Massive NBA Contracts That Could End Up Burying Their Teams
Want to blow up an NBA budget? Tack a brutally bad contract onto it.
When it comes to inflated salaries, it's almost impossible to work around the worst of the worst. One player can command 35 percent of a club's entire salary cap. Award a deal of that size to the wrong recipient, and you'll be forced to ball on a budget for years to come.
The teams paying the following five players have learned that the hard way.
All of these players are good and/or household names. But the production-to-cost ratio is way off, to the point that unloading them in any exchange could be tricky.
Not all of these fall into the albatross category just yet, but given the money at play and the trajectory some of these players are taking, they each have potential to land there.
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Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
Remaining Contract: $28,942,830 in 2019-20; $31,258,256 in 2020-21; $31,258,256 in 2021-22; $28,942,830 in 2022-23
Total Payout: $120,402,712
The Cleveland Cavaliers are finally "expressing a willingness to listen to offers" for All-Star forward Kevin Love, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
The only question is whether anyone else is interested.
"Love is available, but how many teams actually want him?" The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor wrote. "Love is 31, has a long list of scary injuries and is in the first year of a four-year contract worth $120.4 million. Few teams have salaries to make a deal work, and even fewer have the desire."
Even at his best, Love had his faults. With limited lateral mobility, he became a defensive liability in this increasingly positionless league. He was the best player on some bad Minnesota Timberwolves teams and only won big as Cleveland's No. 3 option.
But Love is nowhere near his best. His 15.6 points per game this season are the fewest he's averaged since 2009-10. His 17.5 player efficiency rating would be the worst of his career. The same goes for his 17.3 turnover percentage, which towers over his 13.9 assist percentage. His 35.7 three-point conversion rate is his lowest since 2012-13.
Granted, he's in a tough spot as one of the few remaining veterans on a youth-filled, abysmal-in-all-facets Cavaliers team. His rebounding, distributing and floor-spacing could all help out a contender.
But who wants to pay $120.4 million for an aging, oft-injured complementary player? If the Cavs are still clinging to the belief that Love should command a package of both draft picks and prospects, these two could be stuck together for a long time.
Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder
Remaining Contract: $38,506,482 in 2019-20; $41,358,814 in 2020-21; $44,211,146 in 2021-22 (player option)
Total Payout: $124,076,442
He's still an effective player who can pester opposing ball-handlers, take care of the rock, set the table for teammates and bury open jumpers. But he's also colossally overpaid, and his ballooning salary will only look worse as he ages.
Paul hasn't played 70 or more games since the 2015-16 season, and he has missed double-digit games because of injuries in five of the past seven seasons. Availability is an underrated ability, and Paul hasn't offered enough of it.
His three-point percentage is down for the third straight season. He's averaging the fewest assists of his career—by nearly two per game. His scoring output is the third-lowest of his career, while his PER and box plus/minus are both the second-worst of his career.
Again, we aren't saying he's washed or even close to it. He started from such an absurdly high level that even his B-plus version beats most of his peers. Of the 363 players to log 100 minutes this season, Paul sits a respectable 42nd in PER.
But he's clearly declining, as most mid-30-somethings are wont to do. That should have been baked into his contract. Instead, he's slated to be the Association's second-highest player this season and in each of the next two as well.
John Wall, Washington Wizards
Remaining Contract: $38,199,000 in 2019-20; $41,254,920 in 2020-21; $44,310,840 in 2021-22; $47,366,760 in 2022-23 (player option)
Total Payout: $171,131,520
This can't be what the architects of the supermax contract had in mind.
Oh, and he only suited up 32 times last season and 41 times the year prior. In other words, if he doesn't play in 2019-20, he won't have even a full campaign's worth of games to show for the past three seasons. Those years, by the way, were his age-27, -28 and -29 seasons, which presumably encompassed the remainder of his prime.
The next time he hits the hardwood, he could be a 30-year-old working his way back from as daunting of an injury challenge as an NBA player can have.
"The Achilles tendon tear is devastating," SB Nation's Tim Cato and Mike Prada wrote. "Though there has never been a good injury, the Achilles tendon tear is particularly heinous. In fact, among frequently suffered major basketball injuries, there's nothing worse than a torn Achilles."
Achilles problems are especially worrisome with a player like Wall, who had so much of his value tied to his athleticism. He's at his best leading fast breaks, where he could outrun opponents, finish over top of them or spot streaking teammates all around. Slow him down, and his limitations as a jump-shooter minimize his impact.
What if the burst doesn't come back? What if he can't develop the jumper he'll need to age gracefully? What if the Wizards are paying the most expensive price for his least efficient seasons? Those are $171 million questions no team wants to ask.
Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets
Remaining Contract: $38,506,482 in 2019-20; $41,358,814 in 2020-21; $44,211,146 in 2021-22; $47,063,478 in 2022-23 (player option)
Total Payout: $171,139,920
Can anyone imagine a scenario where Russell Westbrook would decline his $47 million player option for 2022-23, his age-34 season? And no, we don't mean where he's so unhappy with the Houston Rockets (or wherever he is at that point) that he leaves money on the table to sign somewhere else.
We mean, something where it would make financial sense for him to walk away from that money. It's impossible to picture, right?
Forget about the triple-doubles. Teams aren't handing out supermax salaries for statistical quirks, especially when his output is slipping across the board.
Never a model of efficiency, even the Brodie must be cringing at his shooting marks. His shooting percentages from the field (41.2) and from distance (22.9) are his worst in a decade. All told, he's holding a grotesque 49.8 true shooting percentage, which slots him 224th among the 239 players ever to average 30-plus minutes with a 30-plus usage rate.
Maybe some want to give him the benefit of the doubt while he's transitioning to a new team. James Harden, for instance, thinks the acclimation process could "take the course of the whole year," per USA Today's Mark Medina.
Well, if you shift the focus back one season, it does improve Westbrook's true shooting percentage...by all of 0.3 percentage points (50.1).
He's a streaky shooter (at best) and a turnover machine (he has the most since he entered the league by nearly 500), and that's true even when he's going good. Barring dramatic changes, his game is not built to age well, meaning this already unsightly contract will only grow more burdensome.
Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
Remaining Contract: $27,504,630 in 2019-20; $29,542,010 in 2020-21; $31,579,390 in 2021-22; $33,616,770 in 2022-23
Total Payout: $122,242,800
Yes, we are aware of a possible Andrew Wiggins 2.0 emergence. Our own Yaron Wietzman wrote a whole story about it.
And sure, we can see all that the stat sheet has to say about this evolution. How he's averaging more points, assists and rebounds than ever, shying away from the long twos and shattering his previous best PER (19.3).
But can we say for certain that he's a changed player and suddenly on the fast track to stardom? Let's just say that we wouldn't bet $122,242,800 on it.
He might be making the leap from mediocre to above-average.
It's good to see him taking more triples, but he isn't making a ton (33.3 percent). His improvement as a playmaker is encouraging, but he has the fourth-lowest assist average among perimeter players averaging 30-plus minutes with a 28-plus usage percentage. Although he possesses elite physical tools, the Minnesota Timberwolves defense is 2.2 points worse per 100 possessions when he's in the game.
This version of Wiggins looks better than the last. We aren't disputing that. But we haven't even seen two months of this version yet, so it's anyone's guess how much of this sustains. Even if he keeps it going, this looks more like a good player, but the Wolves are paying him to be max-contract great.
If Wiggins has turned the corner—and, more importantly, can keep climbing—then Minnesota might feel fine about his contract moving forward. The Wolves can only hope that's the case, since it's hard to imagine anyone will be eager to take Wiggins off their hands given what he's done to date and what he's owed moving forward.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.