The 5 Worst NBA Contracts from the Last 5 Years
It's much easier to find examples of regret than restraint in NBA free agency, particularly with the wild spending spree of 2016 still prominent in our memory banks.
Front offices often can't help themselves; give them eight figures in cap space, and the money often burns in their pockets to the point they feel forced to spend lavishly (or, in their minds, aggressively).
Of course, every poor investment isn't necessarily misguided from the start. Sure, some are wince-worthy from the start. But injuries can transform potentially shrewd pickups into cap-killing albatrosses. And shifting team priorities can leave win-now additions looking out of place on clubs who later decide to shift their focuses forward.
No matter the roads traveled to this point, though, the five following pacts—ranked based on production, salary amount and team impact—stand out as the most lamentable deals signed over the past five offseasons.
5. Miles Plumlee
The contract: Four years, $50 million from the Milwaukee Bucks in 2016
The production: 3.5 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.4 BPG, 0.4 SPG, 9.9 player efficiency rating, 1.3 win shares
Miles Plumlee could not have timed his free agency any better. Only in the saturated summer of 2016 could his skills have been deemed worthy of anything approaching this commitment.
The sad thing is, it's hard to say he's underperformed. By salary, sure, but by expectations? This is essentially who he was before the deal. He averaged 5.1 points and 3.8 rebounds in 14.3 minutes the season before remarkably striking it rich.
"Even in this inflated salary-cap system, that's a sizable commitment to a player that logged just 14 minutes per game last season," SB Nation's Mike Prada wrote at the time.
To make matters more confusing, Milwaukee had already shelled out major money to fellow interior centers John Henson and Greg Monroe before then. So, not only was Plumlee overpaid, but he was also overpaid by a club that had no use for him.
By December 2016, Plumlee was getting healthy scratches. By February 2017, he was effectively salary-dumped onto the Charlotte Hornets. And by June 2017, he was rerouted to the Atlanta Hawks, who were desperate for anything to rid themselves of Dwight Howard.
4. Timofey Mozgov
The contract: Four years, $64 million from the Los Angeles Lakers in 2016
The production: 6.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 0.6 APG, 0.5 BPG, 0.2 SPG, 12.3 player efficiency rating, 1.5 win shares
This was the warning shot of 2016, a sign that we'd never seen anything like we were about to witness.
By all accounts, Timofey Mozgov appeared at best as a modest buy-low possibility. The then-29-year-old had vanished from the Cleveland Cavaliers' rotation at the most critical juncture. He only appeared in 13 outings on their 20-game postseason climb to the title, averaging just 5.8 minutes and only topping double-digit minutes three times.
How the Lakers wound up valuing him as a $64 million player—someone they targeted as soon as the market opened—defies explanation.
The rate was indefensible, regardless of market conditions. During the 2015-16 campaign, Mozgov was the 59th-rated center—out of 60—in ESPN.com's real plus-minus. In his first season with the Lakers, he finished 68th out of 71.
There wasn't a second season in L.A.
He was moved to the Brooklyn Nets last summer in a salary-slashing deal that cost the Lakers 2015 No. 2 pick D'Angelo Russell. Mozgov has since been moved to Charlotte...also for Dwight Howard.
3. Joakim Noah
The contract: Four years, $72.6 million from the New York Knicks in 2016
The production: 4.6 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.7 BPG, 0.6 SPG, 15.2 player efficiency rating, 2.3 win shares
Some people—including all the card-carrying members of Knicks Nation—might be surprised to see Joakim Noah's colossal contract only rank as the third-worst. After all, the last time we heard from him, he was wandering through the jungle with a blonde beard.
But what can we say—2016 was one hell of a summer.
Unlike the previous two players, Noah didn't come from completely off the radar. He was only two seasons removed from back-to-back All-Star appearances, had a Defensive Player of the Year award on his resume and just finished a $60 million contract.
That said, warning signs still sounded. He was 31 years old and coming off a season in which shoulder injuries had limited him to 29 appearances and sabotaged his shooting numbers (38.3 percent overall, 48.9 percent at the line).
Over his first two years in Gotham, he's only at 53 outings with a 43.9 free-throw percentage. The start to his 2017-18 campaign was pushed back by a suspension for violating the league's anti-drug program, and the end was moved up by an indefinite leave following a dispute with then-head coach Jeff Hornacek.
"He is still a skilled passer and defensive hustler, but he carries zero cachet elsewhere," Bleacher Report's Dan Favale wrote last summer. "His free-throw shooting is abysmal, and he hasn't been a league-average finisher around the bucket in at least three years. He doesn't work as a rim-runner out of the pick-and-roll, and his defensive stands are a house of cards. Force him to guard high pick-and-rolls, and he's probably cooked."
Favale pegged Noah's as the worst center contract last July—before Noah really flatlined this past season. By this time next year, we might remember his as the worst of 2016's many egregious overpays.
2. Luol Deng
The contract: Four years, $72 million from the Los Angeles Lakers in 2016
The production: 7.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.4 BPG, 0.9 SPG, 10.1 player efficiency rating, 0.9 win shares
Luol Deng earned more than $1 million for each minute played last season, collecting $17.1 million while contributing nothing after his 13-minute, two-point effort on opening night.
He wasn't injured, either. Rather, one season after inking a $72 million deal, he'd already been pushed out of the organization's plans and passed over for other options—even when injuries and trades ravaged the forward rotation.
"We have talked about it, me and him," Lakers head coach Luke Walton said in January, per Bill Oram of the Orange County Register. "It's what the two of us have discussed in private and what is best for both parties."
Not to belabor the point here, but the agreement entailed the Lakers sitting their third-highest-paid player for essentially the entire season while he was healthy.
Deng isn't useless—he averaged 32.4 minutes for the Eastern Conference semifinalist Miami Heat in 2015-16—but he doesn't have a purpose in L.A., besides tying up precious cap space that could otherwise be spent on a star. He was also overpaid from the start, a fact made apparent when he shot 38.7 percent overall and 30.9 percent from range while getting rotation minutes during his first season of the pact.
On the court, Deng's deal might be no more regrettable than Noah's. But Deng's is far more damaging off it, since the Lakers' free-agency ambitions are bigger and more present-focused than the Knicks'.
That said, there isn't a worse misfire than the max deal attached to No. 1.
1. Chandler Parsons
The contract: Four years, $94 million from the Memphis Grizzlies in 2016
The production: 7.1 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.2 BPG, 0.5 SPG, 10.7 player efficiency rating, 1.3 win shares
Of all the deals listed here, Chandler Parsons' may have been the most defensible at the time (which isn't saying a lot, but it's still true).
His first five NBA seasons featured per-game averages of 14.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.0 steals, along with an encouraging 47.4/38.0/70.5 shooting slash. Those aren't eye-popping marks, but his combination of size (6'10"), playmaking and spot-up shooting gave him a skill set few could match.
"This is the guy we've been seeking for a number of years," Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace told reporters. "He fits the description for that perimeter star to a T that we've been searching so aggressively for so many years, and we think he's got even more improvement in his bag of tricks."
Problem is the player Wallace described is Parsons' healthy version. He's never been that in Memphis, which isn't too surprising since the two seasons prior to his arrival were both ended by knee surgeries.
Alarm sirens blared when he wasn't ready for what should have been his Grizzlies debut. They grew louder once he took the floor seven games into the 2016-17 season, missing all eight shots and moving gingerly over 22 scoreless minutes. After five more appearances, he was back on the shelf—establishing the pattern that has defined his tenure in Memphis.
He's only played 70 games in two seasons, 28 of them as a reserve. His shooting slash is down to 40.1/35.5/74.3, and his ceiling is falling at an alarming rate. ESPN's Kevin Pelton projects Parsons' production to be worth about $4 million over the next two seasons, during which he'll make more than $49 million.
While they didn't pull the trigger, the Grizzlies shopped the No. 4 pick in a loaded class just to rid themselves of Parsons' deal. That would've been a massive price to pay, but then again, no contract inked the last five years has aged worse.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.