Massive NBA Contracts That Could Bury Their Teams
One bad contract can change the course of a franchise.
That's not hyperbolic. Considering one player makes up 20 percent of a starting lineup and 6.7 percent of a full roster—but can eat up to 35 percent of the salary cap if qualified for the supermax—allocating that much cash to one contributor can have devastating consequences when handled poorly.
Not all of these five players lay claim to supermax deals. Some don't even boast max contracts.
But they each have a chance to become mishandled assets, bleeding the franchise coffers dry without providing performances that would justify the expenditures. They're not guaranteed to morph into liabilities (though some have already reached that stage), but that potential can't be overlooked as we move deeper and deeper into their current pacts.
LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
Remaining Contract: $22,347,015 in 2018-19; $26,000,000 in 2019-20; $24,000,000 in 2020-21
Total Payout: $72,347,015
After LaMarcus Aldridge submitted a career season in 2017-18, the San Antonio Spurs' mid-October decision to have him opt into the final year of his four-year pact and then tack on a two-year extension for $50 million seemed like a sound investment. But after the downturn he's had during the early portion of 2018-19, the agreement now appears to be a crippling one.
Whether due to the unwelcome advances of Father Time or an inability to thrive in a crowded half-court set with DeMar DeRozan leading the spacing-free charge, Aldridge has served as an offensive anchor. One year after he made shouldering a heavy scoring burden look easy as pie and submitted a 3.14 RPM to sit at No. 31 overall, he's now down to minus-2.94 (No. 411).
He's shooting a career-worst 45.3 percent from the field and has yet to successfully covert even a single one of his meager nine attempts from beyond the arc. He's generating fewer free throws and failing to showcase the aggression that led to his All-NBA appearance one season prior. Turnovers are popping up with increased frequency, leading to an offensive box plus/minus that's plummeted from a lifetime-best 3.0 to a lifetime-worst minus-1.6.
These aren't positive trends for a 33-year-old big man who's always played with substantial bounce. Old age is unrelenting in the NBA, which is troubling when the Spurs have no realistic way of getting out from under the money owed over the next two campaigns.
Considering the team already has just under $109 million committed to 11 players in 2019-20, the Spurs might be out of luck. Improvement is always possible under the direction of head coach Gregg Popovich, but an aging and expensive core could either end a playoff streak that miraculously continues this season or push a new postseason drought to multiple seasons in the brutal Western Conference.
Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
Remaining Contract: $24,119,025 in 2018-19; $28,900,000 in 2019-20; $31,300,000 in 2020-21; $31,300,000 in 2021-22; $28,900,000 in 2022-23
Total Payout: $144,519,025
Either Kevin Love is going to remain with the Cleveland Cavaliers and absorb a significant share of the payroll expenditures, or he's going to be dealt to another organization for young players and additional draft picks.
But as Joe Vardon of The Athletic detailed while also revealing the power forward should return from his foot injury in mid-January, that could be unlikely:
"Love, who is 30 and has missed at least 20 games due to injury in the last three seasons, wants to play. Like the rest of the team's veterans, he was upset by the turn in direction of the franchise and spent some extended time away for the first few weeks following surgery, but [he] wants to stay in Cleveland and has not asked for a trade. However, he sees a scenario in which he could be traded, if the Cavs wanted and were able to acquire a package of picks, younger players and tradeable contracts.
"Cavs officials, speaking on background, said there has been no discussion of trading Love, and they want him to be on the court with rookie Collin Sexton. Rival league executives point to Love's contract—he's making $24.2 million this season—and his injuries as roadblocks to him being moved."
A healthy Love remains a talented figure in today's NBA, capable of thriving on the glass and submitting an inside-outside blend of scoring contributions. But he's also making enough money that Cleveland's ceiling will be inherently limited while he remains on the roster, barring a massive breakout from one of the youngsters operating on a rookie-scale deal—Collin Sexton, for example.
Jordan Clarkson, Love, Larry Nance Jr., JR Smith and Tristan Thompson alone will make around $89.3 million in 2019-20. Landing an impact player (assuming one could even be lured to Northeast Ohio when the incumbents carry so little appeal) is a virtual impossibility, and that doesn't change much when Love becomes one of the few massive deals on the books in later seasons.
Because his shooting should age well, Love's contract may not become an albatross when peering at it through a narrow scope. But factor in the intended direction of the team, and Cleveland will have trouble making positive strides with anything other than rookie-scale talent.
Chris Paul, Houston Rockets
Remaining Contract: $35,654,150 in 2018-19; $38,506,482 in 2019-20; $41,358,814 in 2020-21; $44,211,146 in 2021-22
Total Payout: $159,730,592
Maybe the Houston Rockets bounce back during the remaining portion of 2018-19, rendering any concerns about Chris Paul's ginormous contract irrelevant. But that doesn't change the amount of money still owed to the aging point guard down the road, nor will it prevent the team from paying Paul, James Harden and Clint Capela a combined $92.8 million in 2019-20, $99.7 million in 2020-21 and $106.6 million in 2021-22.
Even if those three standouts continue playing All-NBA basketball, how are the Rockets supposed to boast any semblance of depth? Just filling out a roster without going well over the luxury-tax threshold will be challenging enough for general manager Daryl Morey, much less finding complementary talents who can help assist championship pursuits.
And while assuming a 24-year-old Capela continues to improve or, at the least, stagnates seems like a safe bet, that becomes a bit riskier when we're talking about a bearded shooting guard who celebrates his 30th birthday in August. Then we have Paul, who turns 34 in May, has a checkered injury history and operates at a position not known for graceful aging curves.
Already, he doesn't appear to be hitting the astronomical levels reached in previous seasons. In fact, he's averaging career-worst numbers in turnovers per game, field-goal percentage, free-throw attempts per game and both the offensive and defensive components of box plus/minus.
Maybe he's dealing with lingering effects of the hamstring issues that kept him out earlier in the year, but that would be problematic in and of itself for a man with this much wear and tear accumulated throughout his time in the Association.
Paul just doesn't look right. He's still an effective floor general, but he has exploitable weaknesses and is forced to make concessions rather than dictate the flow of the offense run by head coach Mike D'Antoni. That doesn't bode well as his salary keeps rising for another three seasons.
In other words, Houston's championship window could be closing rapidly, even if the team bounces back and keeps it open for the remainder of 2018-19.
John Wall, Washington Wizards
Remaining Contract: $19,169,800 in 2018-19; $37,800,000 in 2019-20; $40,824,000 in 2020-21; $43,848,000 in 2021-22; $46,872,000 in 2022-23 (player option)
Total Payout: $188,513,800
John Wall is easily worth the $19.2 million he's making during the current campaign. He is a serious All-Star candidate, after all, continuing to thrive as a distributing point guard who also happens to function as a deadly scorer capable of maximizing his speedy habits.
But then the extension kicks in, and Wall's pay skyrockets for the next four years, assuming he doesn't turn down nearly $47 million in 2022-23. (Spoiler alert: He'll probably be content to earn that type of payout during his age-32 season.)
Worse still, a trade kicker makes him virtually unmovable until the offseason (a topic ESPN.com's Zach Lowe covered extensively), at which point that elevated salary will take hold and make matching tougher for another organization attempting to remain competitive while adding an infusion of backcourt talent. For all intents and purposes, no matter what ever-changing rumors are floating around on any given day, we have to assume that he's a Wizard for the foreseeable future.
While that might keep Washington in the playoff hunt, it also limits the ceiling. This team can't pursue any more significant additions while handing such massive contracts to Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr., who are owed a combined $92.1 million next year. And while the numbers are more respectable after a recent climb out of the Eastern Conference basement, that trio is still posting a minus-3.0 net rating in 2018-19.
So why single out Wall?
It's not just because he's the richest member of the troika, nor is it because his contract lasts the longest from the current date. He's also the oldest of the bunch by about three years and already seems to be on the decline, losing the speed and defensive desire that made him an All-NBA threat earlier in his career. Plays like this one are unacceptable, as is somehow functioning as Washington's slowest rotation member on both ends of the floor.
Hustle can't disappear once gigantic contracts are secured.
Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
Remaining Contract: $25,467,250 in 2018-19; $27,270,000 in 2019-20; $29,290,000 in 2020-21; $31,310,000 in 2021-22; $33,330,000 in 2022-23
Total Payout: $146,667,250
Maybe Karl-Anthony Towns continues to develop and proves himself a singular talent capable of elevating the Minnesota Timberwolves beyond the ugly cap sheet created by Andrew Wiggins' massive extension. Perhaps Dario Saric will join Robert Covington as a perfect fit alongside the incumbent talents.
There's even a chance Jeff Teague turns down a $19 million player option for 2019-20, knowing he'll lose playing time to a resurgent Derrick Rose, should the latter return to the Land of 10,000 Lakes after his pact expires at the conclusion of this campaign.
But even if everything breaks right for Minnesota, Wiggins' contract alone puts the team firmly behind the eight ball.
Remember how the 23-year-old swingman is owed $146.7 million over the course of this deal? Well, FiveThirtyEight.com's CARMELO forecast projects him to be worth just $79.8 million. That's only 53.7 percent of what he'll actually make, and even that feels generous while he's averaging 17.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.7 blocks per 36 minutes and slashing 38.9/37.4/71.4.
Since Jimmy Butler was dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers, Wiggins' slash line has actually fallen to 36.8/35.6/64.5.
He's a volume scorer...and that's about it. Unfortunately for the 'Wolves, he's not a particularly efficient one, either. Considering he rarely asserts himself as a facilitator, fails to make an impact on the glass and struggles immensely with off-ball defense, it's problematic that he ranks No. 144 in true shooting percentage among the 149 qualified scorers logging at least 15 points per 36 minutes.
Until Wiggins proves he can do more than submit empty counting stats that don't aid the winning cause, he'll boast one of the Association's largest albatross salaries.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @fromal09.