Due to the sins of the 2016 offseason, most NBA teams found themselves strapped for spending cash this summer.
Long-term contracts at high-dollar amounts were nearly impossible to find for non-elite players, and as such, a few organizations were able to luck into bargain deals with intriguing young talents.
But, nevertheless, some franchises still managed to use up their cap space in not-very-savvy ways. Poor asset allocation will always plague certain teams in the Association, and not even a lack of cap space league-wide could change that.
Below, we break down some of the ugliest contracts handed out thus far in the 2018 offseason.
Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls
Four years, $78 million
On July 6, the Sacramento Kings and Zach LaVine agreed to terms on a four-year, fully guaranteed $78 million offer sheet. Fewer than two hours later, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Bulls would match, thus keeping the UCLA product in Chicago.
Besides the obvious complaints – primarily, why wouldn’t the Bulls make the Kings sweat the process out for the full 48 hours before announcing they’d match the offer sheet, which would have kept Sacramento’s cap space tied up? – there are other issues with this deal as well.
For starters, although LaVine has shown exciting flashes through his four years as a pro, especially in his junior campaign when he put up 18.9 points nightly on 45.9 percent shooting (38.7 percent from three), he hasn’t put it all together consistently enough to warrant this type of money.
The highest he’s ranked in important per-possession analytic Box Plus/Minus in any single year of his career is 160th, which came back in 2016-17. Even more damning: Every season since he’s reached the NBA, LaVine’s teams have had a negative net rating during his time on the floor. The closest he’s come to being at least a neutral player was during his final year with the Minnesota Timberwolves, when the team was only a -4.3 per 100 possessions with LaVine in the game.
Starting next season, LaVine will be earning a higher salary than Klay Thompson ($18,988,725), Gary Harris ($18,622,513) and Khris Middleton ($13,000,000). Considering we still haven’t seen the fourth-year pro regain his pre-ACL tear form, that could end up looking like a poor allocation of resources for Chicago.
Nevertheless, it should be noted that though it’s a bold gamble by the Bulls, it’s one they probably had no choice but to undertake. After all, LaVine was one of the main pieces Chicago acquired as part of the franchise-altering Jimmy Butler trade; Bulls execs simply couldn’t let him walk for nothing in return, if for nothing else than how bad the optics would be. Plus, thanks to the 23-year-old’s blend of size, athleticism and three-point shooting, there’s at least a non-zero chance he becomes an elite off-ball guard at some point throughout the span of his newest deal.
Even so, for now, the contract, due to its size, length and per-season dollar amount, isn’t pretty. We’ll see how it looks a few years from now.
Dante Exum, Utah Jazz
Three years, $33 million
Another player coming off his rookie-scale deal, Dante Exum, like LaVine, received a contract that can only be described as a leap of faith by his organization.
Unlike the Bulls, the Utah Jazz didn’t have to match an offer sheet for their young restricted free agent. Instead, they set up a meeting with Exum soon after the start of free agency, and followed it up by agreeing to a three-year, $33 million contract with the Australian ball-handler.
In a summer where teams were so strapped for cash, one has to wonder: Who was Utah bidding against? At least publicly, there was nary a peep about Exum taking meetings with any other teams, or about organizations planning to make a run at the career 5.7-point-per-game scorer. So why did the Jazz feel the need to overpay to keep Exum’s services?
For his career, the 6-foot-6 guard has missed more regular-season games (166) than he’s appeared in (162). Exum suffered a torn ACL that ended his second season before it started, and missed the majority of his fourth campaign after separating his shoulder and needing surgery to stabilize the ligaments in the affected area.
Even without Exum, the Jazz were an elite team last season. Odds are, the front office realized that keeping the same core group of players together – and happy – was more important for the organization’s future success than trying to nickel-and-dime their free agents.
Additionally, it should also be noted Exum did flash brilliance as a defender during the 2018 playoffs, even when matched up against the reigning league MVP…
…so his new deal isn’t totally out of left field, either.
Regardless, at least for now, a three-year contract with an annual average value of $11 million for a player who’s struggled so mightily to stay healthy is an overpay. Exum could prove that conclusion wrong if he begins to consistently produce while managing not to miss any time in 2018-19, but at the moment, his contract simply isn’t very team-friendly.
Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz
Two years, $36 million
Mostly everything we said regarding Exum and the Jazz applies to Derrick Favors as well. Like with Exum, it makes sense why Utah overpaid to keep the Georgia Tech product around – he performed well last season, he’s a great locker-room presence and the Jazz were probably better-served using that money keeping the core happy than chasing outside free agents.
But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s an overpay.
Though Jazz lineups featuring both Favors and Rudy Gobert have performed quite well over the past two seasons, the two bigs are at their best when playing exclusively at center. But as long as Gobert is healthy, Favors won’t be able to play that position for anything other than brief stretches.
So at the end of the day, no matter which way you spin in it, the Jazz are using over two-fifths over their cap space in 2019 (Gobert is set to earn $23.5 million next season, to Favors’ $18 million) on two centers, which simply isn’t a very savvy allocation of resources.
Nonetheless, there is a saving grace on this deal, in the form of a non-guaranteed second season. And as stated earlier, for the team’s culture, keeping Favors around and happy should be a major benefit.
Not to mention, it’s pretty clear the Jazz’s front office knows what it’s doing, as Utah’s been Top 5 league-wide in net rating in each of the past two seasons, even after losing the services of Gordon Hayward last summer. So they most certainly deserve the benefit of the doubt with the contracts dolled out to Exum and Favors.
Doug McDermott, Indiana Pacers
Three years, $22 million
In the modern NBA, shooting is vital to team success. Without it, offenses sputter and net ratings plummet. So the Indiana Pacers agreeing to pay Doug McDermott $22 million over three years isn’t that shocking.
But at the same time… it’s at least a little shocking.
Since arriving in the NBA, McDermott ranks 13th in three-point accuracy, converting an impressive 40.3 percent of his looks from beyond the arc. But his near-total lack of agility limits him defensively to the point that for his career, the teams he’s been on have been outscored by 2.5 points per 100 possessions during McDermott’s time on the floor.
Further consider that the former Creighton star doesn’t contribute much on offense besides his shooting, and you have the makings of a player who should be getting less than $7.3 million annually over the next three seasons, especially since it’s hard to come up with another team who would have been willing to pay him that much money.
Joe Harris, Brooklyn Nets
Two years, $16 million
Many of the same issues we had with the McDermott’s contract can apply to the agreement between Joe Harris and the Brooklyn Nets.
Harris will be 27 by the time next season rolls around, while only having one season of truly elite marksmanship under his belt as a pro. Does that really warrant a $16 million investment from a rebuilding team, especially when you consider how little value he provides outside of his shooting?
Had the Virginia product received this contract from a contender, it would have made a bit more logical. After all, $8 million annually is close to the full mid-level exception, which is all most playoff teams had to offer prospective free agents this summer. Signing Harris to a short-term deal at the MLE would have been savvy for a team like the Philadelphia 76ers or New Orleans Pelicans, who could use more shooting to improve their offensive output. But Brooklyn giving Harris a deal of that size is a bit of an eyebrow-raiser.
At least he’ll be off the books in two summers. And with how weak the East is after LeBron James‘ departure – who knows? – maybe the Nets are planning a surprise run at the playoffs. If they aren’t, this contract just doesn’t make much sense.
Chris Paul, Houston Rockets
Four years, $160 million
If Chris Paul were in his late-20s as opposed to nearly in his mid-30s, paying him the max would be a foregone conclusion that any team would have given an arm and a leg to arrive at.
But with the Point God about to enter his Age-33 season, and after he’s missed 45 regular-season contests over the past two years, the way this contract will look by 2020-21 is a bit worrisome. That season, Paul will earn an astonishing $41.4 million, almost certainly from the Houston Rockets. The year after, when Paul will be in his Age-36 campaign? An even more jaw-dropping $44.2 million, before he finally becomes a free agent again in the summer of 2022.
Unfortunately for general manager Daryl Morey’s team, even if it wasn’t from Houston, some franchise would have given Paul the max this offseason. Plus, it’s not like Paul didn’t earn his money. His synergy and ability to not just coexist, but thrive with James Harden helped the Rockets win a franchise-record 65 games (the Texan franchise had never been victorious in more than 58 games in a single year), and come within one measly contest of knocking off the mighty Golden State Warriors and reaching the NBA Finals.
But it’s how their season ended that should be a cause for concern regarding Paul’s contract moving forward. The diminutive floor general hurt his hamstring, an injury that becomes more common as players age, late in Game 5 against Golden State, and was forced to miss the deciding final two outings.
Sure, one could wonder what would have happened if Paul hadn’t gotten hurt. But on the other hand, it’s difficult to assume he’ll be the perfect model of health moving forward, especially with how many miles he’s already put on his 6-foot frame.
The Rockets – one of the few teams outside of Golden State with a championship window open at the moment – were right to re-sign Paul to a max deal, while being smart enough not to give him the fifth year on his contract. But still, this is the type of agreement that one can easily envision aging quite poorly.
Trevor Ariza, Phoenix Suns
One year, $15 million
After having to pay Paul so handsomely to re-sign with the club, the Rockets lost the ability to make a competitive offer to one of their other free agents: a pretty important piece of the puzzle named Trevor Ariza.
Ariza was one of the first players to come to terms on a new deal this offseason, with his agreement coming early on July 1, the first day teams and players were allowed to negotiate contracts.
Of all the agreements on our list, Ariza’s actually carries the smallest dollar amount. And it’s not the two-way swingman’s level of productivity that makes his contract ugly. It’s just that his landing spot, the Phoenix Suns, don’t seem to be a good fit for his services due to the fact that they’re still in the midst of a rebuild, while Ariza is already 33 years old. He would make a lot more sense suiting up for a contender at this point in his career, or at the very least, for a surefire playoff team.
With how stacked the Western Conference is at the moment, even despite the vast improvements made by Devin Booker, it’s extremely difficult to see Phoenix making a legit run at the postseason in 2018-19.
Additionally, the Suns have already made huge investments on the young wings on their roster, drafting Josh Jackson third overall in 2017, giving TJ Warren a four-year, $50 million extension last year and then trading multiple assets for Mikal Bridges during the most recent draft night.
So why take vital developmental minutes away from those guys next season just to give them to Ariza, in a foolhardy attempt to speed up the process and chase an extremely unlikely playoff spot?
The logic just doesn’t make much sense, even if Phoenix does believe Ariza will be an important locker-room presence for the team next year. That will only take the Suns so far.
Avery Bradley, Los Angeles Clippers
Two years, $25 million
A player with a good amount of postseason experience who fills an important modern archetype – the 3-and-D off-ball wing – Avery Bradley‘s new contract would have looked a lot better if he received a few summers ago.
Since his breakout campaign in 2015-16, when Bradley averaged 15.2 points and 2.9 rebounds nightly on healthy shooting splits, the Texas product has missed 27 and 36 games in consecutive seasons. Due to an abductor injury in 2017-18, Bradley also saw a concerning dip in multiple catch-all analytics, including Value Over Replacement Player, where he just put up the worst mark of his career at -0.8.
The Los Angeles Clippers must have felt comfortable with how his recovery is going, as they signed Bradley to a two-year, $25 million deal.
According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, the Clippers are basically off the hook for the second year of the agreement, as it’s nearly a non-guaranteed contract after the first season:
Nevertheless, Bradley’s deal isn’t very team-friendly, especially for a player coming off a pretty serious injury. What’s more, outside of his just-solid shooting, the 2-guard’s other biggest strength, his defense, has fallen off over recent years. And considering the ailment he’s coming back from, that elite defensive form might be difficult for him to regain.
It’s also hard to surmise what exactly the Clippers are trying to be. In the stacked West, do they have the players to make a run at the playoffs? Once there, do they have the firepower to knock off a first-round foe?
Bradley’s money may have been better-spent improving a different part of the roster, especially after the team drafted another shooting guard, Jerome Robinson, in the lottery of the 2018 draft.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @FrankUrbina_.
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