No NBA front office is perfect. They all make mistakes—expensive gaffes either inexplicable at the time, in hindsight or both. So unless you’re rooting for the Golden State Warriors, chances are your favorite team has some near-immovable money on its books.
Please place stock in the “near-immovable money” qualifier. No contract is actually an irreversible anchor. Untradeable is just a fancy, headline-friendly way of saying “really, really, ridiculously difficult to deal.” Quibble about the merits of interpretative phrasing on your own time.
These contracts all fall under that umbrella. They could be rerouted under the right circumstances, but not without major sweeteners attached or equal-to-worse money coming back in return. Some ground rules before we hop to it:
- Expiring deals are not eligible for inclusion. It is easier to find new homes even for the most expensive players when the light at the end of the tunnel is blindingly bright.
- Contracts with team-controlled partial guarantees at their conclusion are left off for similar reasons. They’re more digestible than agreements saddled with and without player and early termination options. Omer Asik and J.R. Smith are most welcome.
- Sub-$10 million average salaries are getting bounced as well. This has less to do with my stanning for Norman Powell, and more to do with the market value of mid-level-exceptionish money to teams trying to strike salary-shedding trades.
- Just in case you haven’t noticed yet: Length takes priority over per-year cost. Life comes at you fast, but some contracts seem to go on forever.
- The line has to be drawn somewhere, so slightly overpaid players are earning a reprieve. They shouldn’t need back-breaking buffers to be relocated, and the Association’s ledgers are rife with too many on-the-cusp commitments.
Some owners of these contracts will be included in the honorable mentions section. The DeMar DeRozans (three years, $83.2 million) and Otto Porters (three years, $81.8 million) of the world will not be. They’re overly compensated but impact the win column enough to net at least neutral value in prospective negotiations.
- Speaking of DeRozan, recently flipped contracts are fair game. It takes a perfect storm of developments for certain deals to be moved. That doesn’t make them desirable or anti-liabilities. You know why this disclaimer exists.
As a final housekeeping note, making the honorable mentions list is a borderline compliment—an “Atta boi, you’re probably not among the league’s crappiest trade assets despite people definitely, possibly, maybe thinking you are.” Treat these nods as such unless otherwise instructed.
Harrison Barnes, Dallas Mavericks
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Age (as of Feb. 1): 26
2017-18 Per-Game Stats:
Contract Details: 2 years, $49.2 million (player option for 2019-20)
Harrison Barnes’ age saves him. He can be moved around both forward spots without suffering appreciable defensive drop-offs and has now proven he’ll work as an off-the-dribble scorer or bystanding shooter.
Paying him almost $25 million per year is too much. The Mavericks could not parlay him into plus assets if they tried. But this deal is halfway gone, and it wouldn’t be absurd for someone entering his age 27 season to opt out at the end of next year.
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
2017-18 Per-Game Stats:
Contract Details: 3 years, $81.3 million (player option for 2020-21)
Andre Drummond comes oh-so-close to full-blown inclusion. His age and progressing offensive IQ help stave it off. He’s now less likely to marry and then thrice renew his vows to dumpy post-ups, and his 3.3 assists per 36 minutes last season ranked eighth among centers.
Getting equitable value for him in a trade would be tough, if impossible. The Pistons still shouldn’t need to use a sweetener. Drummond is only a virtual, not ironclad, lock to pick up that player option, and his defensive mobility can be quite disarming when he cares enough to deftly rove.
Cristiano Felicio, Chicago Bulls
2017-18 Per-Game Stats:
Contract Details: 3 years, $24.2 million
Cristiano Felicio’s annual cap hit ducks the threshold laid out above. He’s making a cameo for effect. His four-year, $32 million pact looked bad at first glance. It devolved into a disaster after his lame-duck performance last season. It has now become hopelessly laughable with the Bulls, by design, allocating frontcourt minutes to newcomers Wendell Carter Jr. and Jabari Parker.
Felicio’s saving grace: Chicago is rebuilding and could eventually package his salary to a tax-conscious team trying to salvage its bottom line. His usefulness, as things stand, ends there.
Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
2017-18 Per-Game Stats:
Contract Details: 2 years, $44.9 million
Serge Ibaka can still move the needle as a big-man spacer. He put down an OK 36.6 percent of his catch-and-shoot triples last year. The Raptors even had him tap into some previously unplumbed straight-line ball-handling, and he’ll look better on defense when accompanied by the more switchable Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard.
This deal still toes the line of awful. Ibaka is past his athletic peak and doesn’t offer much defensive versatility. Frontcourt shooting continues to be a commodity on its own, but Toronto’s decision to toss him three years and $65 million amid last summer’s souring market remains hella weird.
Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 17.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.1 steals, 43.8 percent shooting
Contract Details: 5 years, $146.5 million
Andrew Wiggins also came pretty close to being upgraded to near-immovable money. He has struggled when thrown into complementary capacity at the offensive end yet hasn’t showcased encouraging efficiency when giving free rein.
Jimmy Butler cannot be happy about the Timberwolves tethering almost $150 million to Wiggins over the next half-decade without any potential escape clauses. This contract has the potential to become one of the five worst in league at some point—maybe soon, but not now. A handful of teams would at least bet shorter-term salary fodder on a 23-year-old No. 1 prospect rounding out his game.
Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
Aaron Gash/Associated Press
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 2.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 38.1 percent shooting
Contract Details: 3 years, $97.5 million (early termination option for 2020-21)
Including Mike Conley will hurt the soul of those who appreciate intelligible basketball. This dude is a capable playmaker off the dribble, can get buckets when he’s in attack mode and is among the most exhaustive backcourt defenders alive.
Missing most of last season with Achilles problems works against him. Those injuries are buzzkills. Especially when they hit players on the wrong side of 30. Conley has the skill to play himself out of this hole if he stays healthy, but the depth at point guard betrays him. Supply is outsizing the demand for starting floor generals. Teams will always have younger and cheaper options from which to choose.
Reggie Jackson, Detroit Pistons
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.1 blocks, 42.6 percent shooting
Contract Details: 2 years, $35.1 million
Reggie Jackson has a puncher’s hope of salvaging his value if he can stay healthy. He’s missed 57 games over the past two seasons and seen his first step wax and wane with each recovery.
Too bad the Pistons aren’t doing him any favors. Jackson is a ball-dominator surrounding by non-spacers and other ball-dominators. And he’s no dependable shooter himself. He has never canned more than 35.9 percent of his threes and seldom looks comfortable working away from the action. He needs a fresh start to reboot his stock, and given the roster construction around him, he’s not getting it in Detroit.
Tyler Johnson, Miami Heat
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 11.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.8 steals, 43.5 percent shooting
Contract Details: 2 years, $38.5 million (player option for 2019-20)
Put two hands in the air and wave them like you just don’t care if you think paying Tyler Johnson more than Goran Dragic is a good idea.
Brandon Knight, Phoenix Suns
2016-17 Per-Game Stats: 11.0 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.5 steals, 39.8 percent shooting
Contract Details: 2 years, $30.3 million
Brandon Knight initially didn’t make this list at all for no reason other than I briefly forgot about his existence. That is no doubt sad, verging on mean, but lies-by-omission are unforgivable among friends, so you must know the truth. Plus, he shouldn’t feel bad; way more people have temporarily forgotten about him than will ever know me.
Ankle, knee and hernia injuries have derailed different stages of Knight’s career. He has missed 140 games over the past three years, including all of last season. It doesn’t help that he’s been misidentified as a primary ball-handler when, really, his peak is that of a more pleasant-faring Jordan Clarkson.
Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls
Joe Murphy/Getty Images
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 16.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 38.3 percent shooting
Contract Details: 4 years, $78 million
Zach LaVine can, and might, turn this on its head. The Bulls, in fact, may be able to extract some value from the Kings if they decide to trade him in mid-January.
A market of one team doesn’t mean much. LaVine needs to regain his offensive mojo following a torn left ACL and subsequent tendinitis in that same knee before his contract is viewed in aloof terms. He has never shot worse than 34.1 percent from deep, and something must be said for those who don’t shy from creating their own looks. But his defense is a train wreck, and his off-the-dribble accuracy has never jibed with his green light.
Whereas suitors could easily talk themselves into surrendering something, anything, for Aaron Gordon’s four-year, $84 million deal, LaVine is, for the time being, closer to needing sweeteners than not.
Dennis Schroder, Atlanta Hawks
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 19.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.1 blocks, 43.6 percent shooting
Contract Details: 3 years, $46.5 million
Yes, the Oklahoma City Thunder just gave up a protected 2022 first-round pick in a trade that brought back Dennis Schroder, as reported by ESPN.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski. But his arrival has more to do with Carmelo Anthony’s removal, as ESPN.com’s Bobby Marks explained:
“Oklahoma City was able to accomplish two things by trading Carmelo Anthony to Atlanta, improve the roster while saving $73 million this season. The Thunder will now see their projected luxury tax bill drop from $150 million to $88.8 million, a savings of $62 million. In addition, Oklahoma City will save an additional $11 million in salary savings with the Dennis Schroder $15.5 million contract and the $1.5 million cap hit of Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. The Thunder now have a payroll of $148.7 million, down from $159.6 million. The roster in Oklahoma City also improves with the addition Schroder, a starting quality point guard that will back up Russell Westbrook and adding a young wing in Luwawu-Cabarrot. Instead of having the $9.3 million dead cap hit with Anthony on the stretch provision, Oklahoma City essentially is paying $5 million for the next three seasons for a 24 year-old point guard who has started 161 games in five seasons.”
Calling Schroder a starting-quality point guard is a tad too generous. He has a decent offensive motor, but his shot selection can be atrocious, and he’s a wild card from both beyond the arc and around the rim. He showed little to zero ability to improve the play of those around him when Atlanta stripped its roster of All-Stars.
Other teams won’t look at Schroder’s contract wear Oklahoma City’s goggles. The Suns need a starting point guard and were never mentioned as strong Schroder admirers. The Orlando Magic were in the same boat and traded for Jerian Grant. And then we have the Hawks themselves. Their non-Mike Budenholzer regime drafted Trae Young and traded for Jeremy Lin with Schroder under lock and key.
Dion Waiters, Miami Heat
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 14.3 points, 2.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 0.8 steals, 39.8 percent shooting
Contract Details: 3 years, $36.3 million
Dion Waiters’ season-ending ankle injury is only part of the concern here. His deal reflected poorly upon the Heat’s thought process long before his absence and even after factoring in his career efforts during the 2016-17 campaign.
Seventy-nine players have attempted at least 4,000 field goals and 750 free throws since Waiters entered the league. His true shooting percentage ranks dead last among that group. Selling him as a microwave scorer is even tough, and that’s before caking in his please-hide-me defense.
John Wall, Washington Wizards
Patrick Smith/Getty Images
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 19.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 9.6 assists, 1.4 steals, 42.0 percent shooting
Contract Details: 5 years, $188.5 million (player option for 2022-23)
Ask yourself this before getting super-duper angry: Which team would currently trade for the right to pay a 32-year-old John Wall nearly $46.9 million in the final year of his deal?
The Los Angeles Clippers were able to get something—lots of things, actually—for Blake Griffin’s albatross. That was, and remains, a unique alignment between timing and desperation. The Wizards will have a harder go of finding their Pistons—a team so far into a flawed win-now window, headed by a coach-president on the hot seat, it flings caution and reason and substantive assets to the wind for a risk-riddled star.
To be clear: This is strictly about the tail end of Wall’s contract. He is a top-five point guard when he gives a damn on defense. But he has yet to shoot a league-average clip from three in consecutive seasons and maintains a recurring love affair with junky long twos. He is imperfect at his best and on a contract that will age only as well as his athleticism.
Maybe this near-immovable drop is a year too early, but the fact that this even warrants discussion speaks to his inclusion.
Nicolas Batum, Charlotte Hornets
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 11.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 41.5 percent shooting
Contract Details: 3 years, $76.7 million (player option for 2020-2021)
Nicolas Batum’s deal would look a whole lot better in a different situation. Heck, the Hornets could now be that situation. They might have liberated him from his miscast role as a No. 2 ball-handler with the addition of Tony Parker and late-season development of Jeremy Lamb. Getting anything at all from Malik Monk during his sophomore march would be a boon, too.
That does not make this contract salvageable. Nor does Batum’s intra-possession switchability on defense. He’s being paid like a superstar—like he’s second-best-player-on-a-title-contender material. And he’s not. He’s barely the second most valuable player on a fringe-playoff squad like Charlotte. (I gotchu, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.)
Kent Bazemore, Atlanta Hawks
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 12.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 42.0 percent shooting
Contract Details: 2 years, $37.4 million (player option for 2019-20)
In their draft-day trade for Luka Doncic, the Mavericks opted to send the Hawks a first-rounder with top-five protection rather than swapping out Wesley Matthew’s expiring pact for Kent Bazemore, per the New York Times’ Marc Stein. Whether this says more about Dallas’ 2019 free-agency plans, next year’s draft or Bazemore’s deal itself doesn’t matter.
This reflects poorly upon his contract either way. A more flattering pay grade—or better player—would have forced the Mavericks to reconsider their stance. Passing on Bazemore and punting on next year’s draft is instead a defensible, if savvy, decision.
It doesn’t take much to sell Bazemore the player. He doesn’t cannibalize possessions on offense, can initiate simple half-court sets and is a defensive worker bee. The problem: Bazemore the player shouldn’t be getting paid like a No. 2 or 3 option years away from his 30th birthday.
Allen Crabbe, Brooklyn Nets
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 13.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.6 steals, 40.7 percent shooting
Contract Details: 2 years, $37 million (player option for 2019-20)
Allen Crabbe would be spared from this exercise if the Brooklyn Nets had their way. They not only signed him to his initial four-year, $74.8 million offer sheet, but they traded for him a season later, after it became clear 2016’s spending spree was a bust and he would never live up to his deal.
One team’s infatuation doesn’t cut it. Crabbe is a lethal scorer when he doesn’t have put the ball on the floor. He isn’t much else. His effective field-goal percentage last season plunged from 60.1 percent when using no dribbles to under 50 percent when burning through two or more, and he’s not strong enough to chase around larger wings—even though the Nets aren’t afraid to have him try.
Luol Deng, Los Angeles Lakers
Ron Jenkins/Associated Press
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 2.0 points, 0.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 50.0 percent shooting
Contract Details: 2 years, $36.8 million
Luol Deng would be on a different team already if it were going to take fewer than a bajillion picks and prospects to ship him elsewhere. The Lakers’ plans, even post-LeBron James signing, are too ambitious for them to let a movable piece they don’t use just putz around their cap sheet.
On the bright side, Deng might actually get to play next year. James will tolerate headlining a pure youth movement for only so long, and Los Angeles’ lineup experimentation figures to demand it.
As one Lakers executive told Eric Pincus: “We may not see this on day one, but the coaching staff is eager to see our version of the [Warriors’] Death Lineup with Lonzo [Ball], Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, [Kyle] Kuzma and LeBron.”
Expecting James to increase his reps at center is cute. He’s always had a “Positions matter, even though they really don’t, and I don’t feel like playing up so I won’t” vibe to him:
LeBron's time at center in Cleveland (via @cleantheglass):
2017-18: 54 possessions (146.3 ORTG, +42.5 Net RTG)
2016-17: 16 poss
2015-16: 5 poss
2014-15: 2 poss
generally think this is a good idea. interested to see how often Bron-at-5 is used/if he likes it. https://t.co/bNSgL1nES2
— Dan Favale (@danfavale) July 19, 2018
The Lakers convinced James to sign a four-year deal (player option at the end). Maybe they can get him to embrace extra time at the 5. That pitch needs to outline how Los Angeles’ other wings will guard power forwards and centers, so James won’t always have to.
At 6’9″, with a Tom Thibodeau-approved work ethic on the ball, Deng is the Lakers’ best small-ball aide until Ingram beefs up his broomstick limbs and hatrack torso. Perhaps that potential transition from afterthought to occasional necessity turns Deng into a dumpable asset. (Spoiler: It won’t.)
Danilo Gallinari, Los Angeles Clippers
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 15.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.6 steals, 39.8 percent shooting
Contract Details: 2 years, $44.2 million
Danilo Gallinari will automatically remove himself from this list once he plays out an entire season without suffering an injury that sidelines him for more than 10 games.
In other words, don’t hold your breath for a retraction.
Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 17.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.1 steals, 42.1 percent shooting
Contract Details: 3 years, $54.5 million (player option for 2020-21)
Certain Knicks fans are inclined to rationalize Tim Hardaway Jr.’s deal. They should stop doing this. New York negotiated his four-year, $71 million pact in 2017 with 2016 logic, and he hasn’t come close to validating the investment.
Among the 70 players to clear 15 points per game last season, Hardaway ranked 53rd in effective field-goal percentage and 57th in free-throw-attempt rate. He is not a plus-defender against enemy starters or an above-average rebounder.
To his credit, Hardaway isn’t a functional disaster. His contract is far from the NBA’s absolute worst. But he doesn’t move the needle in any way, shape or form.
Support for his pay grade says more about the standard to which the Knicks have been held. And even that has its limits. Hardaway’s most devout apologists will feel differently about his deal as New York tries wedging its way into next summer’s Kevin Durant sweepstakes.
Solomon Hill, New Orleans Pelicans
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 2.4 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.6 steals, 26.8 percent shooting
Contract Details: 2 years, $26.1 million
Anyone looking for a room on Solomon Hill Resort and Spa? We’re accepting both short- and long-haul reservations in the aftermath of last season’s torn hamstring injury. We’ll pay for your departing airfare, with Monopoly money, and throw in unlimited access to our database of Jrue Holiday haircut inspirations. So, any takers?
Suit yourself. Hill is egregiously overpaid for someone who should aspire to have Kelly Oubre Jr.’s jump shot. But he hustles on defense across all wing positions and will flirt with almost-an-asset status if the Pelicans can count on him to swish 33 percent of his threes.
Until then, without absorbing crummy salary in the process, they’ll need a first-round sweetener or more to move him.
Chandler Parsons, Memphis Grizzlies
Joe Murphy/Getty Images
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 7.9 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.5 steals, 46.2 percent shooting
Contract Details: 2 years, $49.2 million (player option for 2019-20)
Memphis considered using the No. 4 pick, which turned into Jaren Jackson Jr., as a glorified buffer to dump Chandler Parsons’ salary, according to The Athletic’s Michael Scotto. That says it all.
Pushing 30, with more season-ending knee injuries than playoff appearances to his resume, Parsons has no hope of turning perception. The Grizzles must count themselves as fortunate if they get 15 to 20 minutes per game from him for more than half the year.
Evan Turner, Portland Trail Blazers
2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 8.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 44.7 percent shooting
Contract Details: 2 years, $36.5 million
Evan Turner’s four-year, $70 million contract never made much sense for the Blazers—though, yours truly definitely defended it. He needs the ball in his hands on offense and has never developed consistent touch beyond his mid-range jumper.
Players who can theoretically match up on defense across three to four positions are fun. And Turner drilled 44.6 percent of his long twos last season. But he’ll need to drop in threes on career efficiency and volume before it takes fewer than two first-round picks or prospects to grease the wheels of his departure.