[Originally published on Hoopsworld, 30th September 2013.]
The new Collective Bargaining Agreement is designed to save teams from themselves, and make reckless spending far harder to do. It works – most free agency contracts are now, frankly, well priced.
But not all of them.
After taking a look at the best contracts of the offseason last week, here, in no particular order, are ten of the worst ones from this past offseason:
Al Jefferson – Charlotte Bobcats
The harsh but undeniable reality is that the Bobcats, regardless of the presence of Michael Jordan, have to pay over the odds on the free agent market to compensate for their franchise’s position. They’ve done that with Al Jefferson, paying him three years and $40.5 million, including a player option in the third year.
That player option makes Jefferson extremely difficult to trade until the summer of 2015. And while they haven’t necessarily signed him to trade him, a team with such little foundation as Charlotte must position themselves to permit that as soon as possible. They haven’t. Instead, they’ve paid Jefferson to be the cornerstone of the team for at least the first two years of the deal, which he simply isn’t. Jefferson, a poor defender, is also an inefficient volume scorer who contributes on only one end and leads on neither.
Josh Smith – Detroit Pistons
As with most of the players on this list, it is not necessarily the price paid so much as it is the purposelessness of paying it. Detroit, like Charlotte, has to pay an invisible tax (manifested through inflated contracts) to attract free agents. This is a reality that has to be accepted and which can add as much as 30 percent to a player’s price. And it has seemingly done so here.
However, if Detroit is going to be forced to overpay for someone, it should do so on someone who coexists with the good core they are building. Smith has well established strengths and flaws, and it is long known by this time that he plays best as a power forward. Barring injuries, however, he will not be able to do so much. The Pistons already are, or should be, committed to making the Greg Monroe/Andre Drummond partnership work, and any hypothesis that Smith can harmoniously coexist with this while splitting time at the small forward positions is a deliberately optimistic one. The coveted free agent, then, will be immediately put out of position. This problem also mustn’t overshadow the problems of paying $13.5 million to a player who cannot make a shot outside of three feet, but who never seems to know it.
Detroit acted strong and decisively in free agency, but in doing so, they overpaid for someone with no remaining upside and scant few other suitors who clogs up a depth chart at a position where it was already well catered for. It could be a Ben Gordon situation all over again. The saving grace is that Smith should be far more tradeable.
Tyreke Evans – New Orleans Pelicans
Evans’ per game averages in all major statistical averages have gone down for four consecutive seasons. This is not to say he has declined over those four seasons – indeed, despite the worrying numbers dip, Evans’s play within a team concept noticeably improved last year, as did his efficiency. Nevertheless, after such a start, Evans’s career has rather stagnated, and not developed hugely since the lightning start to his career.
Evans had the rookie season that he did because he was given the keys to essentially do what he wanted. The offensive system, such that it was, allowed Tyreke to drive to the basket in isolation as often as he needed. And this, he excels at. However, not until recently did he develop much beyond this. The defence, which should be excellent, is rather average, and the shot selection is still imperfect. The jump shot is improved, yet Evans is still much better with the ball than when playing off of it, and the latter of these is becoming more and more important as Evans’ star burns weaker and weaker.
As was the case with the Jrue Holiday trade, the Pelicans have paid something of a premium for a player who is merely above average. Evans is good, but he is not as good as his contract demands he be, nor is he a good fit for this team. Holiday and Evans need to somehow coexist with each other whilst also incorporating the incumbent Eric Gordon, who, despite looking worryingly Gilbert-Arenasy at times last season, earns the maximum salary and thus has to be made to be effective, whatever it takes. It can still work out for New Orleans and for Evans, but it relies on pseudo-stars becoming elite role players fairly quickly.
Keith Bogans – Boston Celtics
The luckiest man in the NBA hit his greatest jackpot yet. Fresh off of a 6.7 PER, Bogans was signed and traded to Boston as a part of the Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett deal, becoming the extremely welcome recipient of a three year, $15,857,450 contract, of which the first year ($5,058,198) is fully guaranteed.
Obviously, Bogans was paid what he was purely as a cap machination, not because a suitor thought he was worth it. Nonetheless, the deal is amusingly large and strikingly uncomely. Just for arbitrary fun, then, here’s a look at a staring five you could assemble for merely the price of one Bogans:
Devin Harris – $884,293
Jae Crowder – $788,872
Chandler Parsons – $926,500
Kenneth Faried – $1,367,640
Andray Blatche – $1,375,604
Martell Webster – Washington Wizards
There is a lot to like about Webster. Universally acknowledged as a nice guy, and coming off of a career year while still only 26 years old, Webster is a useful role player who betters any team he is on, slightly. He proved to be a great fit alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal last season, and should be a decent contributor on the Wizards’s upcoming playoff push.
However, this is all tempered by the price at which he signed. There’s a lot to like about Webster at the one year, $1.75 million contract he signed last year, or the two years and $6.5 million the highly comparable Mike Dunleavy Jr. received this summer from Chicago. There is a lot less to like about the four years and $22 million Webster instead received, particularly in light of his backup caliber play (irrespective of whether he starts for Washington or not) and significant injury history. Even if his contract were to be based purely off of the immediately preceding season’s play – an inherently flawed premise which is all too easy to default to – it is still too much.
Webster hits 40 percent of his three pointers if someone else sets them up for him, and makes few mistakes, but is mediocre at all other facets of the game. You need more for more than $5 million per. Any team would take Webster at the right price, but no one should take him at this one.
Corey Brewer – Minnesota Timberwolves
Brewer comes from the George Karl-era Nuggets, and Karl’s teams make their players look good. This is particularly true of hitherto overlooked wing players – see also, Dahntay Jones, Gary Forbes, Greg Buckner, DerMarr Johnson, and, up to a point, Arron Afflalo.
Twice gifted away for essentially free, including once by the very Timberwolves that just gave him three years and $14.1 million to come back, Brewer broke out into an average two-way wing with Denver, which is not a pejorative. Average is enough, and his contract would be an acceptable overpay for an average wing had Karl’s Denver done it.
However, it is a significant ask that Brewer remains an average player now he’s removed from Karlball. Brewer was a perfect fit in a Nuggets system that masked his weaknesses, particularly offensively, where he lacks consistent finishing abilty from any shot other than the dunk and offers scant little ball handling. His transition offence translates to any team, but it cannot be the weapon it was with the Nuggets, and the defence is merely good, not exceptional. Minnesota would like to think they’ve given third wing money to a quality, proven third wing, but the quality is not proven, and this is a significant enough amount more than Ray Allen or Danny Green money. He will earn almost the same amount as Chase Budinger, the man he is set to back up, yet even in his best year, Brewer has never been as good as him.
Ronny Turiaf – Minnesota Timberwolves
You know it’s been a frugal summer league-wide when a player who signed for $1.5 million makes a bad contracts list.
It is not to say that Ronny Turiaf cannot equal $1.5 million’s worth of production next season. Surely, that can’t be that hard to do. Rather, it is more to do with the pointlessness of the deal.
As an eight year veteran, Turiaf’s minimum salary this season would have been $1,265,977. Seemingly, Turiaf’s only other significant suitors were the Clippers, who expressed interest in re-signing him, and could have done so with the non-Bird exception that will have paid him $1.52 million next year. Presumably, this is what the Timberwolves were bidding against.
However, in giving a 30 year old third stringer that deal, the Timberwolves have spent their Bi-Annual exception. Management of assets is crucial to team building, and the oft-overlooked Bi-Annual exception has been used over the last two years to sign Marco Belinelli (Chicago), C.J. Watson (Indiana) and Nate Robinson (Denver). These are rotation contributors on good quality playoff teams. Whilst Minnesota just burned theirs on a third string center who is a liability offensively, a poor rebounder, and who has declined for four consecutive seasons.
Turiaf at the minimum is worth it, but Turiaf at anything more than that isn’t. Furthermore, the second player option year, which Turiaf will surely exercise, is unnecessary. The contract is so small it can’t ever be much of a burden, but why need it be any burden at all?
Zaza Pachulia, Carlos Delfino and Gary Neal – Milwaukee Bucks
This trio represents the most non-sensical summer of all. Milwaukee disbanded its previous fringe playoff team only to immediately invest $11.7 million guaranteed for each of the next two seasons in these three upside-less veteran backups. Whilst all three contracts could ideally be 25% smaller, no one is bad in a vacuum, but this is not the point. The point is that there is no point.
The Bucks spent $5.2 million on Pachulia this year to back up Larry Sanders. To put this into some context, the Philadelphia 76ers have spent $5,074,671 in salary cap space combined on acquiring all of Royce White, Tony Wroten, James Anderson, Tim Ohlbhrect, Rodney Williams and the rights to Furkan Aldemir, plus $1.7 million in cash.
There is a good chance that none of those six players ends up having a career equal to that of Pachulia, a quality backup for several years now. Aldemir probably has the best chance of it. However, we are talking merely about a backup calibre player on a lottery team. Why wouldn’t you give yourself six chances to find out?