Dennis Schroder's 2021 free-agency saga was one of the biggest topics of this truncated NBA offseason.
Back in March, when it was still safe to peg the 2020 champion Los Angeles Lakers as (at the very least) contenders, Schroder reportedly declined a four-year, $84 million contract extension.
This was right around the start of LeBron James' first prolonged injury absence and several weeks shy of Anthony Davis' groin injury that would eventually doom the Lakers' playoff hopes. At the time, there was some logic to Schroder's decision. He was the 27-year-old starting point guard for a title favorite and coming off a second-place finish in Sixth Man of the Year voting in 2020.
Now, he joins a list of cautionary tales that includes Nerlens Noel, Bonzi Wells, Joe Smith, Latrell Sprewell, John Amaechi, Brandon Jennings and Victor Oladipo.
Instead of taking the tens of millions offered to him earlier this year, Schroder and his people saw L.A.'s championship hopes implode, possibly misjudged the offseason spending power around the league and saw the Lakers trade for Russell Westbrook on draft day.
Within days of free agency opening in August, the available cap space dried up. Sign-and-trades, cap exceptions and minimum deals made up the bulk of the transactions, before Schroder eventually signed a one-year, $5.9 million deal with the Boston Celtics.
Yes, nearly $80 million lost.
Of course, Schroder may be able to make up for some of that with contracts over the rest of his career, but not signing the previously offered extension feels like a massive blunder in the short term.
"I think he's in a state of shock because of what he's done," a source told the Boston Herald’s Mark Murphy.
Adding insult to injury, there's no guarantee Schroder will start in Boston either. After years as a combo guard, Marcus Smart appeared a near shoe-in to slide into Kemba Walker's role following the latter's departure. Schroder's arrival doesn't necessarily change that.
Keith Smith @KeithSmithNBA
Per a source: Dennis Schroder signed with Boston with no expectation of a starting role. Celtics made it clear that Ime Udoka will evaluate roles and minutes. Also, this will be Udoka's decision only. The front office, led by Brad Stevens, will not get involved in PT decisions.
The reality for Schroder may be that he's best suited to the Sixth Man role in which he thrived with the Oklahoma City Thunder. If he can punish reserves over the course of this season in Boston, as he did in 2019-20, perhaps he'll be presented with another lucrative, long-term deal in 2022.
That's far from a given, though, and others who've been in similar situations in the past can attest to the fact that guaranteed money isn't guaranteed to come around every year.
Another recent example is Noel. In August 2017, shortly after he signed a $4.1 million qualifying offer to return to the Dallas Mavericks, Noel's former agent confirmed that he turned down a significant extension.
Over the four seasons between then and now, Noel has made $12.8 million from three different teams. This summer, he signed a three-year, $27.7 million contract to return to the New York Knicks. And on that one, the last season is a team option. Even if it's picked up, those seven years add up to just over half of what Noel turned down from Dallas.
Statistically, Noel has been stout over the last four seasons, with a top-70 box plus/minus (BPM is "...a basketball box score-based metric that estimates a basketball player’s contribution to the team when that player is on the court," according to Basketball Reference) and averages of 11.2 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.0 blocks and 2.0 steals per 75 possessions, but the market for big men isn't what it has been in the past. And turning down that extension put him in the mercenary portion of his career earlier than he may have been otherwise.
In the 2005-06 season, several years after he peaked for the Portland Trail Blazers, Bonzi Wells averaged 13.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.8 steals in 32.4 minutes with the Sacramento Kings. The team went 44-38 and offered Wells a five-year, $38.5 million deal that he says his agent turned down.
Speaking with Muncie, Indiana's Star Press, Wells explained how his agent kept he and his advisors out of the loop (h/t A Royal Pain):
“Any decision we make, we make as a team, so we can do what’s best for us. My agent was talking (to the Kings) without the team, and he wasn’t bringing back all of the information to the team. When they hit him up with an offer, he denied it without coming back to the team, so by the time he told the team, they had already taken it off the table and offered it to someone else.”
Wells played the next season for the Houston Rockets for $2.1 million, then had his last NBA campaign in 2007-08 with the New Orleans Hornets at $2.3 million. He played a couple more years overseas and eventually landed in the BIG3.
The No. 1 pick in the 1995 NBA draft, Joe Smith had a decent start to his career with the Golden State Warriors. Over his first two seasons, he averaged 16.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks.
During his third season, when he averaged 17.3 points in 49 games with Golden State, the Warriors offered him an $80 million deal. Smith turned it down and was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Over the rest of his career, he averaged 23.8 minutes, 9.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 0.7 blocks. Over his 16 NBA seasons, he made $61.2 million. That's a more than respectable mark, but it still falls well shy of what he could've secured with one signature a few years after he was drafted.
At the start of the 2004-05 season, Latrell Sprewell's age-34 campaign, the four-time All-Star declined a three-year, $21 million extension that would've kept him in the NBA till he was nearly 40.
At the time, Sprewell called the offer "insulting," and added that he had a "family to feed."
Nearly 20 years later, a three-year, $21 million offer for most 34-year olds in the NBA right now would be solid.
Sprewell was coming off three seasons of below-average overall play (according to BPM) and eight straight seasons of below-average shooting. Turning down three years of guaranteed money on the heels of that track record was a gamble that didn't pay off.
As it turned out, that 2004-05 campaign was Sprewell's last. Over a decade later, he showed up as a punchline in a Priceline ad.
In 1995-96, Amaechi averaged 2.8 points in 28 games as a 25-year-old rookie with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He then played three years overseas before returning to the NBA in 1999-00. That season, he averaged 10.5 points and 3.3 rebounds while shooting 43.7 percent from the field.
That was enough to generate a six-year, $17 million offer from the Los Angeles Lakers to back up the legendary Shaquille O'Neal. To that point, Amaechi had made just over $500,000 in NBA salary. Six years of financial security from one of the most storied organizations in sports would likely be a dream come true for most people, but apparently not Amaechi.
He explained his decision to turn down the offer to the Orlando Sentinel (h/t CBS).
"Against the counsel of my agent, sisters and best friend, against everything that says I'm not making the best of the situation, against my own best financial sense, I'm re-signing because I think the Magic need me more than the Lakers. I hope the circumstances don't conspire to come back and haunt me. The risk is looming on my conscience, but the Magic have been good to me and we're a pretty good combination. I believe in myself. I have a great deal of faith in myself that I can produce."
Amaechi made $600,000 in 2000-01 and averaged 7.9 points. Over the rest of his career, he appeared in 104 games and made $8.4 million.
His last NBA appearance came in April of 2003, three years shy of when the Lakers contract would've expired.
During his rookie contract with the Milwaukee Bucks, Jennings was offered a four-year, $40 million extension that he turned down before entering free agency in 2013.
The decision may have made some sense at the time. During that first deal, he averaged 17.0 points, 5.7 assists and 1.9 threes through his age-23 season. Lack of size, defensive ability and shooting efficiency doomed his chances to make up for turning down that offer from Milwaukee, though.
Over the rest of his career, Jennings played for four different teams and made a total of $30.3 million. He was out of the league before his 30th birthday.
Oladipo's missed opportunities (yes, plural) were overshadowed by Schroder's (perhaps because the latter was a Laker), but they may be even more tragic.
At the start of the 2020-21 campaign, prior to a trade that sent him to the Houston Rockets, the Indiana Pacers reportedly offered Oladipo an extension that would've started around $25 million a year and included raises in each season.
There may not be firm numbers on that offer, but we can conservatively estimate the contract would've been worth in the neighborhood of $100 million.
Missing out on that alone would've been enough, but Oladipo turned down another offer from another team later in the season. In February, the Rockets offered him a two-year, $45.2 million extension.
Again, he turned it down.
After another trade (this time to the Miami Heat) and another season-ending injury, Oladipo was left with little to no leverage in free agency. He wound up re-signing with the Heat on a $2.4 million, one-year veteran minimum contract.