The dust has (almost) settled on the 2012 offseason. I think it's time for us to look at the best and worst contracts of this season. It seems like every year, several teams are looking to unload "bad" contracts. We often forget that teams weren't just magically saddled with those bad contracts; somebody volunteered to pay them.
So today I'd like to take a look that the ten worst contracts of the 2012 season. Now, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, as Arturo pointed out, teams have to spend money. This isn't like baseball was under its previous CBA, where an owner could field a team like the Pittsburgh Pirates with almost zero payroll, lose all the time, and then collect a fat revenue share check. The NBA has a minimum salary threshold (which will be 85% of the salary cap this year, 90% of it next year). Additionally, to meet the owners' obligation to pay the players 47% of BRI, on average, the teams' payrolls must actually go over the cap by 12%. If the NBA doesn't reach this threshold, then the owners cut a check to the players' union to make up the difference.
Second, contracts can be "bad" in different ways. The simplest principle is that paying too much for a player's production is bad. But as I have pointed out before, it's often better to overpay for somebody who produces wins than to pay a smaller salary for someone who's terrible. And, all things being equal, it is the most egregious sin to overpay for old guys that aren't good. They carry an additional opportunity cost; they occupy a spot where you could be paying near-minium for a chance to discover the next Jeremy Lin/Tony Parker/Manu Ginobli/Scottie Pippen. That is, part of discovering hidden gems in the draft is actually signing those 2nd round picks and having them on your roster. They usually bust, but the random over-the-hill shmucks will either cost you wins (if you give them minutes) or just not move your win/loss needle at all (if they sit on your bench). If a player isn't going to get enough playing time to win or lose you any games, then his spot is best served by some young player who might one day turn into a horrifically underpaid star. Anything else is just burning money.
For this list, I didn't count rookies. Austin Rivers is probably going to have a very bad contract next year, but we've already spent plenty of time analyzing the draft.
10. Marco Belinelli, 1 year $2 million
I know what you're thinking. How can one year for $2 million be a bad contract? Well, in the Bull's case, it's a matter of choices. The Bulls are trying to save luxury tax money, so they shipped out Kyle Korver, rescinded the qualifying offer on Ronnie Brewer, and won't be matching Omer Asik. All well and good -- if a team chooses money over wins, meh, it's a business. I don't think that's a great business decision for a team in a market like Chicago, but that's quibling. But if the Bulls are trying to save money, why are they spending more than the minimum on anybody at all if they aren't going to pay those players? They didn't want to sign Brewer (who is very, very good, and whom they could really use now that Korver is gone) for one year at $4 million but they are spending $3 million on Bellinelli (who has never come close to average) and Radmonovic (who is old and will never be good again)? So instead of spending $4 million on a guy who wins them 4 extra games, they'll spend $3 million on guys that will probably cost them a couple. The Hell? Maybe the Bulls are trying to pull a 'San Antonio' and go for the #1 pick while their superstar is out for the year, but the problem is that as long as Noah, Boozer/Gibson, and Deng are healthy, they aren't going to suck quite enough to max out the lottery balls.
9. Raymond Felton, 3 years (+ player option 4th), about $3.5 million per year
Paying the midlevel for the a point guard who's only been productive half a season in 5 years, when you're a luxury tax team, is just pure insanity. It becomes even more crazy when you consider that signing Felton made it prohibitively expensive to match Lin, because matching Lin now means you're a luxury tax team paying 3 point guards that are all making the midlevel or more. And who were the Knicks bidding against here? Felton was coming off the worst year of his not-very-illustrious career. This contract is just plain stupid.
8. Kirk Hinrich, 2 years, $4 million per year
This is directly related to #10, and the contract is even worse. They let Brewer go because they don't want to pay the luxury tax on his salary, then they shell out $4 million per year for a 9 year veteran who has not approached average in 6 years!? This is just inexcusably bad management. I understand that you need a point guard and Watson, Lucas, and James were all pretty bad...but so is Hinrich. There's simply no point in passing on good players like Brewer and Korver to "save money" if you're just going to turn around and spend the ****ing money anyway, especially if the players you spend it on are all terrible. There are worse contracts per se, but what makes this one terrible is that, like Felton in New York, it cost them the ability to keep a different player who was really good. Right now Chicago is putting on a clinic on how to run a franchise into the ground. What's doubly hilarious is that management will probably fire Tibbs sometime this season when the club is playing worse than .500 ball. Chicago fans, I feel for you, I really do, you know I've been there.
7. Jamal Crawford, 4 years (2 guaranteed), ~ $5 million per year
Jamal Crawford is one of those guys who has just perpetually mystified me. I mean, even way back when Isiah Thomas gave him a boatload of money to play for the Knicks, everybody recognized that he was just a chucker. In a 12 year career, he's only put up above-average true shooting a few times (but that hasn't stopped him from taking more than the average number of shots), and not once in those 12 seasons has he been average or better at rebounds or turnovers. And he's not racking up steals or blocks either. In other words, he is a shooting guard that isn't that great at shooting and doesn't do anything else. Seriously, why the hell does this guy keep getting paid!? Do NBA GMs know that executing a killer crossover does not actually give your team any points? A team that needs to go from good to great has wasted $9 million on Crawford and Billups when it could have had players like Ronnie Brewer or Matt Barnes for 1/3 the price. Epic Fail. They'd better hope that Odom reverts back to his old self. And of course, if he does, the team will be great, and management will look like geniuses. Blind squirrel -> nut.
6. Chris Kaman, 1 year, $8 million
Every time the mainstream media brings up Chris Kaman, the phrase "former all-star" is involved. That was a long time ago, and even then, let's face it, he wasn't really all that good. For the last 4 years, he's been downright terrible. Since he's old, there is no reason to think that this trend will reversse. I have a very strong suspicion that the Mavs are only paying this contract because:
- they have to pay somebody to get above the league minimum
- the contract might be valueable right before the trading deadline as an expiring deal
That's about the only positive spin on it -- if they had paid Kaman his market value, which is likely a lot lower, the expiring contract would not be big enough to be a very useful bargaining chip at the deadline. I think the worst part about this contract is that it will take playing time away from Elton Brand, who's still a pretty good player. In order to get time for Brand, the Mavs would have to either take away minutes from Dirk, or play Brand out of position at Center. The Mavs might try to reduce Dirk's minutes a little bit to save his energy for the playoffs (which is crazy because I am not sure this team can even make the playoffs) but he'll still get a huge share of the power forward minutes. If Kaman takes most of the minutes at center, that means more Elton Brand on the bench.
5. OJ Mayo, 2 years, $4 million per year
There are so many better options at the midlevel than OJ Mayo that I don't even know where to start. Yet another shooting guard who shoots a lot but who's not really that good at shooting (you'll hear a lot of talk about how "pure" or "smooth" his stroke is, but the ball doesn't really go in more because of it) and who doesn't get to the line well (probably because he loves that "smooth" outside stroke so much). Or pass well. Or rebound well. Or take good care of the ball. Or get steals. Wait, your paying him $4 million to look good on instant replay when he's shooting?
I expect Dallas to be a pretty bad team next year. I imagine however, that Mr. Cuban won't care if he ends up with Dwight Howard at the end of it.
4. Nick Young, 1 year, $5.6 million
I addressed this one earlier in a GeekGM article on Philidelphia. Nick Young is terrible at basketball, which makes this a pretty bad contract. It's made worse because he'll replace (or at least take minutes from) Jodie Meeks or Evan Turner, who are cheaper and better (I'll assume the 76ers aren't dumb enough to replace any of Iggy's minutes with Young). This will subtract from Philly's win total. But what makes this contract so high on this list is that the Sixers apparently wanted to sign it so much that they amnestied Elton Brand, who is still pretty good at basketball, and whose contract is expiring and may have been extremely valuable at the trade deadline. So instead of overpaying Brand to be good, they are paying Brand a crapload to play for the Mavericks, while paying Young $6 million to cost them multiple wins, and losing a valuable trade chip in the bargain.
3. Michael Beasley, 3 years, $6 million per year
Look, we get it. Beasley had a freshman year for the ages, in many ways comparable to Durant's. He was amazing. But it just has not translated to the NBA at all. He's extremely turnover-prone, does not defend well, is terrible at getting to the line, and doesn't pass well. Well, let's be fair, he just doesn't pass. And he loves to shoot the ball. He doesn't pay a lot of attention to where he's standing when he does, though. Have fun watching him shoot with just one foot behind the 3-point line.
Here's my first Beasley moment: in early 2010/11, I was watching the Wolves play the Heat on League Pass with the Heat's broadcasting team calling the game. Beas has the ball at the end of the first quarter. The announcing goes something like this as the clock ticks down: "So let's see what he does here...starts his attack...dribbles to the key...aaaaand......settles for a long jumper. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA." That last laughter is in caps because the color commentator joined in; the whole "Beasley settles for a long jumper" thing is something that those two guys had seen a million times, and they were soooo happy that it was now the other team's problem and they could laugh about it. It was then I realized why the Heat gave him away for just a couple of 2nd round picks.
Suns fans: make sure to use League Pass when you play the Wolves, and listen to the Wolves' broadcast team. I guarantee you that a scene like this will play out. And you'll be a little bitter about how much the Wolves' team is chuckling about it. I know I was, watching that Heat game. Right now you're full of optimism that maybe, just maybe, if Beas could get his head on straight, he could have a transformative year. Yeah, I've been there. I gave up. Thank goodness the Wolves did too. If Adelman could not fix it...Well, now, he's the other team's problem.
Beasley is a little better at power forward than at small forward; mostly because he'll often get the ball closer to the hoop, where his inclinations -- JUST SHOOT BECAUSE OH MY GOD THIS BALL IS A HOT ****ING POTATO AND IF I DON'T SHOOT NOW I MIGHT NEVER GET THE CHANCE EVER AGAIN -- aren't as detrimental. But the Suns have got Luis Scola taking minutes there, so I suspect he'll get a lot of burn at small forward. At $6 million, he's overpaid by about $7 million (yes, I think he's worth negative money), and the Suns are stuck with him for three years. In 6 or 7 years, I'll probably be thinking about Beasley the same way I do about Crawford now: "Why do people keep paying this guy!?" because he'll probably get another contract after this one.
2. Jeff Green, 4 years, $9 million per year
This contract is almost tragic. Watching this unfold must have been enormously painful for our resident Celtic fan Arturo. Before the 11/12 season, Boston signed Green to a one-year, $9 million dollar deal, which kind of had everyone asking "Huh?", and which essentially negated the upgrade that Boston made by trading away the terrible Glen Davis for the passable Brandon Bass. Then, fate dealt Jeff Green a terrible blow in the form of a heart condition, and although this was very bad for Jeff Green, it saved the Celtics from making a big mistake, as his contract was nullified.
Flash forward to a year later, when Boston is surely not competing with anybody for Green's services. It was doubtful he was worth that price before; now he's coming off a heart condition and a year of not playing, but Boston decides that not only is he still worth $9 million, but also says "hey, sign me up for 3 more!" It's got to be soul-crushing for Boston fans to see huge amounts of salary come off the books this offseason, only to be spent on guys like Jason Terry (waaay past his prime), Courtney Lee (not bad but you can get 'not bad' for half his price), and Jeff Green.
Now, it woud be one thing if Green were overpaid because he's merely "not bad", like Terry and Lee. Unfortunately, Green is, in fact, quite bad. He's a horrible rebounder, a below-average shooter, he's bad at getting to the line, he doesn't get many blocks, steals or assists, and isn't even a good 3-point shooter. In four years, he's never come close to average production, and now he's coming off of a year of not playing. Which part of this makes a GM reach for the checkbook? And did I mention that no one else is really bidding for him? What the hell is going on here?
But wait, it gets worse! In addition to being grossly overpaid, he'll probably take away playing time from Jared Sullinger, who was one of the best big man in the draft, and is the perfect guy to slot in at PF next to Garnett, whom Doc has relocated to center. And don't tell me he's really supposed to be an SF. They have a guy named Paul Pierce who's pretty good at that. Did they pay $9 million for a backup SF?
My prediction is that in a year or so when Rondo demands a trade, Boston will be making it known that whoever wants him has to take back Green. I'm running out of synonyms for "horrible" and "awful" and "terrible" but this contract is all of them.
1. Brook Lopez, 4 years, THE MAXIMUM ($15 million per or so)
When the offseason started, I was pretty sure that Green's contract was going to be 'unbeatable' as the worst of them. Oh, how wrong I was. I knew Lopez was going to be overpaid, but never in my wildest dreams did I think anyone was going to pay him the max.
In his 2 first years, Lopez was pretty decent, about average for an NBA center, which is pretty good for one's rookie and sophomore years. He was never a great defensive rebounder, but was decent at offensive rebounding*, was a passable shot-blocker, and was a reasonbaly efficient scorer. He wasn't great, but he certainly was not bad. Since then, he had an absolutely horrendous thrid season, and about 5 games of a horrible fourth one. His rebounding got positively anemic, and his shooting efficiency went down. My guess is that his shooting efficieny went down because his shots went up by 4-5 per 48 minutes -- those 5 extra shots are probably not good ones.
It all leads to a player that would be overpaid with the standard $8-$10 million that everyone seems to pay for "MEH" big men (JEFF GREEN GOT $9 MILLION!), but at $15 million...FIFTEEN!?!...holy cow that's a lot of wasted cheeseburgers. And for 4 years? New Jersey has 2/3 of the salary cap tied up in Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson. This contract is so bad that it's...well, it's the worst contract signed in the 2012/13 off-season.
What say you folks? Who belongs on this list, and why?