For some individuals, being a professional athlete is all about the love of the sport and honing their craft, while for others it may be about winning championships and being considered one of the best of all time. But most, if not all, professional athletes would be lying if they said that money wasn’t a primary reason why they chose to become a pro athlete.
Despite most contracts being mutually beneficial for both the team and the player, there are contracts that come around that make just about everyone in the sport scratch their heads in confusion. These bad contracts are growing more and more common in today’s age of absolutely massive contracts in North American sports. So of course, not every single contract can be a good one.
There are many reasons why a contract can be seen as a terrible signing. It can be anything from injuries to personal issues to the player simply not performing. No general manager in the NBA is psychic, so every player that is signed is a risk. Some risks pay off and some don’t. Sadly, when they don't, some of these contracts are so bad that they have put teams in awful situations that have stretched years into the future and cost some general managers and coaches their jobs.
So, of course, bad contracts are something that happens in sports and are unavoidable, but this list will look at the worst of the worst. These 15 contracts you are about to see are without a doubt some of the worst in NBA history.
15 Antonio Davis (5 years, $60 million with the Toronto Raptors)
Antonio Davis wasn’t a bad player by any means, as he regularly averaged over 10 points a game and almost 10 rebounds. However, a lengthy contract worth over $10 million per year for a 33 year old PF/C was not a good idea. Davis got the contract after his 2000-01 All-Star season, but he never reached 10 rebounds per game ever again. Now this was one signing that may not look as bad, as Davis was serviceable for the first few years of his new contract, but he definitely did not play to the ability of someone making over $10 million a year, especaillu in the later stages of the contract.
14 Erick Dampier (7 years, $73 million with the Dallas Mavericks)
This absolutely deserves a spot on this list. This contract for Erick Dampier is the classic example of a player playing WAY above his potential during a contract year and scoring big in free agency. Dampier was your run of the mill, average starting center until the 03-04 season when he averaged 12.3 PPG and 12 RPG. After that season, he was a hot commodity during free agency, but ultimately decided to sign with the Mavericks, which was a blessing in disguise for the other suitors. After his signing, he would never average more than 10 points or 10 rebounds in his career.
13 Amare Stoudemire (5 years, $99.7 million with the New York Knicks)
This is the first of many New York Knicks on the list, so be prepared. Stoudemire was thought to be one of the best big men in the league during his time with the high flying Phoenix Suns. This thought continued in his first year with the Knicks as he averaged 25.3 PPG and 8.2 RPG. However, his success with the Knicks was short-lived and Amare soon found himself with serious injuries that plagued his remaining three and a half years with the Knicks. In fact, he started under 40 games total in his last two and a half years with the Knicks.
12 Jim Mcilvaine (7 years, $35 million with the Seattle Supersonics)
Now this amount of money might not seem incredible compared to the contracts of today's players, but when you check out his stats, you're immediately confused as to why a team would pay him almost $5 million a year in the late '90s. He was often worth nothing more than a block or two a game. In fact, before signing with the Sonics, he never averaged more than 3 points a game and never averaged more than 4 in his entire career.
11 Rashard Lewis (6 years, $118.2 million with the Orlando Magic)
Now this one is just absurd. Rashard Lewis was among the lead leading scorers of the 06-07 season with the Seattle SuperSonics, but that didn’t warrant this type of contract. This contract instantly made Lewis one of the highest paid NBA players of all time at an average yearly salary of almost $20 million per year. A contract like that should really only be reserved for MVPs and franchise players. Lewis was neither. He wasn’t an awful player and had some success after signing the contract, but didn’t even get close to living up to that $20 million a year price tag.
10 Grant Hill (7 years, $92.9 million with the Orlando Magic)
Grant Hill is actually one of the few players on this list that deserved his massive new contract. After being an absolute superstar in the mid to late 90s with the Detroit Pistons, Hill signed this contract with the Magic in 2000. What happened next was truly one of the most disappointing set of occurrences in NBA history. Grant Hill suffered a severe ankle injury in 2000 that took about five years to fully recover from. And by the time he recovered, he was able to play at a serviceable rate, but not up to the standards of his contract.
9 Jerome James (5 years, $30 million with the New York Knicks)
Again, like the McIlvaine contract, this does not seem like an absurd amount of money. However, when you take the fact that Jerome James is not a very good basketball player, it makes this contract an awful one. James received the contract after a decent playoff run with the Sonics in 04/05, in which he averaged 12.5 PPG and 6.8 RPG. In hindsight, the Knicks put way too much stock into that playoff run as James never averaged more than 3.0 PPG again and also had to deal with some injuries near the end of this contract.
8 Penny Hardaway (7 years, $87 million with the Phoenix Suns)
This scenario is one that is very similar to the Grant Hill situation we outlined a few spots back. “Penny” was a guard with great size and an even better skillset who truly deserved a big contract with the way he was playing. However, there were some injury risks as he tore his knee in 1997, but the Suns took the risk and signed him to this monster deal in 1999. It didn't payoff, however, as Penny re-injured the knee in only his second season with the Suns and would never again score more than 12 PPG in his career.
7 Larry Hughes (5 years, $70 million with the Cleveland Cavaliers)
Here is another example of a GM putting way too much stock into a player’s performance in a contract year. The 2004-05 season was that year for Larry Hughes, as he averaged 22 PPG with the Washington Wizards. He was then signed by the Cavaliers for more than $10 million per year, with the hopes that he could team up with Lebron James for a formidable 1-2 punch. This didn’t work as Hughes didn’t care about much else than scoring and when he couldn’t do that very well anymore, he was shipped out of town.
6 Vin Baker (7 years, $86 million with the Seattle SuperSonics)
This is probably the most tragic circumstance on this list. Vin Baker was a solid starter throughout the 90s with the Milwaukee Bucks, as a talented scorer and serviceable rebounder. In 1999, he signed with the Sonics and things were looking good as he averaged a hair under 20/10 in his first season with the Sonics. But this was his final productive season in the NBA, as it was revealed that he was battling alcoholism that ultimately cost him his career.
5 Ben Wallace (4 years, $60 million with the Chicago Bulls)
Now this move makes literally zero sense to us. Ben Wallace is without a doubt one of the best defensive players of all time and was part of some great teams in the early 2000s with the Pistons, but to pay someone $14 million a year who has never scored 10 PPG in their career is a huge mistake. The Chicago Bulls made that mistake when they signed the big man to this monstrosity of a contract in 2006. On top of that, Wallace’s best years were behind him. As expected, Wallace’s production dropped off and he was shipped out of town after only two years with the Bulls.
4 Stephon Marbury (4 years, $76 million with the Phoenix Suns, then traded to NYK)
This entry is quite a bit different than the others in this list, as we aren’t blaming the team that signed him, but the team that traded for him. This huge contract with the Suns wasn’t set to kick in until 05-06, but Marbury was traded to the Knicks in 2004. This trade was a terrible idea as Marbury was notorious for having spats with those in authority, most often his coaches. This continued and he missed a number of games due to disobeying his coaching and training staff, which ultimately led to him being removed from the team.
3 Allan Houston (6 years, $100 million with the New York Knicks)
At the time of this re-signing, it was not thought to be that bad of a deal, as Houston had averaged nearly 20 PPG during his first few seasons with the Knicks and was a major part of their playoff run in 1999. However, the injury bug hit Houston hard and he began to suffer from recurring knee injuries in 03-04 and 04-05, which ultimately led him to have no choice but to retire. This means that Allan Houston was actually the league’s second highest player for two years AFTER he played his last game with the Knicks.
2 Eddy Curry (6 years, $60 million with the New York Knicks)
You think the Knicks would’ve known the type of risk involved with signing a player to a massive deal, but after this signing, it was clear they didn’t learn anything from the Allan Houston fiasco. Eddy Curry was a talented scorer with the Chicago Bulls and signed with the Knicks in 2005. While he enjoyed a bit of success with the Knicks, his weight and the fact he couldn’t do anything other than score, ultimately led to him not living up to the contract. What makes this the second worse signing in NBA history is simply the fact the Knicks made this mistake while the Houston debacle was fresh in their minds.
1 Gilbert Arenas (6 years, $111 million with the Washington Wizards)
This was an easy choice as the worst contract in NBA history. Gilbert Arenas signed this unreal extension in 2008. What makes this awful is the fact that Arenas signed this contract in the offseason after a season in which he only played 13 games total. Why any team would sign a guy for this much money after he just missed almost an entire year is ludicrous. His injury woes continued and he didn’t play another game in a Wizards uniform until mid-2009. He never again played more than 40 games in a season for the Wizards due to a number of injuries and legal woes.