Fixing Every NBA Team's Worst Free-Agent Signing of the Past Decade
It's now my turn to fix these financial misfires.
Swartz used a formula to determine free agents' cost per win share, which identified each club's top free-agency regret. Contracts had to be signed between 2010 and 2019 to be eligible for the exercise.
Those are the particulars. Now comes the hard part.
Whether changing the contract terms, adjusting the target or axing the agreements altogether, let's find a fix for every free-agency face-plant.
Atlanta Hawks: Joe Johnson
The Contract: Six years, $123.7 million
The Fix: Shorten the length
Atlanta recognizing and rewarding Johnson's talent was fine. He had booked four straight All-Star appearances prior to signing this pact in 2010, and he was one of only four players to average 20 points, four assists and four rebounds in each of the previous five seasons.
This was max-contract behavior, so the annual salary was justifiable. Overshooting the length is where the Hawks went wrong.
Johnson was 29 years old when he put pen to paper. The Hawks were paying him for things he'd already done, not necessarily things he'd keep doing in the future. Expecting him to keep earning his checks through his 35th birthday was never feasible.
If stopping short of the full six seasons would've pushed Johnson out the door, Atlanta could've let him walk and known its budget wouldn't be blown out of proportion by an aging offensive specialist.
Boston Celtics: Gordon Hayward
Contract Signed: Four years, $127.8 million
The Fix: Delay his debut
A lot of deals put under this microscope were doomed from the start. This was the opposite.
Boston's 2017 investment in Hayward made all the sense in the world. It not only reunited him with his college coach, Brad Stevens, but it also positioned him as the potential missing piece after the Celtics had fallen in the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals. Boston had an offensive focal point (Isaiah Thomas at the time of the signing, Kyrie Irving before the season started), so Hayward could slot in as a do-it-all second option.
It all made sense on paper, until a gruesome leg injury ended his Shamrocks' debut five minutes after it started. That wiped out his first season in Boston and forced him to spend much of his second scraping off the rust.
He's finally becoming what Boston hoped he could be, and with time to assist a championship run, the signing could still work out exactly as the Celtics wanted. If hindsight corrects anything here, it's finding a way to convince Stevens not to play him that fateful night in Oct. 2017.
Brooklyn Nets: Deron Williams
The Contract: Five years, $98.8 million
The Fix: More team-friendly terms
The Nets treated cap room like Monopoly money in 2012, first trading for Joe Johnson and his previously panned pact, then giving this weighty deal to a 28-year-old Williams.
It was by no means outlandish at the time, as Williams could still put up a decent fight with Chris Paul for the point god title. Saying that, there were already warning signs that it could go south in a hurry.
Williams was largely an iron man over his five-plus seasons with the Utah Jazz, but he wasn't nearly as available in Brooklyn. He missed 28 total games over the two campaigns prior to getting this contract, foreshadowing the many absences that would come to define this financial misfire. But there were also hints of skill decline in his 2011-12 numbers, like the 40.7/33.6/84.3 slash line or the career-high 4.0 turnovers.
The Nets didn't bake any of the warning signs into this contract, and they paid dearly for it in the end. They bought him out after three seasons, and he was out of the NBA by 2017. Since there were subtle indications the contract might collapse, the club should've given itself some kind of safety net, like fewer years or at least a team option on the final season.
Charlotte Hornets: Tyrus Thomas
The Contract: Five years, $40 million
The Fix: Don't take a five-year gamble on a project
No hindsight analysis needed here, folks. This was a head-scratcher at the time, and it only worsened as Thomas quickly proved he had no business collecting this kind of coin.
Charlotte should've known something was up considering how quickly Chicago reversed course with Thomas. In 2006, the Bulls traded the No. 2 pick (some guy named LaMarcus Aldridge) in a deal for Thomas. Less than four years later, they had no interest in paying him in restricted free agency and let him go at the 2010 trade deadline for Acie Law, Ronald Murray and a future first-rounder that didn't convey until 2014.
Thomas had NBA tools, but he lacked discernible NBA skills. Prior to signing this deal, he had a career player efficiency rating just a tick above average (15.6) and a negative career box plus/minus (minus-0.1). In what universe do those numbers warrant a five-year contract?
Not this one. Thomas played only 121 games across three seasons after signing this deal, and the Hornets grew so desperate to deal him that they tried using the 2012 No. 2 overall pick as incentive for someone to take him off their hands, as Michael Lee reported for the Washington Post.
The Hornets wound up waiving Thomas via the amnesty clause in 2013, erasing a deal that was richer and far longer than the stat sheet said he deserved.
Chicago Bulls: Dwyane Wade
The Contract: Two years, $47 million
The Fix: Don't even try it
When Wade couldn't get appropriately compensated by the Miami Heat in 2016, he fulfilled a lifelong dream of suiting up for his hometown Bulls. The appeal was easy to see from his end.
But what did Chicago think it was getting out of this?
The Bulls had a second-year NBA coach in Fred Hoiberg who preferred playing a speedy, spread-out game. For some reason, Chicago gave him a veteran starting five nearly devoid of shooting, as Wade was joined by Rajon Rondo, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez. Wade didn't single-handedly create that problem, but he was emblematic of the brutal fit between Hoiberg and the roster.
Plus, Wade was a 34-year-old with balky knees who was playing out the twilight of his career. Concerns of his decline were loud enough that his introductory tweet to Bulls fans included, "I'm not finished nor am I done."
Chicago never should've done this deal, and certainly not for the money it paid. Wade suited up 60 times for the Bulls, who waived him ahead of the 2017-18 season.
Cleveland Cavaliers: JR Smith
The Contract: Four years, $57 million
The Fix: Fewer years for less money
Even in the NBA's warped 2016 economy, a $14.3 million annual salary for Smith was far too steep. He was on the wrong side of 30 and functioned as little more than a three-point specialist at that point.
The more egregious miscalculation, though, was the four-year length.
Even with a partial guarantee on the fourth season, this was clearly too long, especially knowing LeBron James could (and did) bolt in 2018. In a cruel twist of irony, James' uncertain future probably pushed the Cavs to get this done, as he made clear he wanted Smith re-signed.
"Negotiations are always two sides, but JR did his part," James told reporters in September 2016. "... He's a big piece of our team, and they just need to get it done."
The Cavs got it done, and it didn't matter. James still exited in 2018, leaving Smith in an awkward limbo until the Cavs finally waived him in July 2019.
Knowing then what they know now, they never would have granted Smith more than the two seasons James had under contract, and they'd probably slice the salary in half.
Dallas Mavericks: Brendan Haywood
The Contract: Six years, $55 million
The Fix: Read Haywood's resume
This is such a gross mismanagement of cap space, it almost doesn't seem possible that it could've gone down during this decade.
Even if the entire basketball world hadn't awakened to the pace-and-space enlightenment when this deal was signed in July 2010, the Mavs had to know this was bad for business. Haywood was on the wrong side of 30 and had established himself as an adequate starter at best. He had clear limitations on offense and hardly knocked your socks off on defense.
How anyone ever deemed him worthy of a six-year, $55 million contract is one of basketball's great mysteries. He had a negative box plus/minus the season before signing this deal, along with each of the eight seasons he played before that. At least he kept the pattern going with four more negative BPMs to close out his career.
The Mavs never needed to make this move. They traded for Tyson Chandler less than a week after Haywood's signing became official, and then watched Chandler emerge as a difference-maker in their championship run while Haywood logged a total of three minutes over the last four games of the 2011 Finals. If Dallas desperately needed Haywood, hindsight would at least trim this to a one- or two-year commitment.
Denver Nuggets: Al Harrington
The Contract: Five years, $34 million
The Fix: Shorten the length
Skill-wise, Harrington was a snug fit for George Karl's system in Denver. The Nuggets liked to get up and down, and that was easier to do with a 6'9" big man who was comfortable handling the basketball and capable of shooting from deep.
But with Carmelo Anthony, Nene, Chris Andersen and Kenyon Martin all on the roster when Harrington signed in July 2010, he seemed ticketed for the second team. Why, then, did Denver feel the need to give him a five-year contract? The salary was fine, but how many 30-year-old reserves are signing for that long?
Harrington was fine for two seasons, and then the Nuggets included him in the Aug. 2012 four-team trade that brought Andre Iguodala to Denver and sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers. Denver should've just given Harrington a two-year contract to begin with.
Detroit Pistons: Josh Smith
The Contract: Four years, $54 million
The Fix: Build a functional frontcourt
The Pistons could not have played the 2013 free-agent market any worse. In a player pool that included Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Andre Iguodala, Detroit deemed Smith most worthy of its attention.
"Josh was the No. 1 guy we went after in free agency," then-Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars told reporters. "The primary reason for Josh being the No. 1 guy was because of his versatility. He's a 6'9", athletic forward who can play both positions and at both ends of the floor."
Taking a big gamble on Smith was more sensible than it seems now, as he was a hyper-athletic 27-year-old who touched almost every part of the stat sheet. But Detroit sabotaged this signing by constructing a disastrous, jumbo-sized frontcourt that had Smith sharing the floor with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, a pair of non-shooters who clogged the interior and crowded Smith's runway.
Detroit's antiquated approach proved predictably abysmal—the Pistons were 29-53 with a minus-3.7 net rating in 2013-14—and Smith was scapegoated shortly thereafter. Detroit waived him in Dec. 2014, less than 18 months after giving him this contract.
Had he been allowed to play the 4 spot and suit up alongside floor-spacers, maybe he could've earned his money and stayed the full four seasons in the Motor City.
Golden State Warriors:
The Contract: Three years, $48 million
The Fix: None needed
Contenders need to spend large to keep their championship cores together, and Iguodala used that information as leverage while brokering this deal in July 2017. Golden State had started its negotiations with a three-year, $36 million offer, per The Athletic's Anthony Slater, and Iguodala eventually found his way to a three-year, $48 million pact.
"Are we overpaying statistically? Probably," Warriors coach Steve Kerr told Slater in May 2019. "Are we overpaying in terms of his value on winning a championship. Hell, no. Can you imagine us without him? No. He's been worth every penny and more."
Since the Warriors kept Iguodala for only two seasons—they traded him to the Grizzlies last summer—it's tempting to say the fix for this contract is shortening it by a year. But the deal never gets done if that's the case.
Golden State, which won the title in 2018, had too much at stake to let Iguodala walk, even if keeping him meant paying him more than the numbers said he should get.
Houston Rockets: Chris Paul
The Contract: Four years, $159.7 million
The Fix: Shorten it
Houston won 65 games in Paul's first season there and 53 in his second. The Rockets were 3-0 in playoff series against teams not named the Warriors, and they won five games in their two series losses to Golden State.
But if Houston wanted to reverse this transaction given how it played out—the Rockets gave up multiple first-round picks to flip Paul for Russell Westbrook last summer—then shortening the contract length becomes an obvious aim.
Paul was 33 when he signed this deal in July 2018. He already had a detailed injury history by that point and missed more than 20 games in each of the previous two seasons. Giving a player his age and with his kind of injury history a four-year commitment with an annual salary of nearly $40 million is reckless, even if the Point God remains a high-level producer for the duration of the contract.
Indiana Pacers: Monta Ellis
The Contract: Four years, $44 million
The Fix: Don't overspend on volume scoring
The Pacers paired a championship-level defense with a barely functional offense, so their interest in a walking bucket like Ellis made some sense. But Indy acted as if all points are created equally and quickly discovered that isn't the case.
The Pacers needed razor-sharp offense from Ellis since he was already a clearly defined liability on defense as an undersized gambler. What they wound up getting was a lot of ball-pounding and not enough three-point shooting (31.2 percent over two seasons) or playmaking (4.0 assists against 2.2 turnovers).
If Indy was in the market for sporadic scoring, Lou Williams was in the same free-agent class and signed a three-year, $21 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers. The Pacers should've either pursued Williams instead or at least not given Ellis a longer, richer contract.
Los Angeles Clippers: Spencer Hawes
The Contract: Four years, $23 million
The Fix: Modernize frontcourt or choose a better center
The Clippers gave Hawes this deal in July 2014. That December, the folks over at Hoops Habit were already asking if the signing was a mistake. By June, L.A. shipped the big fella to Charlotte with Matt Barnes for Lance Stephenson.
Hawes was horrific over his 73 games for the Clippers. He averaged only 5.8 points and 3.5 rebounds across 17.5 minutes and had one of the more grotesque shooting slash lines you'll ever see from a 7-footer: 39.3/31.3/64.7.
Obviously, L.A. expected more—he shot 45.6/41.6/78.3 the previous season—but his game was never great. Or good, even. He came with a below-average career PER (14.4) and a negative BPM (minus-1.2). Giving him a four-year deal was just asking for trouble.
The Clippers had other, better options to explore. If they wanted a traditional big, the 2014 free-agent crop included Marcin Gortat, Pau Gasol and Ed Davis. If they wanted a more modern big, they could've pursued Boris Diaw, Josh McRoberts and Mike Scott. Instead, they shot themselves in the foot with Hawes.
Los Angeles Lakers: Luol Deng
The Contract: Four years, $72 million
The Fix: Save the space
An unprecedented spike in the salary cap for the 2016 offseason left every club positioned to make a splash. Even the Warriors, who won the title in 2014-15 and a record 73 games in 2015-16, found enough flexibility to sign Kevin Durant.
The Lakers wanted in on the fun, but their sales pitch lacked substance. Other than the typical Hollywood offerings, L.A. had nothing to lure in talent. Kobe Bryant had retired, and the loss column skyrocketed even before he left. Over the prior three seasons, only the Process-trusting 76ers suffered more losses than the Lakers' 181.
When the market wasn't buying what L.A. had to sell, the franchise had an opportunity to invest its cap space in other ways. It could have "rented it out" to other teams, or taken bad money off their hands in exchange for draft picks. It could have signed a slew of short-term pacts in hopes of either stumbling upon an underrated contributor or seeing those players emerge as trade chips at the deadline.
Instead, the Lakers threw this deal at Deng and a four-year, $64 million contract at Timofey Mozgov. Would you believe me if I told you neither contract worked out? Shocking, right?
Deng played 57 inefficient games for the Lakers and was waived in Sept. 2018. Mozgov played 54 for the Purple and Gold, which had to sacrifice D'Angelo Russell to get out of his deal.
Neither contract needed to happen.
Memphis Grizzlies: Chandler Parsons
The Contract: Four years, $94.8 million
The Fix: Read his medical reports
The Grizzlies needed a wing in 2016 and had the money to sign an impact player at the position. Statistically speaking, Parsons seemed to fit the bill as a shooter, scorer and secondary playmaker.
However, alarm sirens should have blared on Beale Street.
If that didn't signal something might be up, Memphis only needed to examine Parsons' two seasons in Dallas—or, more specifically, the ending of those two campaigns. Each saw Parsons prematurely forced off the floor by knee injuries.
The Grizzlies baked none of his health risks into the contract and were immediately burned when another round of knee problems ravaged his first season with them. It didn't get better from there, and they finally salary-dumped him in 2019 after he played only 95 games across three seasons.
Given the obvious medical risk, this contract should've been shorter and offered an escape route with a team option or at least a partial guarantee.
Miami Heat: Dion Waiters
The Contract: Four years, $52 million
The Fix: Don't overpay for a half-season breakout
The Heat had to know there was a good chance this contract was never going to age well.
Waiters was four seasons into his career when he landed in Miami ahead of the 2016-17 season, and he had already been discarded by two different teams. The Cavaliers ditched him in a deal that brought back JR Smith and Iman Shumpert, and the Thunder rescinded a qualifying offer that would've made him a restricted free agent.
Waiters' sporadic, inefficient scoring had torpedoed his value—he was the fourth overall pick in 2012—and the Heat needed only their $2.9 million room exception to get him. There was no reason to think the relationship would last when Miami face-planted into an 11-30 start, but the Heat mirrored that with a 30-11 finish during which Waiters played some of his best basketball (and provided the best meme) of his career.
It was a fun stretch, but it was two months of a career defined by inconsistency. It had all the makings of a contract-year mirage, and Miami still paid $52 million to take the plunge.
Incredibly (written in sarcasm font), Waiters hadn't actually transformed in those two months, so the Heat instead grossly overspent on an inefficient scoring specialist. His free agency had short-term, prove-it contract written all over it.
Milwaukee Bucks: Matthew Dellavedova
The Contract: Four years, $38 million
The Fix: Pay him like a specialist
Milwaukee must use some interesting accounting practices. What formula says Malcolm Brogdon isn't worth a four-year, $85 million pact, but Dellavedova deserves this deal?
It's almost like the Bucks paid the "way to go!" contract that teams sometimes use to reward their returning champions, only Delly won the 2016 title in Cleveland, not Milwaukee. He was a pesky on-ball defender, but in what world does a second-team stopper deserve this kind of coin?
He wasn't a finisher. Or a shot-creator. Or a great shooter. He arrived with negative BPMs in each of his first three seasons, and he has declined in that category in every subsequent campaign.
The simplest retroactive fix is to wipe the contract out of existence, as the Bucks traded him away in Dec. 2018. Another option would be targeting a different defense-first guard, like Ish Smith (three years, $18 million), or a better shooter, like E'Twaun Moore (four years, $34 million).
If Milwaukee had to have Dellavedova, then the contract should shrink in years and salary.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Nikola Pekovic
The Contract: Five years, $60 million
The Fix: Consider the injury risk
With hindsight being 20-20, we can debate the merits of giving a low-post player $60 million in 2013, when the Big Three Heat were shifting basketball toward its position-ess future. But Minnesota wanted to play big, and few stood taller than the 6'11", 307-pound Pekovic.
"Pek has developed into one of the NBA's premier centers and is entering the prime of his career," the late Flip Saunders, then the Timberwolves' president, said. "We envision Pek and Kevin Love being the 'Bruise Brothers' and forming one of the best frontcourts in the NBA for a long time to come."
Whether or not the twin-towers setup would've worked is a moot point. Pekovic couldn't stay healthy long enough to find out, and someone his size suffering from the foot and ankle injuries that derailed his career should've surprised no one.
What's worse is Minnesota might have seen this coming. Pekovic was three years into his career when he signed the contract, and he had yet to miss fewer than 17 games. Those absences should've forced the Timberwolves to shorten the length of this contract, even if it meant inflating the annual salary.
New Orleans Pelicans: Solomon Hill
The Contract: Four years, $52 million
The Fix: Resist the temptations of 2016
The Pels were hardly alone in having cap space burning in their pockets in 2016. Given their struggles to build a formidable roster around ascending All-Star Anthony Davis, New Orleans probably felt the heat more than most.
But even by that summer's funhouse-mirror standards, this was a clearly massive reach.
Hill averaged 4.2 points per game in the season before this signing this deal—a contract that made him a $13-million-per-year player. His most productive season to that point was 2014-15, when he averaged 8.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists, but he also shot only 39.6 percent from the field and 32.7 percent from three that year.
He hadn't shown enough to justify a four-year commitment, let alone one that featured an annual eight-figure salary. If the 2016 market said a player like Hill had to be paid this much, the Pels should've played a different market, either by searching for trades or saving their cap space for a 2017 splash signing.
New York Knicks: Joakim Noah
The Contract: Four years, $72 million
The Fix: Don't pay for damaged goods
The healthy version of Noah might've been a max contract-caliber talent. He was an ideal defensive anchor (with the 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year hardware to prove it), and he helped an offense run as a clever passer from the high post.
But the Knicks knew—or should have known, at least—they weren't getting Noah's best when they gave him this deal in 2016. He had missed at least 16 games in three of the previous four seasons and only made it through 29 outings in 2015-16 thanks to multiple shoulder injuries.
He reportedly convinced then-Knicks president Phil Jackson of his health by offering to let Jackson use his arm for a pull-up, per Marc Berman of the New York Post, which feels like brutal business even by the 'Bockers standards.
Noah, who shouldn't have been offered more than a two-year deal with a team option on the second, played only 53 games for the Knicks over two seasons before being waived in Oct. 2018.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Andre Roberson
The Contract: Three years, $30 million
The Fix: Find an excuse not to play him on Jan. 27, 2018
Roberson entered the 2017 offseason having just established himself as one of the Association's premier stoppers. The 25-year-old had earned his first All-Defensive selection and, despite not having shooting range beyond the restricted area, posted OKC's fourth-best net differential (plus-5.7 points per 100 possessions).
Everything about the contract made sense. Even if he became nothing more than a stopping specialist, the pay rate was reasonable for an elite defender.
But the night of Jan. 27, 2018 changed everything. That's when a scary fall on an errant lob pass resulted in a rupture of his left patellar tendon. He has barely seen the floor since. He wouldn't make his next appearance until the bubble opened in Orlando this August, and he didn't get any playoff action after a three-minute appearance in the Thunder's postseason opener.
He's now slated for unrestricted free agency, and he'll be a polarizing option for teams given what transpired over the past two-plus years. It'd be fascinating to see how he and this contract would've looked had the injury never happened.
Orlando Magic: Bismack Biyombo
The Contract: Four years, $72 million
The Fix: Embrace modern basketball
If someone went back and retroactively graded the 2016 offseason, there would be temptation to give Orlando an F.
The Magic traded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for Serge Ibaka in June, then traded Ibaka for Terrence Ross and a late first-round pick less than eight months later. They gave Jeff Green a one-year, $15 million deal and watched him fail to shoot 40 percent from the field or 30 percent from three. And they calculated the stone-handed, offensively challenged Biyombo's worth at $18 million per year, even while Nikola Vucevic's presence effectively shoehorned Biyombo into a reserve role.
Sure, you could give than an F. In my book, though, it's more of a LOL WUT?!?!
The Magic had Ibaka, Vucevic and Aaron Gordon on the roster before they handed Biyombo a blank check. Where was he supposed to fit? How was this offense ever going to function? What was the best-case scenario for this situation?
I still can't answer any of those questions, so rather than trying to work out a contract more reflective of Biyombo's skills, let's just pretend this never happened, OK?
Philadelphia 76ers: Al Horford
The Contract: Four years, $109 million
The Fix: Skip size and find shooting and shot-creation instead
Cue 76ers general manager Elton Brand after getting this deal done last summer: "We have gained a championship-level teammate that will not only complement our current makeup, but will help grow our young core as we strive for the highest level of success."
Flash cut to Brand after Philly got swept out of this year's opening round: "I'm not looking to trade Ben [Simmons] or Joel [Embiid]. I'm looking to complement them better."
Yeah, it was one of those seasons for the Sixers.
Horford, who turned 34 in June, never settled in to a comfortable role, as Philly's jumbo-sized starting lineup was woefully short on spacing and shot-creation. When Horford shared the floor with Simmons, Embiid, Tobias Harris and Josh Richardson, the Sixers posted a grisly 105.4 offensive rating. For context, only Golden State ran a less efficient attack on the season.
If Philly gets a mulligan, why not bypass Horford and just re-sign Jimmy Butler, the player who had this club one win shy of the conference finals last season, or make an all-out push for Kemba Walker? The Sixers could've chased Malcolm Brogdon or Bojan Bogdanovic and still had money left over for depth pieces, too.
Adding Horford was a misread of their needs, and giving him this much money for this long was a miscalculation of what he has left in the tank.
Phoenix Suns: Brandon Knight
The Contract: Five years, $70 million
The Fix: Recognize his limitations and pay him accordingly
Back when Phoenix was playing point guard roulette, it faulted first by tabbing Knight as one of the keepers. At the same trade deadline that brought him to the desert (2015), the Suns traded away both Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas.
Dragic would become an All-Star in Miami. Thomas later emerged as an MVP candidate in Boston. And Knight... well, before injuries got the best of him, he posted volume-scoring numbers with middling (at best) efficiency and uninspiring distributing.
During the 11 games Knight played for the Suns after the trade but before signing this contract, he averaged 13.4 points on a 35.7/31.3/82.8 slash line. The shooting rates could've scared them off, but they handed him a five-year, $70 million deal instead.
While he averaged 19.6 points in his first season on that contract, he shot only 41.5 percent overall and 34.2 percent from three. His 52.2 true shooting percentage was 14th-worst of the 290 players who averaged at least 19 points since 2010.
Knight's injuries—he has played only 170 games over the past five seasons—haven't helped the perception of this deal, but it was overpriced to begin with. Something in the three-year, $36 million range would've been more reflective of his strengths and weaknesses.
Portland Trail Blazers: Allen Crabbe
The Contract: Four years, $75 million
The Fix: Don't spend $75 million on a specialist
Not to keep this broken record spinning, but here's another major-money 2016 decision that went awry.
The Blazers watched Crabbe's first three seasons up close. They knew what he could do (splash threes at a pretty good clip) and what he couldn't (pretty much everything else). They also had already addressed their wing vacancy by giving Evan Turner a four-year, $70 million deal (gulp).
When the Nets got Crabbe's signature on a four-year, $75 million offer sheet, the Blazers could've shrugged their shoulders and let him go. Even if they wanted him back, they had to know his game wasn't built to support the cost.
Instead, Portland matched, then traded him to the Nets one year later in a deal that forced them to waive and stretch the remainder of Andrew Nicholson's four-year, $26 million contract.
Let that be a lesson to all of you future NBA execs out there: If someone wants to break the bank for your restricted-free-agent specialist, let them.
Sacramento Kings: Zach Randolph
The Contract: Two years, $24 million
The Fix: Don't rush the rebuild
It's easy to say this as someone not in the thick of a decade-plus playoff drought, but why can't the Kings be more patient?
Let's go back to 2017. Sacramento went 32-50 the previous season and veered into an organizational reset after trading away DeMarcus Cousins. The road to recovery was sure to be a long one, but at least the Kings were starting to collect interesting prospects such as De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic.
Sacramento seemed ready to follow the tortoise's slow-and-steady path to the finish line, but then it got antsy. When free agency hit, the Kings threw major money at 30-somethings Randolph, George Hill and Vince Carter. The idea was to find some veteran mentors, but Sacramento's youth didn't need that yet. It's like the Kings were trying to make the finishing touches on a clearly incomplete project.
All three were out of the picture before the 2018-19 season started, though Randolph's contract languished on the payroll until the Kings could finally unload it on the Mavericks at the trade deadline.
If Sacramento could have the 2017 summer back, it should either save its cap space (or use it to pry draft picks away from other teams) or use it on an up-and-comer or two who might actually be around whenever the Kings snap their lengthy postseason drought.
San Antonio Spurs: Tiago Splitter
The Contract: Four years, $36 million
The Fix: Fewer years
This is the Spurs' front office we're dealing with, so to no one's surprise, we aren't looking at some disastrous signing. Instead, it's a contract that's a touch too long and probably a few dollars too rich for a complementary role player.
Splitter, a defense-first center, started 58 games for the 2012-13 team which reached the Finals. After signing this deal shortly thereafter, he made another 50 starts for the 2013-14 squad that raised the most recent championship banner into the AT&T Center rafters.
He could throw his weight around in the post and didn't try to do too much on offense. He'd never wow you with production, but he made a lot of smart plays that quietly helped the Spurs win games.
That has value. Now, is it four years and $36 million of value? That's debatable, especially since he was already 28 years old when he signed this deal.
If the Spurs could do this over again, they'd probably aim for something shorter, but it wasn't an egregious deal as constructed by any stretch.
Toronto Raptors: DeMarre Carroll
The Contract: Four years, $60 million
The Fix: Beware of the system-player breakout
A lot went right for Carroll during the 2014-15 season, thanks in no small part to the Midas touch of then-Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, a Gregg Popovich disciple who was busy turning the team into the Spurs of the East. Carroll was among the five Atlanta starters who shared Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors that January, and he was the only member of that group who didn't make the All-Star game.
Clearly, Budenholzer's egalitarian approach worked wonders for the entire roster. The Raptors faulted in thinking Carroll could be as good (or better) outside of the system.
The $60 million deal—which would've been steep even if Carroll continued as a solid two-way starter—soured quickly, as a knee injury sent him under the knife in Jan. 2016. He played 72 games the next season, but he was nowhere near worth the money. He averaged only 8.9 points on 40.0/34.1/76.1 shooting, and the Raptors were better without him in what would be his last season north of the border.
Toronto traded him in July 2017 and had to sacrifice first- and second-round picks for Brooklyn to cover the remainder of Carroll's salary.
He was a decent two-way option when healthy, but as someone who was obviously being elevated by his team's system, he was never going to justify an eight-figure annual salary.
Utah Jazz: Ed Davis
The Contract: Two years, $9.7 million
The Fix: Trust Tony Bradley
Even if offered the opportunity for a redo, Utah might not erase this deal.
For starters, it isn't at all a bank-breaker, which shows how wisely the Jazz have spent in free agency. It also did (and still does) make sense when it came together last summer, as Davis' no-frills rebounding and hustle seemed like perfect complements to what the club had in place.
But for one reason or another, Davis couldn't get going out of the gate, and when he was shelved by an early injury, Bradley zipped past him in the rotation. That doesn't feel like a change the Jazz would ever want to reverse.
It's easy to say now Utah should've entrusted Bradley from the beginning, but he had suited up all of 12 times over his first two seasons combined. Still, the Jazz liked him enough to trade up to get him in the 2017 draft and never gave him a chance to sink or swim.
Giving Bradley training camp competition was a smart move, but if the Jazz went with a cheaper center to push him, that would've freed up funds to address other areas.
Washington Wizards: John Wall
The Contract: Four years, $170 million
The Fix: Shorten it
Maybe the correct answer here is never let the supermax contract enter the collective bargaining agreement. Once that happened, Wall wasn't staying in Washington without it.
The beating he has taken from the injury bug has turned the deal from dicey to disastrous. But as soon as Wall put pen to paper on the extension in July 2017, he was fighting an uphill battle to justify his paycheck.
This season, the first on the new deal, was his age-29 campaign. That's a big number for a point guard with a shaky jumper (career 32.4 percent from three) and a heavy dependence on athleticism. He has always done his best work in the open court—his decision-making seems to improve the faster he plays—so if he lost some of his absurd sprint speed, there were legitimate concerns over whether he could be a star again.
That's a question that can't be asked of a player making an average of $42.5 million each season. That kind of coin should be reserved only for top-tier superstars. Wall was never quite on that level, and he could be worlds removed from it the next time he takes the floor (which he'll do as a 30-year-old coming off a torn Achilles).
It would help the Wizards' books if this deal (arguably the NBA's worst) didn't stretch another three years into the future, but Wall wouldn't have taken anything less.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.