Now that we are in December, we finally have a considerable sample size to analyze the NBA season. Thanks to the season starting a bit earlier than usual, teams have already completed more than one-fourth of their season with still weeks to go before Christmas. Thus, it’s somewhat safe to make generalizations of players, teams and transactions without them being labeled impulsive overreactions.
In this article we will look back at many of those transactions from not just this past summer, but the past year. Since the calendar flipped to 2017, teams have made moves with the intention of not only benefitting themselves for the short-term, but moves that will also have lasting effects. Likewise, some teams already decided to punt on both the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons and know that will be years before they are actual competitors. We will take that into account when formulating this list.
With the NBA, a bad move or decision can often affect a franchise for years or even decades (such as former Jazz player Luther Wright who signed a Bobby Bonilla-like 25-year contract). Unlike the NFL which doesn’t have guaranteed contracts, or MLB which doesn’t have a salary cap, the NBA has both guaranteed contracts and a salary cap. Thus, it’s extremely hard to get out of a bad decision without it affecting your team either at that moment or in the future.
Trades, draft selections, free agent signings and more all comprise this list. Here is every NBA team’s most regretful roster move of the past year.
30. Atlanta Hawks: NOT Trading Away Paul Millsap
In the spring of 2017 the Hawks were faced with a dilemma: they could either trade away Paul Millsap who was an impending free agent or they could hang onto him with hopes of re-signing him in the offseason. They chose the latter and it turned out to be a huge mistake. Holding onto Millsap only netted them a playoff appearance in which they were bounced in the first round. During the offseason, it was reported that Atlanta didn’t even make an offer to Millsap, who ended up signing with the Nuggets. What was the point of holding onto him for two months when you had no plans to re-sign him?
What makes this even odder is that Atlanta traded away Kyle Korver in January 2017 but decided to hold onto Millsap. They were many suitors for Millsap back then and they could have netted maybe multiple first-round picks. Instead, he walked to Denver and all Atlanta got was cap relief that they used to splurge on Dewayne Dedmon and Luke Babbitt.
29. Boston Celtics: Not Packing Draft Picks For A Veteran
It’s hard to find fault with anything Danny Ainge, Brad Stevens and the Celtics have done recently, but if we had to split hairs (or circumcise a mosquito), it would be the 2017 draft. The Celtics smartly drafted Jayson Tatum, but then they used their other three picks instead of packaging them for a veteran. As a result, the Celtics roster is backloaded with rookies as there are seven first-year players on the team. Have you ever heard of a team with seven rookies making the NBA Finals? Boston should have packaged some of those later picks for a veteran who can contribute now, or at the very least, selected stash prospects. That would have then created some roster space on the team so they could then go out and sign more veterans that they’ll need come May and June.
28. Brooklyn Nets: Wasted Cap Space On Cast-offs
$92 million. That’s how much the Timberwolves will pay Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins over the next two seasons.
$99 million. That’s how much the Nets will pay DeMarre Carroll, Allen Crabbe and Timofey Mozgov over the next two seasons.
Those were the big additions (along with D’Angelo Russell) to the Nets roster this offseason but they clearly weren’t made with the future in mind. The Crabbe move was understandable because he’s still young, but Carroll and Mozgov are both 31 years old and have struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness, respectively. The Nets have all but removed themselves from dipping into the 2018 free agency pool so expect the Nets to continue to be a laughingstock for another season.
27. Charlotte Hornets: Drafting Malik Monk 11th Overall
Does anyone see Monk as anything more than a potential sixth man/instant offense guy off the bench? The Hornets did what they usually do in the draft, and selected someone based on their college production instead of their pro potential (i.e. Frank Kaminsky in 2015). Monk is a one-dimensional player who scores rather inefficiently and doesn’t get teammates involved.
The Hornets passed up the likes of Kyle Kuzma and OG Anunoby to select Monk, who is throwing up bricks in the Queen City. If Charlotte was set on taking a shooting guard, then Donovan Mitchell would have been a better pick as he does it on both ends and led the ACC in steals last season. It takes a lot for “Adding Dwight Howard to your team” not being the biggest mistake, but drafting Monk does just that.
26. Chicago Bulls: McDermott/Gibson & Butler Trades
It’s hard to narrow down just one regret the Bulls have made (hey, Bobby Portis!) but their trade philosophy makes no sense. In February they traded away Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott for Cameron Payne, Anthony Morrow and Joffrey Lauvergne. Of the five players involved in that trade, Chicago sent away the two best ones! On top of that, they threw in a 2018 second-round draft pick for some odd reason.
Then in June there was the Jimmy Butler trade to Minnesota. Once again Chicago traded away the best player in the deal AND on top of that they sent a first-round pick to Minnesota. Based on these recent trades, we can expect the Bulls to shop Robin Lopez at the trade deadline as they look to swing a two-for-one deal: Lopez and a first-round pick in exchange for a second-round pick.
25. Cleveland Cavaliers: Signing Derrick Rose
It’s arguable that signing Dwyane Wade is a worse basketball move, but D-Wade keeps LeBron James happy, and keeping LeBron happy is the best move the Cavs can make. Thus, it’s the other Chicago native that falls under the worst move category. Rose is a solid backup, but when Cleveland then traded away Kyrie Irving for an injured Isaiah Thomas, they should have known that Rose couldn’t hold down the fort until IT gets healthy. The Cavs defense is getting blitzed because their point guards (Rose and Jose Calderon) can’t stop a nose bleed. On top of that, Rose has now taken a leave of absence to decide on where his basketball career goes from here.
Things won’t get any better once IT comes back, but Cleveland should have balanced out their point guard depth chart with someone who actually competes on the defensive end. LeBron can play point, but he can’t defend point guards, and that could be Cleveland’s downfall in the playoffs unless they make some additions.
24. Dallas Mavericks: Low-Balled Nerlens Noel On Contract
The Mavs traded for Noel last season in the last year of his rookie deal. They seemingly had long-term plans for him, as Dallas isn’t a playoff contender, so there’s no point in trading for a rental. But this offseason when Noel was a restricted free agent, the Mavs low-balled him on a long-term offer and he ended up settling for a one-year deal. Thus, after the 2017-18 season, Noel will be an unrestricted free agent with bad relations with the Mavs. Do you think Noel is going to want to return to Dallas next season? He won’t be restricted to the Mavs, who won’t have a say in where he plays.
Dallas decided that saving money in the 2017-18 season was more important than retaining a young player for the next four to five years. This was a rare, short-sighted financial move by owner Mark Cuban.
23. Denver Nuggets: Nurkic/Plumlee Trade
This isn’t as much for the two above players involved in the trade as it was obvious that Jusuf Nurkic was no longer a fit in Denver. This trade was a mistake for the same reason that the Chicago Bulls trades listed above were mistakes. Denver traded away the best PLAYER in this trade as well as the best DRAFT PICK in this trade. They sent Nurkic and a first-round pick for Mason Plumlee and a second-round pick. How does that make any sense? Portland got the better player and the better draft pick! To make matters even worse, Denver had the eighth playoff spot in the West when they made the trade, only to see Portland surge afterwards and nab the final playoff spot.
22. Detroit Pistons: Not Trading Away First-Round Pick
Luke Kennard was drafted 12th overall by the Pistons this year and he may turn into a fine player, but Detroit should have never drafted here in the first place. Let me remind you that last year, there was a three-way trade involving Jeff Teague, George Hill and the 12th overall pick of the 2016 draft. If you are a team like Detroit who is gunning for the playoffs, would you rather have a player like Teague or Hill, or a rookie at the 12th pick? The Pistons should have shopped this draft pick just like the Utah Jazz did last year with their 12th pick. Instead, the Pistons now have a glaring hole in their starting lineup in Stanley Johnson. A player like Will Barton could have been had in a trade with this draft pick, but now the Pistons are hoping that Kennard pans out, or at the very least, turns out better than Stanley Johnson.
21. Golden State Warriors: Wasting Money On Jose Calderon Signing
Late last season, Calderon was waived by the Lakers, and the Warriors said they would sign him. But then just hours later, Matt Barnes was waived by the Kings, and the Warriors said they wanted to sign him as well, but they only had one roster spot open. Thus, in an effort of good faith, but bad business, they followed through on their commitment of signing Calderon, promptly released him, and then signed Barnes.
That move meant that GSW guaranteed Calderon’s contract for the rest of the season on top of whatever they paid Barnes. It was an honorable thing to do to follow through with their commitment to Calderon, but it was also a total waste of money. However, it was great news to Calderon, who then signed with Atlanta after being cut by the Warriors. Thus, he was getting paid by both Golden State and Atlanta and probably never felt that wanted at any previous point in his life.
20. Houston Rockets: Trading For Chris Paul
The Rockets are finding out that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks as they pigeonhole Paul into their offense. CP3 has played one way for the last 20 years of his basketball life and now Houston has him doing something completely different than what he’s always done. He is a glorified spot-up shooter in Houston’s offense and Paul’s strength, which is running the point, is minimized playing alongside James Harden. Paul is a big name and future Hall of Famer, but are the Rockets any more of a threat in the Western Conference now than what they were a year ago? Houston gave up some nice young pieces in the trade for Paul, and if he walks after this season as expected, then they would have given up those pieces for a one-year rental.
19. Indiana Pacers: Bringing Back Lance Stephenson
On paper, the Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis trade looks lopsided, but with the way the new Pacers are playing, this appears to be an even trade. Thus, bringing back team cancer Lance Stephenson gets the nod. The Pacers are Stephenson’s sixth team since 2015, which tells you all you need to know about him as a teammate. Previous Pacers like Paul George and David West have feuded with Stephenson and there’s a good chance players on the current roster will do the same.
From a basketball standpoint, this was a horrible move as Stephenson is one of the most inefficient players in the game. He overdribbles, he steals rebounds from teammates, and he’s never learned how to shoot. This was one of Larry Bird’s last moves as GM and since Bird is now gone, expect Stephenson to be gone in the near future.
18. Los Angeles Clippers: Signing Danilo Gallinari To Long-Term Deal
Only in the NBA could you not show up to work half the time and get rewarded with a three-year $65 million contract. Gallinari is a good player, but he can’t stay healthy and has missed 47 percent of his team’s games over the last four seasons, which is a pretty telling sample size. Wouldn’t you know? Gallo is hurt again this season with a strained buttocks (seriously). He is the best small forward that Doc Rivers has coached in L.A., but the Clippers should have been smarter when handing him a three-year contract. Injury-prone players usually have to settle for one-year deals, but to guarantee three years for a player who has proven he can’t stay healthy? I’d be surprised if Gallo and equally-fragile Blake Griffin COMBINE to play in 82 games this season.
17. Los Angeles Lakers: Not Waiving Luol Deng
From a management standpoint, the Lakers are in a great position to enter the Summer of 2018 loaded with cap space. They’ll be gunning after the likes of LeBron James, Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins, who will all be free agents. However, in order to get two of those players, they may have to shed some more salary and, by now, they should have already waived Luol Deng. He’s owed $54 million over the next three seasons and doesn’t fit into the team’s future. They rid themselves of Timofey Mozgov’s contract with a trade, but they would likely have to use the stretch provision to get rid of Deng. The forward would still get the remaining money on his contract, but that money wouldn’t count against the Lakers salary cap.
Or maybe, Tom Thibodeau would be willing to take on the former Bull whom he nearly killed while in Chicago?
16. Memphis Grizzlies: Signed Rade Zagorac
Who? Zagorac was drafted in the 2016 draft and was due to come over to the United States this season. He signed with the Grizzlies in July to a three-year deal (with two years guaranteed). Three months later, and before playing a single minute in the regular season, Memphis waived Zagorac and decided to eat his contract. So they scouted this player for an entire year and thought he was worthy of a guaranteed contract, but then they saw him play in about 10 Summer League/preseason games and decided to cut him?
That’s a poor stroke of luck for Memphis’ international scouting department and a poor business decision to guarantee his deal. Memphis owes about $2.2 million to Zagorac through the 2018-19 season and he’ll also collect a paycheck from his European team. When you are a small-market team like the Grizzlies, every dollar counts and they’ll still have Zagorac’s contract on their books when they enter free agency next summer.
15. Miami Heat: Picked Up Justise Winslow’s Option
Winslow seems like the perfect type of Pat Riley player as he competes on every possession and is the personification of #NoDaysOff. But Winslow’s offense is lagging behind his defense and he hasn’t adjusted to the NBA three-point line. He shot 42 percent on 3PAs in his lone season at Duke, but hasn’t even reached 30 percent for his career in the NBA. Miami is utilizing him as a small-ball power forward but he neither stretches the floor nor protects the rim. By picking up Winslow’s option, Miami is on the hook for his salary in the 2018-19 season before he hits free agency. Perhaps Riley has a trade in the works for Winslow, but for someone who was looking like a steal with the 10th pick of the 2015 draft, Winslow has underperformed and is looking like a fringe NBA player.
14. Milwaukee Bucks: Waiving Spencer Hawes
What? Yes, getting rid of the 7’1” manbun was a mistake for Milwaukee especially after they traded away Greg Monroe. With Monroe shipped to Phoenix, Milwaukee only has two centers on its roster and neither of them (Thon Maker, John Henson) has ever seen a weight room nor a steak. The team is forced to play Giannis Antetokounmpo at the 5 sometimes, which is scary, but not a long-term solution. Hawes was acquired in a trade in February 2017 and then waived via the stretch provision in September. Hawes had just one year left on his contract, so it didn’t make much sense to use up that provision on someone who is off the books in 2018. Also, Milwaukee has to pay Hawes regardless to if he’s on their roster or not, so if you’re paying him, you might as well be using him!
13. Minnesota Timberwolves: Trading Away Ricky Rubio
Jeff Teague and Ricky Rubio…that’s pretty much a push, but the reason trading Rubio makes this list is because of what Minnesota got in return. Rubio was sent to Utah for a 2018 first-round pick. But it’s not Utah’s first-round pick which is likely to be in the 12-18 range, it is for OKC’s first round pick which is likely to be in the 22-28 range. Did the T-Wolves really think that Rubio was only worth a late-round pick? Just one year earlier, Teague was traded from Atlanta to Indiana for the No. 12 pick in the draft even though he was in the last year of his contract. Rubio is an equal player, is two years younger and has two years on his contract but he can only fetch a late-round pick? Minnesota hit a home run in fleecing the Bulls on the Jimmy Butler trade, but they had a 3-0 count and hit a pop fly on the Rubio trade.
12. New Orleans Pelicans: Signing Jrue Holiday To $126 Million Contract
We are living in a world where only six NBA players are guaranteed more money than Jrue Holiday is. We are living in a world where Jrue Holiday makes $2 million more this season than Anthony Davis and $7 million more this season than DeMarcus Cousins. Holiday is getting paid like a superstar when he’s not even an All-Star. He’s an above-average starting point guard who is not longer even playing that position thanks to New Orleans adding Rajon Rondo and Jameer Nelson. These are the types of moves that can hamstring a franchise and could prevent the team from re-signing impending free agent Cousins. When The Brow demands a trade in another year or two, we can all look back at the Pelicans’ horrendous decision to give Holiday a seven-figure deal.
11. New York Knicks: Drafting Frank Ntilikina Over Dennis Smith Jr.
This was Phil Jackson’s last move as GM, and the fact that he was fired six days after the draft tells you all about this move. Smith dominated college basketball’s best conference and was named the ACC Rookie of the Year, but Jackson thought an unproven 18-year-old from France was worthier of a draft selection. And “unproven” is a nice way of describing Ntilikina as he averaged 5.2 PPG and 1.4 assists per game in his final season in Europe. The season before, Ntilikina won the French League’s Best Young Player award when he averaged, I kid you not, 1.3 points per game! That has superstar written all over it. Meanwhile Smith is looking like the second coming of Steve Francis in Dallas and has an added chip on his shoulder after being snubbed by the Knicks and seven other teams.
10. Oklahoma City Thunder: Drafting Terrance Ferguson
By trading Oladipo, Kanter, Sabonis and McDermott for Carmelo Anthony and Paul George, OKC hasn’t done much wrong this offseason. But they would like a mulligan on their first-round draft pick. They acquired Carmelo and PG just days after the draft, and had they known they would go from a fringe playoff team to a Finals contender, they would have selected a more NBA-ready player than Ferguson. He could end up a good NBA player, but he’s not ready to contribute after skipping college and playing overseas last season. He averaged just 4.6 PPG in an Australian league which isn’t even one of the most foreign leagues so OKC can’t expect much from him when he’s going up against NBA pros. Players like Kyle Kuzma and Dillon Brooks were drafted after Ferguson, and with each having three years of college experience, they would have been more valuable to this Thunder team.
9. Orlando Magic: Drafting Jonathan Isaac Sixth Overall
Let me preface this by saying I think Isaac will be a hell of a player and should make a couple of All-Defensive teams. However, all of that may come in another uniform as he is a poor fit next to the Magic’s “franchise” player, Aaron Gordon. The two have similar skillsets and play the same position. We all saw how poorly things looked when Orlando shoehorned Gordon into the small forward position and I fear that if they do the same to Isaac, it will stunt his growth. Frank Vogel is rarely playing these two together, now, but what happens when they are both 30+ minutes per game players? Orlando could have drafted Lauri Markkanen as the successor to Nikola Vucevic, or taken Dennis Smith Jr. if they are ready to punt on Elfrid Payton. Maybe Orlando thinks Isaac (who is just 20) will pack on 30 pounds and be a center?
8. Philadelphia 76ers: Drafting Markelle Fultz
Remember: not only did the Sixers draft Fultz first overall, but they traded up in the draft to take him first. Philly sent Boston two lottery picks to move up and one of those became Jayson Tatum, who looks like a future star. Drafting Fultz didn’t make lots of basketball sense because the Sixers already have their point guard in Ben Simmons. Taking the ball out of Fultz’s hands takes away one of his major strengths, so did you draft someone who is solely going to be a spot-up shooter first overall?
Another mistake Philly made (that Sam Hinkie never would have made) was to force Fultz to play through his injured shoulder. Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons…all top picks that the Sixers “redshirted” for a year (or two in Embiid’s case). Why did they force Fultz to play when he wasn’t healthy? Not only did it affect his play, but it also affected his confidence and it may take time for him to get that back.
7. Phoenix Suns: Traded Eric Bledsoe For Pennies On The Dollar
It’s no secret that Bledsoe didn’t want to be with the rebuilding Suns when he sent out his infamous “I don’t wanna be here” tweet. It’s also true that Phoenix didn’t have much leverage in trade discussions. But Greg Monroe (who will likely be traded/bought out), a first round pick, and a second-round pick was the best you could do? Monroe is the same age as Bledsoe, so he also doesn’t fit into the Suns’ future, while the first-round pick will likely be in the late 20s since the Bucks may grab a top-four seed in the east. Phoenix should have held out for one of the young pieces on Milwaukee whether it be D.J. Wilson, Jabari Parker or even Tony Snell. With the rate things are going in Phoenix, pretty soon Devin Booker is going to be tweeting, “I don’t wanna be here.”
6. Portland Trail Blazers: Traded Allen Crabbe To Nets
This was a straight salary dump for Portland as the player they got in return, Andrew Nicholson, was immediately waived. But Nicholson was waived via the stretch provision which means Portland will still pay him $2.8 million every season until 2023-24. I know there’s a difference in salary between the two, but wouldn’t you rather pay someone who can actually play (Crabbe) as opposed to someone who doesn’t play for you (Nicholson).
In addition to Nicholson, the Trail Blazers also have dead money from the disastrous Festus Ezeli contract, as well as waiving Anderson Varejao two years ago. All in all, Portland is paying over $5 million to players not even on their roster! That is more than seven players currently on their roster. Don’t be surprised if Portland realizes it has to do another “salary dump” in the near future and trades away someone like Meyers Leonard for a 2023 second-round pick.
5. Sacramento Kings: Signing Aging Former Grizzlies
Kings coach Dave Joerger used to coach in Memphis and he felt that his young Kings needed some of that grit-and-grind mentality that was personified with the Grizzlies. Thus, he brought over Zach Randolph and Vince Carter who have spent a combined 37 seasons in the NBA. Carter is on the 18th hole and Randolph isn’t far behind as both players have been ineffective this season. Carter can barely get on the court as he’s battled kidney stones (ouch!) this season and is essentially being paid $8 million to sit on the bench.
Randolph has gotten onto the court but his Kings tenure started rather inauspiciously when he was arrested this summer for marijuana possession…so much for being a “team leader.” Randolph had to serve 150 hours of community service so maybe the arrest was planned so he could thoroughly ingratiate himself into the community of Sacramento…right.
4. San Antonio Spurs: Re-Signing Pau Gasol To A Three-Year Deal
“Re-signing Pau Gasol” in itself wouldn’t make this list as Gasol can still contribute. But guaranteeing his deal through the 2020 season may come back to bite the Spurs as Gasol will turn 40 a month after the 2019-20 season ends. Gasol is a highly intelligent player and his smarts won’t diminish over three years, but the man can barely move on the defensive end. For a team which places such an emphasis on that end of the court, it’s surprising that they will stick with him as their starting center for three more seasons. Remember how Tim Duncan could barely move in his last season? That could be Gasol this year or next year and he’s still under contract until 2020. The Spurs didn’t make a lot of moves over the past year, so this is the only one that remotely appears to be one that they would regret.
3. Toronto Raptors: Re-Signing Serge Ibaka
3.7/ 3.0/ 2.7/ 2.4/ 1.9/ 1.6/ 1.3
Those are the blocks per game averages for Ibaka over the last seven seasons. Not only are they listed from highest to lowest, but they are also listed from oldest to most recent. In other words, Ibaka’s blocks have decreased in six straight seasons counting this season. Yet, despite the obvious decline, the Raptors lavished him with a three-year extension this summer and Ibaka may be blocking shots like Zach Randolph by the time this deal ends. Perhaps Toronto wanted to maintain its United Nations roster as Ibaka is one of seven international players on the Raptors. Or, perhaps Toronto is content with their current level of mediocrity and believe that making the second round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs each year amounts to a successful season.
2. Utah Jazz: Not Trading Away Derrick Favors
Favors is a former top-3 pick, is 26 years old and is a starter in this league. However, he should be a team’s starting center and not shoehorned into Utah’s power forward position. His presence in the lineup clogs Utah’s offense as they have two players (along with Rudy Gobert) who occupy space in the post and don’t stretch the floor. Favors is in the last year of his contract so not only would he have value as a player, but he would provide value as an expiring contract. Gobert is now the Jazz’ franchise player so there’s no point in hanging onto someone who plays the same position and is just one year older. A deal with Milwaukee for say, Jabari Parker, seems like a win for both sides. The Bucks would get some size they lost with the Bledsoe-Monroe trade and Utah gets a go-to scorer who can be protected by Gobert on the defensive end.
1. Washington Wizards: Trading First-Rounder For Bojan Bogdanovic
The Wizards made a playoff push late last season and acquired Bojan Bogdanovic from the Nets. They gave up a couple of expiring contracts which is fine, but the Wizards also sent a 2017 first-round pick which could come back to haunt them. They also had traded their 2017 second-round pick in addition to second-round picks in 2019, 2020 and 2021. That’s a lot of young (cheap) talent that Washington has potentially traded away and that’s pivotal for a team maxed out due to the contracts of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter. They don’t have any cap space to go out and sign free agents, so with their upcoming drafts depleted, they will have to rely on undrafted players and G-League callups. To make matters worse, they only got 39 games (including playoffs) out of Bogdanovic who departed as a free agent this summer.
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