5 Worst Contracts Still on the Books from Ridiculous 2016 Free Agency

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJune 16, 2019

5 Worst Contracts Still on the Books from Ridiculous 2016 Free Agency

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    Nearly three years later, the 2016 NBA offseason remains undefeated.

    That summer's salary-cap explosion, courtesy of a TV-money infusion, was unprecedented. Mammoth deals were handed out like free clicky pens at a career fair. Role players were paid like superstars. Projects were compensated like established contributors.

    The end result? Dozens of deals many teams no doubt wish they could take back.

    For some, though, these gaffes are drawing to a close. Four-year contracts signed in 2016 free agency will trickle off the ledger next summer, while four-year extensions and five-year pacts are now two seasons shy of their expiration dates. 

    But the end isn't here yet. The league is still populated by a bunch of humdingers from 2016. Most of them don't look so hot, either. Many are easier to trade as expiring contracts, but hefty annual salaries continue to complicate their movability.

    This is the prism through which we'll rank the worst remaining deals from the great dollar-sign festival of 2016: How hard are they to reroute on the trade market? 

    Rookie extensions signed in 2016 are up for consideration. They were handed out in the same lucrative timeframe. Longer contracts take priority over expiring agreements, but salary size matters. Not every one-year deal is a desirable cap-relief anchor.

    And remember, these players have done nothing wrong. We're looking at their value through team goggles only. They owe us no apology. They got the bag. Good for them.

5. Dennis Schroder, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Original Contract: 4 years, $70 million (extension with $62 million guaranteed)

    Remaining Value: 2 years, $31 million

    Dennis Schroder has already been traded on his current contract, but he's far from a net-neutral asset. Acquiring him is different when you're an Oklahoma City Thunder squad trying to cut your repeater-tax bill and find a new home for Carmelo Anthony's bloated salary.

    This past season is hardly a ringing endorsement for Schroder's price point over the next two years. He was wildly inconsistent, both a force and a farce. Perhaps the crowning example of his unpredictability: He tallied 20 or more points on 21 occasions but failed to crack double digits 14 times.

    Schroder did not buy the Thunder spells without Paul George and Russell Westbrook. Their offensive rating of 100.8 with him running the show on his own ranked in the 3rd percentile. Westbrook didn't fare any better through his me time, but that's not exactly a good defense.

    Oklahoma City obliterated opponents in the almost 1,500 possessions all three played together. That is both encouraging and tenuous. Schroder and Westbrook proved an awkward match when paired up without George, which suggests a certain fragility to the trio's returns.

    Both Schroder and Westbrook need to improve their outside clips if they're going to be more of a natural fit. Schroder specifically shot 34.1 percent from beyond the arc (the second-highest mark of his career), but he trailed off after the All-Star break. His three-point success rate fell to 30.9 percent over Oklahoma City's final 25 regular-season games and to 30.0 percent in the playoffs.

    Even when Schroder is making threes, he's subsisting on set looks. That's fine. It has value. But he's not a reliable off-the-dribble threat. His 42.8 effective field-goal percentage on pull-up jumpers was far from elite, he shot a career-low 52.0 percent at the rim and his ball control out of the pick-and-roll left a lot to be desired.

    Topsy-turviness is part of the Schroder experience. Teams can by and large afford to house that inconsistency in the second unit. Going on 26, he's still relatively young and hopes to improve his off-the-bounce shooting, per The Athletic's Brett Dawson.

    Still, no suitor is going to consider him an answer at point guard. His deal looks a lot rosier if it comes off the books next summer. It doesn't; he is a two-year investment. The Thunder will have to attach a pick or prospect to his contract or take back a less savory pact to move him.

4. Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat (Player Option)

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    Original Contract: 4 years, $98.4 million

    Remaining Value: 1 year, $27.1 million (player option)

    Expiring contracts have salary-matching value on the trade market as long as they're not so huge they defeat the purpose of acquiring them in the first place.

    Enter Hassan Whiteside's deal.

    Paying bigs who aren't from the Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid or Karl-Anthony Towns realm has become taboo. The functional value of most non-shooting centers can be closely approximated without putting up too much equity. 

    That works against Whiteside, a high-volume rebounder and shot-blocker who has never fully owned his offensive wheelhouse. He is a dangerous lob-catcher and overall finisher out of the pick-and-roll but has always wanted more. His desire to chuck threes is well-established, and he posted up on almost 16 percent of his offensive touches in 2018-19—far too many when he mustered just 0.73 points per possession.

    It does nothing to help his value that the Miami Heat moved him to the bench in March. A strained left hip preceded the shift, but he averaged just 17.3 minutes per game the rest of the way. 

    Calling Whiteside a complete non-factor goes too far. Perception of his play is colored by his pay grade. He is a good traditional rim protector and knows how to use his length when defending in space. His offense would be a lot more enticing if he followed in Clint Capela's footsteps.

    But the inconsistency is maddening. Whiteside's role with the Heat has waxed and waned for the better part of two years. They're not getting him off the books without baking in a sweetener.

    The sheer size of his salary coupled with their proximity to the tax makes it impossible for them to provide immediate cap relief without expanding the deal, and teams won't be as keen to roll the dice on Whiteside as a playable placeholder given Miami's fluctuating use of him.

3. Chandler Parsons, Memphis Grizzlies

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    Original Contract: 4 years, $94.4 million

    Remaining Value: 1 year, $25.1 million

    Chandler Parsons finds himself in the same boat as Hassan Whiteside. His expiring salary is too monstrous to have real utility on the trade market, and he's even harder to move when factoring in a lack of availability.

    Knee injuries have limited him to just 95 appearances through three seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies. In his defense, though, last year was marred more by exile than health problems. 

    Memphis sent Parsons away before bringing him back after the All-Star break. From there, he played in 22 consecutive tilts while averaging over 20 minutes per game.

    "If I'm healthy, I can play," he said, per the Memphis Commercial Appeal's David Cobb. "I proved I've been healthy these last two months."

    This isn't technically untrue. Parsons can theoretically work as a power forward who stretches the defense with his standstill shooting and occasionally attacks unchecked lanes. But his closing kick didn't prove he's ready for specialist duty.

    Parsons shot 31.0 percent from distance over those 22 games, including 30.2 percent on catch-and-shoot treys and a combined 31.4 percent on open and wide-open triples. His shooting perked up toward the tail end of the schedule, but a three-week sample size doesn't negate three years of concerns.

    Besides, a comeback in this vein doesn't much help his price point. Paying superstar money for an injury-prone player to soak up spot minutes doesn't have the most digestible ring to it. 

    Some teams with two-year dents on their books might even pass on a prospective trade. The Grizzlies can offer imminent relief in exchange for truly bad long-term deals, but many others would rather cope with smaller average annual values than the lump sum of a complete and utter question mark. Think: the $31 million Dennis Schroder is owed through 2020-21 vs. the $25.1 million Parsons will get next season.

2. Gorgui Dieng, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Original Contract: 4 years, $62.8 million (extension)

    Remaining Value: 2 years, $33.5 million

    Roster redundancy has exacerbated the optics of Gorgui Dieng's contract situation.

    Former coach-president Tom Thibodeau inked him to a huge extension only to pick up Taj Gibson on a two-year, $28 million deal the following summer. Add in the Karl-Anthony Towns takeover, and the Minnesota Timberwolves never had the bandwidth to deem Dieng a priority.

    Don't expect that to change next season. Dieng's role didn't meaningfully increase under head coach Ryan Saunders until the Timberwolves had thrown in the towel, and only so many minutes will be available behind Towns.

    Dual-big lineups are no longer a feasible possibility. That ship has sailed. Dieng and Towns barely played together this past season, and Minnesota's defense cratered with both manning the frontline in 2017-18. Having Dario Saric makes it harder to eke out time for twin-towers lineups anyway, and it'll only get tougher if the Timberwolves use their No. 11 pick on someone like Brandon Clarke, Rui Hachimura or PJ Washington.

    Finding more minutes for Dieng won't necessarily help, either. He hit 42.9 percent of his corner threes this year, but his range from beyond the arc is more untested than not. He needs to kick up the volume before earning the floor-spacer designation.

    Even then, his defensive issues will persist. He's fairly mobile when guarding outside the paint, but he's yet to show he can be a stabilizing force in the middle. The Timberwolves coughed up 115 points per 100 possessions and allowed an astronomical 37 percent of their opponents' looks to come at the rim when he played center this season.

    One regular-sized sweetener isn't getting Dieng off Minnesota's books. It cost the Brooklyn Nets two first-round picks to offload Allen Crabbe's $18.5 million expiring salary and get contract-year Taurean Prince. The Timberwolves will have to fork over more to escape the extra season on Dieng's deal.

1. Nicolas Batum, Charlotte Hornets

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    Original Contract: 5 years, $120 million

    Remaining Value: 2 years, $52.7 million

    Nicolas Batum's deal didn't look too terrible in 2016. It was a clear overpay, sure, but it was also defensible. Money was flying around everywhere, and the Charlotte Hornets were coming off a feel-good 48-win campaign with Batum as their No. 2 scorer and leading assist man.

    Fast forward three seasons and that optimism has turned on its head. 

    Batum has devolved into one of the NBA's most passive players. Bismack Biyombo was the only member of the Hornets who closed 2018-19 with a lower usage rate. Think about that, but not for too long because your brain will start to hurt. 

    Meanwhile, Batum's 8.6 field-goal attempts per 36 minutes weren't just a career worst. They were obnoxiously low. Among 103 players who logged more than 2,000 total minutes this season, only five attempted fewer shots on a per-minute basis.

    That's not the end of the world if you're Draymond Green, and the Golden State Warriors don't need you to score. The Hornets needed Batum to be aggressive. And they still do. Kemba Walker might re-sign, but luxury-tax concerns figure to give Jeremy Lamb the boot.

    The Hornets will be in the market for a new No. 2 option if he leaves, and they'll have neither the trade assets nor cap space to get him. That should leave Batum to take up the mantle. It might, however, mean turning to Malik Monk, Dwayne Bacon or whoever they draft at No. 12. That's a problem.

    Dealing Batum is probably out of the question. It'll take too many assets for the Hornets to grease the wheels, and a straight-up dump isn't happening. Batum makes too much money. 

    Charlotte can only hope to swap him for a cheaper crummy salary with a team that still believes in his talent. Even that might be a stretch. Batum seems like he needs the perfect, expectation-free situation to revive his career, as Konata Edwards from Locked On Hornets explained during an appearance on the Hardwood Knocks podcast:

    "His best career years were in Charlotte when he was the No. 3 guy, where it was Al Jefferson No. 1, Kemba Walker No. 2 and Nic Batum No. 3. And once you got to that level, they at least got the highest win total since the Hornets initially left [Charlotte]. I think if he's the No. 3, No. 4 guy, yeah, you're going to be OK. The problem is: Does he still care if he's the No. 3, No. 4 guy?"

    Good luck finding such a team.

    Does Oklahoma City consider Dennis Schroder and Patrick Patterson for Batum and second-rounders? Do the Timberwolves take him in exchange for the four years and $122.2 million left on Andrew Wiggins' deal? Should the Hornets want them to? Almost definitely not.

    But these are the types of hypotheticals they'd have to entertain—or even hope for—unless Batum turns it around.

    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.comBasketball Reference or Cleaning the Glass. Salary and cap-hold information via Basketball Insiders and RealGM.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R's Andrew Bailey.