6 Players Who Are Unbelievably Still on NBA Payrolls

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 26, 2019

6 Players Who Are Unbelievably Still on NBA Payrolls

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    In the post-amnesty NBA, there are no more contract mulligans.

    However, the stretch provision can help get bad—or unwanted—money off the books. If a team waives a player and triggers this mechanism by Aug. 31, his remaining salary is stretched over twice the number of years on his contract plus one.

    The cap hit doesn't go away. But in some cases, it's easier to digest it through smaller amounts over a longer period of time. Of course, the flip side is the contracts are on the ledger more than twice as long as they would've been.

    It's not quite a Bobby Bonilla Day situation, but you still wouldn't believe which blast-from-the-recent-past ballers still appear on 2019-20 NBA payrolls. To compile this list, we focused on signings you noted at the time but might since have either forgotten or assumed enough time had passed to wipe the slate clean.

Notable Exclusions

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    Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

    Luol Deng (Los Angeles Lakers)

    The summer of 2016 was defined by myriad brutal signings, but Deng's four-year, $72 million deal is among those cited most for its absurdity.

    Even in a changing economy, the 31-year-old clearly wasn't worth that kind of coin. Plus, this was the Lakers' first summer without Kobe Bryant, and they were hoping it'd be a monstrous one. Kevin Durant topped the wishlist, but he didn't even grant them a meeting. So they made one of history's saddest pivots away from Durant and toward Deng and Timofey Mozgov.

    Deng was out of the rotation by February of his first season and only appeared in the opener of his second. The Lakers waived him in Sept. 2018, meaning he'll pocket $5 million from them each of the next three seasons.

    It's incredible he ever scored that contract. But given the market and the attention paid to his signing, it's unfortunately believable L.A. is still on the hook and will be for some time.


    Andrew Nicholson (Portland Trail Blazers)

    If your first thought regarding Nicholson is wondering who he is, then you already figured out why his deal didn't make the cut. It's tough to consider a contract as being unbelievably on the books if you weren't aware of its existence in the first place.

    The 19th pick in 2012, Nicholson opened his career with four nondescript seasons on the Orlando Magic. Each ended with a negative box plus/minus and sub-replacement value. Yet somehow the Washington Wizards opted to sign him to a four-year, $26 million deal, which, admittedly, was pocket change by 2016 standards.

    Before his first season on the new deal ended, so did his tenure in the District. The Wizards sent him packing to the Brooklyn Nets at the deadline—a swap most notable for netting Brooklyn the future first that later became Jarrett Allen—and the Nets then sent him to the Portland Trail Blazers in July 2017.

    The Blazers waived him just ahead of the Aug. 31 cutoff, which stretched the remainder of his contract out to a whopping seven seasons. He's owed $2.8 million every year through 2023-24, which surely qualifies as an unbelievable amount. But unless you're a true hoops head, this might be the first and only time he enters your stream of consciousness.


    Joakim Noah (New York Knicks)

    Noah is featured prominently on the Mount Rushmore of egregious 2016 signings. The 31-year-old was coming off an abysmal and injury-riddled campaign in which he shot just 38.3 percent and both strained and later dislocated his left shoulder.

    The Knicks—being the Knicks—decided he was nevertheless worthy of a four-year, $72 million deal. His first season unraveled amid knee surgery, a 20-game drug suspension and a torn rotator cuff. He played just seven games in 2017-18 and was exiled from the team in January. 

    New York finally waived Noah in October, stretching his $19.3 million cap hit into $6.4 million burdens for the upcoming season and the following two. In another year or two, his contract might headline this list, but the wound is fresh enough to be firmly in the mind of 'Bockers backers.

Matt Barnes (Sacramento Kings)

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    When Father Time collides with an aging veteran, most shield their eyes. The Sacramento Kings broke out their wallets instead.

    The eye test and the stat sheet both concluded Matt Barnes was finished in 2015-16, his age-35 season. He shot a career-worst 38.1 percent from the field. His 32.2 percent three-point conversion rate was his worst in five years. Among the 117 players to log 2,000 minutes, he was 13th-worst in player efficiency rating and 14th-worst in win shares. Everyone ranked behind him was younger—most considerably so.

    The only kind thing to say about the campaign was that he timed his tailspin perfectly. It was 2016, known heretofore as the summer of regret. Everyone had money to burn, including the Kings, who deemed Barnes worthy of a two-year, $12.5 million pact.

    Fifty-four games of 38.4/32.7/75.8 shooting later, they waived him and stretched his remaining salary. He landed with the Golden State Warriors and celebrated a championship shortly thereafter. But by December, he Insta-announced his retirement.

    He played his last NBA game in June 2017, but he has another $2.1 million headed his way this season from Sacramento.

Monta Ellis (Indiana Pacers)

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    While Monta Ellis' recent comeback attempt seemingly went nowhere, that won't stop his flow of NBA paychecks.

    The scoring guard who once shared a backcourt with Stephen Curry is owed $2.2 million by the Indiana Pacers this season⁠—and each of the next two. When Ellis' final payment arrives in 2022, he'll be five years removed from his final appearance.

    The contract⁠—⁠a four-year, $44 million deal inked in 2015—seemed reasonable enough. The Pacers needed an offensive costar for Paul George, and Ellis was riding an eight-year wave of averaging 18-plus points. Indy even had the defensive depth to compensate for his primary weakness.

    But his scoring took a hit in the Circle City (13.8 points per game his first season, 8.5 the next), and the Pacers discovered he didn't have much else to offer. He lost his starting gig midway through the second campaign, and he never found his groove. When the Pacers were swept out of the opening round by the Cleveland Cavaliers, his minutes plummeted from 28 in the series opener to just six in the finale.

    The situation only worsened from there.

    Ellis was hit with a five-game suspension for violating the league's anti-drug program on June 16, 2017. Two days later, George requested his ticket out of town. By July 5, Ellis was out, leaving Indy on the hook for his remaining $11.2 million salary.

Larry Sanders (Milwaukee Bucks)

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    Before Giannis Antetokounmpo resurrected the Milwaukee Bucks, defensive anchor Larry Sanders once carried the weight of the franchise on his broad shoulders.

    His time at the top was fleeting—just a single breakout season, really. In 2012-13, the springy 6'11" center signaled his NBA arrival with a slew of career-best averages, including 9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in 27.3 minutes. He was second in blocks per game and seventh in Defensive Player of the Year voting.

    Milwaukee was convinced it had a budding star on its hands. That August, the organization locked him up on a four-year, $44 million extension that wouldn't kick in for another year.

    The investment lost its luster before it even started. His 2013-14 campaign never got off the ground. Injuries and inconsistency limited him to 23 unimpressive games (7.7 points and 7.2 rebounds in 25.4 minutes), and the year was low-lighted by a torn thumb ligament suffered during an altercation in a nightclub and a five-game suspension for a drug violation.

    His 2014-15 season unraveled before the end of December. He didn't play after Dec. 23 as the team cited "illness" and later "personal reasons" to explain his absence. He was suspended again for a failed drug test in mid-January, then finally bought out in February. Sanders later revealed he had been treated for "anxiety and depression, mood disorders."

    The Bucks have paid him $1.9 million annually ever since and will continue doing so through 2021-22. He attempted a comeback with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016-17 but only made it a month before he was waived. He was the third overall pick in this summer's BIG3 draft.

Josh Smith (Detroit Pistons)

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Josh Smith played a primary role in the Detroit Pistons' attempted zig against a league-wide zag.

    The year was 2013. Positionless basketball had just steered the Miami Heat to their second consecutive title. The Association was getting smaller by the day. So naturally, the Pistons went the other way.

    Despite already having twin towers Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, they went even bigger by adding Smith, a 6'9" forward who predominantly played the 4 each of the previous six seasons.

    This partnership was plagued from the start. Smith was at his best using his athleticism and attacking the basket. He got in trouble when he struggled to resist the siren's song of the perimeter, even though he was just a career 28.3 percent shooter out there. Playing alongside two bigs only forced him further from the basket, and the results were predictably disastrous.

    "When he was open—which was often—he shot it as if he was trying to prove a point to teams every single time," SB Nation's Mike Prada wrote. "He forgot that he's open for a reason."

    During Smith's first season in Detroit, he posted an abysmal 46.3 true shooting percentage, third-worst among the 190 players who logged 1,500-plus minutes. Joe Dumars, the executive who lured him to the Motor City, was gone before the start of Smith's second year there. Smith only made it through 28 games, compiling an atrocious 39.1/24.3/46.8 shooting slash before he was waived in December.

    He still had two years and nearly $27 million left on his contract, so he has kept collecting a yearly $5.3 million salary, which finally (mercifully) runs out this season. Like Sanders, Smith has also resurfaced in the BIG3, where he's still feeling the wrath of the Pistons faithful.

Anderson Varejao (Portland Trail Blazers)

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    The 30th pick of the 2004 draft, Anderson Varejao endeared himself to Cleveland fans with hustle, endless energy and luscious locks. For a chunk of time, he may have been the most recognizable person in Northeast Ohio not named LeBron James.

    For years, Varejao emptied the fuel tank for the Cavaliers, and they routinely rewarded his service. They gave him a six-year, $50 million deal in 2009. Even though he was riddled with ailments over the life of that contract—a torn ankle tendon in 2011, a broken wrist in 2012, a life-threatening blood clot in 2013—they opened their wallets once again in 2014 and signed him to a three-year pact worth up to $30 million.

    The investment was steep, but it seemed sensible in light of LeBron James' return. As Jason Lloyd noted for Ohio.com in Sept. 2014, "LeBron often has referred to Varejao as one of his all-time favorite teammates and he did so again on Friday."

    But neither the contract nor James' return could turn Varejao's luck around. That December, he tore his Achilles. Just like that, his season was finished.

    He wouldn't suit up again until the following October, by which time it was clear Cleveland needed a big man with more offensive versatility. So, he was moved in a three-team trade that sent him to the Portland Trail Blazers and Channing Frye to Cleveland. The Blazers waived and stretched Varejao immediately, locking him into a $1.9 million salary that runs through the 2020-21 season.

    He later latched on with the Golden State Warriors and coincidentally squared off against the Cavaliers in the 2016 Finals. The Dubs brought him back for the 2016-17 season but waived him in February to sign Briante Weber to a 10-day deal.

Deron Williams (Brooklyn Nets)

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    The Brooklyn Nets' payroll reads like a refresher on this summer's swarm of player movement. Kevin Durant holds down the top spot, Kyrie Irving is just behind, and DeAndre Jordan is slotted at No. 4. But the one name that pops off the page ranks sixth with a $5.5 million salary: Deron Williams, who continues to collect the final remnants of the five-year, $98.7 million deal he signed in 2012.

    His four-plus-season tenure with the Nets rarely went according to plan, save for the Powerball-sized payment that made him the face of the franchise's move to Brooklyn. Nagging ankle injuries prevented him from being the player who once challenged Chris Paul's throne as the Association's top point guard. As his body betrayed him, he struggled to process his changing reality.

    "Being injured sucks. It ruined my confidence, not being able to do the things I could do, because I was playing on two bad ankles so long, it just took a lot out of me," Williams told Bleacher Report's Gerald Narciso in Nov. 2017. "Caused me to be depressed, hate basketball at times."

    During Williams' first full season with the Nets—he joined them at the 2011 deadline—he averaged 21.0 points and 8.7 assists. By the third year on his new deal, those numbers dropped to 13.0 and 6.6, respectively.

    He wouldn't get a fourth.

    The Nets and Williams reached a buyout agreement in July 2015, and his final two years and $43 million were whittled down to $27.5 million stretched across five seasons. He'll pocket the last installment this season—seven-plus years after the ink dried.


    All stats, unless otherwise indicated, courtesy of Basketball Reference. Contract information courtesy of Basketball Insiders.