The National Basketball Association is different from other sports leagues in a variety of ways. For starters, NBA player contracts, for the most part, include guaranteed amounts of money that go beyond what National Football League athletes are offered. For example, an NBA player such as Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley, who is currently on a contract worth over $152 million, has the bulk of that value guaranteed to him regardless of performance. It's also worth noting that the NBA does not have a hard salary cap as does the NFL. Instead, NBA owners who go above a certain limit regarding the league’s cap are forced to pay what is known as a luxury tax. This is meant to prevent certain clubs from buying championships.
Even with a soft salary cap, there are still a plethora of NBA contracts teams would, in an ideal situation, run away from if able to do so today. Some of those contracts belong to older players who, simply put, are no longer worth the amounts of money offered to them during their physical primes. Others are deals that are essentially anchors for clubs that need to embrace full-on rebuilds that include ditching older former stars for younger talents who will hopefully become cornerstones for a roster capable of winning a title. Those of you reading this piece are likely aware the New York Knicks are saddled with multiple contracts they need to get rid of. Which, among them, do you believe is the worst as of the winter of 2017?
15 J.R. Smith: Cleveland Cavaliers
We know that LeBron James loves having J.R. Smith around and Cleveland fans have truly embraced Smith as one of their own. None of that erases the fact the Cavaliers have at least $45 million guaranteed to a shooting guard who gives them the kind of production the club could get from a younger player at a fraction of the cost.
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert clearly doesn’t mind spending his money on building a championship roster no matter what and it’s obvious James is the real General Manager of the Cavs. Still, you have to imagine Gilbert and others within the organization would, in an ideal situation, love to get rid of Smith’s contract if the possibility were to arise in the summer of 2017.
14 Andre Drummond: Detroit Pistons
The Detroit Pistons apparently forgot that it’s not the 1980s anymore and that clubs shouldn’t pay a big man over $127 million in guaranteed money (over five years) unless that team is already close to winning a conference championship. This isn’t a knock on Andre Drummond, but the fact now is that Drummond needs to be better than an All-Star for this contract to make any sense for the Pistons.
Andre and the Pistons are married to each other for the next several seasons, as his dead cap value makes him untradeable until the end of the decade. Detroit’s cap situation is, to be blunt, a nightmare for a club that may not finish the 2016-17 campaign with a .500 record. Drummond needs to prove he doesn’t belong on such lists sooner rather than later.
13 Timofey Mozgov: Los Angeles Lakers
Timofey Mozgov exists as a reminder that it’s a blessing to be a big man who is able to play alongside LeBron James for any length of time. Mozgov became somewhat of a folk hero among Cleveland fans, but there are plenty of good reasons that Cavs didn’t guarantee him $64 million as did the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 2016.
Mozgov’s contract with the Lakers never made any real sense because of the state of the club and that remains true heading into the spring months. With that said, Los Angeles fans should get used to seeing the big man, because the Lakers probably aren’t getting rid of the center or his contract at any point in the foreseeable future. This isn’t the last time you’ll see the get Lakers mentioned here.
12 LaMarcus Aldridge: San Antonio Spurs
This is not a classic example of a team handing out a contract to a player who isn’t worth the money. Sometimes, things just don’t work out as originally planned. LaMarcus Aldridge is a fine player and the Spurs are a franchise that rarely make mistakes as it pertains to building their roster. It does, however, seem like it would be best for all if these two parted ways before Aldridge received the rest of the $84.07 million guaranteed to him.
There were rumblings last fall the Spurs could look to trade Aldridge and the 31-year-old would be an enticing asset for a team on the cusp of doing something special. San Antonio wouldn’t be upset to get rid of this contract at any point of 2017.
11 Dwight Howard: Atlanta Hawks
It doesn’t seem like it was all that long ago when it appeared Dwight Howard could be a cornerstone for a championship roster. Howard is no longer that caliber of player at this point, but nobody told that to the Atlanta Hawks before the team awarded Howard with a contract worth over $70 million in guaranteed money.
It was reported in January the Hawks nearly dealt Howard and those rumors will likely continue until Atlanta can find a club willing to take him. Howard can be a plus for a team that doesn’t need him to be an All-Star and the Hawks likely would happily breathe easier knowing he was off of their books. Make any deal you can for Howard, Atlanta, and do not look back.
10 Kevin Love: Cleveland Cavaliers
Yes, we absolutely understand Kevin Love was vital for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the closing moments of their Game Seven victory over the Golden State Warriors in June 2016. With that said, let’s all be honest and admit Love is not worth the $113 million guaranteed to him by the Cavs per his current contract. Love is a nice piece to have alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, but both of those players are more important to Cleveland at this point.
There was, theoretically, always a possibility the Cavs could eventually use Love as trade bait, but his deal may make things more complicated unless Cleveland is willing to replace him with a player who also holds a significant contract. We’re looking at you, Carmelo Anthony.
9 Rudy Gay: Sacramento Kings
This was already a bad contract for the Sacramento Kings, even before Rudy Gay suffered a torn Achilles during a game in mid-January. Gay’s deal includes a player option following the 2016-17 season and thus there was always the possibility the Kings could land something for his services during the winter months.
That, obviously, is now off the table. The Kings will need to pay DeMarcus Cousins, perhaps to the tune of $200 million, at some point in the near future and that will drastically change things for the club. Gay was an asset for the club at the start of 2017, but he's now one of several questions hovering over the team as it attempts to earn a postseason berth before making Cousins a very rich man.
8 Evan Turner: Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers locked Evan Turner up to a deal that will earn him $70 million between now and the spring of 2020. That, on paper, isn’t a horrible contract for a championship contender, but the Trail Blazers won’t be contending for a title at any point over the next couple of seasons.
Portland, likely, needs to consider moving either Turner or Damian Lillard in order to build an overall roster that can hang with the likes of the Golden State Warriors and Lillard is currently a star featured in advertisements. Turner, on the other hand, is a movable piece and one that could be worth quite a bit for Portland in a trade. The Trail Blazers need to get rid of this contract for the good of the club’s future.
7 Harrison Barnes: Dallas Mavericks
Harrison Barnes is a fine young talent and he could make for a solid piece for a team that is close to winning a championship. The forward is not, however, worth a max contract paid by a team that is destined to finish the season out of the playoff race and near the very bottom of the conference standings.
The Mavericks need a new face of the franchise to replace Dirk Nowitzki, but there is currently no reason to believe Barnes can fill what is about to be a noticeable hole in the Dallas roster. It’s not on Barnes to offer the Mavericks any sort of discount, but that doesn’t change the fact the club should’ve spent wisely before offering Barnes the contract he possesses.
6 Joakim Noah: New York Knicks
The attempts of the New York Knicks to build a supposed super-team have blown up in the faces of those who run the franchise. At the top of the list of horrible contracts currently associated with the club is the one attached to Joakim Noah, the big man who is a physical liability and probably isn’t worth the $72.59 million guaranteed to him by the club that has failed to impress during the 2016-17 campaign.
Noah’s contract is nothing short of an albatross the Knicks would probably get rid of today if able to do so and the club needs to find some team willing to accept Noah as quickly as possible. The Knicks have some promise for the future, but that future is not going to include any version of Noah.
5 Luol Deng: Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers seemingly have a bright future ahead of them following the retirement of legend Kobe Bryant. Forward Luol Deng likely isn’t part of that future. The Lakers currently have $72 million tied up on the 31-year-old who isn’t physically the player he was while in his prime and it logically seems that it is only a matter of time before Los Angeles looks to part ways with his contract.
While Deng’s deal likely means the Lakers won’t get much in a trade for his services, he remains an asset for a team that is looking to acquire a veteran who can help younger talents. Do not be surprised to see Deng with another team before the start of the 2017-18 campaign, if the Lakers can find somebody to take him and his contract.
4 Brook Lopez: Brooklyn Nets
You have to give the Brooklyn Nets credit for consistently paying millions upon millions of dollars to players that will likely never win a title while featuring for the club. This, of course, isn’t the fault of center Brook Lopez, who is a fine player but who certainly isn’t deserving to be paid over $21 million per year by what is currently the worst team in the Eastern Conference.
Lopez’s current deal expires following the 2017-18 NBA season and the Nets would do well to get rid of his contract via a trade. Brooklyn needs assets that go beyond a single talent, as the Nets are not anywhere close to contending for a title. Lopez has value in a future deal and the Nets should be able to find some team willing to accept him for at least one year.
3 Dwyane Wade: Chicago Bulls
The contract currently attached to Chicago Bulls guard Dwyane Wade includes a player option for the 2017-18 season. That option would pay Wade over $23 million in guaranteed money. The Bulls would love nothing more than if Wade walked away from that option and once again entered free agency.
Give the Bulls credit for taking a chance on the veteran and attempting to build a championship roster around Superstar Jimmy Butler. The experiment, unfortunately for Chicago fans, just hasn't worked out, and the Bulls are currently nothing more than a middle-of-the-road team that still cannot hang with the very best of the Eastern Conference. Chicago would do well to get rid of this contract and then go all-in on a real rebuild, one that will take many years to finish.
2 Chris Bosh: Miami Heat
Chris Bosh’s situation is, without a doubt, the most unique among the players mentioned in this piece. Bosh is undeniably a talented player when fully healthy, but numerous issues stemming from blood clots have, in the eyes of the Miami Heat, made him unable to play.
The Heat still owe Bosh over half of a contract that is worth over $118 million in guaranteed money and thus the club would, in an ideal situation, like to waive him without having to pay all of that money to an athlete they believe can no longer perform. There nevertheless remain rumors Bosh would, if he can pass a physical, like to continue playing in the NBA for the Heat or for a different team. It will be fascinating to see how this situation plays out and who, between the two entities, ends up winning out in the end.
1 Carmelo Anthony: New York Knicks
Carmelo Anthony’s contract has to be right up there among the very worst in North American professional sports. Anthony’s dead cap value for the 2016-17 season is over $78 million and that number only drops to over $54 million for next season.
Worst of all is that the New York Knicks cannot move Anthony without his consent because his deal includes a no-trade clause, meaning the club has to pay him all of what is owed to him unless he is willing to negotiate a pay cut or a trade. The 32-year-old is no longer the top player on the Knicks, as that distinction belongs to big man Kristaps Porzingis. It’s no secret the Knicks would love to part ways with this contract, but it doesn’t appear Anthony will let them do so anytime soon.