Was there a Patient Zero for atrocious NBA contracts? I always assumed it was Jon Koncak, the unassuming center who improbably caused a bidding war between Detroit and Atlanta during the summer of 1989. His per-game numbers for the previous season: 20.7 minutes, 4.7 points, 6.1 rebounds. Zaza Pachulia’s numbers, basically. That didn’t stop the defending-champion Pistons from deviously driving up Koncak’s price to screw over their Eastern Conference rivals. Atlanta finally panicked, handing Koncak a whopping six-year, $13.1 million extension. Poor Koncak never matched those uninspiring 1988-89 numbers, eventually earning the derisive nickname “Jon Contract.”
And yet he wasn’t Patient Zero. I spent a few hours researching bad contracts and realized it was someone else, someone I never expected. But first, a little history. Our first batch of dumb contracts happened in the early 1970s, when the ABA brazenly beat the NBA in a few bidding wars, driving up prices for the guys they didn’t get. You know how that turned out: They bankrupted their own league in 1976. That’s the same summer the NBA created restricted free agency (if you signed someone else’s player, the league decided compensation), which led to doozies like New Orleans overpaying Gail Goodrich and giving the Lakers two first-rounders (including the one that became Magic Johnson), or the Clippers gutting their team so they could overpay a broken-down Bill Walton, or the Knicks lavishing Marvin “The Human Eraser” Webster with a five-year, $3 million deal after his sparkling performance in the ’78 playoffs. The second half of the 1970s were being marred by the first wave of overpaid “stars” like Sidney Wicks, Spencer Haywood, George McGinnis, Bob McAdoo, Rick Barry (who landed a $500,000-per-year contract from Houston well after his prime) and even the once-great Pete Maravich (sorry, it’s true).
The first batch of atrocious contracts? That didn’t happen until the NBA created a salary cap and then added things like unrestricted free agency. Suddenly, atrocious contracts had real consequences — if you overpaid the wrong guys, you fell into NBA quicksand. Nobody realized this faster than the real Patient Zero, as well as the most incompetent owner in NBA history. His name was Ted Stepien. In 1980, Stepien parlayed his minority stake in the Cavaliers into full control of the franchise. His first big move happened two months before the sale went through: He flipped Butch Lee (a backup guard) and Cleveland’s 1982 first-round pick to the Lakers for Don Ford (a backup forward) and L.A.’s 1980 first-round pick (needless to say, not a great pick). Two years later, Los Angeles picked James Worthy first overall with Cleveland’s pick. The lesson, as always: God hates Cleveland.
Wait, it gets worse. Later in 1980, Stepien sent four unprotected first-rounders to Dallas from 1983 to 1986 — FOUR!!!! — in three separate trades for four guys ranging from “borderline starter” to “unequivocal backup”: Mike Bratz, Geoff Huston, Richard Washington and Jerome Whitehead, planting the seeds for a contender in Dallas in the process.1 That’s when Stepien made history three different times.
Those picks yielded Dallas the following stars: Derek Harper (no. 11, 1983), Sam Perkins (no. 4, 1984), Detlef Schrempf (no. 8, 1985) and Roy Tarpley (no. 7, 1986). When the 1988 Mavericks made the Western finals and lost Game 7 to the Lakers, those were four of their best six players.
1. Then-commissioner Larry O’Brien ruled that Stepien couldn’t make another trade unless it was approved by the league.
2. The NBA made a new rule that no team could trade consecutive first-round picks which, naturally, ended up being called the Stepien Rule. (The lesson, as always: Any time you have a rule named after you in sports, you did something truly influential or truly atrocious.)
3. In 1983, Stepien sold the Cavs for $20 million. As part of the sale, the NBA broke precedent by giving the new Cleveland owners four compensatory first-rounders from 1983 to 1986 to help their recovery from Hurricane Stepien.2
The final damage: Cleveland finished 66-180 over those three Stepien years, dealing away five first-rounders (the highest being no. 1, the lowest being no. 21) and tearing through six different coaches. The best Cavs in the first post-Stepien season (28-54): World B. Free, Cliff Robinson and Phil Hubbard. Yikes.
So even if Stepien didn’t need the summer of ’81 to secure his legacy of incompetence, that didn’t stop him from making it rain like Floyd Mayweather at the Spearmint Rhino. He offered a five-year, $5 million deal to scorer Otis Birdsong,3 which Kansas City reluctantly matched even though the deal paid Birdsong more than Larry Bird and as much as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. You know what the Kings didn’t match? Stepien’s absurd five-year, $4 million offer for shooter Scott Wedman, which was the 1981 equivalent of giving Ryan Anderson $15 million a year. Stepien also overpaid Indiana center James Edwards (four years, $3.2 million) and Chicago backup guard Bobby Wilkerson (four years, $1.4 million) before inspiring Sports Illustrated‘s inevitable “WTF?!?!?!?!?” feature that included this eerily hilarious passage:
Birdsong averaged 24.6 PPG during the ’81 season. After the Kings matched Stepien’s offer, they dumped his contract on the Nets straight-up for Cliff Robinson 1.0 (not the second Cliff Robinson, the first one). Stepien ruined the Kings — they went from the ’81 Western finals to 30 wins in one summer.
“Last week many of the general managers attending the NBA’s annual meetings in Danvers, Mass.,4 were suggesting that Stepien’s offers represented an irresponsible approach to free agency that other clubs wouldn’t duplicate. What’s more likely is that basketball is now in a situation similar to baseball’s, in which the owners talk of controlling salaries but trip over themselves in their rush to give big money to mediocre players.”
If you ever wanted to know how rocky things were in the late ’70s for the NBA, here’s a good example: The league held its annual owners meetings in DANVERS, MASSACHUSETTS. Are you kidding me? I could see downtown Boston, Cape Cod, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, maybe even Duxbury or Gloucester but Danvers?????????? Did they get a deal for rooms at the Danvers Holiday Inn? My longtime editor Philbrick chimes in, “This revelation absolutely blew me away. I grew up 10 mins from that town. The only reason anyone went there in the past 45 years was to go to the mall or because they were visiting someone in the state mental hospital.”
BOOM! I think we found our Patient Zero! I should have known that Cleveland would be involved. By the end of that Danvers meeting, Seattle had offered package worth $3.1 million to Alex English (Denver smartly matched) and $400,000 a year to Steve Hawes (Atlanta stupidly matched). Even the great Dr. Jerry Buss couldn’t help himself, stealing Mitch Kupchak from Washington with an insane seven-year, $5.6 million offer, then making up for that travesty by locking up Magic Johnson with a historic 25-year, $25 million extension. In other words, the good doctor went one-for-two. Just remember that Stepien got everything rolling; the summer of ’81 paved the way for Jon Contract, Jim McIlvaine’s ludicrous $35 million extension that destroyed the ’97 Sonics, Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury making a combined $30.2 million a year for a 23-win Knicks team, the Atrocious GM Summit, Orlando swapping Rashard Lewis’s appalling nine-figure contract for Gilbert Arenas’s appalling nine-figure contract, the creation of the amnesty clause and everything else.
Why haven’t we done a 30 for 30 about Ted Stepien yet? Honestly, I don’t know. We’ve failed. That’s the only answer I can give you. Just know that he’s Patient Zero for bad contracts. Which brings us to this season’s batch of atrocities. Last week, I broke down the NBA’s best bargains and decided that LeBron James should make $75 million a year. Our worst NBA bargains can be separated into the following six categories:
Category 1: Expiring Atrocities
There’s light at the end of the tunnel of salary hell for Corey Maggette’s expiring deal ($10.9 million), as well as the ones for Stephen Jackson ($10.1 million), Mo Williams ($8.5 million), Devin Harris ($8.5 million), Chris Kaman ($8 million), Beno Udrih ($7.8 million), DeSagana Diop ($7.4 million), Francisco Garcia ($6.1 million) and Luke Walton ($6.1 million). Only two expiring deals cracked our master list of top 30 atrocities (we’ll get to them).
Category 2: Amnestied Contracts or Deals That Were Bought Out
Quick refresher on the amnesty clause: You still have to pay out the contract, it just doesn’t count for salary cap/luxury tax purposes. If another team signs that player, his next salary (usually much lower) comes off the original team’s remaining amnesty debt. That list includes Brandon Roy (Portland: three years and $49 million left); Gilbert Arenas (Orlando: two years, $43.1 million); Josh Childress (Phoenix: three years, $21 million); Brendan Haywood (Dallas: three years, $21.2 million); Luis Scola (Houston: three years, $17 million); Travis Outlaw (Brooklyn: three years, $12 million); Chris Andersen (Denver: two years, $9.3 million); Ryan Gomes (Clippers: one year, $4 million); and the one and only Darko Milicic (Minnesota: one year, $5.2 million).
I’m proud to say that I made fun of five of those signings (Arenas, Childress, Haywood, Outlaw and Darko) as they happened. Four other amnesty/buyout guys require special recognition:
Andray Blatche (Washington: three years, $23.4 million)
Blatche signed a three-year, $23.4 million extension in September of 2010 that didn’t kick in until the 2012-13 season. They amnestied him last summer. Hold on, I’ll let you do the math. (Waiting.) Did you figure it out? Yup, Blatche’s extension was such a mistake that the Wizards ended up amnestying it before it even started! Ted Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld are like Bizarro Jerry Buss and Bizarro Jerry West.
Elton Brand (Philly: one year, $16.1 million)
The Sixers could have kept Brand as a locker room leader and expiring contract/trade chip for the 2012-13 season, but they amnestied him so they could spend that cap space on Spencer Hawes (two years, $13 million), Nick Young (one year, $6 million) and Kwame Brown (one year, $3 million). In other words, they threw away $16.1 million to give themselves a chance to waste another $22 million. NBA teams are really, really dumb. Don’t forget this for a second.
Rashard Lewis (New Orleans: one year, $13.7 million)
That was Lewis’s buyout price for the last year of a watershed $118 million deal that Orlando’s Otis Smith gift wrapped him in 2007, just two years after Smith drafted Fran Vazquez over Danny Granger who could have given Orlando everything Smith wanted from Lewis for one-fifteenth of the price. Who was Smith bidding against for Lewis that summer? We don’t know. Why did he pay Lewis $50 million more than he was worth? We don’t know. Why hasn’t anyone hired Otis since Orlando fired him last year? We don’t — oh, wait, we know.
In general, the 2000s became the heyday for “I’m Worried About Keeping My Young Superstar Long-Term, So Instead of Patiently Building a Contender Around Him, I’ll Overpay for Immediate Help and Ruin My Cap Space!” panic contracts like Lewis, Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall, Antawn Jamison, Eddy Curry and Wally Szczerbiak, or even lesser atrocities like Marko Jaric, Jamaal Tinsley, Alvin Williams, Tim Thomas and everyone Philly signed to play with Allen Iverson. It’s also the reason Oklahoma City ‘s nucleus was constructed so carefully. Sam Presti learned from those mistakes, took the marathon-not-a-sprint approach and patiently built a contender around Kevin Durant. Had Orlando/Cleveland taken the same approach with Howard/LeBron, those guys would still be in Orlando and Cleveland. Hey, speaking of Cleveland
Baron Davis (Cleveland: one year, $14.85 million)
The Baron trade should get mentioned more often in any “Secretly Great NBA Trades of All Time” discussion, as well as any “Secretly Worst NBA Trades of All Time” discussion. In February of 2011, the Clippers dumped Baron’s contract on Cleveland, along with their 2011 first-round pick, for the less expensive Mo Williams. The deal saved them about $13 million and allegedly upgraded their point guard spot. Of course, they’re the Clippers, so they never protected the pick and it ended up winning the lottery. That’s how Cleveland ended up with Kyrie Irving.
My favorite part of this felony of a trade: After
the NBA fixed the lottery for Cleveland because they felt bad after LeBron screwed them over a year earlier the Cavs landed the first pick, the Clips defended the deal by saying they couldn’t have protected the pick because they had already given away a previously protected first-rounder to Boston. (The obvious response to that defense: THEN DON’T MAKE THE DEAL, YOU MORONS!) Why couldn’t the Clippers protect the pick? Because of the Stepien Rule! Woohoo! So if you’re scoring at home, it took nearly 30 years before Ted Stepien helped the Cavaliers, but they wouldn’t have Kyrie Irving without him. Maybe that’s the ending for the 30 for 30 about Stepien that we’ll never do.
Category 3: Overpaid Role Players
Look, I don’t love the contracts for Marcus Thornton (three years, $24.5 million),
Tayshaun Prince (three years, $21.7 million), Al Harrington (three years, $21.4 million), Brandon Bass (three years, $20.3 million), Big Baby Davis (three years, $19.4 million), Caron Butler (two years, $16 million), Metta World Peace (two years, $15 million), Jonas Jerebko (three years, $13.5 million), Trevor Ariza (two years, $15 million) or even (gulp) Jason Terry (three years, $15.7 million).5 But you could play any of those guys 30 minutes a night without destroying your season. Bad contracts? Absolutely. Atrocities? Not really.
Category 4: Future Amnesty Candidates
My dad put it best on Wednesday night: “I don’t know if Jason Terry is in a prolonged slump or he’s just washed up. But we’re nearing the point where we need to figure this out one way or the other.” My dad also theorized that the Celts traded for Jordan Crawford to make Terry feel better about his bad shooting and even worse shot selection. Needless to say, he’s not a big Crawford fan.
I need my atrocious contracts to rot away on someone’s salary cap like a bad piece of fruit. So it’s bitterly disappointing that the following teams have their amnesties left for the following players: the Lakers (Metta World Amnesty Clause: two years, $15 million); Miami (Mike Miller: three years, $18.6 million);6 Milwaukee (Drew Gooden: three years, $20.2 million); Toronto (Linas Kleiza: two years, $9.2 million); Sacramento (John Salmons: two years, $15.7 million); and especially Charlotte (Tyrus Thomas: three years, $26.1 million), who pulled off the Double Atrocious GM Whammy of (a) trading a future lottery pick for an overrated player, and (b) giving that overrated player a ludicrous extension that they’d eventually have to amnesty.
It’s hard to dump on the Miller/MWP contracts too much because the 2010 Lakers don’t win the title without MWP’s fantastic putback to save the Phoenix series, or his dagger 3-pointer in Game 7 against the Celtics, or even the charley horse he gave Ray Allen in Game 3. And Miller caught fire in the clinching game of the 2012 Finals, almost single-handedly turning that game into a blowout.
(You realize that Chicago has Charlotte’s first-rounder, and that it’s top-12 protected in 2013, top-10 protected in 2014, top-eight protected in 2015 and completely unprotected in 2016 right?)
(And you realize this happened because Charlotte decided, “We need to acquire Ty Thomas and give him a big fat deal, because once you give a perpetually underachieving NBA talent gobs of guaranteed money over a prolonged period of time, it always works out” right?)
(Are we sure MJ isn’t still working for the Bulls? I’m just asking.)
Category 5: Overpaid But Undeniably Productive Guys
Let’s quickly tackle them one at a time
Monta Ellis (two years, $22 million): Especially polarizing because every advanced statistic held a secret summit meeting and came to the conclusion, “We hate Monta Ellis, let’s conspire to make him look as useless as possible.” And yet he’s a fearless scorer who always plays hard and leaves you feeling like you know he’s flawed, but you also wouldn’t mind going to war with him in a playoff series (especially if he was your sixth man, giving you instant offense). I saw him in person at Wednesday night’s Clippers game and marveled at seven different Monta plays that ranged from “spectacular” to “WOW!!!!!!!!” Then again, the Bucks lost by 16 and Jamal Crawford out-Monta-ed Monta. Let’s take this to the footnotes.7
According to Hoopdata.com, Ellis is the only player who averages five shots per game from 16 to 23 feet and makes fewer than 40 percent of them (he’s at 35 percent). He also takes 3.5 3-pointers per game and makes just 23.9 percent of them. So if he’s shooting anything from more than 15 feet, there’s less than a 3-in-10 chance it will go in. And we haven’t even mentioned his dreadful defense yet. You want to pay Monta about $7 million a year. Then it’s fine.
Roy Hibbert (four years, $58.4 million): Even if he’s been slumping offensively (and then some: 49.7 percent FG last year, 42.7 percent this year), Hibbert’s sneaky-spectacular defense nearly caused a nerd riot at the Sloan Conference last weekend. Kirk Goldsberry PDF alert!!!
Jeff Green (four years, $35.2 million): Looked like a mortal lock for our top-30 as recently as six weeks ago and then Rondo went down, the Celtics recommitted to defense, everyone’s minutes fell into place, and Green turned into a thrilling two-way asset. You knew Boston was 14-4 without Rondo, but did you know Green averaged 15.1 points over that stretch, with 51-86-36 shooting splits, first-class defense and at least one above-the-rim highlight per night? What a comeback story. I can’t emphasize this strongly enough I did NOT see this coming. Here’s how Celtics fans feel about Jeff Green and Avery Bradley right now.
Emeka Okafor (two years, $28.1 million): Since December 22, he’s averaging 11.3 points and 11.3 rebounds, playing solid defense and doing the whole “I’m a stellar guy to have in the locker room, unlike just about everyone you had on this team since 2007” thing. Dwight Howard’s stats since December 22: 14.2 points and 12.1 rebounds. Remember when I wrote during 2004’s Draft Diary that Orlando should take Okafor over Howard? I’m still alive!!!! YOU CAN DO IT, EMEKA!!!!
Pau Gasol (two years, $38.3 million): Overpaid only for “It’s stupid to pay Pau $19 million a year to play 25 feet from the basket like he’s Eryan Ilyasova” reasons. Blame Mike D’Antonio (as my dad calls him); don’t blame Gasol. But that’s why the Lakers will deal him for an inferior/cheaper player this summer and then Pau will come back to haunt them. You wait.
Kobe Bryant (two years, $58.3 million): For the Lannister Lakers, winter is coming in the form of a breathtakingly obscene luxury tax bill. Including Howard’s inevitable nine-figure extension this summer, the Lakers could be staring at a tax of between $80 million and $100 million just for next season. The good news: They made $27 kajillion from their Time Warner cable deal. They’ll be fine. But if the Lakers simply traded the last year of Kobe’s deal for nothing this summer to a team with crazy amounts of cap space — say, Atlanta — they’d save somewhere between $100 million and $120 million. They would never do this for all the reasons you know they would never do this.
Which brings me back to last week’s point: LeBron James is ABSOLUTELY worth $75 million per season. There’s your proof.
Category 6: The 30 Least Cap-Appealing Contracts
Or, the 30 most atrocious contracts, depending on how diplomatic you’re feeling. Let’s count them down from 30 to 1.
30. Jason Richardson: three years, $16 million
Better known as “The Trade Tax Philly Had to Pay to Get Andrew Bynum.” Whoops. That trade was such a catastrophe that FEMA should start airlifting supplies to Sixers fans. Do they have enough food and water? Where do I send money?
29. Nene: four years, $52 million
28. JaVale McGee: four years, $44 million
27. DeAndre Jordan: three years, $33 million
The Nuggets are paying McGee $11 million a year to play 18.7 minutes a game. Not a misprint. And Nene is somehow playing 27 minutes a night in D.C. without averaging 13 points, seven rebounds or one block per game, or shooting 50 percent, which actually seems impossible — I kept staring at these numbers thinking I had a cataract or something. Nobody won that Nene-McGee trade. It was like the Richard Sherman–Skip Bayless fight on First Take — everyone lost. As for Jordan, if you’re making eight figures a year, but your coach only plays you half the game and sits you in crunch time for The Artist Formerly Known As Lamar Odom — someone who should NEVER be playing crunch time for any contender that’s allegedly trying to win a title — then you’re on the list. Sorry.
26. Danny Granger: two years, $27 million
The bad news: He missed two-thirds of the season with a bum knee, came back, played a week, looked terrible, and now he’s out again. The good news: He’s still having a better 2013 season than Fran Vazquez.
25. Rudy Gay: three years, $53.7 million
Most fans love the idea of Rudy: 6-foot-8, defends either forward spot, good athlete, unafraid at crunch time, seems like he’s good. Nobody wants to accept that he’s a horrific shooter — repeat: horrific — who excels at posting up smaller defenders, and that’s about it. Math doesn’t lie: According to Hoopdata.com, Gay is shooting 25 percent on shots from 16 to 23 feet (the worst percentage of anyone who attempted three-plus shots per game from that range) and 23.3 percent from 3 (the worst percentage of anyone who attempted three-plus 3s per game). In other words, Gay attempts nearly 10 shots per game from more than 15 feet and makes two of them. I stand by “horrific.”
Now, there’s an excellent chance that (a) Gay needed a change of scenery, (b) Z-Bo and Marc Gasol clogged the paint and made it more difficult for him to drive to the hoop (there’s some truth to that), (c) he’s better off playing the 4 and exploiting quickness mismatches there (à la Carmelo) and (d) this trade could still work out for Toronto if Gay ever stops throwing up bricks. But reading Marc Spears’s report that Toronto wants to lock up Gay TO AN EXTENSION this summer I mean what???? Why not use these last six weeks to make sure he’s still competent offensively before broaching that strategy publicly? What’s wrong with these teams?
24. Travis Outlaw: three years, $9 million
One of my favorite bad contracts: The Nets overpaid Outlaw and amnestied him within the span of 18 months, which intrigued the pathetic Kings so much that they immediately offered him a multiyear deal. Whaaaaaaaaat? Don’t these teams have scouts? If you’re wondering, no amnestied player has ever been re-amnestied; it’s against the rules. Couldn’t we name that rule for Travis Outlaw? It’s the least we could do.
23. Brandon Roy: one year, $5.1 million
I was personally offended by this one. Here’s Minnesota trying to build a playoff team despite two-plus decades of bad luck and bad breaks, and here’s Brandon Roy saying, I know I had to retire in my mid-20s because my knees are bone-on-bone, but I tried that Kobe/Germany treatment and now I’m feeling pretty good! These two ships should have just passed in the night without ever stopping, right? That didn’t keep David Kahn from amnestying Darko Milicic and giving away former top-four pick Wesley Johnson to Phoenix, just so he had enough cap space to sign Nicolas Batum to a restricted offer sheet (Portland quickly matched) and throw a $5.1 million prayer at Roy’s knees (which didn’t make it to Thanksgiving). The T-Wolves could have practically signed Randy Foye AND Carlos Delfino for what they gave Roy.
To recap: The T-Wolves spent $10.3 million on Darko and Roy so they could give away the fourth pick of the 2010 draft to Phoenix and this wasn’t even one of David Kahn’s five worst decisions as Minnesota’s GM. Come on, I have to.
22. Kris Humphries: two years, $24 million
Popular opinion alert: We shouldn’t live in a world in which Kris Humphries makes $12 million a year.
Unpopular opinion alert: I don’t mind this contract because, next season, he morphs into Kris Humphries’s Expiring Contract and becomes trade fodder for Dwight Howard, Kevin Love or whomever else.8 If you’re a wealthy team, why not always make sure you have one eight-figure expiring contract for trade purposes you know, just in case?
Whether Billy King intentionally meant for that to happen or just stumbled into it remains unclear. My money is on “stumbled.”
21. Andrew Bynum: one year, $16.5 million
I hate putting an expiring contract this high, but when a playoff team trades one of the best defenders in basketball (Andre Iguodala), the league’s fourth-leading rebounder (22-year-old breakout star Nikola Vucevic), the 15th pick in last year’s draft (Moe Harkless) and a future no. 1 pick for three years of Jason Richardson (covered above) and zero games of a franchise center I mean has there ever been a worse trade? They went from “Second-Round Up-and-Comers With a Bright Future” to “The Lottery and Little to No Future” in one transaction.
Important note: I liked the trade for them. They had to do it! They flipped a Franchise Player Coin and watched in horror as it came up tails. Those are the breaks. Watching Bynum hit the open market this summer is going to be riveting. I’m feeling a two-year, $30 million deal with a team option for year three from Phoenix, a team that
is the odds-on favorite to be involved in basketball’s first major PED scandal had phenomenal success rehabbing injury risks over the years.
20. Jan Vesely: four years, $17.3 million
Vesely brought a hot girlfriend to the 2011 draft, and since then, it’s been one long bungee jump that won’t end. Six things you might not know/remember about the Janster:
1. He already has 23 DNPs this season.
2. He has nearly as many fouls (86) as points (94).
3. Repeat: He has nearly as many fouls as points.
4. The Wizards owe him $3.5 million next season, but after that, they can bail from the last two years and $10.5 million of his deal — something that’s only happened three other times in the past 10 drafts (Jonny Flynn, Hasheem Thabeet and Shelden Williams).9
Even Yi Jianlian and Adam Morrison made it to year four.
5. He’s 328th in PER right now, six away from last place.
6. I know only one Wizards fan — my buddy House, who says that the Vesely pick makes him feel the same way he did when Cousin Sal was throwing up fried food in House Eats 3, and that as bad as Vesely’s numbers are, it’s even worse when you’re watching him. Says House, “He can’t play basketball. You don’t need to say anything else.”
The moral of the story: Maybe that isn’t a disastrous contract, but when you throw in the real estate (no. 6), the wasted money (not overwhelming, but still), the stench of bad luck/bad management (not only did the Wiz land the only no. 1 overall pick from 2008 through 2011 that wasn’t Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin or Kyrie Irving, they ended up with zilch from the 2009 and 2011 drafts despite landing the fifth and sixth picks), and the constant game-after-game reminder that you totally screwed up it’s more than a little atrocious.
19. Marvin Williams: two years, $15.8 million
His sparkling 10.03 PER ranks him 285th in the league, just ahead of Kevin Seraphin, Joel Anthony and Kendrick Perkins. Hey, at least he’s still 43 spots ahead of Jan Vesely. At some point before I die, I want to know why Kevin O’Connor flipped Devin Harris’s expiring deal for two years of Marvin Williams. There has to be an answer that doesn’t involve the words “nude photos” and “or else.”
18. Kendrick Perkins: three years, $25.4 million
He’s headed for his second-straight Charlie Ward Trophy, given annually to the player on an NBA contender who plays far too many minutes for that contender, to the utter confusion of just about everyone. What’s the appeal of playing four-on-five offensively10 and slowing down an athletically potent team if you’re not playing Memphis (Gasol), San Antonio (Duncan) or the Lakers (Howard)? It’s a great question. I don’t have an answer. And yes, if Oklahoma City could have dumped Perkins’s contract, they never would have traded James Harden and they’d be going for 70 wins right now.11
Perkins’s PER ranking the last three years: 297 out of 334 (2013); 319 out of 352 (2012); 307 out of 338 (2011). He should change his last name to Collins at this point. For the record, he wasn’t always a zero offensively — in 2010, he averaged 10.1 PPG, shot 60 percent and had a 15.0 PER (125th overall).
Why didn’t OKC try to dump Perkins on Houston in that Harden deal? It’s a great question. There’s a 100 percent chance that Houston’s Daryl Morey would have taken Perkins (instead of expirings) if it meant getting Harden.
17. Deron Williams: five years, $98 million
Would have ranked in the top three had we finished this list five weeks ago, but Williams went on a tear over these last 18 games: 18.4 PPG, 7.4 APG, 46 percent shooting, 47 percent on 3s. (Listening.) Hold on, you’re saying that shouldn’t be considered a “tear” for someone making nearly $100 million through 2017? Excellent point. It’s hard to look at these numbers
2008: 18.8 PPG, 10.5 APG, 51% FG, 40% 3FG, 20.8 PER
2011: 20.1 PPG, 10.3 APG, 44% FG, 33% 3FG, 21.2 PER
2013: 17.4 PPG, 7.5 APG, 42% FG, 37% 3FG, 18.1 PER
without wondering what happened to Deron Williams. And that’s before you get to Jerry Colangelo calling him out for being out of shape last summer, or this eye-opening piece about how ineffective his drives have been, or even these insanely revealing “clutch” numbers (of anyone who’s attempted at least 40 shots in the last five minutes of a close game, Williams’s 20.9 FG percentage ranks the lowest BY FAR). He’s also failing the Eye Test; he just doesn’t look like the same guy. So don’t feel bad about not getting him last summer because your owner was filming a Shark Tank episode, Dallas fans. That summer ended up looking like this for your boys.
16. Rodney Stuckey: two years, $17 million12
15. Charlie Villaneuva: two years, $16.6 million
14. Ben Gordon: two years, $25.6 million
This section is sponsored by Joe Dumars Cap Space Cologne! That’s right, if you want to smell like someone just tipped you over inside a Porta Potty, try Joe Dumars Cap Space Cologne — you only have to spray it once, and then you can’t get away from the smell for three to five years!
His 2013 numbers: 27.9 MPG, 10.8 PPG, 3.4 APG, 39% FG, 26% 3FG. We’re nearing “Which Chinese team should he play for?” range.
Anyway, I wanted to mention a great NBA “What If?” that’s definitely getting added to my Book of Basketball if I ever write another edition. Recently, Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Detroit nearly acquired Kobe Bryant for Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and a couple of no. 1 picks in the summer of 2007, before Buss and Kobe vetoed the trade together and gave the Kobe-Lakers relationship one more chance. Dumars kept his Pistons together for one last Eastern Conference finals run, then sent Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess to Denver for Allen Iverson’s expiring contract, which ruined their 2009 season but gave them enough cap space to sign wait for it Villanueva and Gordon.
Had that Kobe trade gone through, the Pistons would have kept competing for titles, and Dumars would have been remembered as one of the great GMs of all time. Instead, he’s remembered for a variety of things: the 2004 title, Rip for Stack, Ben Wallace, the calamitous Darko pick, the Rasheed trade, the Monroe/Drummond picks, that awful Billups trade, those three ghastly signings he’s all over the map. But one thing we’ve definitely learned: You don’t want to give him cap space. And he has it this summer. So look out, Pistons fans.
Last note: Villanueva has a player option for next season for $8.5 million. When asked if he was picking it up, Villanueva responded, “It’s obvious what I’m going to do. Would you let that money go?” Hey, high school seniors — it’s not too late to make that your yearbook quote.
13. Cancer: three years, $18 million
Whoops, my bad — that was a typo. Let’s try that again.
13. Michael Beasley: three years, $18 million
Much better. You don’t need advanced stats to tell you that it sucks to have Michael Beasley on your basketball team. Heck, you don’t even need normal stats. But this is funny: Phoenix gets outscored by 11.2 points per 100 possessions with Beasley and 2.8 points without him. In other words, they’d improve by 8.3 points per 100 possessions simply by taping him to a Gatorade bucket for three hours a night. Ladies and gentlemen, Michael Beasley!
12. The Future Amnesty Guys
We already covered them in Category 4, but you can’t create a “30 Worst Contracts” list without including Miller (three years, $18.6 million), Gooden (three years, $20 million) and Ty Thomas (three years, $26.1 million). At least they can be amnestied without taking a prolonged are-we-sure-we-want-to-do-this gulp, unlike
11. Carlos Boozer: three years, $47.1 million
How many NBA fans have gotten sucked into the “Carlos Boozer gives you 15 points and nine rebounds every night and always plays hard, how bad could his contract be?” vortex before going onto HoopsHype.com, checking out the numbers and screaming, “AHHHHHHHHHHHH!” when they see them? It’s personally happened to me five times. And I might be headed for no. 6 in about three weeks. While we’re here, kudos to Booze for dropping the spray-paint routine and going back to the pure head shave. We all appreciate it.
10. Landry Fields: three years, $18.73 million
Don’t forget, Toronto offered Fields too much money as a strategic ploy. (Not a typo.) They were hoping the Knicks would knock themselves out of the Steve Nash sweepstakes to match the offer, leaving Toronto as Nash’s only suitor. Instead, Nash went to the Lakers and New York gleefully stuck Toronto with Fields, making him the Kip Addotta of 2012 free agency (see this column for an explanation). What’s the right word for that chain of events? I’m going with “hilarious!” unless you can top it.
Meanwhile, Fields is turning into the Dave Stapleton of basketball — instead of getting better every year like every other young player, he’s somehow getting worse.
2011: 9.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 50% FG, 39% 3FG, 77% FT, 13.5 PER.
2012: 8.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 46% FG, 26% 3FG, 56% FT, 12.1 PER.
2013: 4.7 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 45% FG, 8% 3FG, 70% FT, 10.2 PER.
Translation: This is threatening to replace the murder subplot in Season 2 of Friday Night Lights as the most painful story line involving someone named Landry. Stay tuned.
9. Hedo Turkoglu: two years, $23.8 million
At least Hedo had the dignity to get suspended for steroids and save Orlando 20 games’ pay (about $2.9 million). So that was nice of him. Do you want to make the snarky “I’m sure it was a total coincidence that Dwight Howard’s two best teammates from Orlando’s improbable 2009 playoff run never played that well again and both ended up getting suspended for PEDs, because there’s noooooo waaaaaaaay the NBA has a PED problem” joke, or should I take it? Actually, you have it. I insist.
8. Andrew Bogut: two years, $27.35 million
7. Andris Biedrins: two years, $18 million
6. Richard Jefferson: two years, $21.2 million
Hold on, we have to wait for the Warriors fans to stop screaming.
(Couple more seconds.)
And we’re good. This was a dramedy of errors that, collectively, seemed very Warriorsish. First, their decision to amnesty Charlie Bell (over just buying him out) so they could give DeAndre Jordan (no. 27 on this list, mind you) an overpriced offer sheet was unfathomable, especially when they had Biedrins (three years, $27 million remaining) doing everything short of carrying a “PLEASE AMNESTY ME” sign into games. Their decision to turn Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh into the Bogut/Jefferson contracts wasn’t indefensible — just super-risky — and so far it’s failed about as badly as any trade that doesn’t include the words “Andrew Bynum.” Bogut looks like he’s physically breaking down, and that’s being kind.
But here’s the real killer. Multiple sources have told me that, when Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti decided to shop James Harden, Golden State was his first call. He wanted Klay Thompson and a pick. The Warriors would only consider the trade if Oklahoma City took back Biedrins or Jefferson for 2013 expirings, knowing they’d get crushed by the luxury tax in 2014 with Harden’s extension plus Steph Curry’s extension plus David Lee plus Bogut/Jefferson/Biedrins.13 At that point, Presti went to Washington (offering Harden for Bradley Beal, and unbelievably getting turned down), then Houston (where the shopping heated up). Presti never ended up calling Golden State back.
My personal take: If I can somehow turn Klay Thompson into James Harden, I’m doing it and figuring out the tax bullshit later. For the record, they bought the Warriors for $450 million and could get $650 million for them right now. It’s just a fact. The Kings got valued at $525 million, for god’s sake. The Warriors are a big-market team — big-market teams should always close when moments like “we’re offering you James Harden” happen.
Really, the Warriors were felled by New Owner Syndrome. I like Joe Lacob — in the long run, he’ll be fine. But when you give competitive billionaires an NBA team, they’re rarely (if ever) patient. They want to win right away, and they’re always going to plow ahead with a couple of risky/splashy moves because they don’t know any better yet. Wyc Grousbeck, Mark Cuban, Ted Leonsis, Dan Gilbert name a new-wave owner who wasn’t a cheapskate (I’m looking at you, Robert Sarver) and I guarantee they battled New Owner Syndrome. For Lacob, the DeAndre/Bell and Bogut/Jefferson moves were his N.O.S. moments. Remember, Dr. Jerry Buss once made Mitch Kupchak the highest-paid forward in basketball — that was one of the original N.O.S. moments. You can’t fight it off unless you’re an unredeeming skinflint of a cheapskate. (Again, staring right at you, Robert Sarver.)
5. Andrea Bargnani: three years, $33 million
Player A: 29.2 MPG, 13.0 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 40% FG, 31% 3FG, 11.4 PER.
Player B: 29.7 MPG, 12.0 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 39% FG, 32% 3FG, 12.4 PER.
Player A is Bargnani. Player B is Byron Mullens.
WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO YOU, ANDREA BARGNANI????????14
We didn’t even mention his stupefyingly awful defense, or the fact that the Raptors are minus-7.1 points per 100 possessions when Bargnani plays, and plus-0.8 points per 100 possessions when he sits. I hope Phoenix trades for Bargnani and teams him with Beasley.
4. Eric Gordon: four years, $58.4 million
His missed games starting with his rookie year in 2008: 4, 20, 26, 57, 37 (and counting). You’d have to be doing drugs to deal for that monstrosity of a contract; I’d need to see one full healthy season from him before I considered it. Could the Chris Paul trade have worked out any worse for New Orleans? They ended up with a possible lemon (Gordon), a few months of Chris Kaman (long gone), a year and a half of Al-Farouq Aminu (leaving after this season), and a lottery pick they turned into Austin Rivers (who generated some “historically bad” buzz over the holidays before breaking his hand last week). That’s Reason No. 479 why you should ALWAYS swap a bunch of promising young guys, draft picks and whatever else for a Guaranteed Sure Thing, whether it’s real sports or fantasy sports. If you’re turning quarters and dimes into a dollar, you do it. And you do it without blinking.
3. Gerald Wallace: four years, $40 million
To refresh your memory
The Nets traded a top-three protected first-rounder for Wallace last February, never giving that pick top-10 protection because, as GM Billy King would explain later, the Nets didn’t believe there were any impact rookies beyond the top three, and “we felt the player that we may draft beyond the protection would be somebody that would probably take a couple years (to develop).”
Thanks to that confusing logic, the Blazers stumbled into the sixth pick (courtesy of the Nets) and took Damian Lillard who’s averaging 18.6 points a game en route to the Rookie of the Year award. So that was awkward. The next three picks: Harrison Barnes, Terrence Ross and Andre Drummond, all of whom make three times less than Wallace (signed to that $40 million extension in July) and have eight times more trade value. Maybe it’s a bad idea to decide in March that you like only three players in June’s NBA draft, and that workouts and interviews couldn’t possibly change that opinion? Just throwing it out there.
The good news? If the Nets didn’t trade for Wallace, they wouldn’t have been able to pay Deron Williams $98 million for the five years after his prime, and they wouldn’t have been able to lock down Wallace at $40 million right after his career careered off a cliff.
2012: 13.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 45.4% FG, 80% FT, 16.0 PER
2013: 8.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 41.5% FG, 65% FT, 12.5 PER
That’s not a slump, that’s NBA menopause. We’ve seen it happen with too many athletic NBA forwards over the years — once they lose it, it never comes back. Repeat: NBA menopause. It’s a real thing. Anyone know how to swear in Russian?
2. Amar’e Stoudemire: three years, $65.1 million
1. Joe Johnson: four years, $89.3 million
You knew it would come down to these two — they’re like the Jay-Z and Kanye of atrocious contracts. Joe makes more money, but Stoudemire’s contract is 100 percent uninsured.15 Joe is a better and more durable player, but Stoudemire’s contract expires one year earlier. Neither contract could be traded under any circumstances (not during the New and Improved Luxury Tax era, anyway). Both contracts make me giggle if I look at the numbers long enough.
This is a BIG deal. Teams are abjectly terrified of trading for uninsured contracts — if anything happens, you’re on the hook for every penny of that deal. Ironically, only Prokhorov would be unafraid of Stoudemire’s deal — if he flipped no. 22 (Humphries) this summer with another contract for no. 2 (Amar’e), he could have nos. 1, 2, 3 and 17 on this list. Who’s up for a vodka shot?!?!?!?
So this is close. Damned close. Johnson gets the hammer for one reason: for the 2015-16 season, after Stoudemire’s contract comes off New York’s cap, Brooklyn has to pay Joe Johnson nearly $25 million. The exact number: $24,893,863. They’re also on the hook for $31.15 million of Wallace and Williams that year, which means Brooklyn will be shelling out more than $56 million for three well-past-their-prime players that season. No wonder everyone keeps driving up the price tags of NBA franchises — everyone wants to own an NBA team in 2016 just for their cut of Brooklyn’s luxury tax fees.
Once upon a time, I wondered if Mikhail Prokhorov was the Russian Mark Cuban. Really, he’s the Russian Ted Stepien, right? I predict the NBA will create a Prokhorov Rule someday, and it’s going to be awesome, and that’s that.