Every NBA Team's Least Tradable Contract
NBA teams value flexibility more than ever.
Free agency is part of the equation. Shorter-term contracts have turned the offseason into a buyer's frenzy underscored by both the level and volume of available talent. The mere prospect of player departures has also added new layers to the trade market. And the cleaner a team's books, the easier it becomes to stockpile assets for talent acquisition via cap space, pick-and-prospect absorption and blockbuster offers.
Existing contracts can be a nuisance during this process for all sorts of reasons. They might be too long, too expensive, too risk-ridden, too complicated in structure or some combination of everything.
And with the league's trade season in full swing, now's a good time to look at where each squad is most restricted.
Many of these players aren't available, because they're too valuable. But if they were going to be shopped, it would range from hard to impossible for them to net positive, neutral or any value at all.
Context for selections will be provided in the form of tiers. Except for expiring deals, every contract is on the table. Length, dollar amount and on-court performance factor into each choice. No-trade clauses have zero bearing on the list of inclusions.
Remember: The focus is on this season alone. Certain contracts will be more tradable next year, as their cap hit changes and the deal ages. But we care only about the immediate logistics.
Let's Agree Not to Go Here
Los Angeles Clippers
Just six of the Clippers' players have guaranteed money coming their way next season. Good luck finding an obstacle among them.
Avery Bradley's $13 million hit would be a problem, but he can be waived for $2 million. Lou Williams is owed just $8 million in 2019-20 and a $1.5 million guarantee in 2020-21. Sixth Man of the Year candidate Montrezl Harrell is a steal at $6 million. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson will be making peanuts as sophomores.
That leaves Danilo Gallinari. His money felt like dead weight entering this season. It doesn't anymore. Among all players clearing 20 points per 36 minutes, he ranks 10th in true shooting percentage and eighth in free-throw-attempt rate.
Paying him $22.6 million next season is not without risk. He's missed fewer than 20 games just three times in his career. But he comes off the books in time for 2020 free agency. The brevity of his investment neutralizes the downside. Plus, he's one of the few players versed in featured scoring and complementary shooting.
Los Angeles Lakers
Shoutout to the superhero hot-takers who want LeBron James on here. It ain't happening.
James figures to be worth every cent of his four-year, $153.3 million deal (2021-22 player option) and then some—and then some more. Not even his 15 percent trade kicker is enough to read into the twilight-career factor. (Related: That add-on won't be worth so much as long as the salary cap remains on a gradual incline.)
After him, the Lakers are made up of expiring placeholders and rookie contracts. Neither Lonzo Ball (three years, $27.2 million; 2020-21 team option) nor Brandon Ingram (two years, $13 million) come particularly cheap for players on scaled deals, but they retain solo building-block appeal.
Los Angeles is lean and mean, as planned, without a bad contract on the ledger—for now, anyway.
More good things about the Kings!
Sacramento's two highest-paid players are Zach Randolph and Iman Shumpert. Neither is making $12 million, and both are on expiring deals. The Kings' third-highest paid player is Bogdan Bogdanovic, and if you're uncomfortable with his price point (two years, $17.5 million), you need to watch more Bogdan Bogdanovic.
Their fourth-highest paid player, Kosta Koufos, is another expiring salary. Marvin Bagley—four years, $36.1 million, with team options in 2021-22 and 2022-23—initially looked expensive. His offensive performance has more than taken care of that.
Nemanja Bjelica, the Kings' sixth-highest paid player, is on a three-year, $20.5 million deal that's fully non-guaranteed in 2020-21. He also tends to shoot a ridiculously high clip from three on days that end in "y."
You get the picture. The Kings could opt to muddy their books by consolidating expiring contracts into a win-now piece or crappy contract attached to picks and prospects. In the meantime, their docket is free from difficult money.
The Poison-Pill Platoon
Most of these names will seem unfair at first glance. Blame the NBA's poison-pill structure.
Extensions signed on rookie-scale pacts that have not yet taken effect are logistical nightmares. For teams unloading these deals, a player's outbound value matches his 2018-19 cap hit. For squads acquiring these contracts, that same player's inbound value is the average salary of their entire agreement.
Trades involving anyone who falls under this umbrella need to include lopsided money swaps, which makes them exponentially difficult, verging on impossible, unless the receiving party is flush with cap space.
Only one team has the flexibility to simplify these types of packages: the Kings. And even their $11 millionish in room isn't enough to unscramble the knotted mechanics incumbent of most poison-pill players.
This is a non-issue in most cases. Front offices only extend coveted assets. Absolutely none of these names will make their way onto the chopping block this year—and that's kind of the point.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Larry Nance Jr.
Contract Value (including 2018-19): 5 years, $47.1 million
Outgoing Cap Hit (2018-19 salary): $2.3 million
Incoming Cap Hit (to potential new team): $9.4 million
Larry Nance Jr.'s contract isn't much of a headache relative to most poison pills. The $7.1 million discrepancy is far from insurmountable. Expanding theoretical proposals to include more aggregate salary can offset that number in a jiffy.
But bigs aren't highly sought commodities as it stands. Throwing another wrinkle into the equation, even for a 25-year-old with a semi-switchy gait, makes moving them that much harder.
Rolling with Kevin Love as an alternative is almost fine. Almost. His recovery from toe surgery complicates matters, but he still boasts some alpha-dog cachet. Certain smaller markets might send out real value—a pick or prospect along with cap relief—in exchange for getting a marquee name under lock and key.
Non-Poison-Pill Pick: Kevin Love (5 years, $144.5 million)
Indiana Pacers: Myles Turner
Contract Value: 5 years, $75.4 million
Outgoing Cap Hit: $3.4 million
Incoming Cap Hit: $15.1 million
Kudos to the Pacers. They would've made the "Let's Agree Not to Go Here" cut if we elected to exclude poison-pill cases.
Doug McDermott (three years, $22 million) is the closest they come to an iffy-priced player, without really being one. Teams will take on $7.3 million annually for someone who drains over 40 percent of his treys and doesn't need the ball in his hands.
Everyone else is either expiring, playing out rookie deals or Victor Oladipo—except Myles Turner. Indiana can't move him to a team outside Sacramento without accepting a stupid-complicated, and probably underwhelming, return.
Bonus thought: Monitor Turner's status into the summer and through next season. Domantas Sabonis is extension-eligible over the offseason and set for a big raise in 2020-21. The Pacers may have to choose between him and Turner depending on how much the former costs.
Non-Poison-Pill Pick: No one!
Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns
Contract Value: 6 years, $165.5 million
Outgoing Cap Hit: $7.8 million
Incoming Cap Hit: $27.6 million
Good thing Karl-Anthony Towns is one of the most talented offensive bigs in history and playing much better defense since the Jimmy Butler trade. The Timberwolves couldn't move him even if coach-president Tom Thibodeau were willing to accept minimal return so he could rebuild around Derrick Rose.
Andrew Wiggins is the next man up. His contract ends one year before Towns', and yet it seems to go on forever and ever and ever. It's almost like maxing out one of the league's least efficient players wasn't a good idea.
At least Wiggins is still 23...or something.
Non-Poison-Pill Pick: Andrew Wiggins (5 years, $147.7 million)
Phoenix Suns: Devin Booker
Contract Value: 6 years, $161.4 million
Outgoing Cap Hit: $3.3 million
Incoming Cap Hit: $26.9 million
Devin Booker's poison pill is the most difficult to move of this gaggle. He signed the same scaled extension as Towns, but with a 2018-19 salary worth less than this year's bi-annual exception ($3.4 million).
Some might argue for Ryan Anderson. Don't be one of them. He's demonstratively overpaid, but his contract comes off the books after next season. Lights at the end of the tunnel matter. But yeah, mostly Booker and the poison-pill thing.
Non-Poison-Pill Pick: Ryan Anderson (2 years, $41.7 million; $15.6 million guaranteed in 2019-20)
Health and post-injury performances aren't all that's dragging down the value of these contracts, but they'd be far less problematic, verging on complete non-issues, without them.
Boston Celtics: Gordon Hayward
Contract Value: 3 years, $98.1 million (2020-21 player option)
Gordon Hayward has found more of a groove as a member of the Celtics' second unit.
In just under 26 minutes per game since the swap, he's averaging 12.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists while slashing 44/40/100. Equally important, Boston is a net plus in the time he's played without Kyrie Irving.
Filling those minutes has remained a headache for the Celtics all year. The offense continues to sputter without Irving overall, but having both Hayward and Jaylen Brown come off the bench has punched Boston's ticket into survival mode.
Baby steps of any kind are important. Hayward is working off a lost 2017-18 that included two surgeries in a seven-month span. His progression back to All-NBA candidacy isn't supposed to be instantaneous. He could be a much different player by the postseason, or by the start of 2019-20.
That comes as only a smallish consolation prize for the Celtics. They're now in Year 2 of paying Hayward superstar money without a matching return. That stark of a discrepancy grates on even the deepest teams.
Trade-deadline buyers desperate for an infusion of name recognition no doubt bite if Hayward hits the chopping block. It shouldn't take a sweetener to get off his money. But the Celtics would still have to sell awfully low.
Denver Nuggets: Will Barton
Contract Value: 4 years, $53 million (2021-22 player option)
Mason Plumlee could potentially go here. His contract is short (two years, $27 million) and he's playing well, but the big-man market is weird. Centers making starter money are tough sells when they play backup minutes, and the league doesn't have a lot of opening-lineup vacancies at the 5.
Will Barton's recovery from surgery to address core and hip injuries spares Plumlee from the difficult-money gauntlet. Though he's expected to return soon—he is week-to-week and should be back well before the All-Star break, per Mile High Sports' T.J. McBride—Barton has appeared in only two games this season.
It will take a string of A-OK outings from the 27-year-old bounce house for his contract to become a legitimate trade chip. Even then, with so many teams in line for cap space this summer, rerouting a sizable contract that runs through 2021-22 doesn't profile as a mindless task.
To the right buyer, following a return absent an extended grace period, Barton would be an asset. For now, while miles from immovable, he's not soliciting more than buy-low overtures.
Miami Heat: Dion Waiters
Contract Value: 3 years, $36.3 million
Left ankle issues have kept Dion Waiters off the floor since last December, and the Heat don't yet have a timetable for his return, per the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson.
Getting him back on the court wouldn't change everything. Waiters' contract qualified as an overpay the moment he signed it. His standout 2016-17 became a flash in the pan after 30 appearances last season, and Miami's half-court offense isn't set up to house an inefficient over-dribbler who has seldom excelled at drawing fouls or finishing around the rim.
Then again, if he were playing, Waiters' sub-$15 million pay grade wouldn't be as easy to single out.
James Johnson (three years, $46 million), Tyler Johnson (two years, $38.5 million) and Hassan Whiteside (two years, $52.5 million) are all on bad-money deals. Waiters' combination of contract length and absence is all that's sheltering them from this exercise's wrath.
Justise Winslow's poison-pill contract is a potential alternative. His outgoing value is $3.4 million, while his incoming hit sits at $10.6 million. That $6.2 million represents a hurdle, but it's navigable. The Heat have too many other bad deals to get caught up in such a manageable difference.
Philadelphia 76ers: Markelle Fultz
Contract Value: 3 years, $30.4 million (2020-21 team option)
Rookie-scale players are usually immune to this type of blowback. Cost-controlled contracts are designed to be decongestants and financial safe havens. They are very rarely expensive stumbling blocks.
Markelle Fultz has set the precedent for exceptions. He's not your typical rookie-scaler. He's making almost as much as this season's non-taxpayer's mid-level ($8.6 million), and his 2020-21 team option is worth $12.3 million.
First-overall picks are supposed to outplay that value. Fultz isn't even playing. He's out indefinitely while undergoing physical therapy for thoracic outlet syndrome.
Overlook his latest extended absence, and neither the Sixers nor prospective trade partners have much to go on. Fultz has made just 33 appearances since being drafted in 2017, and on those rare occasions he's actually played, he's looked like a shell of the transcendent cornerstone Philadelphia believed it drafted.
Teams will still deal for him without demanding a sweetener. The chance to reboot a 20-year-old once billed as a probable superstar is worth that much. But after giving up two first-rounders to get him, Philadelphia is asking for more.
Sources told Philly.com's Keith Pompey that "the Sixers don't want to part ways with Fultz unless a first-round pick is packaged in a deal for him. And they're not talking about a late first-rounder, either." This is both understandable and unrealistic.
For all the Sixers' immediate expectations, a single trade isn't transforming them into championship favorites. Watching Fultz flirt with his ceiling elsewhere would hurt more than not capitalizing on his lackluster market value now. And yet, when they cannot guarantee his stock won't improve, their stance on this matter is anything but an open-and-shut case.
Toronto Raptors: Norman Powell
Contract Value: 4 years, $42 million (2021-22 player option)
Welcome to the 287th consecutive season of Norman Powell Breakout Watch.
Injuries and fluctuating play have derailed what was once Toronto's top prospect. Powell lost his starting job to OG Anunoby last season while missing time with a hip issue, and he was being deployed in eighth- or ninth-man capacity this year before suffering a left-shoulder injury.
Serge Ibaka (two years, $44.9 million) and the currently sidelined Jonas Valanciunas (two years, $44.9 million) might be harder to move in certain instances. But they're both playing well on shorter-term contracts.
Powell is the bigger wild card. Teams with more gradual timelines will take a stab at grooming a 25-year-old who's hitting 40.9 percent of his threes, but we've seen this movie before. Powell's offense comes and goes, and reclamation projects are much less attractive when they're on contracts without an end in sight.
2016 Humdingers, Eastern Conference
Overpriced deals that looked bad in 2016 and—despite some of them being traded in the time since—look even worse now.
Atlanta Hawks: Miles Plumlee
Contract Value: 2 years, $25 million
Miles Plumlee isn't the Hawks' lone 2016 humdinger. Kent Bazemore's four-year, $70 million contract hasn't aged so well. He's shooting under 32 percent from long range this year, and he holds a 2019-20 player option worth $19.3 million.
Make no mistake, though, Plumlee's deal is worse.
Bazemore is at least playable. He shouldn't be chasing around 3s and 4s, but the NBA always has a place for try-hard wings who've shown they can drop catch-and-shoot threes and shoulder tertiary table-setting.
Any Bazemore trade should see Atlanta pare down its guaranteed salary for next season. Plumlee, meanwhile, is earning more than Jusuf Nurkic to gobble up spot minutes on a rebuilding team still searching for a mainstay at center. (John Collins is being developed as a 4.)
If the Hawks are open to swallowing bigger, badder contracts, they'll have no trouble finding a new home for Plumlee (currently day-to-day with a left knee injury). The extent of his trade appeal ends there.
Brooklyn Nets: Allen Crabbe, Brooklyn Nets
Contract Value: 2 years, $37 million (2019-20 player option)
Take Bazemore, remove the secondary playmaking, tamp down the wingspan and defensive utility, and what do you get? A woefully overpaid standstill shooter.
Or, in other words, Allen Crabbe.
As ESPN.com's Zach Lowe wrote:
"When defenders run Crabbe off the arc, he takes one or two dribbles before pulling up. He's shooting *cleans fake glasses, vomits a little* 24.7 percent on 2-point attempts. Crabbe rarely keeps the machine moving with a drive-and-kick. He averages four drives per 100 possessions—a teensy number for a perimeter player. Only 21 percent of those drives result in a pass that leads to a shot—well below average. (Crabbe dishes one measly dime per game.) Only 2 percent end in shooting fouls—265th among 276 guys who have recorded at least 20 drives, per Second Spectrum. When Crabbe does pass, he often finds someone on the other team."
Smart people were quick to pan Crabbe's four-year, $74 million deal—offered by the Nets, matched by the Portland Trail Blazers and then acquired by Brooklyn in 2017—when he signed it. (Related: I am dumb, and therefore I was not one of them.) That he's since turned into one of the NBA's most limited players is regrettable even by those standards.
Charlotte Hornets: Nicolas Batum
Contract Value: 3 years, $76.7 million (2020-21 player option)
Among 2016's robust list of atrocities, Nicolas Batum's was the absolute easiest to defend.
The Hornets overpaid him, even in the moment, but he at least registered as a fringe star. He dabbled in a little bit of everything—someone who would never be the best at anything on a great team, but who could, feasibly, thrive as a second or third fiddle in just about every area.
Charlotte has rarely seen that player since re-signing Batum, and things are only getting worse. His shooting splits are the highest they've been since he left Portland, but the volume is nonexistent. Batum ranks second to last on the Hornets in usage rate...in front of only Bismack Biyombo.
Coincidentally, Biyombo is the sole alternative to Batum's contract. His $17 million salary this season and next is bereft of silver linings. He isn't even part of the Hornets rotation.
But length and dollar amount trump playability in this case. Biyombo at least toes the line of salary filler since he comes off the books after next season. Batum is getting paid like a contender's best or second-best player through 2020-21, when there's no guarantee he can be a playoff team's No. 3.
Orlando Magic: Timofey Mozgov
Contract Value: 2 years, $32.7 million
Evan Fournier (three years, $51 million) deserves a cursory mention. He and Batum are in a similar boat. They're both miscast as primary options and being paid accordingly.
And if he were taking home Batum's salary, Fournier would be the pick. He's not. His salary is justifiable as a third wheel. He's not shooting the ball particularly well this season, but he doesn't suffer from Batum's offensive disappearing acts. (Fournier's three-ball has ticked up in recent weeks.)
Timofey Mogzov, on the other hand, has yet to play this year. Officially, he's dealing with a right knee injury, but better availability wouldn't save him. He doesn't have the offensive range or defensive portability to stay on the court outside garbage time.
Out of everyone who was overpaid in 2016, Mozgov is the least playable by a comfortable margin.
2016 Humdingers, Western Conference
More overpriced deals that looked bad in 2016 and remain just as bad, if not worse, now.
Dallas Mavericks: Harrison Barnes
Contract Value: 2 years, $49.2 million (2019-20 player option)
Harrison Barnes brokered some leeway in 2016-17, just after signing his mega-contract, by tapping into a previously unplumbed offensive workload. His 0.93 points per isolation possession cracked the 71st percentile of efficiency and was treated as an encouraging harbinger for someone who spent the first four years of his career buried inside the Golden State Warriors' star-stuffed pecking order.
On-off splits never aligned with that rosy stance, but many were inclined to give him a relative pass. The Mavericks weren't supposed to be good, and he didn't play beside a helpful point guard rotation. He would get better as Dallas rostered more playmakers.
About that: The arrivals of Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic have not turned Barnes into a more effective force. He's scoring at roughly the same clip and shooting better than 40 percent from three, but he's among the league's least impactful volume scorers.
Ninety players are posting a usage rate above 25 since 2016-17. Barnes ranks 77th in assists per 36 minutes and 56th in free-throw-attempt rate. His low marks in both categories are more acceptable this season, since most of his baskets are coming off dimes. But the Mavericks don't have the option of tasking him with more.
Dallas is scoring under 98 points per 100 possessions when Barnes plays without Doncic, according to Cleaning the Glass. Someone making this much money needs to have a prayer of anchoring an average offense as the de facto No. 1. Barnes still doesn't, and he won't be viewed as a movable asset unless the Mavericks are bringing aboard a longer contract or he's planning to decline next season's player option.
Memphis Grizzlies: Chandler Parsons
Contract Value: 2 years, $49.2 million
Chronic right knee problems have ruined Chandler Parsons' time in Memphis and, essentially, crippled his career. He could easily be placed alongside the other players most impacted by a lack of availability and troubled rehabilitations.
Except, Parsons' contract is beyond the injury caveat. It has to be. He has waffled in and out—mostly out—of the Grizzlies rotation too many times. He's played in just 73 games since signing with them in 2016, and they have no timetable for his return from his latest knee injury.
Parsons might still be useable when fully healthy. His three-point clip has fallen off a cliff this season, but he put down 42.1 percent of his long balls through 36 appearances in 2017-18. It doesn't take much to see him adding value as a standstill shooter, and he could create some, albeit not many, off-the-dribble matches as a full-time 4.
That does nothing to eclipse his murky health bill, though. "If he's at full strength" qualifiers cannot be thrown around willy nilly. He hasn't sniffed good health since the middle of 2015-16. Planning for him to be on the floor goes against years of evidence to the contrary.
New Orleans Pelicans: Solomon Hill
Contract Value: 2 years, $25 million
Pump the brakes, fast and hard, if you find yourself wanting to pick Jrue Holiday. His four-year, $104.8 million (2021-22 player option) cap hit is fine. He's an All-NBA defender who toggles between vastly different offensive roles without missing a beat, and his deal only runs through his age 31 season.
New Orleans is putting a troubling amount of mileage on his treads, but his workload has yet to slow him down and won't scare away interested parties anytime soon. The Pelicans largely blew their shot at landing Jimmy Butler because they refused to trade Holiday, according to ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski.
Solomon Hill is, without question, the bigger detriment—and the only one New Orleans presently has on the books. He has started showing more of the defensive chops that earned him his 2016 bag, but his jumper isn't something an offense can count on even in low-volume doses.
Attach him to some other filler, and the Pelicans might have the tools to swing a deal for an upgrade on a more expensive contract. Think: Kent Bazemore or maybe Otto Porter. Beyond that, moving Hill requires a sweetener.
Portland Trail Blazers: Evan Turner
Contract Value: 2 years, $36.5 million
Evan Turner's contract earned brief reprieve from sweeping criticism at the beginning of this season. Oh, it still looked bad. It will always look bad. But the Blazers surged out to a 10-3 start with Turner captaining an all-bench mob that was deconstructing opposing offenses.
Those feel-good vibes have since faded. Portland is 25th in net rating since its opening onslaught and is struggling to hang on the defensive end. Turner is hardly the primary culprit of this demise, but his inside-the-arc game is predictable. The Blazers are easier to guard even when he's shooting well, and it shows. Their net rating has dropped by more than 8.5 points per 100 possessions during this stretch with him on the court.
Once more, with feeling: This isn't meant to pinpoint Turner as the root cause of Portland's problems. He's not. But relative to the on-court value he provides, his contract is still this team's least movable asset.
Recent Risks Failing to Pan Out
Everyone could see these deals were overpays to begin with, but the recipients were young enough to warrant patience. Some continue to deserve that benefit of the doubt. These contracts still don't look so hot.
Chicago Bulls: Cristiano Felicio
Contract Value: 3 years, $24.2 million
Remembering Cristiano Felicio's four-year, $32 million deal as a "risk" may be a little too generous. The Bulls re-signed him out of the gate in 2017 free agency, beating out a market that included—well, we're not quite sure what it included.
Few teams enjoyed ample flexibility following 2016's spending binge. Even fewer had a dire need for a modest-minutes big man at that price point.
Skip ahead less than two years, and Felicio is barely in the rotation for an impressively terrible Bulls team. And it gets better: With Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis both healthy, and with Wendell Carter Jr. staking his claim in the most-underrated-rookie race, Felicio doesn't have a discernible path to actual playing time.
Chicago could aggregate his salary into a larger one if it's interested in that sort of thing. Having Felicio on the books through 2020-21 is annoying, but his contract is set to a declining scale.
Tax-averse teams might see an advantage to paying out his smaller cap hit over three years as opposed to footing the bill for a lucrative one- or two-year salary. But no one—no one—is acquiring Felicio with the intention of using him for anything more.
New York Knicks: Tim Hardaway Jr.
Contract Value: 3 years, $54.5 million (2020-21 player option)
Pushback came in droves for anyone who dared to consider Tim Hardaway Jr.'s contract a non-asset at the start of 2018-19. He was playing too well for the Knicks to need a sweetener to facilitate his departure.
Reality has since set in, and Hardaway is back on solid ground. Remove his October detonation from consideration, and his numbers are not pretty:
- Before Nov. 1 (eight games): 26.0 points, 3.3 assists, 43.1 percent shooting, 41.1 percent from three, 90.9 percent from the foul line
- Since Nov. 1 (22 games): 19.2 points, 2.7 assists, 37.9 percent shooting, 33.5 percent from three, 83.3 percent from the foul line
Hardaway deserves some credit. The Knicks are painfully light on consistent shot creation, and he's hitting 39.4 percent of his pull-up threes for the season—though that number has also plunged since the start of December. He'll never be an ace defender, but he's chiseling out a niche in the charge-drawing business. Only Kyle Lowry and Ersan Ilyasova are averaging more per game.
Others will choose Courtney Lee's deal (two years, $25 million). That's fine. They're both obstructive.
"Neither player is large enough to defend bigger wings effectively," The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor wrote. "Contending teams might pass on both given the salary commitment. Front-office sources expect that the Knicks will have to attach an asset to dump Hardaway or Lee. The trouble will be finding a team willing to aid their cause."
Maybe a team comes along willing to take on Hardaway, who has a 15 percent trade kicker, in exchange for an expiring contract. That still doesn't leave the Knicks with an especially deep market. The list of hypothetical landing spots begins to trail off after Chicago, Memphis and Sacramento.
Utah Jazz: Dante Exum
Contract Value: 3 years, $28.8 million
Dante Exum's contract didn't seem completely off-the-rails bad last summer. He has spent half of his career battling injuries and doesn't wield a jumper, sure, but he's long, athletic and a defensive irritant. He'd be worth the investment alone if the Jazz could rely on him to pester high-scoring guards and wings the way he harassed James Harden in the playoffs.
Utah has instead gone the other way.
Exum isn't seeing minutes with any semblance of consistency. His shooting around the rim has tapered off, and the Jazz's offense stalls out entirely with him in the game, but the samples are too small to take as gospel.
"I just wanna see him keep getting better," head coach Quin Snyder said, per the Salt Lake Tribune's Eric Walden. "The way for him to keep getting better is to just keep competing, take his shots when he's open, attack, defend, and make mistakes," he said. "When you're out there, you have a chance to get better and learn more about yourself."
Solid, cryptic coachspeak, Quin.
In all likelihood, the Jazz recognize they don't have the ingrained offensive depth to float Exum's finite range. They're sixth in three-point accuracy since Kyle Korver's debut, but Exum doesn't pair well with Donovan Mitchell or Ricky Rubio. Utah is outscoring opponents by 6.5 points per 100 possessions when he plays without either of them, according to Cleaning the Glass, but leaning on those minutes caps his involvement.
If the Jazz have no plans to give him a better crack at playing in tandem with Mitchell or Rubio, it would be smart to move him now. He doesn't turn 23 until July. Jettisoning him might not cost a low-end sweetener. It also isn't getting them anything in return.
Useful Players with Less-Than-Ideal Salaries
These players are good. One is even a star. But their money is problematic when viewed through the trade-asset lens.
Golden State Warriors: Andre Iguodala
Contract Value: 2 years, $33.2 million
Andre Iguodala saves his best stuff for the playoffs. This is not intended to be cute. It's just a fact. Look at his per-36-minute splits from last year:
- 2017-18 season: 7.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.2 steals, 53.0 effective field-goal percentage
- 2018 postseason: 11.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.9 steals, 57.6 effective field-goal percentage
Ask them, and the Warriors will tell you they in no way regret Iguodala's contract. They still use him to cover the game's most dangerous scorers, from wings to point guards, when it matters most. But they're the only team that can afford to pay top dollar for Iguodala's preservation act.
Milwaukee Bucks: Tony Snell
Contract Value: 3 years, $34.2 million (2020-21 player option)
The Bucks said goodbye to all of their bad money when they sent Matthew Dellavedova and John Henson to the Cavaliers. Really, they could stand to join the "Let's Agree Not to Go Here" family without much objection.
At the same time, Tony Snell is a little too low key this season. His minutes have been slashed by more than 10 per game under head coach Mike Budenholzer, and he's putting down a so-so 36.4 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes.
Viewed as salary filler in a bigger trade, Snell isn't a deal-breaker. He's not a deal-maker, either.
Dangling him on his own may not nab more than cap relief. (Would the Pelicans even do Solomon Hill and a second-rounder for Snell?) The Bucks would need to re-expand his role and volume if they were going to sell him as a single asset. Right now, he's a spot-minutes three-and-D'er being paid like a top-shelf second-stringer or fourth-best starter.
San Antonio Spurs: LaMarcus Aldridge
Contract Value: 3 years, $72.3 million ($7 million guarantee in 2020-21)
Please know that many, many hairs were split before coming to this decision. It had to be LaMarcus Aldridge or DeMar DeRozan (three years, $83.2 million). After winnowing down the field, it wasn't easy.
Aldridge gets the nod because, in the end, building an offense around a big man who subsists on contested fadeaways is too damn hard. The Spurs did it last season, but they're the Spurs. Most offenses aren't willing to pound the ball inside the arc as often as they do. They'd want Aldridge to make quicker decisions and spread the floor with not only pick-and-pops but more three-point attempts.
That isn't an impossible ask. Aldridge has flashed outside touch in the past and recouped some of his general flair after a slow start. He's averaging 20.9 points on 57.8 percent shooting over his last 13 games. That he doesn't depend on athleticism or first-rate quickness to get by bodes well for his twilight utility.
Still, Aldridge is 33. The Spurs have to brace for a drop-off before the end of his deal, which includes a 15 percent trade kicker. Even if it doesn't come, DeRozan, 29, provides at least a touch more value as a primary ball-handler and pick-and-roll initiator. And while neither he nor Aldridge would net a premier mix of assets on the trade block, the former's skill set, obsolete as it sometimes seems, is in greater demand.
Great Players, Not Great Contracts
Superstars cannot be spared from this exercise. The NBA's max-contract structure is set up for some of the best players to eventually be overpaid.
The more experience the players have, the more money they're eligible to get. There comes a time when compensation begins to reflect past feats more than future trajectory.
Consider this joint placement a gift. Looping stars in along with common folk feels disrespectful. They can always be moved. But these deals wouldn't fetch anywhere near equal value. They eat up too much of the cap, and not one of them will age well.
Detroit Pistons: Blake Griffin
Contract Value: 4 years, $142.3 million (2021-22 player option)
Including Blake Griffin doesn't feel right. He is having a helluva year and was traded with more years left on his deal last season, and the Pistons have other options.
Reggie Jackson is a headache at two years and $35.1 million. Jon Leuer's two year, $19.5 million hit requires Detroit to include a buffer or take back worse salary.
Andre Drummond is only 25, but three years and $81.3 million (2020-21 player option) is a lot for any non-shooting big without Steven Adams' defensive IQ. Opponents have taken more of their shots at the rim with Drummond on the floor in each of the last three seasons, according to Cleaning the Glass.
But, like, Griffin's contract is soooo long, and his best stuff is no longer akin to top-10 status. It doesn't help that he's the Danilo Gallinari of All-NBA talents—seemingly always injured, at some point, often for unrelated reasons. He's missed at least 15 games in four consecutive seasons.
Griffin continues to be magnificent. He's flirting with 26 points, nine rebounds and five assists per game and upped his ante as an offensive lifeline. But the thought of paying him $39 million in his age 32 season is harrowing. His contract's length and price point render him a more confusing asset than Drummond.
Houston Rockets: Chris Paul
Contract Value: 4 years, $159.7 million (2021-22 player option)
Chris Paul is the one player from this grouping who could have maybe staved off inclusion. He lived up to a top-10 player's billing last year, and Houston isn't getting out of Brandon Knight's deal (two years, $30.3 million) without including a sweetener.
So much for that.
Paul is posting the worst true shooting percentage of his career. He's hitting under 60 percent of his looks at the rim for the first time since 2006-07, his sophomore season, and his efficiency at the free-throw line has never been lower.
Houston doesn't have Paul in a role built to age well. He's living off isos and pull-up jumpers. Just over 88 percent of his baskets have gone unassisted—a career high.
The Rockets are a deliberate organization. They knew the back end of Paul's contract, which pays him $44.2 million in his age 36 season, was going to be rough. But the front end is supposed to look better than it does now.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook
Contract Value: 5 years, $206.8 million (2022-23 player option)
Russell Westbrook doesn't play like someone who cares about triple-doubling over the league into his mid-30s. He doesn't even play like someone who cares about tomorrow. His default setting is reckless abandon.
Something needs to give for this contract to avoid aging into one of the league's 10 worst by Year 4 or 5. He cannot fling himself into traffic and leverage explosion forever.
Oklahoma City and Westbrook appear to be trying some different stuff. He's spending more time off the ball. Just under 71 percent of his baskets are coming without an assist, the second-lowest mark of his career, trailing only his 46-game 2013-14.
That's a start. It isn't everything. Westbrook needs a more consistent jumper to extend his prime beyond repute. He doesn't have it. He's shooting under 23 percent on catch-and-shoot threes and pull-up triples.
Washington Wizards: John Wall
Contract Value: 5 years, $190.1 million (2022-23 player option)
John Wall might be available, but teams aren't foaming at the mouth to acquire him, as Wojnarowski noted on a late-November episode of The Woj Pod.
This is what we call a non-surprise.
Prospective suitors like the Suns, Miami Heat or Orlando Magic might be able to sell themselves on a Wall trade, but no half-competently-run organization is forking over much beyond cap relief and a low-end pick or prospect for the right to pay him $47.3 million during his age 32 season.
Only a handful of players are worth that coin in the first place. Wall isn't one them. And like Westbrook, he doesn't play a twilight-friendly style. He may already be on a slight decline. Throw in his 15 percent trade kicker, which won't be much of factor after this year, and offloading him is all kinds of complicated.