Value. That’s the NBA buzz word these days, as teams fight to reconcile market value with actual value. More often than not, it’s the market that dictates these gargantuan deals. Competing buyers drive up the price, and we’re left with Rudy Gay earning more than $19 million in one season. The most recent collective bargaining agreement sought to curtail such overspending. But alas, it couldn’t. This offseason, there’s been the usual batch of head-scratching contracts and personnel decisions.
Now that free agency is all but over, we’ve decided to compile the worst of the worst – the top 25 NBA players who, simply put, are making WAY too much money relative to their on-the-court value. Of course, this list is up for debate, and plenty of names were left off in favor of others. But it’s an interesting metric to measure your team’s financial intelligence – 19 teams made the list, with a few repeat offenders (Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets, Golden State Warriors).
Remember, this is about value – which contracts hurt teams the most? Where’s the dead money? It’s in this gap, between market and actual value. (Note that contracts that do not count against the salary cap were not included. Therefore, amnestied players such as Brendan Haywood and Elton Brand did not count.) And now, on to the list, counting down from 25.
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25. Stephen Jackson – San Antonio Spurs
There was a time when $10 million for Stephen Jackson was his proper financial value – he was one of Indiana and Golden State’s best players during the prime of his career. But now that he’s bounced around the league in multiple trades, finally landing on San Antonio’s bench, his cap number is way too high. And while he can still fulfill a valuable role as a bench scorer, that same value can be found for half the price. Then again, the fact that his deal expires after this upcoming season could allow San Antonio to acquire the right piece to put them over the top – so maybe there is some requisite value in there, somewhere.
24. Landry Fields (year-by-year breakdown undisclosed) – Toronto Raptors
We all heard the story – Toronto overbid for Fields in an effort to handcuff the Knicks’ pursuit of Steve Nash. Yet no one has explained why Toronto would go after a 38-year-old point guard in the first place, when his presence will hardly make them competitive enough to push for a title. But the Raptors never landed Nash, and were saddled with Landry Fields instead. Not that Fields is a bad player, but $20 million and a three-year commitment for a bench player who does nothing particularly well is questionable. Yes, he’s a quality glue guy, but you don’t overpay for glue if there’s nothing to stick together.
23. Kendrick Perkins – Oklahoma City Thunder
Kendrick Perkins is the best post defender in the league. But he’s a poor rebounder for his size, ranking 74th in rebound rate in the NBA, and a non-factor offensively. So the question becomes, are you willing to pay $25 million for a post defender in an NBA with limited post threats?
22. John Salmons – Sacramento Kings
In 46 games last season, John Salmons posted a 9.04 PER – 310th best in the NBA. He was a solid perimeter scorer, once upon a time, when Milwaukee and Scott Skiles were interrupting the normal NBA rhythm. Well, those days are long gone, and Salmons, 32, is an ineffective veteran locked into a long-term deal worth a few million less per year than Rajon Rondo.
21. Andris Biedrins – Golden State Warriors
2013-2014: $9,000,000 (Early Termination Option)
The Golden State Warriors are rebuilding, yet the team is riddled with bad contracts. Biedrins is just one of those disasters, whose PER last season (8.77) was even worse than Salmons’, and he’s making more money. Granted he’s only 26 years old, but he’s already been through eight NBA seasons and has more than likely maxed out his potential. Although Biedrins could get out of his deal after this season, he most likely won’t, knowing that his market value will drop far below $9 million.
20. Andrei Kirilenko – Minnesota Timberwolves
David Kahn continues to baffle. Over the past few years, he’s acquired young asset after young asset in the hopes of rebuilding. Just as they seem ready to turn the corner, Ricky Rubio goes down with a torn ACL, Kevin Love complains about the lack of winning, and Kahn panics. Andrei Kirlienko used to routinely find himself in the first round of fantasy drafts, but those days are long gone. He’s 31 years old now and hardly the veteran presence to transform Minnesota. And, to make matters worse, his last NBA competition was over a year ago – he played for CSKA Moscow in 2011-2012.
19. George Hill (year-by-year breakdown undisclosed) – Indiana Pacers
When Indiana moved Darren Collison, the statement was loud and clear: George Hill is our starting point guard. But that statement should have been enough of a statement. Instead, they locked in Hill until he’s 31 years old. This, in my opinion, is Indiana’s inescapable problem – they continue to compile good to very good assets, creating a logjam rotation and a lack of superstar power. In today’s NBA, you need someone capable of taking over games. You need someone that, at any time, can be the best player on the floor. George Hill is not one of those guys.
Maybe you think this contract isn’t so egregious. But, tell me: would you pay a guy with the 50th best assist ratio among point guards in the NBA $8 million a year for 5 years? How about a PG that averaged 2.9 assists per game last season?
18. Kris Humphries – Brooklyn Nets
Kris Humphries is a wildly underrated basketball player, averaging 13.8 points and 11 rebounds per game (4th in the NBA) last season. Not to mention the difficulty of grabbing those rebounds without Brook Lopez, although his presence is hardly additional support on the glass. Yet Humphries’ $12 million is still excessive – is he really worth more than 20% of a team’s cap space? Probably not.
Humphries would be higher on the list, but his deal’s lack of longevity actually adds to it’s value – a $12 million expiring could be a nice asset come the 2014 trade deadline.
17. Tyrus Thomas – Charlotte Bobcats
Unfulfilled potential. That’s what has defined Thomas’ career, fitting the unskilled athlete who was just supposed to develop basketball wherewithal. Well, he didn’t, at least not fully, and now he’s making a ton of money for three more years on a rebuilding Bobcats team. If George Hill isn’t worth $8 million, is Tyrus Thomas worth $9 million?
16. Pau Gasol – Los Angeles Lakers
Don’t get me wrong: I’m a Pau Gasol apologist. He’s been forced to play out of the high post as a third option and ridiculed beyond ridiculed. Nevermind his two rings or clutch NBA Finals Game 7 performance against Boston when Kobe Bryant was 6-24 terrible. He’s a top five low post player in the league – it just so happens that he shares the paint with another top five stud.
But he’s still overpaid.
Only the best of the best deserve max deals – Pau, despite his past dominance, is not the cream of the crop. Although he might only be overpaid by $5 million or so, it’s enough to make his contract difficult to move – nobody wants to owe $38 million to a non-franchise cornerstone. But this contract is particularly egregious because it hamstrings an entire franchise. Andrew Bynum will earn max money on the open market next season, and unless Pau is dealt for deals that expire in 2013, he’ll be the reason the Lakers can’t lock in their center of the present and future.
15. Anderson Varejao – Cleveland Cavaliers
2014-2015: $9,704,545 (Not Guaranteed)
This one is Landry Fields on steroids. Anderson Varejao is a rich poor man’s Joakim Noah. A rebounder/defender with less than minimal offensive skills. On the right team, he’s a difference maker. On a losing team, his value disappears. The Cavs are rebuilding, except 1/6th of their cap room is eaten up by the Varejao contract monster, and it’s not going anywhere any time soon.
14. Omer Asik (year-by-year breakdown undisclosed) – Chicago Bulls
Omer Asik is underrated: he ranked sixth in rebound rate last season and is an extremely strong defensive presence. But is he worth more than $8 million per season? On a contender, maybe. On the rebuilding Rockets, who seem less and less likely to land Dwight Howard, definitely not. Varejao and Asik could be easily flip flopped, depending on your preference. I’m considering the Asik deal slightly worse, if only because Varejao has maintained high rebounding numbers (7.2 per game for his career) through his career. Asik’s 14.7 minutes per game last season somewhat mitigates that sixth best rebounding rate.
13. Gerald Wallace – Brooklyn Nets
Remember when Gerald Wallace was an underrated, supremely athletic small forward wasting away his prime on the Charlotte Bobcats? Those were the days. His numbers have remained relatively consistent over the years, yet our opinion has fluctuated. He’s 30 now, and presumably the fourth scoring option on the Brooklyn Nets, behind Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez. But the simple fact is you don’t grant long-term deals to age 30+ players whose games are based on athleticism. Wallace will be 34 when his contract ends, and it’s hard to see him producing at this level for many more years. So while the deal might not be so preposterous right now, it will be in a year or two. And, from the Nets’ standpoint, they’re paying at least $10 million for all five starters on a non-championship contending team.
12. Richard Jefferson – Golden State Warriors
2013-2014: $11,046,000 (Player Option)
Richard Jefferson, Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin. That was the core of an NBA Finals team, once. In 2003. Now it’s 2012, Jefferson is 32 and on the wrong side of his prime. He’ll pick up his option in ’13-’14 because no team will fork over $11 million for his services, so the Warriors are locked in to $21 million over the next two years. Except Jefferson does not figure into their future plans, and he’s no longer an effective NBA player (9 points per game in 27 minutes). And he’s not even an expiring contract, so this contract is particularly painful.
11. Rudy Gay – Memphis Grizzlies
2014-2015: $19,317,326 (Player Option)
When Rudy Gay re-upped with Memphis two years back, his contract reflected expectations. At only 23 years old, he was primed to take over the Grizzlies and become the foundation of their future. Last year, with Gay sidelined, Memphis made an impressive playoff run, almost knocking off the Thunder in seven games to reach the Western Conference Finals after taking out the No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs. With Gay reintegrated this year, Memphis just couldn’t find that same balance between deferring to their star and playing the team game that had brought success in 2010-2011. Gay simply does not fit that here’s-the-ball role. He’s athletic and lengthy and all-around, the perfect compliment to a bonafide star. Unfortunately he makes star-power money, so the Grizzlies will be handicapped until that contract runs out.
10. Amar’e Stoudemire – New York Knicks
2014-2015: $23,410,988 (Early Termination Option)
Amar’e Stoudemire perfectly demonstrates the recurring problem with NBA contract negotiations: teams too often pay for past performance instead of expected return. A contract, in its most basic form, is you do this, I’ll do this. When Amar’e signed with NY in 2010, he was 27 years old and already beginning to break down – knees, back, etc. While he may have been underpaid on Phoenix, that’s the way it goes sometimes – for every player that outperforms his contract, more players underperform and get paid anyway. Phoenix let Stoudemire go because they foresaw these health issues, realizing that in year three, four and five he might not be worth that $20 million per year. The Knicks were desperate to land anyone, so they overpaid – but now they’re paying the price, literally.
9. Jeff Green (year-by-year breakdown undisclosed) – Boston Celtics
Jeff Green’s story is uplifting. But he hasn’t played basketball in over a year and before he was shut down for all of 2011-2012, he wasn’t a great basketball player to begin with. With a reduced role as a Boston Celtic after being traded from OKC (and that role should stay reduced with all the backcourt help Boston just acquired), he averaged 9.8 points and 3.3 rebounds. You can expect those totals to rise a bit now that he’ll have significant practice time with his Celtic teammates, but four years, $36 million improvement? Unlikely.
8. Ben Gordon – Charlotte Bobcats
2013-2014: $13,200,000 (Player Option)
On a depleted Bobcats team, maybe Ben Gordon will make himself worth the money statistically. He’ll more than likely get his 20 points and go home a happily paid man. But you don’t pay for players like Gordon when you’re rebuiling. In truth, he’s a bench scorer, as he’s not good enough to carry the offensive load full-time for a contending team. He is a valuable bench player, though, but do you pay a bench player $25 million over two years? Absolutely not. Cut that contract in half and then we’re talking, maybe.
7. David Lee – Golden State Warriors
David Lee was every Knicks fan’s sweetheart, back in the days of Isiah Thomas, Chris Duhon and Mike D’Antoni. He inflated his value statistically, and the Knicks dumped him for Amar’e. Is Lee an effective NBA power forward? Yes. But he’s a third option at best offensively, a solid rebounder a defensive nightmare (the bad kind). Signing him to such a gargantuan contract was a mind-boggling move by the Warriors, especially when they were entering a rebuilding mode. Although give credit to Lee for so wildly swinging his monetary value, when he was once undervalued and underpaid to now, an overvalued, overpaid, immovable contract.
6. Brook Lopez – Brooklyn Nets
2015-2016: $16,744,279 (Player Option)
There are a million reasons to hate this deal, but we’ll narrow it down to two. First, you don’t pay for a scoring, non-rebounding center on a team that already has two superstar scorers (Deron Williams, Joe Johnson) and another one up and coming (MarShon Brooks). Brooklyn panicked and wanted to win now in the new arena, even if this team is slated for at best a second round playoff exit. And now, with most of their money tied up long-term, they can enjoy being the new Atlanta Hawks of the Eastern Conference: good enough to make the playoffs, not good enough to make any serious noise. Instead, they should have taken the cap space and used it to acquire the right piece next offseason.
Secondly, Brook Lopez, in a vacuum, isn’t even a max player. Is he a very good center? Yes. But “max” implies he’s one of the best, which he is most clearly not.
5. Hedo Turkoglu – Orlando Magic
2013-2014: $12,000,000 (Not Guaranteed)
If this were four years ago, when Orlando made the Finals on the back of Dwight Howard and the craft and guile of Hedo Turkoglu, maybe, just MAYBE, you could have sold him as an $11 million dollar player. But that Orlando team was never really good enough to win the title, and having Hedo as your second best player is a recipe for disappointment. Now he’s a decrepit shell of his former self, averaging 10 points, four rebounds and four assists on a team on which, for the most part, allows him to dominate the ball on the perimeter.
4. Carlos Boozer – Chicago Bulls
Is there much explanation needed here? Carlos Boozer is a pick and roll big man, Derrick Rose is a one-on-one point guard. Boozer’s offseason deal in the summer of 2010 was considered slightly over the top, but his skills in Utah were undeniable. In Chicago, his production has been entirely put on hold because he doesn’t mesh well with the primary ball handler. Now Chicago is paying an exorbitant amount of money to a guy who doesn’t quite fit, and to make matters worse, his contract is one of the main reasons why the Bulls will continue to contend but not win titles.
3. Emeka Okafor – Washington Wizards
2013-2014: $14,487,500 (Early Termination Option)
Good thing Okafor wasn’t taken No. 1 overall over Dwight Howard, as some suspected might happen. He’s a solid rebounder and an above average shot blocker. Offensively? Meh. $14 million a year is simply WAY too much. I hate to ridicule his contract, if only because he’s a hard worker and a great teammate, but this one’s particularly distasteful.
2. Kobe Bryant – Los Angeles Lakers
Kobe Bryant is the highest paid player in the league. Kobe Bryant is not the best player in the league, not by a longshot. Is he still top 10? Absolutely. But in 2013-2014, Kobe’s cap hit will eat up MORE THAN HALF of the Lakers’ salary cap. That’s one giant behemoth right there. Maybe you’re a Kobe apologist and will chant his name to the grave. Fine. But consider this: if you put any other perimeter superstar in the league on the Lakers, do you not expect them to win the title? Steve Nash, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol. That’s one helluva supporting cast right there, and the Lakers aren’t even favored to win the West in most people’s eyes.
1. Joe Johnson – Brooklyn Nets
Joe Johnson is, maybe, the fourth best NBA shooting guard (not in any order, but in the conversation: Eric Gordon, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, James Harden), or, if you consider him a small forward, the fourth best small forward (LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony. Not only did he earn max money in the summer of 2010, but the contract was even higher because of his NBA experience (the max number goes up with years experience in the NBA) and Bird Rights. So the Hawks locked him in for a ton of money, never seriously won anything, and eventually moved him to Brooklyn. But now the Nets are stuck in the same spot, paying too much money for playoff, but not championship, contention.
Check back later this week for the most underpaid players in the League.
The biggest of hat tips to Sham Sports for all the contract info
Who’s the most overpaid player in the NBA?
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