The All-Bust Team from 2017 NBA Free Agency
More than a few NBA teams no doubt wish they had a time machine that could transport them back to the 2017 offseason.
Some free-agency signings are clear risks from the onset. Others look downright bad from their inceptions. And most of the financiers for these contracts know it. They're taking what they deem calculated gambles and crossing their fingers that everything pans out in their favor.
What happens when those leaps of faith aren't rewarded?
Free-agency busts are not solely being graded upon contract length and amount. They'll be rated against expected contributions, value to their team, their ability to draw any interest on the trade market and the likelihood their early-season malaises aren't harbingers of anything sinister. So, yes, players on minimum salaries will receive cameos.
Health will be a mitigating factor as well, but only in recurring instances. Gordon Hayward won't earn a bid to the NBA's All-Bust First Team because he suffering a (probably) season-ending injury.
Players outperforming initial projections won't be put under the microscope. Tim Hardaway Jr.s four-year, $71 million deal is still awful, but he was making meaningful contributions to the New York Knicks before his lower-left leg injury. Those who signed extensions that won't kick in until 2018-19 also don't count toward the pool of candidates, since they're still playing on their previous deals. Andrew Wiggins is free to thank me in the DMs.
And finally, this gaggle of busts will be built like every other All-NBA squad: with two guards, two forwards and one center.
2nd Team (Dis)Honorable Mentions
Guard: Derrick Rose, Cleveland Cavaliers
Derrick Rose hasn't played since Nov. 9 while dealing with a left ankle injury—and the Cleveland Cavaliers are better for it. They were outgunned by 12.6 points per 100 possessions when he was on the court and don't have an discernible way of squeezing him into a rotation that counts LeBron James and Dwyane Wade as the two most important table-setters. It says a lot that Jose Calderon is a better fit for the starting lineup just because he can stand behind the three-point line.
Forking over $2.3 million for one-year of a busted Rose doesn't hurt the Cavaliers long term. Rational thinkers didn't believe he'd arrive and begin to replace Kyrie Irving. But his presence creates an unnecessary issue once Isaiah Thomas returns in the next few weeks.
Assuming Rose ever gets clearance to play, will head coach Tyronn Lue dare mess with an effective bench by playing him and Wade at the same time? Does he have the guts to relegate Rose to full-time bystander duty? Will it eventually make sense for both sides to broker a buyout? Whatever happens, the Cavaliers shouldn't need to devote this much brainpower to someone on a minimum contract.
Guard: Jamal Crawford, Minnesota Timberwolves
Jamal Crawford didn't expect to see so little playing time upon joining the Minnesota Timberwolves.
"It's a difficult challenge," he said, per the Star Tribune's Kent Youngblood. "Because this is the lowest minutes I've played, pretty much the same minutes I played as a rookie. So you want to actually do it the right way, and play within the framework of the game. But then, if you're not out there that much, you kind of have to make something happen. So it's a balance I'm trying to figure out."
Crawford hasn't played fewer than 20 minutes per game since his rookie season, in 2000-01. His 39.3 percent clip from the floor doesn't warrant starter's exposure, and the Timberwolves are getting outscored by more than 10 points per 100 possessions when he plays.
Still, if the plan was to overwork the starting five, then why pay Crawford the room mid-level exception with a player option for next year?
Forward: Richard Jefferson, Denver Nuggets
Jamal Murray is bouncy and flashing a little more polish as a point guard. The Denver Nuggets owe no apologies for prioritizing his development over Jameer Nelson's experience.
And yet, the decision to waive Nelson, last year's most-used floor general, so they could pay Richard Jefferson to not play remains one of this season's worst decisions.
Forward: Marreese Speights, Orlando Magic
Consider Marreese Speights' inclusion a nod to the dearth of frontcourt free-agency busts. Good job, NBA general managers.
Also, though: Speights isn't playing great basketball. He's shooting under 21 percent from three over his past eight appearances, during which time Orlando's offense is mustering a truly terrible 80.6 points per 100 possessions when he plays.
Speights is on a cheap, one-year contract, and head coach Frank Vogel has felt zero obligation to play him every night. No harm, no foul. But the Magic needed more dependable frontcourt shooting this year, and Speights hasn't provided it.
Center: Mason Plumlee, Denver Nuggets
Mason Plumlee hasn't been terrible on an individual level. But his three-year, $41 million deal still ranks as one of the offseason's worst. Denver had already locked up Paul Millsap by that point, and his place with the team feels even more pointless when Trey Lyles is doing things.
Sticking him beside other bigs just doesn't work. The Nuggets are getting pummeled in the time he's spent next to Millsap and Nikola Jokic. And the last thing you look for from your second-highest-paid player is a relative inability to commingle with your two best players.
For what it's worth: Nerlens Noel received some consideration here, but he ended up doing the Dallas Mavericks a favor, it seems, by turning down their initial $70 million offer. Patrick Patterson toed the line of inclusion as well, but his previous two years of work in Toronto earn him a little extra patience as he regains form following offseason knee surgery.
Guard: George Hill, Sacramento Kings
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 9.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.1 steals, 0.2 blocks, 46.7 percent shooting
Contract: 3 years, $57 million ($1 million guaranteed in 2019-20)
At the beginning of the season, George Hill's contract with the Sacramento Kings only seemed like it could be a bust if his arrival ruined an organic one-year tank. Nothing of the sort has transpired.
Remove garbage time from consideration, and the Kings are playing like a 16-win team, according to Cleaning The Glass—a pace almost five victories worse than any other squad. They're in line for a bottom-five record as it stands and should see their lottery odds improve as the schedule plays out and their record more closely aligns with the performance metrics.
Yet, the Hill situation is weird...in the worst possible way.
Former vice president of basketball operations Scott Perry, now general manager of the Knicks, apparently sold the point guard on playoff contention over the summer, per the Salt Lake Tribune's Tony Jones. Combine that with a noticeable downtick in playing time, and he's not a happy camper.
Buying into that apparent vision is Hill's own folly. He's a smart guy. No way does he look at Sacramento's roster and think, Oh yeah, this team will be one of the eight best in the Western Conference. But the playing-time snafu is a different story.
Head coach Dave Joerger has prioritized minutes for rookies De'Aaron Fox and Frank Mason Jr., along with second-unit spark plug Buddy Hield—as he should. Hill has seen more than 30 minutes per game over his past three appearances, but that spike coincides with limited run for Fox, who's laboring through a left quad injury.
Sacramento's crowded backcourt rotation doesn't bode well for its marriage to Hill even if his unhappiness is overstated. His trade value won't increase amid an inconsistent and diminished role—not at his yearly price point goes up, and not when he owns the team's fourth-worst net rating. The $1 million guarantee in 2019-20 ensures he won't be immovable, but the Kings aren't getting a first-round pick or prospect for his services without swallowing a bad contract.
Boosting Hill's on-court workload is similarly out of the question over the long haul. Trying to up his curb appeal at the expense of spin for the kiddies is disingenuous to the rebuild. And where Zach Randolph's overpay has come with a distinct role and inherent acceptance of the Kings' situation, Hill's rebukes come off as less than convincing.
Guard: Dion Waiters, Miami Heat
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 14.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks, 39.2 percent shooting
Contract: 4 years, $52 million
Handing Dion Waiters four years and $52 million never profiled as a good business decision for the Miami Heat unless they could be absolutely sure he'd match last season's magic.
Waiters' efficiency has plummeted since his contract year. More of his shots are coming from three-point range, but they look forced. And they most definitely aren't falling. He's putting down under 30 percent of his treys that aren't wide open and shooting 27.1 percent on pull-up triples.
Sprinkling in some extra drives to the basket hasn't worked to offset his perimeter struggles. He's canning 61.4 percent of his looks inside three feet, up from 50.7 percent in 2016-17, but he doesn't reach the foul line with appreciable frequency.
Referees aren't as quick with the whistles in the lane these days. Charity-stripe maestro James Harden has even seen his free-throw rate fall. Relying on additional three-point attempts adversely impacts those gimme opportunities as well.
But Waiters has been fouled on just 6.3 percent of his shot attempts, by far the lowest mark of his career and barely inside the bottom one-third of his position, according to Cleaning The Glass.
"Last year, I was so efficient," Waiters, per the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson. "But last year, my first two months were the same exact way. It's deja vu. Sometimes you have to look in the mirror and understand what you're doing wrong. I am not worried about my shot. I know that thing is going to start falling."
The Heat better hope Waiters is right. They're being outscored by 5.2 points per 100 possessions when he plays, with an offensive rating that would rank among the NBA's three worst. He's shooting 54.5 percent in crunch time, including 53.8 percent from deep, but even then, he hijacks possessions and settles for low-efficiency jumpers, displaying little to no interest in drawing fouls.
If he doesn't come close to sniffing last year's offensive peak, he has almost nothing to offer the Heat—particularly as a member of starting units starved for points.
Forward: Shabazz Muhammad, Minnesota Timberwolves
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 4.0 points, 1.7 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.1 blocks, 38.5 percent shooting
Contract: 2 years, $3.4 million (player option for 2018-19)
Shabazz Muhammad almost evaded the list, because the Timberwolves are lucky they're not paying him more money.
Coach-president Tom Thibodeau offered him a $40 million extension leading into last season, according to the Star Tribune's Jerry Zgoda. Muhammad turned it down, opting instead to wait for a more lucrative offer in free agency. But that extra money never came. The market corrected itself after a wild 2016 offseason, leaving the 25-year-old scorer in the wind until mid-September.
Other teams offered Muhammad more money, per Zgoda, but he again rolled the dice on himself, re-signing with Minnesota in hopes a familiar setting and role as a second-unit linchpin would drive up his price tag for 2019.
That gamble hasn't paid off, either. Muhammad is seeing under 12 minutes per game and ranks as one of the NBA's least efficient shooters. Out of the 283 players with at least 90 field-goal attempts, Muhammad's effective field-goal percentage—combined measurement of two-point and three-point efficiency—checks in at No. 274.
Minnesota, meanwhile, is getting blasted when he plays. The team has been outscored by 114 points during his time on the floor—the worst mark by a country mile among 150 players who've seen 250 minutes or fewer of total court time.
Minimum contracts are seldom detrimental, and had the Timberwolves gotten their way last fall, they'd be paying Muhammad much more. But granting him a player option suddenly seems like a terrible decision. They don't have the depth to just waste a second-unit roster spot.
Thibs is once again working his starting five tooth and nail. No lineup comes within 200 minutes of their total tally. Muhammad, along with Jamal Crawford, represented some semblance of depth. Neither has provided it, and looking at the roster's shaky wing situation, Muhammad's devolution into DNP territory breaks the cheap-contract mold. Re-investing in him has proved a major bust.
Forward: Danilo Gallinari, Los Angeles Clippers
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 13.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.2 blocks, 34.5 percent shooting
Contract: 3 years, $64.8 million
Numerous glute injuries have limited Danilo Gallinari to 11 appearances, which adds a to-be-determined layer to his status. But either he or Blake Griffin has to be here. The Los Angeles Clippers bet big on a pair of frequently injured forwards closing in on their 30th birthdays and are thus far getting burned by both.
Giving Griffin the benefit of the doubt is fine. He's slightly younger, at 28, and his latest stay on the sidelines (sprained left MCL) doesn't gum up the Clippers' outlook. They know he's a top-15 talent when healthy, as does the rest of the league. Another team will absorb his max contract, perhaps even sending back some value, if they wish to pivot into a rebuild.
The same cannot be said for Gallinari. He is barely a $20-million-per-year player when healthy, and this recent rash of setbacks has dovetailed with a plunge in production.
Gallinari doesn't have the same modest burst when he puts the ball on the floor. He's on course to notch the second-lowest free-throw rate of his career while only allocating a tiny bit more of his attempts to three-pointers. His finishing around the rim is flat-out ghastly. He's shooting a career-worst 50 percent inside three feet of the hoop and suffering from Carmelo Anthony Syndrome—an apparent ability to finish above the rack.
Eleven games do not comprise a defining sample size, and the Clippers are a net plus during the 203 minutes he's played with Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. But his contract and play hamstring the team's approach to the future.
Losing Griffin for a few months eradicates any hope the Clippers have of making the playoffs. End of story. And with Jordan, who turns 30 in July, set for a raise in free agency, the objectively constructive reaction entails initiating a transition period.
Except, why should the Clippers trade Jordan knowing they'll have $53.5 million committed to Gallinari and Griffin next season? Their books almost demand they continue chasing 43 wins and first-round playoff exits for two or three more years.
Maybe Gallinari returns from this latest glute injury and absolutely kills. But that means little in the context of this season—other than crummier lottery odds. His best shot at redemption will come next year...when he's 30...and even less equipped to log half, let alone a lion's share, of his minutes at small forward.
Center: Cristiano Felicio, Chicago Bulls
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 4.0 points, 2.9 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.2 blocks, 62.1 percent shooting
Contract: 4 years, $32 million
Serious question: What other team was coming so hard for Cristiano Felicio that the Chicago Bulls deemed it necessary to shell out a four-year, $32 million pact on the first day of free agency?
This deal reads like a premature overreaction to the 2016 spending spree. Chicago likely jumped the gun for fear of a larger offer sheet coming his way, only to realize soon after the market collapsed onto itself—especially at the center position.
The contract looked bad then. It seems unequivocally horrid now.
Felicio is finishing at a high clip around the rim (67.5 percent) but cannot realistically compete for minutes in a frontcourt carousel that includes Robin Lopez, Lauri Markkanen, Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis. He's averaging under 11 minutes over the Bulls' past 10 games...with six DNPs.
Chicago's iffy point guard collection is part of the problem. Felicio verges on an offensive non-entity without a setup man. And while the Bulls are playing home to Kris Dunn's breakout, neither he, Jerian Grant nor anyone else on the roster has the playmaking chops to prop up a 6'9" plodder. As Blog A Bull's Vijay Vemu wrote:
"With Kris Dunn and Jerian Grant as the main point guards, playmaking isn't always there with both of them. There are times where both of them miss an open man. Teams also don’t view them as a big offensive threat coming off the PNR. So teams are way less likely to double either Dunn or Grant. Also given the duo’s inconsistencies shooting the ball, the defending big man is going to sag back into the paint, taking away the space for Felicio to get the ball and go up with it."
Cutting into Felicio's looks as the pick-and-roll diver and thus diminishing the quality of attempts on cuts renders him unplayable. The mobile-big uprising destroys any value he might hold as a rim protector. He's allowing opponents to shoot almost 80 percent around the iron. He has shown potential when guarding in space, but he's grabbing a smaller share of opponent misses than Dunn.
And so, the Bulls are left saddled with a fully guaranteed contract for a mostly outmoded big man who shouldn't factor into the rotation unless Lopez gets shipped out—or until they soup-up the tank.