A famous American philosopher once said that "if you're not first, you're last." The saying rings true for many NBA teams as they scramble to win a championship. But with the Cavaliers, Warriors, and Spurs dominating the past few years, the rest of the NBA needs to be constantly reshuffling their roster in order to find the perfect system. Whether it may be the run-and-gun style of play of the Houston Rockets or the small-ball lineup of the Celtics, most teams (looking at you Philly) are always looking to add to their own system through trades and free agent signings. Often one player can be the difference between success and failure. If LaMarcus Aldridge didn't' sign with San Antonio, they wouldn't have been anywhere near as good as they were this year. Sure, Kawhi Leonard would still be the player he is, but starting David Lee or Dewayne Dedmon instead of a five-time NBA All-Star makes a big difference.
But what happens when it all goes wrong? There's never any guarantee that a player will gel with a team. Often bringing in a new player can lead to chemistry issue but more importantly, if they don't contribute on the court, it essentially renders the trade obsolete. When it comes to free agent signings, teams often overpay players coming off a big season, only for them to revert back to their normal, sub-par level of production.
So let's take a look back at some of the worst deals of 2016 and see which teams would take it all back if they could do it all again.
17 Kings re-sign Vlade Divac
Vlade Divac was once synonymous with the Sacramento Kings franchise for being an integral part throughout their playoff runs in the early to mid-2000s. With the Kings he averaged 11.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game and earned cult status along to way as he endeared himself to fans of the team. Whatever good merit he had with the squad quickly evaporated as Divac struggled to manage the team and appease then-franchise player DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings had been through numerous head coaches as they attempted to better themselves but fired the one coach, Mike Malone, that Cousins actually liked!
With the team moving to a new arena, the Kings front office wanted to maintain some stability and offered Divac a contract extension and less than a year later he's just about damned the franchise to mediocrity. He traded DeMarcus Cousins just after the All-Star break for Buddy Hield and a number of other role players in a deal believed to be far too fortuitous for the Pelicans. To compound the fans' dislike of Divac, he later admitted that he had a better deal for Cousins just two days prior. Even with his promise to step down if the Kings aren't better in two years time, the Sacramento front office must surely feel like they shot themselves in the foot by offering him a contract extension.
15 Mavericks sign Harrison Barnes
With the Warriors looking to land a big fish in free agency (read: Kevin Durant), a number of players were forced to leave the Warriors to clear out cap space. Among them was Harrison Barnes, who was coming off an abysmal Finals campaign where he averaged 9 points per game on 39 percent shooting. While he was never the highest scorer on the team throughout the regular season, he still shot an efficient 47 percent from the field. Despite his shortcomings when the spotlight was brightest, the Mavericks opted to sign the 25-year-old to huge, four-year, $94.4 million deal. General manager Donnie Nelson obviously believed that Barnes could carry the torch for the Mavs in the post-Nowitzki era.
So far he hasn't done too bad, averaging 19.2 points per game while shooting 47 percent from the field. But Barnes is still far from the dominant force the Mavericks need him to be and also lack the complementary players in order for him to flourish. Barnes needs to improve his dribbling and is still benefitting from one of the greatest international players of all time. Once Dirk retires, all the pressure will be on Barnes to take the Mavs to the playoffs but for now, it's looking less and less likely.
14 Blazers sign Evan Turner
Evan Turner has made a living being the glue guy that almost every team needs. He's certainly a jack-of-all-trades, master of none but more importantly, he's a player that the Blazers really didn't need to sign in 2016. Portland offered Turner $70 million over four years, taking up a fairly sizeable chunk of their salary even with the new CBA bumping up the hard cap on team finances. Turner averaged 9 points per game while coming off the bench for the Blazers and regressed in almost every significant statistic in comparison to his last year with the Celtics. His production dropped in points, assists, rebounds, steals, free throws attempted, field goal percentage and finally his Player Efficiency Rating.
Turner started four games in the playoffs and didn't fare much better, averaging 10.3 points on an underwhelming 36 percent shooting. His inability to knock down the three is also concerning for the Blazers, given that he attempted 1.8 three-pointers this season. He shot 26 percent from behind the arc, which is particularly troubling given the recent shooting trends in the NBA. Portland are certainly going to regret the next three seasons.
13 Magic trade for Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova
Just an early warning, the Orlando Magic appear on this list quite a bit. It was not a good year for Rob Henningan, who we (accurately) predicted would get fired. It became immediately clear that Henningan wanted to implement a fast-paced offense when he traded away Tobias Harris for Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova. Harris was shooting a mediocre 31 percent from behind the arc but moving him to Detroit seemed to be the wrong move given his potential. Jennings and Ilyasova were having average seasons to say the least. The 6'1" guard was scoring just 6.8 points per night while the Turkish big man fared slightly better thanks to the inside-out system with Andre Drummond.
Things didn't work out for either as Ilyasova was shipped out to Oklahoma City just four months later for Serge Ibaka, a deal which also didn't pan out well for the Magic. Jennings finished the season with Orlando, averaging 7 points and 4 assists in 18.1 minutes of action per night but neither party seemed interested in moving forward together. So after everything, the Magic lost a good young asset in Tobias Harris and then later lost the two pieces that they got in return for the trade. One step forward followed by five steps back... and counting.
12 Bulls trade for Michael Carter-Williams
When he first came into the league, a lot of people had high hopes for Michael Carter-Williams. His passing ability and length brought about comparisons to Magic Johnson but his stints in Philadelphia and later Milwaukee proved that he couldn't shoot. Many critics argue that his shot is mechanically broken but obviously the Bulls didn't get the memo. They swapped Tony Snell, a competent three-point shooter, for MCW who was shooting a career high 45 percent from the field. With that kind of efficiency, it almost seems justified that the Bulls took a chance but for one small problem. Just over 62 percent of MCW's shots came from within 10 feet of the hoop, which again reinforces the fact that he can't knock down a shot from the outside.
Someone in the Bulls front office had the bright idea of pairing Michael Carter-Williams with Rajon Rondo, two ball dominant guards who aren't exactly known to be great shooters. This led to the Bulls averaging just 102.9 points per game, ranking them 23rd in the NBA. This season he averaged career-lows in points, assists and rebounds as the Bulls were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
11 Knicks trade for Derrick Rose
Coming off a number of serious injuries, no one really thought that Derrick Rose could return to the court as a competent NBA player. Except for the Knicks. And in Rose's defense, he came back and played pretty well, averaging 18 points and 4.4 assists while appearing in 64 games this season. But along with Rose came a number of different off-court issues that disrupted the team. In early January he missed a game against the Pelicans without permission from the team as he flew back to Chicago for a "family issue." At the end of last year, Rose found himself in court defending an accusation of sexual assault, which were later found to not be credible by a federal jury.
On the court, Rose has been less than receptive of Phil Jackson's attempts to implement the triangle offense that was so successful with the Bulls and Lakers. Speaking to reporters, Rose said “s**t, do I have a choice? Do I have a choice?” And the final nail in the coffin for the Knicks came at the beginning of April when the team announced Rose would need surgery to repair yet another torn meniscus in his left knee.
9 Pistons sign Boban Marjanovic
One of the more interesting signings of 2016 was Serbian big man Boban Marjanovic. The 7'3" giant played a limited role with the San Antonio Spurs throughout the 2015-16 season and largely appeared in garbage time minutes. He averaged 5.5 points and 3.6 rebounds per game in under ten minutes per night. Not the flashiest of numbers but for some strange reason he had done enough to garner the interest of the Detroit Pistons. Why exactly the Pistons needed him remains a mystery, especially considering the logjam at the center position.
Behind the incumbent, Drummond was serviceable Australian Aron Baynes who had been playing well enough to maintain his position as a backup. The Pistons also had Jon Leuer was more than capable of playing in the middle if Stan van Gundy opted to run a smaller lineup. Marjanovic maintained almost identical stats as to when he was with the Spurs and played in less minutes, giving hope to what could be a bright future as the backup center to the backup center. His role as a fourth string big man becomes even more questionable when his contract comes to light; $21 million over three years. It isn't that much money but could have easily been spent on a player who was actually needed.
8 Magic trade away Channing Frye
When the trade was first announced, many saw it to be a big move for the Cavs are they prepared to potentially face the Warriors in the NBA Finals. Frye was a skilled big man who could shoot from behind the arc, knocking down 39 percent of his three-pointers. He was instrumental for Cleveland as they won their first NBA title and the Cavs have the Magic to thank for it. Rob Hennigan gave up Channing Frye for Jared Cunningham and a second round draft pick in the 2016 Draft.
Frye was an old soul on a young roster but this trade for the Magic made very little sense. The second round draft pick is unlikely to help them make it to the playoffs and Jared Cunningham was waived by the team the same day he was traded. While there probably weren't many suitors in line for Frye, the competitive nature in Rob Hennigan (which was obviously non-existent) should've stopped him from trading a key piece to a championship squad in the same conference. A bad move from the Magic which saw a great team get even better.
7 Lakers sign Timofey Mozgov
After winning an NBA title with the Cavaliers, Mozgov was probably the first player to benefit from the huge spike in money available to teams thanks to the new CBA. The Lakers offered the Russian a four-year deal worth $64 million, a rather generous contract considering he averaged a mere 6.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. Fortunately, Mozgov's length helps him alter shots at the rim but he still isn't a great fit for the young Lakers squad. Excluding those who appeared in 25 games or less, the average age of the Lakers squad is 22 and a half. At 30, Mozgov is an old man in a young locker room.
The big man will certainly help the likes of Thomas Robinson and Julius Randle as they grow but he's certainly an outlier in regards to age. He has never been an outspoken leader and doesn't exactly exude leadership qualities to pass on to the likes of D'Angelo Russell. While the Lakers have spent very little over the past year, the $64 million locked up with the Russian big man could be better spent elsewhere. The length of the contract also comes in question as the Lakers don't want to be tied down should a big name free agent such as Paul George comes calling and they don't have the funds to sign them.
6 Grizzlies sign Chandler Parsons
He might be one of the better-looking players in the NBA, but Chandler Parsons still has a lot to prove on the court. The Grizzlies signed the 28-year-old to a four-year, $94 million deal after short stints with the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks, however his body has been plagued by injury over recent years. So far the swingman has been averaging only 62 games per season, a rather low number for someone who is still relatively young. Parsons required surgery on his right knee in 2015 to repair damaged cartilage and then again in 2016 to repair his medial meniscus.
Despite these season-ending surgeries, the Grizzlies still offered Parsons a lifeline and he featured in 34 games for them. But he was in and out of the lineup due to soreness in his knees before his season was cut short in mid-March due to a torn meniscus in his left knee. Like Derrick Rose, no one wants to see such a promising player go down injured, but the Grizzlies should've had the foresight to know that the deal could come back to bite them in the long run.
5 Magic trade for Serge Ibaka
As previously mentioned, the Magic's trade for Serge Ibaka was certainly a turning point for the franchise in 2016. Having been without a genuine superstar since Dwight Howard, Ibaka seemed like a good fit at the time. A lineup featuring Ibaka and Vucevic should terrorize opponents but instead it left the Magic right where they started. The Magic sent Ilyasova, Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to the Thunder in exchange for the Congolese big man. But Ibaka had almost no impact on the Magic as they maintained an abysmal 20-36 record before trading him to the Raptors.
In less than a season, the Magic lost one of their most promising young prospects in Victor Oladipo, a lottery pick in Domantas Sabonis, and a relatively decent shooter, for a guy who they ended up trading away anyway. Not only was the young core of the Magic disrupted but the organization has next to nothing to show for it outside of Terrence Ross. The 26-year-old didn't show signs of improvement despite the increase in minutes and is now a living testament to the failed dealings of Rob Hennigan.
4 Wizards sign Ian Mahinmi
Who? Ian Mahinmi has been on four different NBA teams in his nine-year career, starting less than 100 games and never averaging more than double-digits in scoring. The Frenchman signed with the Washington Wizards for $64 million over a four-year period, an identical contract to that of the aforementioned Timofey Mozgov. But unlike the Russian, Mahinmi never impressed with his stats and isn't a force on the defensive end of the court. He averaged 5.6 points and 4.8 rebounds in 17.9 minutes
To make matters worse, Mahinmi tore the medial meniscus in his left knee before the season even started, meaning it wasn't until early February that he would see his first minutes on the court as a Wizards player. Even if the injury heals correctly, it's hard to argue a case for Mahinmi considering he has never been more than a backup center. He shot 96 percent of his shots inside ten feet this season but still lacks the offensive repertoire to make him a genuine threat alongside the Washington second unit. With many other choices out there, Washington might regret this deal for years to come.
3 Blazers sign Festus Ezeli
Another big man with an injury plagued past, the Blazers were desperate to sign a competent center to complement the outside game of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Unfortunately for them, Ezeli was not that player. In 2013, the Nigerian sprained the MCL in his right knee which ruled him out for the entire 2013-14 season. He returned, albeit in a limited role and featured in 92 games over the next two seasons but was sporadically sidelined for soreness in his knees. After signing the two-year contract worth $15 million, a bargain considering the new CBA, he was ruled out for the season as he required surgery on his knee once again.
The Blazers got Ezeli at a cut-throat price after the Warriors put just about everyone up for sale in their pursuit of Kevin Durant but the Blazers may have found a replacement in Jusuf Nurkic. The Bosnian big man averaged a double-double throughout the season and might be the big man the Blazers have been looking for. But with his contract expiring at the end of next season, he'll be in for a big pay day. With Nurkic and Leonard ahead of him, it could be a struggle for Ezeli to return to his former self.
2 Sixers trade for Ilyasova
Over the course of 371 days, Ersan Ilyasova was traded four different times. It seems like no one wants to hold on to the Turkish big man. The third stop on the "Ersan Road Trip Across America" was The City of Brotherly Love; Philadelphia. The 76ers gave up Jerami Grant who was showing signs of potential with his length and athleticism. But the deal hardly made sense for the 76ers as Ilyasova was far too old yet still far too good for their team considering that they're in the rebuilding phase. The 6'10" forward averaged a career-high 14.8 points and grabbed 5.9 rebounds per game but was helping the 76ers actually win games.
It had little impact on the order of the 2017 NBA Draft because Philadelphia got their pick via Sacramento anyway. But the 53 games the Ilyasova featured in was game time that could've been used on the multiple youngsters sitting on the bench. A number of backup centers could've had their chance to shine on the court and make a lasting impression. While this isn't the most egregious trade of 2016, it just made no sense for the 76ers who could've used the minutes to blood new players who could turn into trade assets or viable contributors.
1 Magic sign Bismack Biyombo
Coming off a huge postseason with the Toronto Raptors, the stock of Bismack Biyombo couldn't have gotten any higher. The big man averaged 6.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in just 25.3 minutes of action per night. These numbers blew out to some rather impressive Per 36 figures and the Orlando Magic thought they would cash in, much to the delight of Biyombo and his agent. The 7'0 big man signed a four-year deal worth $70 million, making him the equal highest paid player on the team with Evan Fournier.
But unlike Fournier, the big man from DR Congo failed to produce, scoring 20 total points in his first five games for the franchise. The season got progressively better for him as he notched ten double-doubles. However his slow start to the season was compounded by his inability to gel with Nikola Vucevic and Serge Ibaka. The logjam in the front court caused all kinds of problems for the Magic and even with Ibaka gone, they're stuck with a bench player who is getting paid $17 million a year.
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