The NBA has a salary cap, so it's important for every team to spend their money wisely. The NBA is also a star driven league, so it's key to find a star and pay them right. You'd assume the highest paid player on each NBA team would be a star, or at least quite good. Of course, you'd be wrong. I went through each NBA team and looked for the highest paid player (in terms of per-year salary for 2017, not total contract) and ranked which are the worst.
A note, I rated these based on the performance and age of the player when they signed the contract, not how they've played since. So players like Paul George are off the list. With that, here we go!
A reminder, Wins Per 48 (WP48) estimates how many wins per 48 minutes a player generates. An average player has a WP48 of 0.100, and stars are close to 0.200 (and elite players are even higher!)
#10 Tie - Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks)
- Contract signed - 5 year / $24.8 million a season in 2014
- 2014 Wins Produced - 8.4
- 2014 WP48 - 0.135
- Age at contract - 29
The Knicks put most of their eggs in the Melo basket. To be fair, he had a contract year in 2014, playing the best ball of his career. Of course, he was also 29, and his ceiling was being a decent player. (0.135 Wins Produced is above average but not even close to star) Since then Melo has dealt with injury, and his performance has declined, but the good news is the Knicks have him signed through 2019. Maybe they'll luck out, and he'll take his early termination option.
#10 Tie - Chris Bosh (Miami Heat)
- Contract Signed - 5 year / $23.7 million a season in 2014
- 2014 Wins Produced - 5
- 2014 WP48 - 0.095
- Age at contract - 29
I made the tenth place a tie because I considered Melo and Bosh very similar. Bosh had been a great player in the pre-Bron era. Of Miami's big three, his production seemed to suffer the most given that his strengths came with holding the ball and being close to the hoop, jobs that Bron and Wade were more suited for. At the same time, his production had degraded, and he had increased in age. It was reasonable to assume without Bron his performance might improve. That said, betting the farm on it was not a wise move. We'll see how the Heat handle his contract going forward.
#9 Evan Fournier (Orlando Magic)
- Contract Signed - 5 year / $17 million a season in 2016
- 2016 Wins Produced - 5.5
- 2016 WP48 - 0.103
- Age at Contract - 23
A bit of a head scratcher. The Magic decided to give a decent shooting guard a long and expensive contract. The good news is he's young and apparently improving. Still, when the best a player has shown you is average, giving them five years and the biggest contract on your team is an odd choice. The Magic have some other good contracts in Bismack Biyombo and Aaron Gordon, so this won't kill them.
#8 Danilo Gallinari (Denver Nuggets)
- Contract Signed - 4 years / $13 million a season in 2015
- 2015 Wins Produced - 0.7
- 2015 WP48 - 0.024
- Age at Contract - 26
This one stings, as I do like Danilo. That said, he missed the entire 2014 season due to injuries and didn't look good in 2015. Based on his age and earlier production, he certainly looked like he had potential. Unfortunately giving long contracts to injured players that haven't hit star level never sits well with me. It wasn't the worst contract at only $13 million a season, which is why it's lower on the list.
#7 DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings)
- Contract Signed - 4 year / $16.4 million a season in 2013
- 2013 Wins Produced - 3.5
- 2013 WP48 - 0.070
- Age at Contract - 22
The Kings have been dysfunctional for a while, and DeMarcus Cousins' contract was a good start. By his third season in the NBA DeMarcus had yet to hit average, so the Kings gave him a big contract. Of course, the very next season he lived up to it. Since then he's shown flashes of greatness, but when we factor in his shooting efficiency, turnovers, and love of fouls, he isn't helping his team win. He's young, so there's still hope. That said, this was a bad decision by a management that loves making bad decisions.
#6 Luol Deng (Los Angeles Lakers)
- Contract Signed - 4 year / $18 million a season in 2016
- 2016 Wins Produced - 3.5
- 2016 WP48 - 0.070
- Age at Contract - 30
The end of the Kobe era gave the Lakers a chance to rebuild. It gave them a chance to return to their old ways of wooing stars not turned off by Kobe. And instead, they returned to the Kobe well by giving an old and declining wing the biggest contract on their team. Deng is now in his 30s, and that's with Thibodeau mileage. I could understand a one or two year deal to help the transition, but four years, are you serious?
#5 LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio Spurs)
- Contract Signed - 4 years/ $21 million a season in 2015
- 2015 Wins Produced - 3.7
- 2015 WP48 - 0.070
- Age at Contract - 29
I love the Spurs. And I still want to give them some credit for this move. Aldridge does have some rare skills (his height, defense, and shooting range) and I could buy the Spurs thinking he'd fit in with their system. I've also noted that the Spurs could think getting a "star" (by conventional wisdom) could help recruit future stars. Still, no matter how I slice it, I don't like this move. Even if I assume Aldridge's defense is amazing (the Spurs were already top 2 in defense when the signed him) and that he spaces the floor (the Blazers offense ran fine without him) his production still couldn't touch star level. That said, his first season in San Antonio did go well, and he may very well live up to his contract. He may be one of the only players in the NBA with his skillset, so he could end up being a testament to the Spurs coaching staff. That's secretly my hope.
#4 DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors)
- Contract Signed - 5 years / $27.8 million a season in 2016
- 2016 Wins Produced - 7.3
- 2016 WP48 - 0.125
- Age at Contract - 26
The good news is DeMar DeRozan wasn't below average when he signed this contract. Of course, in his seven-year NBA career, he's had exactly one good season. So, in a huge free agency, the Raptors let their best player in Bismack Biyombo walk for $17 million a season to sign a mediocre guard to almost $30 million a season. He's young, so he could improve. It'll have to be a lot to justify signing him and letting Bismack walk, though.
#2 Tie Dwyane Wade (Chicago Bulls)
- Contract Signed - 2 Years / $23.5 million a season in 2016
- 2016 Wins Produced - 3.9
- 2016 WP48 - 0.084
- Age at contract - 34
When his career is done, Wade will sit in my top three modern shooting guards with Michael Jordan and Clyde Drexler. You heard me Kobe fans. That said, his best days are behind him. The last season he was productive the Heat won a title. The reality of athletes is they expire. We might expect a "Dead Cat Bounce" out of Wade ala Kobe. That said, the Bulls constructed a pretty decent squad and instead of spending the money to make it stronger, they gave Wade this deal.
#2 Tie Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks)
- Contract Signed - 2 years / $25 million a season in 2016
- 2016 Wins Produced - 1.6
- 2016 WP48 - 0.033
- Age at Contract - 37
I could copy most of Wade's entry and just say: "The most versatile scoring big in the history of the NBA" as my platitude instead. In fact, just pretend I did that. The argument for loyalty to Dirk could be to tell future stars the Mavericks are a good location. Of course, seeing as they've been spurned multiple offseasons now, I don't think it's working. If Dirk wanted to stay, it would have been fine to let him stay for a reduced contract. Giving him over 25% of the cap, though? Sorry, no.
#1 Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards)
- Contract Signed - 5 years / $25.4 million a season in 2016
- 2016 Wins Produced - 2.1
- 2016 WP48 - 0.058
- Age at Contract - 22
Every other name on this list had put up at least one above average NBA season before they got their big deal. Not Brad Beal. He's only hit 2,500 minutes once in his career. He's never been average. Now, based on his first two seasons, an age curve would make you think Beal could become productive. That said, he's dealt with injuries his whole career. I'm not a fan of gambling five years and the most money on it. It's moves like these that are keeping the Wizards on the treadmill of mediocrity!
That's our list. And for fun, here's the player comparison engine for all of them in 2016. Did I miss anyone? Do you think I misranked anyone? Let me know in the comments. See you next time.