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NBA Saturday: Worst-Ever Free Agency Contracts

Rashard Lewis was given one of the largest contracts in league history, but even his isn’t the worst ever.

Joel Brigham



Worst-Ever Free Agency Contracts

As good as players like Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons are, there have been a lot of complaints about them getting contracts in the $14-15 million-per-year range. It’s understandable considering their relative lack of superstar production over the course of their career, but they’re still young enough and have enough potential to at least have the opportunity to earn that money. There have certainly been cases in NBA history where that has not been the case, which is the point of the following list.

Before we dig into this, though, know that there have been a whole lot of bad deals in the recent history of the NBA, so narrowing this down was rather challenging and some notable albatrosses were inevitably left off the list. If you’re interested in adding some of these omitted names, by all means, please do so in the comments section or continue the conversation on Twitter.

Also, to make these hard decisions, I had to put some criteria in place, and in this case I cut GMs some slack if the player had proven themselves to be consistently good before signing the deal, even if they massively underperformed after the fact. Giving a guy money who, at the time, clearly deserves it, is not a boneheaded thing to do. Did anyone think the Orlando Magic were doing the wrong thing when they signed Grant Hill, for example?

Of course not, because those weren’t bad deals; that’s just bad luck. The worst kinds of contracts are the ones given to people who didn’t deserve them. There have been players that had done almost nothing to warrant big money, yet got it anyway. There have also been players who were good, but who got paid as though they were great even though the rest of the league thought they were crazy for doing so.

All that said, here are the five nastiest contracts in NBA history:

#5 – Brian Cardinal, Memphis Grizzlies, 6 years, $37 million – The Grizzlies once had big dreams for Cardinal, who turned a great season in Golden State into a $6+ million-per-season deal. But after his first year with the team in which he scored nine points a game, his output pretty much settled back to reality, and he’d never score more than 4.5 PPG a season again. He finished out his contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves, appearing in only 29 games and scoring a total of 48 points all year long.

#4 – Jerome James, New York Knicks, 5 years, $30 million – The year before signing this contract with Isiah Thomas’ Knicks, James averaged a paltry 4.9 points and 3.5 rebounds per night. How that translates into $6 million a year for half a decade is beyond the understanding of pretty much every intelligent basketball mind on the planet. Few players have ever done so little for so much money.

#3 – Eddy Curry, New York Knicks, 6 years, $60 million – To be fair to Curry, his first season with the Knicks was a good one in which he averaged 19.5 PPG and 8.1 RPG, but he only appeared in 59 games the next season, and a grand total of 10 in the following three seasons combined. Perhaps the worst part of that particular sign-and-trade was the fact that New York gave up two first-round picks for Curry, one of which turned into New York native Joakim Noah, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and All-NBA First-Teamer.

#2 – Raef LaFrentz, Dallas Mavericks, 7 years, $70 million – In 2002, the Mavs took a gamble and traded for LaFrentz, but the following summer they signed him to a pretty embarrassing contract. It took them only one season to unload him onto Boston, where he immediately experienced an injury-prone season. By years five and six of the deal he was in Portland and barely playing, averaging only 1.7 PPG and 1.7 RPG in his final season before retirement. In that final season, the Blazers paid him $100,000 for every point he scored.

#1 – Jim McIlvaine, Seattle SuperSonics, 7 years, $35 million – While $5 million per season for a promising young big man doesn’t sound like much by today’s standards, by 1996′s standards it was quite a bit of money. Considering that McIlvaine’s best year before the contract was a 2.3 PPG, 2.9 RPG season with Washington, it’s hard to imagine him getting two years at that money, let alone seven. He’d only get the opportunity to play out five of them, though, and his best remaining season was the first after he signed the deal, where he put up career-high numbers of 3.8 PPG and 4.0 RPG.

Honorable Mention:

Austin Croshere, Indiana Pacers, 7 years, $51 million – Croshere simply cashed out at the perfect time in his career. Not only did he put up career numbers in points (10.3) and rebounds (6.4) the year before he became a free agent, but his Pacers also made it to the NBA Finals, where Croshere played a significant role. He turned that into $7.3 million a season for the better part of a decade. In the last year of that contract he was traded to Dallas, where he poured in 3.9 points a night while also pulling down 2.4 boards.

Vin Baker, Seattle SuperSonics, 7 years, $86 million – Once upon a time, Vin Baker was truly a force at power forward, even earning himself a quartet of All-Star appearances between 1995 and 1998. He only made the All-Star team once on his new contract with Seattle, however, and from there the numbers simply got mediocre, while a public bout with alcoholism made the huge payout from the Sonics that much more embarrassing.

Juwan Howard, Washington Bullets, 7 years, $105 million – We know that Howard had a long and relatively illustrious career, but at no point was he any more than a second fiddle (at best) earning first fiddle money. No way could anybody have ever guessed he’d be the league’s first $100 million man.

Brian Grant, Miami HEAT, 7 years, $86 million – Grant really did have a decent career, and he definitely earned more of his money than a lot of the other guys mentioned here. But what’s most confusing about his gigantic deal is the fact that it was given to him after a season in which he averaged only 7.3 points and 5.5 rebounds a night. That doesn’t exactly seem like the sort of guy that deserves $12.3 million a season.

Ben Wallace, Chicago Bulls, 4 years, $60 million – It was exciting at the time because Wallace was the highest-profile free agent of that particular summer, but as a Bull his rebound numbers immediately died as it became very clear very quickly that Big Ben’s better years were behind him. Having no other real aspect of his game, that $15 million per year deal got nothing but more painful for the Bulls, until they were able to deal him to Cleveland a couple years later.

Peja Stojakovic, New Orleans Hornets, 5 years, $64 million – Chris Paul needed a top-tier sidekick, and the Hornets thought Peja was it. While Stojakovic scored a ton of points before coming to Louisiana, his PPG averages dropped every year of his deal.

Darius Miles, Portland Trail Blazers, 6 years, $48 million – After being acquired from the Cleveland Cavaliers in the middle of the 2003-04 season, Miles showed quite a bit of progress just in time for his rookie scale contract to end. That was parlayed into a huge contract from Portland that only got played out half of the way through before knee injuries irreparably destroyed Miles career. The Blazers got a nice chunk of their money back because of that knee injury, but only temporarily; Miles played 34 games for Memphis in 2008-09, putting Portland back on the books for $18 million.

Rashard Lewis, Orlando Magic, 6 years, $118 million – One of the 10 largest contracts of all time, Lewis is the only player on that list who didn’t unequivocally deserve to be there. He was a perfectly fine player in Seattle leading up to his 2007 free agency, but when the Magic did ultimately max him out the rest of the league was left in shock. He did make one All-Star team in Orlando, but that’s hardly what one expects for nearly $20 million a year.

Bryant Reeves, Vancouver Grizzlies, 6 years, $65 million – After averaging 16 PPG and 9.8 RPG in the 1996-1997 season, Reeves cashed in by signing this goliath contract, which would be a lot for those numbers even in today’s economy. Even worse, Reeves would get knee surgery in 1999 and then face unending back injuries painful enough to force him into retirement in 2002. In other words, they didn’t even get three full seasons out of the deal, and the ones he did play didn’t place him on the curve Vancouver hoped he’d set for himself in 1997.

The trend here, obviously, is that teams tend to overpay for big guys. That’s no excuse, but it is an explanation. Talented centers are hard to come across, so when one shows some promise, team execs lose their minds and throw way more cash their way than would ever be necessary.

But organizations make mistakes—with trades, with the draft and with signings. The hope is always going to be that the good decisions outweigh the bad ones. Nobody’s perfect, after all, and the good news is that even the most imperfect of us are capable of getting paid millions of dollars as long as the market dictates we’re worth it. Capitalism is a beautiful thing, is it not?


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Monte Morris: Waiting for his Chance

Nuggets two-way guard Monte Morris talks to Basketball Insiders about his time with Denver.

David Yapkowitz



Monte Morris has only seen action in three NBA games with the Denver Nuggets this year. While most players who receive little playing time spend most of their time at the end of the bench cheering their teammates on, Morris’ situation is a bit different. He’s spent the majority of his rookie year in the G-League.

The NBA’s minor league has grown tremendously since it’s inception in 2001. All but four NBA teams have a G-League affiliate now. There are plans for the New Orleans Pelicans to have their own team by next season, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has spoken about having a team in Mexico.

As part of the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, they expanded the partnership between NBA teams and their G-League affiliates even more by adding two-way contracts. Essentially creating a 16th and 17th roster spot, two-way players are allowed to split time between an NBA team and the G-League.

For Morris, two-way contracts are an added opportunity for players to make an NBA roster.

“It’s a good chance for guys to make a roster, especially second-round picks to get a chance,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “With two-way contracts, I feel like they’re going to get a lot better as far as rules and things like that go. This is the first year so they’re testing it out, but it’s a good opportunity. It’s a blessing at the end of the day.”

Morris was drafted by the Nuggets with the 51st overall pick in last summer’s draft. Second round picks are not afforded the guaranteed contract stability that comes with being a first-round pick. He was tabbed for a two-way contract almost immediately after he was drafted.

He had a stellar four years of college at Iowa State, where he was one of the top point guards in the nation as a senior. He also had a strong showing in Las Vegas with the Nuggets’ summer league team.

The Nuggets were a little crowded in the backcourt to begin the season with Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay ahead of Morris in the rotation. When Mudiay was injured and out of the rotation, Mike Malone opted to go with Will Barton as the backup point guard. The Nuggets’ trade deadline acquisition of Devin Harris pushed Morris farther back on the depth chart.

“The toughest thing is just staying mentally tough, staying true to yourself, and developing your own craft,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “Just not losing that self-confidence cause you might not play when you go up. When you come down here [G-League], take advantage of it, have fun, and keep getting better.”

Morris has definitely done his part to stand out in the G-League. The Nuggets are without a sole affiliate, so they’ve used the Houston Rockets G-League team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, to get Morris additional experience. In 36 games with the Valley Vipers, he’s put up 18.2 points per game on 47.8 percent shooting from the field, 35.6 percent from the three-point line, 4.6 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.8 steals.

He believes that if called upon, he can be a major contributor for the Nuggets. There are certain aspects he can bring to the team and he thinks it’s possible for him to play with Murray in the backcourt together.

“I think I can bring energy off the bench. I feel like me and Jamal Murray, the way the game is going you can play small ball. I feel like I can bring pace to the game and play defensively,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “I like getting after it when I’m up there with those guys on defense and getting guys open shots. I know we got a lot of scorers, my goal would be getting everybody their shots.”

Morris has been able to show he can produce at the NBA level, even if it’s a small sample size. On Feb. 9, only the second game he’s played in with Denver, he scored ten points on 4-5 shooting from the field, dished out six assists, and nabbed three steals against the Rockets.

Players on two-way contracts are allowed a maximum of 45 days with the NBA team. Those days are not solely game days; they include practices and travel days as well. Once those 45 days are up, NBA teams have the option of converting a two-way contract to a standard NBA deal provided they have roster space.

If a player uses up the 45 days and does not have their contract converted, they go back to the G-League. They can rejoin their NBA team once the G-League season ends but are not able to play in the playoffs.

For now, Morris is just biding his time, waiting for his opportunity. He’s staying ready for when the Nuggets might need him. In the meantime, he’ll continue to take advantage of what the G-League has to offer.

“It’s definitely a good starting point. It’s just all about how guys attack it on and off the court,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s just being a pro and not losing confidence in your ability when you go up and don’t play. You just got to be ready, you’re really one injury away, one call away to step on and have to play.”

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Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close

Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies



Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.

You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?

Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.

With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?

Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.

For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?

I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.

Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.

I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.

Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?

Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.

Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?

I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.

Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?

Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.

Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.

Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?

Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.

Would you welcome that rematch?

I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.

What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?

Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.

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NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense

The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.

Buddy Grizzard



The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.

“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].

“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”

Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.

“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”

Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.

“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”

Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.

According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.

The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.

“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”

Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.

“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”

Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.

“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”

While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.

“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.

The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.

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