Dennis Schroder and the NBA Free-Agency Contract Gambles Gone Wrong

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistAugust 11, 2021

Dennis Schroder and the NBA Free-Agency Contract Gambles Gone Wrong

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Gambling is an integral part of sports. 

    It normally applies to fans betting on the outcome of a game, but history is riddled with athletes who have bet on themselves in the hopes of landing a massive contract.

    Sometimes the risk has paid off, but there are a lot more notable instances of things not working out in the player's favor. 

    The NBA, in particular, has several instances of players who should have taken lucrative long-term extensions rather than test the open market. 

    Here is a look at some of the recent big bets that players put on themselves, only to go bust when they hit free agency.

Dennis Schroder Turns Down Lakers Extension

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The free-agent deal: One year, $5.9 million from the Boston Celtics, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski

    Things seemed to be going well for Dennis Schroder and the Los Angeles Lakers through March 18. He was averaging 14.8 points and 4.7 assists per game while the defending NBA champions were the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference standings with a 28-13 record. 

    At some point during the season, ESPN's Brian Windhorst (h/t NBC Sports' Dan Feldman) reported the Lakers offered Schroder an extension worth up to $84 million over four years. He turned it down.

    Injuries to Anthony Davis and LeBron James caused the Lakers to fall to seventh place in the final standings.

    The Lakers lost in six games to the Phoenix Suns in the first round after Davis reinjured the groin that caused him problems during the regular season. Schroder averaged 14.3 points per game during that series, but he had a 3-of-22 shooting stretch between Games 4-5 that really hurt the team. 

    Following that playoff performance, Schroder wasn't targeted in the first wave of free agency, and he eventually accepted a one-year deal for the taxpayer mid-level exception from the Celtics in an attempt to rebuild his value in 2021-22. 

Victor Oladipo Passes on Pacers, Rockets Deals

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    The free-agent deal: Re-signs with Miami Heat for one year worth the veteran minimum ($2.4 million, per Spotrac)

    Victor Oladipo is the rare player who has turned down two contracts in the past 12 months that would have been far more valuable than what he wound up receiving as a free agent. 

    Per Ryan McDonough of (h/t Feldman), at some point last offseason, the Indiana Pacers approached Oladipo with a multiyear offer that had a starting salary "in the $25 million range" that would have increased by 8 percent each season. 

    The Pacers made that offer despite Oladipo averaging just 14.5 points per game on 39.4 percent shooting in 19 appearances during the 2019-20 season. He was working his way back from a ruptured quad tendon suffered in January 2019. 

    After rejecting that deal, Oladipo was traded to the Houston Rockets in January as part of the three-team deal that sent James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets.

    ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported in February that Oladipo rejected a two-year, $45.2 million deal from the Rockets. The two-time All-Star got traded to the Miami Heat the following month, but he was only able to play in four games before having surgery on his quad tendon in May. 

    Oladipo wound up re-signing with the Heat for a minimum deal. The 29-year-old averaged 19.8 points per game in 33 starts last season, but he shot just 40.8 percent from the field. 

DeMarcus Cousins Turns Down Pelicans Extension

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The free-agent deal: Signs one-year, $5.3 million contract with the Golden State Warriors in 2018

    The New Orleans Pelicans frontcourt pairing of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins didn't really have much time to unleash its full potential. 

    Cousins was acquired late in the 2016-17 season, at which point the Pelicans were well out of playoff contention as the No. 11 seed in the Western Conference with a 23-34 record on Feb. 23. He played well with 24.4 points and 12.9 rebounds per game in 17 starts to finish the regular season. 

    During their first full season together in 2017-18, Davis and Cousins got the Pelicans off to a 27-21 start before Boogie tore his Achilles on Jan. 28.

    Marc Stein, then of the New York Times, reported New Orleans approached Cousins about a two-year extension worth $40 million at some point after the injury but before the season ended. 

    "When that offer was declined, sources say, New Orleans took it off the table," Stein wrote. 

    Cousins wound up taking the one-year, mid-level exception from the Warriors hoping to rebuild his value. He appeared in 30 games during 2018-19 regular season, averaging 16.3 points on 48.0 percent shooting from the field and 8.2 rebounds. 

    A quadriceps injury kept Cousins out for 14 playoff games. He was largely ineffective in the NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors with 8.3 points on 42.5 percent shooting in six games. 

Nerlens Noel Spurns Mavericks Extension

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    Rich Schultz/Associated Press

    The free-agent deal: Re-signs with Mavericks for one year, $4.1 million in 2017

    Nerlens Noel is arguably the poster child for why you shouldn't turn down a lucrative extension offer unless you are in the top tier of NBA players. 

    After three middling seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers, Noel was traded to the Dallas Mavericks in February 2017. He played well enough in Dallas after the deal that the team presented him a four-year, $70 million contract offer as a restricted free agent. 

    Noel rejected it, opting instead to sign the one-year qualifying offer worth $4.1 million to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2017-18 season. It's a strategy that, had it worked the way he hoped, would have ended with him receiving a max contract offer at the age of 24. 

    What actually happened is Noel missed 42 straight games from Nov. 25 to Feb. 26 because of a torn ligament in his thumb that required surgery. He was also suspended for the final five games of the regular season for violating the NBA's anti-drug program. 

    Noel spent the next two seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder making less than $4 million combined before signing a one-year deal with the New York Knicks prior to the start of the 2020-21 campaign. 

    Unlike many players on this list, Noel's story does have a somewhat happy ending. He played well enough during his first season with the Knicks to earn a new three-year, $32 million deal from them this offseason. 

    It's not quite the $70 million Noel could have already banked from the Mavs contract, but it takes some of the sting away. 

Shabazz Muhammad Rejects Timberwolves Offer

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    The free-agent deal: Two years, $3.4 million from the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2017

    After struggling through his rookie season and injuries cutting his breakout second season short, Shabazz Muhammad established himself as a solid role player off the bench in 2015-16. 

    The UCLA alum averaged 10.5 points per game on 46.5 percent shooting from the field in 82 appearances. 

    Following the 2015-16 season, Muhammad was presented with a four-year, $40 million contract extension from Minnesota that he turned down. He had one year left on his rookie contract at the time. 

    Muhammad remained effective off the bench in 2016-17 after Tom Thibodeau replaced Sam Mitchell as head coach. He averaged 9.9 points with a 48.2 field-goal percentage in 78 appearances, but there was no market for him as a free agent during the summer of 2017. 

    Minnesota wound up bringing Muhammad back on a two-year, $3.4 million contract with a player option for 2018-19. He didn't even make it all the way through the first season before receiving a buyout

    After finishing the 2017-18 campaign with the Milwaukee Bucks, Muhammad went overseas to the Chinese Basketball Association, where he's played for the past three years.