Big-time, premium-money contracts have taken over professional sports over the last 20 years. The best athletes in any of the four major sports used to be wealthy, but now they're rich beyond all imagination. Of course, the NBA is right in the thick of this kind of massive contract playing field for the game's elite, and it's going to stay that way for a long time. The contracts these days are big business, and a sign of the league's popularity, at least to some degree. Unfortunately, the recipients of these contracts don't always live up to the hype. It's not uncommon for a player's production to stagnate, or actually decrease, once they get paid.
Especially through the 2000s, there was a lot of money being thrown around the NBA to free agent players. To say that there wasn't much in the way of discretion from certain owners would be understatement. If a player even appeared likely to improve a team, they would be thrown a maximum amount of money their way. Often, this wouldn't lead to championships, and created a rift within the franchise, because the player was so obviously overpaid.
Ranked below are 15 NBA players who got massive contracts... and then disappeared on the court. Enjoy!
15 Shawn Kemp
Kemp was one of the best lazy-players in NBA history, and really could have been something special had he had a greater work ethic. He averaged a double-double for multiple seasons with the SuperSonics during the early portion of his carer, but ultimately it would be a short prime. Kemp shortly afterwards, battled weight problems and substance abuse, and when he signed with the Cavaliers in 1997 for a massive deal, his career was already on a downturn. He would never regain his early-season form, and he soon sputtered out of control.
Contract value: 7 years, $107 million
Five years after signing the deal in Cleveland, Kemp would be out of the league. It was a rapid end to a career that never quite lived up to expectations. Though he had undeniable talent as a big-man, Kemp's shortcomings off the court were too great to ignore, and it soon permeated into game day. Kemp will always be a recognizable name from the Y2k Era, but the Cavaliers certainly had buyer's remorse after giving him a long-term deal. He's one of those what could have been stories.
14 Gilbert Arenas
Arenas was once one of the most productive scorers in the league, and the Wizards wanted to lock him up for the long-term. It wasn't a horrible idea, even though a point guard living up to a $111 million deal wasn't the likely scenario with any player. Still, Arenas seemed to be a good bet to continue his elite play, and make Washington into a legitimate competitor in the Eastern Conference. His production instantly decreased upon signing the deal however, and it turned out to be one of the worst congrats ever handed out in league history.
Contract value: 6 years, $111 million
Factor in some attitude problems and firearm incidents, and you have a borderline disaster on your hands. The Wizards held on to him for a few years, and then were quick to try and get out of the deal any way they could. A trade with the Magic ensued, and Arenas finished off his career averaging less than half the points that he was beforehand. He had completely fallen off as a desirable talent, and within two years of being traded, he was out of the NBA. Just a bad contract all the way around, for a player who never had the staying power that some thought he would have.
13 Juwan Howard
While Howard was worth keeping around for Washington back in the mid-90s, he wasn't worth a total of $105 million over seven years. That is nothing short of ridiculous for a player who was posting good numbers, but wasn't elite in any one category. Especially at the time, when contracts generally didn't reach that kind of a bracket in the NBA. Howard remained with the Wizards for a few more seasons, and his production never improved to satisfy the terms of such a deal. He would leave during the 2000 season, and essentially became a role player once doing so, leaving the deal as an underwhelming footnote to the rest of his career.
Contract value: 7 years, $105.4 million
So, while Howard wasn't a bad player, he definitely wasn't in the realm of the true best of his era. No one can blame him for turning down such a lucrative deal, but it's clear that this was not a good estimation of talent by the Wizards, and ultimately they were burned by it. Howard would play until 2013 in the NBA, and on the whole had a very successful career. He just never proved to be worth as much as his elite peers proved to be in the same era of the game.
12 Amar'e Stoudemire
And here we begin the saga of bad New York Knicks contracts handed out during the late-2000s and early-2010s era. It almost became an epidemic, and there's no more logical place to start than with Stoudemire. Coming off many dominant years with the Suns, he was considered to be the perfect fit for a Knicks team that was ready to contend again. He was compensated like the elite player that most thought he was, and for one season, he lived up to the expectations. Soon thereafter however, he faltered in part due to injuries, and New York was left with nothing more than dead weight.
Contract value: 5 years, $99.7 million
How fair it is to blame Stoudemire for his poor performance with the Knicks is up for debate. He was injured, there's no doubt about that, but his production was so bad in comparison to his usual numbers that it's usually hard for people to overlook. Whatever the case, there's a clear difference between the Suns' version of Stoudemire, and the one the Knicks received just a few years later. Unfortunately, the woes for New York would persist, and they're desire to rebuild the franchise would ultimately fall flat.
11 Kenyon Martin
A former 1st-overall pick, everyone expected Martin to be a juggernaut star player in the NBA, and there was little doubt that he'd achieve elite status very quickly. He had some definite quality seasons; Martin was an athletic forward who was able to dominate on both ends of the floor for a while. The Nets thought they had a great player on their hands, but a lack of development in his early years caused them to cut him loose early, when he then went to the Nuggets for the bulk of his career. There, Martin was only able to match his so-so level of play, and yet again, fail to take the next step in his career.
Contract value: 7 years, $92 million
Needless to say, the contract in Denver was never lived up to, and Martin spent the rest of his career stuck in the middle echelon of the league. It wouldn't be accurate to call him a draft bust on its face, but since he was indeed the first player selected, it's still an overall disappointing career. His failure didn't really stick out in an era that was rife with them in the NBA, but ultimately Martin's career hasn't been looked on with a lot of fondness. He was an underachiever at the very least.
10 Eddy Curry
Curry was already considered a washed out premier draft pick by the time the Knicks wanted to sign him to an extended long-term deal. The Bulls had considered to be the cornerstone pick of the franchise, and the successor to Michael Jordan's dominance in the 90s. Unfortunately, Curry sputtered out as an overall player. His scoring numbers were fine, but he couldn't play a lick of defense, or gather rebounds for a player of his size. That wasn't going to get it done, and he soon moved on from Chicago for a career of general mediocrity in the NBA.
Contract value: 6 years, $56 million
Coming into the league, Curry was considered to be a can't miss prospect. Being nicknamed "Baby Shaq" at such a young age probably didn't do him any favors in terms of his leash to be elite in the NBA. Curry's struggles came early and often, and by the time he got to New York, he was a shell of his former self. This was just another in a string of bad signings by the Knicks, and something that they haven't been able to to recover from in recent memory. He's just another example of a player that failed to perform under the bright New York lights.
9 Peja Stojakovic
Stojavokic was an ace shooter while in Sacramento for years, but he wasn't able to fully transfer his play to the Pelicans, when they signed him to a multi-year deal in 2006. Injuries took their toll on his play, and although he'd remain in the league, he clearly wasn't at the same caliber he had been with during his time with the Kings. Nothing much came of his run in New Orleans, but he was able to win a title with the Mavericks several years later, before ultimately retiring. It was well-deserved for a player that many had thought would have a longer prime of his career than he ended up with.
Contract value: 5 years, $64 million
It wouldn't be fair to write off Stojakovic's time with the Pelicans as a complete failure. He was still largely the same player when he was healthy, but that didn't occur nearly as much as they would have liked. In the end, it was a failed experiment, and would have been a poor sendoff for a good career, until he was able to finally land a championship with the Mavericks.
8 Erick Dampier
Already a disappointment as a former 10th-overall pick in Golden State beforehand, the Mavericks felt it necessary to give Dampier a premium contract, in the hopes that he could regain some of the skill that many thought he would exhibit at the pro level. It turned out to be one of the worst signings in team history, with Dampier playing arguably worse than he had just a few years earlier with the Warriors. He was just good enough to stay in the league, but not even close to good enough to warrant such a huge contract to be attached to him. In pretty much every aspect, he was a would-be great NBA player.
Contract value: 6 years, $73 million
Dallas held onto him for a total of six years, and he never once made the $73 million worth it. Dampier was a borderline detriment on the court, and was clearly mailing it in at this point in his career. When people talk about NBA draft busts, he's often overlooked. Dampier was a nonexistent producer for such a high pick, and was a massive disappointment in both Golden State and Dallas.
7 Penny Hardaway
There's a clear disparity between Hardaway's time with the Magic, and his time spent with the Suns. Unfortunately for Phoenix, they were the ones who paid him a huge contract, and then saw his production dip down to so-so levels. Indeed, Hardaway was one of the best point guards in the league when he was in Orlando, complete with an NBA Finals appearance with Shaq on the team as well. The Suns probably thought they were getting an elite player that could carry them to the same fate. With that, and $87 million later, the deal was done and Hardaway was on his way to a new team.
Contract value: 7 years, $87 million
He had a decent first season in Phoenix during the 1999-00 campaign, but quickly fell off afterwards. The following season, Hardaway suffered an almost-season ending injury, which ultimately spelled the downfall of his entire career. He spent numerous additional seasons with the Suns, but his production only worsened, until he was a shell of his former self. Unfortunately, Hardaway's only noteworthy time in the league came with the Magic, and everywhere he went afterwards, he wasn't able to live up to his standards.
6 Darius Miles
Miles had a woefully disappointing career for a 3rd-overall pick. At one time, he was considered to be a future star in the league, and a player for the constantly-struggling Clippers to build around. A mixture between so-so play, and attitude problems plagued Miles for most of his career. Despite this, the Trail Blazers saw fit to ink him to a $48 million deal that would make him a cornerstone of their franchise, along with Zac Randolph. Despite flashes of brilliance, Miles would revert back into old habits, and underwhelming production. It turned out to be a waste of money, and Portland never repaid any rewards from having him on the roster.
Contract value: 6 years, $48 million
With a different mental makeup, and minor improvements to his game, Miles truly could have been one of the best players of his era. The talent was there, but much of the intangibles necessary for NBA success over a long period of time, were not. Ultimately, he stands as one of the most disappointing players of the Y2K Era, and will always be remembered as a would-be star that just couldn't put it all together.
5 Chris Webber
Webber's stock was high since his college days, being a member of the legendary "Fab Four" Michigan Wolverines team. It really isn't fair to say that he had an underwhelming NBA career, since his numbers were certainly good for most of it. But what is good to the tune of a $127 million contract that the Kings provided in 2001? Probably not. Webber's teams never really made a difference in the playoffs, and paying out that kind of money has to yield some kind of legitimate shot at a championship. For the time period especially, that was a monster deal that didn't happen often, even for elite players. Webber was good for sure, but never lived up to those figures.
Contract value: 7 years, $122.7 million
It was a solid career for Webber overall, but the Kings were certainly expecting him to carry them to a title. It never happened, and he was left to eventually drift off to the Sixers and several other teams before finally retiring. Webber was a very good player in his prime, but to be paid top-tier money didn't end up benefitting the Kings. As it turned out, it was a mistake.
4 Ben Wallace
The Bulls poured a ton of money into Wallace, and unfortunately for them, it came right as the prime of his career was ending. It had to have been tempting; Wallace was one of the most intense and physical big-men of his era, and helped lead the Pistons to an improbable title just a few years earlier. At the very least, they hoped his elite rebounding ability would maintain as he switched teams, and that his health would hold up. Neither one turned out to be the case, and Wallace lasted just two seasons in Chicago, when it was all said and done, this player was a big time bust for the franchise.
Contract value: 4 years, $60 million
Wallace was never an elite scorer, but when you saw the rebounding numbers start to decrease, you knew there was a problem. His game took a nosedive with the Bulls, and by that point, there was no way to salvage the productivity. It didn't do much to harm Wallace's legacy, it was just a bummer for a team that had been trying to get over the hump and reclaim their glory from the 90s.
3 Stephon Marbury
Yet another horrible signing by the Knicks (we could have done a complete article alone with ease on Knicks' draft busts), Marbury's prime was decidedly shorter than most anybody thought it would be. The scoring numbers were very good while with the Nets and Suns; he was a deserved All-Star, and one of the most popular players in the league for good reason. Once again, New York thought they were getting a version of the player in question, that didn't exist anymore. It turned out to be another colossal waste of money, and put them further behind the 8-ball in trying to rebuild their team for the long-term.
Contract value: 4 years, $76 million
Marbury's production decreased just about as soon as he got to the Knicks. He was nothing special in the locker room, or on the court, and it ended up making them see only one playoff appearance when he was on the team, which resulted in a four-game sweep in the first round. Clearly, the Marbury signing wasn't paying dividends, and he wasn't the same player that he once was. It signaled the beginning of the end for Marbury's NBA run, and he ultimately went to play in China, where he found far more success.
2 Jermaine O'Neal
The Pacers were sure that they'd found their X-factor in O'Neal, when they inked him to a long-term deal worth a whopping $126 million. It was a hefty deal for a player, who at the time, had very limited elite production. The O'Neal-led Pacers were never really a force in the playoffs, and this contract several inhibited their ability to make other key moves, necessary for success. O'Neal in his prime was definitely a very good player, but he was never really great player that you pay all of this money to. As a result, Indiana was left without a Finals appearance during his tenure with the team.
Contract value: 7 years, $126 million
He'd get his title later on with the Heat, but O'Neal's run with the Pacers served as an indicator to NBA teams looks to give a ton of money to a player of this caliber. His prime was effective, but it was also short, and eventually he turned into a non-elite player, which made the money they were spending completely useless. Even today, it's a really bad deal, and one that consistently hurt the Pacers year after year.
1 Carmelo Anthony
For all of the aforementioned failed signings that the Knicks made from 2000 to the present day, Anthony is probably the one that most represents their consistent mediocrity during that time. The deal that he received in 2014 for $124 million from New York, only furthered the point. Anthony was definitely a great scorer, but paying that much money to a player who can't play a lick of defense, and has no great playoff resume to speak of, is simply a mistake and one the team should not have gone through with. As per usual, the Knicks were desperate, and ultimately shelled out the cash, only to be disappointed yet again.
Contract value: 5 years, $124 million
Certainly, Anthony won't be remembered as a bad, or even an average player, but when the Knicks needed him the most, he was never able to step up entirely. His scoring averages were often his primary concern, and it showed, with the team never achieving more than middling success with him there. New York handed more bad contracts than any other team over the last 20 years, but Anthony's was by far the worst, and a large reason why the franchise is in the cellar, with not much hope of contention in the near future.