The 2016 offseason set teams up for disaster.
Because of the league’s new TV deal, the salary cap exploded from $70 million to just around $94 million from one summer to the next. This one-year mushrooming in money made franchises believe they absolutely had to spend – and most of them did so, both frivolously and recklessly.
Many argued that instead of giving the salary cap this one-year spike, the league would have been more prudent to slowly increase the cap on an annual basis.
Instead, we ended up with Kevin Durant on the Golden State Warriors, as well as with some of the most brazen signings in recent league history.
Of course, as you’re about to see, not every difficult-to-move deal came from 2016; untradable contracts were handed out before that fateful offseason, and will continue to be handed out for as long as the NBA exists.
Miles Plumlee/Four years, $50 million
It defies logic referring to a player who just got traded as untradable, but Miles Plumlee’s contract sort of defies logic too.
His deal, which was signed during the summer of 2016 (because, of course it was), is worth four years and $50 million. He’s got another three years and $37.5 million left on the contract, which would be a half-decent value if he was remotely playable.
Unfortunately for the Atlanta Hawks, he’s a 29-year-old currently toiling away in the G League, who is coming off a year in which he averaged 2.5 points and 2.1 rebounds in 10.8 minutes per game.
In fact, he was only acquired by Atlanta due to their desperate urge to get rid of Dwight Howard, who was not a good fit with the organization.
But does that make it a worthwhile exchange?
Certainly not. Thankfully, it doesn’t really matter as the Hawks are clearly in rebuild mode, so having extra money on their books won’t affect their outlook for at least another few seasons.
Al Horford/Four years, $113.3 million
In all honesty, it’s nearly impossible to pick a bad contract on the Boston Celtics. They’re about as exquisitely run an organization as there is in the NBA right now.
Celtics general manager and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has wonderfully blended present-day contention with building towards the future – a nearly impossible feat for most teams to even consider, let alone pull off.
Boston only has three players making eight figures – a low number in today’s NBA landscape – with everyone else making fewer than $6 million in 2016-17.
Of the three men earning the big bucks in Beantown – Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving and Al Horford – the former is excused from our exercise for obvious reasons, while the latter two warrant early MVP consideration with the way they have the Celtics rolling to start the season.
Nonetheless, if we had to choose one untradable deal from the batch, it would have to be Horford.
By multiple advanced metrics, he’s been Brad Stevens’ best player this year. Horford is scoring, distributing, defending and rebounding, as well as doing all of the little things that helps teams click.
But he’s 31 years old, and still has three years left on his contract, along with $86.7 million. On the last year of his deal, in his age-33 season, he’ll be earning $30.1 million.
That’s all to say: Horford’s contract isn’t all that team-friendly over the next few campaigns.
Obviously, the Celtics won’t care as long as he maintains this level play, which is likely, considering his graceful style that will almost certainly age quite well.
Timofey Mozgov/Four years, $64 million
One of the first contracts signed after the clock struck midnight on July 1, 2016, Timofey Mozgov has proven to be one of the worst deals in the league.
In order to get it off their books, the Los Angeles Lakers had to package D’Angelo Russell – a young scorer chock full of potential – along with Mozgov to get the Brooklyn Nets’ seal of approval on the trade.
Thus far this year, the big Russian center has started in all 14 games for the Nets, yet is playing merely 14.9 minutes per contest, while putting up a nightly 5.0 points and 4.4 rebounds.
Brooklyn getting another team to trade for Mozgov – an immobile seven-footer with no range on his jumper – seems like a dubious proposition at best.
Dwight Howard/Three years, $70.5 million
It was sort of a tough decision between Dwight Howard and Nicolas Batum.
The former is older, sure, but he’s only on the books for one more season after 2017-18, and has been more than solid for the Charlotte Hornets thus far this year while functioning as an elite rim protector.
Meanwhile, Batum has another three years left on his deal, will be 31 during the last season of his contract – in which he’ll earn $27.1 million – and has had poor luck health-wise recently.
And yet, the fact that the Hawks had to fleece themselves just to get rid of Howard is pretty damning.
Plus, Batum is an excellent point forward who can defend multiple positions and would start for almost any team in the league. Howard’s fit in today’s small-ball era is much more difficult to surmise.
Maybe our decision wasn’t that difficult after all.
Cristiano Felicio/Four years, $32 million
One of the first contracts signed during the opening salvos of last offseason’s free-agency period, Cristiano Felicio hasn’t exactly paid the Chicago Bulls back for their leap of faith.
He’s playing 16.3 minutes per contest, while averaging 3.8 points and 3.9 rebounds in 2017-18.
Felicio’s contract isn’t massive by any means, but $32 million over four years is still way too much money to be paying someone whose ceiling appears to be that of third-string center.
Tristan Thompson/Five years, $82 million
Though Kevin Love has a far higher annual average salary than Tristan Thompson, this pick was easy considering Love is also a far superior talent to the limited center.
Thompson’s five-year, $82 million contract has another two seasons left on it after 2017-18. More concerning than that, though, is the matter of the Texas product’s dwindling production.
Before getting shut down with injury this year, Thompson was playing a career-low 21.6 minutes per game, while putting up porous 4.4-point and 6.4-rebound averages.
Is it possible that because he’s a player who, throughout his career, has put so much onus on defending and crashing the glass on every single play – while suiting up deep into June for each of the past three seasons – that we’re seeing the end of Thompson’s effectiveness as a player?
Let’s hope not. But even if it is, at least he has a championship and a life-altering contract to show for his efforts.
Wesley Matthews/Four years, $70 million
For the Dallas Mavericks, the Wesley Matthews signing was risky from the jump.
After all, the swingman was acquired by Dallas the offseason after he ruptured his Achilles tendon – an injury that is always tricky to come back from, no matter how devoted the player is to stringent rehabbing.
The gamble hasn’t paid off for the Mavericks.
During his three seasons in the Lone Star State, Matthews has averaged 12.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per contest, while shooting 38.8 percent from the floor.
Although his contract ends after next year, it would still be extremely difficult for the Mavericks to move considering Matthews will be 32 years old by the time next season rolls around, while earning $18.6 million.
That’s above-average-starter rate money, something that the former Portland Trail Blazer hasn’t been in quite some time.
Darrell Arthur/Three years, $23 million
Although a three-year, $23 million contract is modest in comparison to some of the other deals on our list, we must also consider Darrell Arthur’s complete lack of production since signing said contract.
In 2016-17 – his first campaign after agreeing to the deal – the floor-spacing power forward played 15.6 minutes per night, while averaging 6.4 points and 2.7 rebounds.
This season, despite not having any reported injuries, Arthur has appeared in just two games, playing a total of 19 minutes and scoring just two points on the year.
What’s more, he’s got another year left on his contract after this one. At this point, it’s nearly impossible to envision another team taking a flier on the once-promising player.
Jon Leuer/Four years, $42 million
The Detroit Pistons’ three highest-paid players – Andre Drummond, Tobias Harris and Reggie Jackson – have had excellent starts to the 2017-18 season, redeeming themselves after a tough 2016-17.
All three would make welcome additions on any team: Drummond, an elite rebounder, Harris, a scorching-hot scorer and Jackson, an above-average floor general.
Jon Leuer’s upside, on the other hand, is that of a reserve big man. And at 28 years old, with another two seasons (and $19.5 million) left on his deal, it’s hard to see another organization taking back a contract of that worth in any sort of trade.
Golden State Warriors
Andre Iguodala/Three years, $48 million
Unquestionably, the Golden State Warriors are a better team with Andre Iguodala in the fold. Thus, it was of paramount importance that they bring the veteran swingman back – no matter the cost.
Moreover, we should also consider that a handful of rival teams were willing to sign the 33-year-old to a huge contract last offseason, including the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs and Sacramento Kings. In particular, Iguodala’s flirtation with the Rockets got pretty steamy before he ultimately chose to remain in the Bay.
Even so, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are annual MVP candidates, Klay Thompson is arguably the league’s top two-way shooting guard and Draymond Green would make any defense elite.
Iguodala, despite his still-exceptional play off the bench, will be 35 on the last year of his deal, earning $17.2 million. That’s a huge commitment, even for a key reserve on one of the greatest teams in NBA history.
Ryan Anderson/Four years, $80 million
We know Ryan Anderson’s contract is untradable because the Rockets haven’t been able to trade him yet.
That’s not a knock on Anderson’s play, for the record, as the floor-spacing big man has done his job since joining Mike D’Anonti’s team. Anderson is shooting 39.9 percent from beyond the arc since arriving in Houston, while averaging 13.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.
But his hefty contract takes up quite a bit of cap space – cap space that the Rockets needed over the summer in their efforts to trade for Carmelo Anthony.
The New York Knicks (understandably) weren’t willing to take on Anderson’s deal in exchange for the bucket-getting forward, and Houston failed to find anyone else to take Anderson in a potential three-team trade.
So Anthony went to the Oklahoma City Thunder while Anderson stayed in H-Town.
D’Antoni can’t be too upset with how things turned out, however, as the 29-year-old power forward is the perfect fit in his spaced-out offensive system.
Al Jefferson/Three years, $30 million
There was a time when you could throw Al Jefferson the ball in the post and he’d be nearly guaranteed to get you a bucket.
Those days, sadly, are long gone.
Now, the seven-footer is a reminder of an antiquated form of basketball, where the post player reigned supreme.
Jefferson’s athleticism was always limited, but now it’s basically non-existent. He can’t defend or space the floor at all; it’s simply difficult to find a role for him on any team.
Though he only has $14 million guaranteed left on his contract, would any franchise want to pay even that for the once beastly scorer?
Los Angeles Clippers
Danilo Gallinari/Three years, $64.8 million
The Los Angeles Clippers made out well from the Chris Paul trade, and their cap sheet reflects that.
None of their contracts are particularly egregious: Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan boast All-NBA potential, Austin Rivers has blossomed into a more-than-serviceable combo guard and Lou Williams is still getting buckets off the bench with pleasure.
So we have to go with Danilo Gallinari.
Though he’s one of the league’s most efficient scorers thanks to his ability to draw fouls, the Italian forward has been constantly plagued by injuries throughout his career. Anyone taking on his contract will be rolling the dice on Gallinari’s health.
And considering that by the last season of his contract, he’ll be 31 years old (and making $22.6 million), it may not be the most worthwhile gamble for a rival organization to undertake.
Los Angeles Lakers
Luol Deng/Four years, $72 million
This selection doesn’t merit much explanation.
The contract was inexplicable when the details were released back in 2016, and it’s even harder to fathom today.
Luol Deng – an aging small forward who should be playing power forward at this point in his career – was forced to play the majority of his minutes last year on the wing, per Basketball Reference. He was never really given a chance to succeed, and now, he’s on the outs with the Lakers.
Whether that happens through a buyout, a trade or not at all remains to be seen.
But Deng has two years and $36.8 million left on his contract after this season, so it’s tough to see anyone taking on that sort of commitment for the 32-year-old.
Odds are, if Los Angeles does manage to move him, it’ll cost them some sort of sweetener – like an unprotected first-round pick – to make it happen.
Chandler Parsons/Four years, $94.4 million
Although Chandler Parsons is having a quietly solid season off the bench for the Memphis Grizzlies, it’ll take a lot more than that for his contract to become more movable.
As a member of the Tennessean franchise, Parsons has averaged 6.6 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. And he was only able to appear in 34 outings throughout 2016-17 due to injury.
With another two years (after this one) and $49.2 million left on his contract, the 6-foot-10 wing isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
James Johnson/Three years, $43.3 million
The Miami Heat took a risk extending James Johnson’s stay in South Florida so lavishly.
Before 2016-17, Johnson averaged 6.5 points and 3.2 rebounds per contest in 18.3 nightly minutes over seven seasons. Then, thanks to Erik Spoelstra giving him free reign as an off-the-bench point forward, the Wake Forest product found his niche.
He set career highs in points (12.8), rebounds (4.9), assists (3.6) and three-point accuracy (34.0 percent), while almost leading the Heat to an unexpected playoff berth.
So Pat Riley and Co. rewarded him with a huge contract.
Johnson will be 33 during the last year of his deal, earning $15.8 million. If his three-point shooting from 2016-17 proves to be a mirage and he loses the athleticism that makes him such a force, the Heat may have trouble shopping their combo forward to other teams.
Matthew Dellavedova/Three years, $38.4 million
Although John Henson makes a pretty strong case for this spot, he is slowly proving to have some ability as a distributing, shot-blocking big man.
Henson has taken full advantage of his expanded role after Greg Monroe’s trade to the Phoenix Suns, putting up 10.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.6 blocks per contest.
Matthew Dellavedova, on the other hand, has seen his role diminish even further upon the team’s acquisition of Eric Bledsoe.
A career 39.3 percent shooter, the Australian point guard’s main redeeming quality remains his airtight defense.
But would teams line up to trade for a floor general who can really only play off the ball, is totally inefficient and has two years, along with $19.2 million, left on his contract after this season?
Gorgui Dieng/Four years, $62.8 million
A throwback big man with some passing chops, Gorgui Dieng has struggled with the new-look Minnesota Timberwolves.
Though he can distribute some (meaning he’s not a total dinosaur of a big man), he doesn’t space the floor from three and can really only defend opposing traditional big men.
There’s certainly a place for Dieng in this league, but he’s limited to playing center (at least on above-average offenses), and he’s still owed four years and $62.8 million on his deal, as his extension just kicked in before this season.
What’s more, in his age-30 season, he’ll be earning $17.3 million.
It’s doubtful other teams would commit to a contract of that size before it becomes an expiring asset.
New Orleans Pelicans
Omer Asik/Five years, $58.0 million
A seven-footer with no ability outside of the paint, zero distribution skills and stiff-hipped defensive mobility, Omer Asik is one of the most untradable contracts in the league.
He’s signed through 2019-20, is owed $23.3 million after this season and, somewhat inexplicably, even owns a player option on the final year of his deal.
For a guy who is a career 5.4-point-and-7.3-rebound-per-contest contributor, there is no other team who would take on such a contract.
New York Knicks
Joakim Noah/Four years, $72.6 million
Once upon a time, Joakim Noah was an MVP candidate.
In 2013-14, the talented center averaged 12.6 points, 11.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists per night. After proving to be an unstoppable force on both ends, he culminated the season with a No. 4 finish in MVP voting.
Then, age and injuries kicked in, and Noah began to show clear signs of slowing down the campaign following his career zenith.
But did that matter to then-president of the Knicks Phil Jackson? Of course not. Jackson signed Noah to a four-year, $72.6 million contract during the crazed 2016 offseason.
Today, Noah’s contract has two years and $37.8 million left on it after 2017-18, an astronomical figure for a big man who can barely move.
Is there a chance the former Chicago Bull will ever be able to regain his old form?
We’ll let him answer that:
Oklahoma City Thunder
Steven Adams/Four years, $100 million
Truth be told, Steven Adams is underrated by the average basketball fan. He rebounds well, defends his butt off and does all of the dirty work that helps good teams win.
Nevertheless, in 2017, it’s hard to find takers for centers who can only guard other centers, and who don’t possess the ability to space the floor.
And considering Adams has another three years and $77.5 million left on his deal after this season, it’s tough to envision him going anywhere.
That’s really not a bad thing, though, as the New Zealand-born center is still only 24 and a huge part of what the Thunder do on both ends.
His best days remain ahead of him.
Bismack Biyombo/Four years, $72 million
The Orlando Magic were one of the main victims of the Great 2016 Free-Agent Spending Spree, and you need look no further than at Bismack Biyombo’s deal for proof.
With another two years and $32 million left on that bad boy, and a player option on the final year, Orlando’s brass has no choice but to wait for it to evaporate after 2019-20.
No rival team will be swooping in to acquire the career 4.1-point-and-4.5-rebound-per-game center’s contract, at least not without some serious sweetener attached to it.
Jerryd Bayless/Three years, $27 million
There’s no question about Jerryd Bayless’ viability as a productive player when he’s healthy enough to see action.
The thing is, it’s been a while since the Arizona product hasn’t been consistently plagued by injury. Between 2015-16 and 2016-17, Bayless suited up in merely 55 out of a potential 164 games. And he’s already missed time in 2017-18 with a wrist ailment.
Already 29 years old and owed another $17.5 million, if it came down to it, it wouldn’t be easy for the Philadelphia 76ers to move on from their veteran combo guard.
Brandon Knight/Five years, $70 million
Back in 2014-15, Brandon Knight was really starting to find his form as an above-average NBA floor general. With the Bucks, Knight was averaging 17.8 points and 5.4 assists per game while hitting 40.9 percent of his triples.
Then came the unexpected trade to the Suns.
The South Florida Native was unfortunately never able to find consistent footing in the league again. Now, he’s out for 2017-18 after tearing his ACL playing pickup basketball over the summer.
With another two years and $30.2 million left on his contract, it’ll be impossible for the Suns to move him without attaching – at least – an unprotected first-round pick to the deal.
Portland Trail Blazers
Evan Turner/Four years, $70 million
Portland Trail Blazers backup wing Evan Turner has some game. He defends well enough, takes pretty good care of the basketball and can run the offense while Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum rest.
But he can’t shoot threes and is a career 43.1 percent shooter from the floor overall.
Plus, even by today’s standards, $17.5 million is a lofty amount of money for a non-starter.
Zach Randolph/Two years, $24 million
The Kings had a curious offseason, to say the least.
They chose to surround their young, potential studs (De’Aaron Fox, Skal Labissiere and Bogdan Bogdanovic) with vets who could teach them the ins-and-outs of life in the NBA.
One of those vets, Zach Randolph, is averaging 24.4 minutes per night, while Labissiere – who should be starting to get a lot more playing time in his second season – is seeing the floor for merely 18.7 minutes per game.
That’s definitely not the right way to go about developing young talent, and certainly not the reason Randolph was signed.
Regardless, the Kings are stuck in this predicament, as no one is going to trade for a 36-year-old power forward who’s shooting 46.0 percent from the field and doesn’t play a modicum of defense.
San Antonio Spurs
Pau Gasol/Three years, $48 million
The Spurs know what they’re doing… and yet, it’s hard not to wonder whether they knew what they were doing with the Pau Gasol contract.
The legendary Spaniard, at 37 years of age, is still contributing, averaging 10.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per contest. Even so, he’s got a ton of mileage on his legs from various deep playoff runs.
Though the final year of his contract is only guaranteed for $6.7 million, he’s still owed at least $38.7 million over the next three seasons. That’s a lot of money for a player who will be 39 by the time the last year of his deal rolls around.
Jonas Valanciunas/Four years, $64 million
It’s probably not a good sign for the Toronto Raptors that their two players with the most difficult-to-move contracts are their starters in the frontcourt.
But at least Serge Ibaka can still somewhat protect the paint while spacing the floor from three. Jonas Valanciunas, on the other hand, is the primitive archetype of an NBA center – a back-down big without much ability outside the paint, and slow feet defensively.
The Lithuanian seven-footer will be an unrestricted free agent in 2020, and that’s probably how long Toronto will have to wait before seeing a new starting center in the lineup.
Joe Ingles/Four years, $52 million
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better complementary player than Joe Ingles. The Australian wing is an elite three-point shooter, can distribute out of the pick-and-roll and racks up takeaways on the less glamorous side of the ball.
But he’s already 30 years old, will be 33 during the season in which his contract ends and is still owed another $35.9 million on his deal after 2017-18.
It would be difficult to convince another team to take on that sort of commitment.
Ian Mahinmi/Four years, $64 million
Washington Wizards center Ian Mahinmi is 31 years old, averaging 3.4 points and 3.6 rebounds per contest while playing 12.9 nightly minutes. Oh, and he’ll be owed $15.5 million on the final year of his contract in 2019-20, during his age-33 season.
If he’s even playing a minimal role off the bench at that point in his career, let alone that of a second-string big, it would be beyond shocking.
Let’s put it this way: Washington finding a way to trade Mahinmi’s contract would be more surprising than the Warriors losing in the first round of the playoffs this very season.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.