka (assuming he wants to stay). They wouldn't have traded Terrence Ross and a 2017 first-round pick for him if they weren't prepared to foot the bill for his next contract.
But the market, in all likelihood, will dictate they give him max money or something close to it.
Ballpark Contract Prediction: Four years, $108 million
Patty Mills, San Antonio Spurs
Think about how much Patty Mills will get per year in free agency. Add a few million dollars to that number. And then throw a couple million on top of that. You're now in the vicinity of what he'll cost.
Mills' appeal is buoyed by the headlining point guards who will reach the open market with him. Most of them aren't going anywhere. Stephen Curry? Funny. Chris Paul? Nah. Kyle Lowry? Toronto's smarter than that.
George Hill, Jrue Holiday and Jeff Teague can be classified as wild cards, but not one of their respective teams has viable alternatives in place. So let's say two of them stay put. That leaves one to serve as this summer's most desirable nomad. After him, the best remaining options consist of Darren Collison, Shaun Livingston and Derrick Rose.
If Mills secures less dough than those three, it's because he accepted a discount to continue chasing immortality with the San Antonio Spurs. Or because a to-be-determined team signed Rose during a rousing game of "Let's party like it's 2011."
Kawhi Leonard is the only player who added more value to the Spurs' offensive cause this season, according to NBA Math. They scored like a top-two superpower with him in the game, and the two most-used starting lineups fared better when subbing out Tony Parker for the Australian.
What he lacks in size and, by extension, on defense, Mills makes up for with offensive adaptability. He can be reckless when running pick-and-rolls, but he has no problem torching defenses off the ball and is a good enough distributor to keep the half-court offense from bogging down.
Just three other players closed 2016-17 averaging more than 22 points and eight assists per 100 possessions while shooting better than 41 percent from downtown: Curry, Lowry and Paul—all of whom directed a top-six offense. Mills doesn't have the experience they do, but, in this instance, the company doesn't lie.
He's one of the NBA's most dangerous offensive players, and there will be teams outside San Antonio (howdy-ho, Philly) willing to bet big on his skills translating to a more prominent role.
Ballpark Contract Prediction: Four years, $70 million
Nerlens Noel, Dallas Mavericks (Restricted)
League sources told the Sporting News' Sean Deveney in February that Nerlens Noel is "projected" to earn $90 million in his next contract, and that the Dallas Mavericks "will match any offer he gets."
Committing $90 million to a rim-running defensive anchor is hardly front-office malpractice if it's spread over five years. But Noel's payday will come in four. He's not accepting a smaller annual salary than Joakim Noah coaxed out of the New York Knicks.
Outside interest stands to drum up Noel's sticker price even further.
The Mavericks have spent years looking for their big man of the future—a search that predates the DeAndre Jordan debacle from 2015. Noel finally gives them one. Their determination to keep him will be universal knowledge.
Rivals with cap space could decide to get cute and tender a nine-figure offer sheet, fully expecting the Mavericks to match. No, there aren't a lot of teams with the wiggle room to meddle this thoroughly. Most of those that do have no real need for a max-level big.
Yet, what if the Boston Celtics take their defensive rebounding issues super seriously? What if the Brooklyn Nets decide to get out in front of a Brook Lopez trade or departure in 2018 free agency? What if the Phoenix Suns renounce Alex Len and view Noel as a good Tyson Chandler-in-training and complement to Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss?
There may ultimately not be enough interior real estate on the open market for a team to try sabotaging Dallas' books. Even so, without the threat of departure, a four-year, $90 million deal renders Noel's annual salary one of the seven to 10 highest among all big men.
Evolving cap climate or not, this is an investment that'll be tough to reconcile.
Ballpark Contract Prediction: Four years, $90 million
Mason Plumlee, Denver Nuggets (Restricted)
Mason Plumlee might be able to avoid a worst-contract label if he lands with a team other than the Denver Nuggets. But he'll more likely than not qualify no matter where he ends up.
Prospective suitors must offer him enough in the first place to deter Denver from matching. The Nuggets can let him walk for market value, but then they'll have traded Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round pick for a rental who didn't help them make the playoffs. And yet, if they pay him, they'll be eight figures deep per year into a backup big who, like Nurkic, shouldn't be logging a bunch of time beside Nikola Jokic.
Denver was a net plus in the 177 minutes Jokic and Plumlee played together, but most of the duo's damage was done over the final four games, when they were a plus-14.1 points per 100 possessions against squads with nothing on the line. The current sample is nowhere near large enough to make sweeping declarations.
For argument's sake, let's say it is. There's nothing good to say. The Nuggets still defended like a bottom-five team with them on the court, and their overall offensive rating actually dropped.
Second-string bigs don't need to be Jokic's most effective running mates, but they must cover up for the Serbian skyscraper's defensive shortcomings. Plumlee doesn't do enough masking on the less glamorous end. He shouldn't be chasing around power forwards, and using him as a stationary rim protector leaves Jokic to do the dirty work against glorified wings masquerading as 4s that he doesn't have the lateral gait to lock down.
But Plumlee cannot be evaluated in a Jokic-centric bubble. Teams will value his rebounding, passing and rim protection. Only one other player finished 2016-17 clearing 12 rebounds, five assists and two blocks per 100 possessions: Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Plumlee, who doesn't shoot threes, does enough to survive in today's game—just not enough to warrant the payday the Blazers traded him to avoid.
Ballpark Contract Prediction: Four years, $60 million
J.J. Redick, Los Angeles Clippers
J.J. Redick almost didn't make a cameo. After all, can you really grossly overpay someone who's been the most deadeye high-volume three-point shooter not named Kyle Korver over the past four years?
Sam Amick of USA Today pegged Redick's price tag at $18 million annually, so yes, it turns out you can.
This projection is specific to the Los Angeles Clippers, but that doesn't matter. If anything, it's more dangerous. It implies they cannot be outbid for their fourth-best player. That's a weird stance to assume when staring luxury-tax hell in the face.
Paying that much for Redick reeks of trying to compensate him for the money he didn't get in his last deal. The four-year, $26.9 million contract he signed in 2013 has since turned into one of the Association's best bargains, and with nearly a half-decade's stake in the Clippers, Redick is approaching legacy-deal territory.
Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers also come into play here. They're owed $14.3 million and $11.9 million, respectively, next season. This summer's cap spike won't compare to last year's explosion, but coach-president Doc Rivers must still establish a clear separation between Redick and a pair of backups.
And just like that, it clicks. Redick could actually extract $18 million per year from the Clippers. He might get more. They have no leverage over him. Rivers, per Amick, wants to keep the core intact. He'll have to pay Redick not only for services rendered but also for touches and status he's ceding to every member of the Big Three.
Sure, Redick's game will age well. Korver is proof. But the soon-to-be 33-year-old isn't getting any better. Forking over anything close to $20 million for more than a year or two cannot be spun as a long-term victory.
Ballpark Contract Prediction: Four years, $74 million
Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City Thunder (Restricted)
Andre Roberson is about to cash in on the defined market value of his peers.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Otto Porter are getting max offers. They're also not going anywhere. The Washington Wizards used a first-round pick to offload Andrew Nicholson's deal so they could pay Porter. The Detroit Pistons can't afford to lose their top two-way player without receiving anything in return.
Roberson is a natural pivot point for those who show interest in poaching the other two (so, Brooklyn and Philadelphia). He probably won't get the max, but cash-rich admirers will talk themselves into hefty pitches.
All-world perimeter defenders are hard to find. Roberson tackles the toughest outside assignments even when they're point guards. Draymond Green is the only player to defend more isolation sets, and of the 89 players to guard at least 200 pick-and-roll ball-handlers, Roberson is tied for second in points allowed per possession.
Aggressive buyers will be further empowered by the Oklahoma City Thunder's salary sheet. They cross the $121 million luxury-tax line just by carrying cap holds for Roberson ($5.5 million) and Taj Gibson ($13.5 million).
Letting Gibson walk cheapens the Thunder's bottom line, but it doesn't ensure they evade the tax. Roberson could cost an additional $13.5 million on his own, at which point they must come to terms with paying top dollar for a non-contender.
Bankrolling a $20-plus million salary would be one thing if Roberson were a knockdown sniper. He's not. He shot under 26 percent on wide-open threes during the regular season and doesn't attack off the dribble nearly enough for teams to respect him. Defenders shamelessly sag off him, and he still passes up the more-than-occasional uncontested look.
Still, the Thunder themselves gave Victor Oladipo a four-year, $84 million extension. Roberson is even more valuable to them. And if they can't see that, another team will.
Ballpark Contract Prediction: Four years, $88 million
Derrick Rose, New York Knicks
Derrick Rose has given up his max-contract aspirations, which is good, because he's not getting one. He was never getting one. And he's most definitely not getting one now after suffering a torn left meniscus and undergoing the fourth knee surgery of his career.
As a pair of team executives told the New York Post's Fred Kerber:
"He's the next Rondo—starter on a short-term deal on a bad team, $15 million a year," suggested one agent, drawing a comparison to Rajon Rondo, who took a two-year, $27.3 million contract with Chicago last summer.
"There will be a market, but it probably won't be what he expects," said another team executive. "I don’t think [the Knicks] will re-sign him. I think he takes less money to go to a better team. He's not going to go to a Sacramento and lose. He's made a lot of money. If he could get $8-to-$10 or $10-to-$12 [million] with a team he thinks is good, I think he'll do that."
Wherever Rose lands on this scale will be too generous. Point guards who don't shoot threes, elevate the play of their teammates or excel on defense shouldn't be paid like starters. Rose put down just 21.7 percent of his deep balls in 2016-17 on minimum volume, averaged fewer potential assists than Jameer Nelson, and ranked 441st out of 468 players in ESPN's Defensive Real Plus-Minus.
These days, Rose is most marketable as a driving scorer. And even that's a stretch. Among the 88 players to attempt 250 or more shots inside the restricted area, his 54.7 percent success rate places 83rd.
On the right team, surrounded by players who exist to sit behind the three-point line and cover up his defensive miscues, he can pilot a functioning offense. But he's not the kind of player you build around anymore.
He should be counting himself as lucky to get the mid-level exception, not be in line for a short- or long-term deal that still partially pays him for the player he used to be.
Ballpark Contract Prediction: Three years, $42 million