Here are some of the “legends” of the NBA who qualified as the highest paid players of the 2016-17 season. Chandler Parsons took his $22 million to the bank in the first year of his four-year-deal then promptly averaged 6.2 points in only 34 games before succumbing to season-ending knee surgery in mid-March. The Memphis Grizzlies are praying for a big rebound next year from a man they still owe more than $70 million too, but the Miami Heat have no prayers left for Chris Bosh, who sat out all season while making more than $23 million, and is due to watch from the sidelines for two more to the tune of more than $52 million to come.
And Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, and Carmelo Anthony may still be All-Star caliber names, but its hard to envision a good reason now why they each landed amongst the 13 highest paid players in the entire league.
So who are the candidates to be next season’s Parsons-like underperforms or Wade-like paid for their legacy more than their present? Without further adieu… 15 NBA Players About To Get Big Deals Who Don’t Deserve It.
15 Andre Roberson
Call it the Russell Westbrook effect - Oklahoma City’s supporting cast might have had the least to do on the court in the NBA this season, but thanks to the celebrity of the man they played alongside their names are elevated in the league dialogue, and their niche skill sets more celebrated. Consider the praise heaped upon Andre Roberson by Michael Pina of Vice Sports, making a case for him to be Defensive Player of the Year: “[he] treats every possession like a football snap: He plays through the whistle with more energy than anyone else can, or should.”
The only problem is that Roberson is a shooting guard. Who can’t shoot. He hit below 25% of his attempts this year, one of only four players in the NBA to average more than 30 minutes a game while making less than 3 in 10 from behind the arc. He belongs in an Andre Iguodala role on a great team, but may end up being pursued by The Brooklyn Nets instead, where his offensive weaknesses will be woefully exposed.
14 Ersan Ilyasova
It’s not that Ersan Ilyasova’s overall body of work has impressed anyone significantly since he broke into the NBA at the age of 19 in 2006-07 out of Turkey. Its just that what he does on the court has become more and more coveted in today’s league, leading to the “stretch four” to set a career high in three point field goal attempts for the third season in a row, at 4.9 per game. Call it a hunch, but while Ilyasova struggled at times to fit in to the Atlanta Hawks scheme as a scorer following his mid-season trade, some team will look at his ten game stretch from January 18-February 2 where he scored over 20 points five times, including a line of 31 points and 11 rebounds against the Chicago Bulls and over-pay him to stand outside the arc while a Paul George or Jimmy Butler drives to the rim.
The only problem is Ilyasova is notoriously streaky, is a sub-par defender, and will soon turn 30. Seems like his value is pretty well-established, and it is not big contract worthy.
13 Nikola Mirotic
For three seasons in a row, Nikola Mirotic has overblown his value by saving his best basketball … for March. He led all NBA players in fourth quarter scoring during his rookie season’s final month in 2014-15 and came back from two surgeries to shoot better than 53 percent from behind the arc last year. And then, after three straight DNPs early last month, he suddenly poured in five 20 point games in an eight game stretch as March turned to April.
Like the previous example, the 6’ 10” stretch four provides a skill set that many teams are trying to capture in today’s NBA. He was considered one of the best European prospects around when he was first drafted. There will be a team that thinks they can fix him, distracted by the way he keeps ending seasons, while ignoring how he begins them.
12 J.J. Redick
Shooting is in, and the one thing J.J. Redick has proved in his decade in the NBA? He will get you points. He has averaged more than 15 a game in four straight seasons since he joined the LA Clippers and became a regular starter. He had been remarkably consistent over the last three, only missing a total of 15 games in that period. He is a marksman from downtown, leading the league in 2015-16 in percentage, and finishing sixth amongst players with at least 100 attempts this year.
But Redick is 32, and playing in the limelight in LA while getting such regular time on court has elevated his status to seem beyond just that of a one-trick-pony. But his Win Share Per 48 was its lowest this season since he joined the Clippers, just above league average at .105. He may be in his decline, and doesn’t have enough to offer as a well rounded player to compensate in other aspects of his game.
11 Mason Plumlee
Call it the “reverse-Mirotic” but Mason Plumlee enters a market weak on big, classic centers who can clog a lane and give nightly double-doubles to their team. While much of the NBA is moving away from this model anyway, count on a more traditional front office noting Plumlee’s mid-season five games in a row with 10+ points and boards just before his trade to Denver plummeted his value, and roll the dice that the four year veteran can return to the steady growth he showed in his three plus seasons in the league prior.
While how Josef Nurkic transformed the Portland Trail Blazers after he and Plumlee were traded poured salt on the wound of his loss of value, he’s still 6’ 11” and 245 LB. He’ll get paid.
10 Patty Mills
Fox Sports recently defined Patty Mills as “a playmaking point guard with a shoot first mentality, in the vein of Allen Iverson.” While they quickly went on to add that he wasn’t a “generational talent” like AI, the fact that those words were written in an article examining if Iverson’s old team, the Philadelphia 76ers, should sign Mills this offseason, spoke volumes. The former 55th pick in the 2009 draft (Iverson was #1 overall), follows a trend with legendary names like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, of the Spurs finding gold in former late-round international selections (Mills is from Australia, and, to be fair, was originally chosen by Portland).
With Parker’s play declining, Mills stock has been rising, but look closer and the statistics are really no more than a continuation of his solid bench play over his eight year career. Could he be a starter somewhere else? Unquestionably. Is he worth a major salary in a league overwhelmed by great point guard play currently? The odds may be against his skill set translating beyond the team-basketball-haven of San Antonio which allows him to contribute at high value as a shoot-first small guard.
9 Andre Iguodala
The question with Iguodala, as it does with most things these days around him, is Kevin Durant. It was KD, after all, that propelled "the other AI" into a front-runner for the Sixth Man of the Year award, when he stepped up his minutes and production to fill in for the star forward during his second half injury. Its also Durant who will have to leave some money on the table in contract negotiations for next season if Iguodala is to return with Golden State. KD still has a reputation as a team player, but with the controversial way he left Oklahoma City and his decision to join the “super team” Warriors, its decidedly less clear these days how he will act.
When the Orlando Magic signed Patricio Garino recently, his agent tweeted a picture that mistakenly showed some of their organizational brainstorming in the background. Igoudala was rated just behind Danilo Gallinari and Paul Millsap under “hybrid free agency.” A 33 year old averaging 7.6 points per game doesn’t deserve to be in the category of two potential team scoring leaders. Thanks to KD he’s over-rated and thanks to KD he also end up on the market to be overpaid.
8 Derrick Rose
Before Derrick Rose tore the meniscus in his left knee as the 2016-17 season came to a close, it would have been easy for fans to argue for his exclusion from this list. The former youngest-MVP-in-league-history had, to some, a career-reviving year, scoring the most points per-game since 2011-12 and at his highest field goal percentage since 2009-10. But he has missed substantial time in every season since missing the entire 2012-13 year, is turning 29, and didn’t exactly set the Knicks on a winning path with his well-respected leadership.
But you can’t count out some team overvaluing a veteran team-leader, and Rose talks just the right talk to make someone believe he can return their franchise to glory. “I want to win. I want to be happy and feel at peace with myself wherever I'm at,” he said recently when asked about free agency. Chances are, at least financially, he will be.
7 Jeff Teague
The words “career-best” nearly always mean a team is going to be willing to fork over some cash but are also probably rolling the dice in doing so. Jeff Teague could always score but in dishing out 7.8 assists per game in his first and possibly only season with the Indiana Pacers while pulling gown 4 rebounds, both career highs, he showcased veteran floor general status that comes without a Derrick-Rose like injury risk. In fact, Teague played and started in all 82 this year, marking the fifth straight season he missed only ten games or less.
"I think everybody loves New York,'' Teague recently told the New York Post. "It's a great place to play.’' Coming off of a season riddled with inconsistency, you can see the big pocketed franchise overpaying for at least steady-but-not-spectacular.
6 Otto Porter
He could definitely prove us wrong. His minutes have gone up in each of his four NBA seasons, and, perhaps more importantly, his field goal percentage, good for 20th in the league this year at .516. What’s more, Otto Porter is a former #3 overall pick, so his upside has always been seen as somewhere close to “sky is the limit.” But he only averaged 13.4 points per game in 2016-17, and ended the season with a stretch of 11 games where he scored more than 10 just three times.
Porter will unquestionably continue to be a great third or fourth option for a contender, a role he has filled this year for the much improved Washington Wizards. But he may be paid like a second option, and that’s territory there is simply no reason to believe he can handle. Yet.
5 Danilo Gallinari
There is no question Danilo Gallinari can score, leading the Denver Nuggets two seasons in a row, to the tune of just under 20 points per game. He has modified his three point weapon to keep up with the times, pumping it in from downtown at a career-high rate of .388 this year. The 28 year old is also generally considered a solid defender.
But now let’s count the games played. Since he appeared in all but one of the 82 in his second season after being drafted #6 overall by the New York Knicks, Gallinari has gone 62, 43, 71, 0, 59, 53, and 63 respectively. That’s proof if there ever was that the veteran can’t stay on the floor and he will soon be on the wrong side of 30 to boot. His talent will be appropriately paid but its hard to believe his overall value will live up to his salary when you count expected missed time.
4 Serge Ibaka
It has been an eventful year since Serge Ibaka earned his chance to be “the man” with the Orlando Magic in the 2016 off-season. The seven year Oklahoma City Thunder veteran had earned a well-deserved reputation as a good-to-great two-way player running the court and clogging the lane alongside All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But with Orlando, and then with the Toronto Raptors, given an opportunity to step up into a primary scoring option, Ibaka… just kept putting up the numbers he used to put up.
But 15 points per game and a near .400 three point shooting percentage from the power forward position, at just 27 years old, with a proven post-season resume, will undoubtedly entice someone to land Ibaka as their big free agent splash.
3 Paul Millsap
Paul Millsap is well-respected and well-liked, and coming off four straight All-Star appearances in each of his four seasons with the Atlanta Hawks. So how many times has he scored more than 20 points again? Oh, that’s right, NONE (he averaged a career-high 18.1 this year, his 11th in the league.) How many conference finals games has his team won again? Oh, that’s right, ONE (in two separate series in 2006-07 with the Utah Jazz and 14-15 with the Hawks).
And did we mention he’s 6’ 8” and only shoots .311 from the three point line in an era in which 6’ 11” centers are stretching the floor? All of this adds up to a pretty solid thesis - if you want a good addition to your squad who will play hard and out-perform taller players with better skill sets? Millsap is your guy. But to count on him as a bona fide star leading your team to the promised land? Hard to see that in the crystal ball.
2 Gordon Hayward
Look, before you fill the comments sections with rage of our undervaluing Hayward, let’s be clear. He is a very, very good player entering the prime of his career who has improved in every season, leading to his first All-Star selection and career highs in points, rebounds and both field goal and 3-point percentage, since becoming a full-time starter for the Utah Jazz in 2013-14.
But Hayward is not a GREAT player. Not yet. His pairing with George Hill this season showed a remarkable synergy, he has grown underneath the same coach Quin Snyder during his recent ascension, and Utah seems to be just the right small market for his humble approach. If he chooses to leave though, its an unknown how much he is a product of his system. He may be just short of a star, but he will be paid like one.
1 Chris Paul
Chris Paul helped raise the age limit for late-career max contracts as head of the players’ union, and seems likely to reap the benefits of that work himself this off-season. A nine-time All-Star, Paul has been a model of consistency over his twelve year career, averaging 18.1 points per game in 2016-17, in line with his lifetime average of 18.7, 9.2 assists in line with his lifetime average of 9.9, 1.9 steals in line with 2.3, and on and on.
Perhaps the greatest comparable to Paul in NBA history is John Stockton, who remained remarkably consistent as well even through his retirement at age 40. However, take a closer look and Stockton’s numbers began a slow and steady decline in his age 32 season, the same age Paul will be this coming year. He made three more All-Star teams and then only one in his final six years. And that’s a man who aged WELL. Paul should under-perform a max deal, an irony that won’t be lost on the team for whom his work on the CBA made them pay him all that money.
For only one thing is certain in professional sports. At some point, you won’t be able to perform what someone thought you deserved, anymore.