We’re about to start the 2020-21 season and almost all the bloated contracts signed in 2016 and 2017 have expired. Teams have been more careful lately and for the most part deals average 1-3 years in length.
That doesn’t mean we still don’t get a bad contract negotiated every once in a while. One thing that has changed since 2016 is the introduction of the supermax contract. What was supposed to be a vehicle to keep star players from leaving the franchises that drafted them has barely stopped them. Not only that, but the ones that were signed have completely backfired on teams.
With most of the spending power in 2020 free agency all gone, here is a list of 25 of the most difficult contracts to trade.
John Wall (Washington)
Owed salary: $131,544,000 through 2022-23
Wall is set to return after missing almost two years of action with a heel injury and a ruptured Achilles tendon. The 30-year-old will likely have lost most of the explosiveness that helped him become one of the league’s best defensive guards and best finishers in the paint. At $41.5 million this season, it’s hard to imagine a single team taking a chance on Wall, even if he comes back to 80 percent of the player he was in 2016-17. Getting off this contract could cost the Wizards multiple future picks and young players.
Klay Thompson (Golden State)
Owed salary: $157,161,600 through 2023-24
Thompson is set to miss his second consecutive season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Thompson will be in his age-32 season when he returns and will be set to earn $38 million in it. His status as an NBA champion and history with the Warriors will likely stop them from even considering trying to trade him, but they shouldn’t count on the same Thompson from the 2019 Finals to pick up right where he left off. If he’s unable to perform at a level that contributes towards the Warriors’ playoff goals, his trade value might be as neutral salary filler in a bigger deal at best.
Russell Westbrook (Houston)
Owed salary: $131,516,000 through 2022-23
Westbrook is still an elite NBA talent, there’s no questioning that. But an average salary of $44 million over the next three seasons is a lot for a player who isn’t consistently an All-NBA First-Teamer. There seems to be a very thin line between teams not offering enough value for him, and teams offering too much. Perhaps both the Rockets and Wizards could swap their disgruntled stars who have almost identical contracts.
Gordon Hayward (Charlotte)
Owed salary: $120,000,000 through 2023-24
$120 million over four years is a lot of money for a one-time All-Star with a long injury history. It isn’t so much the $30 million annual salary that makes this a bad contract for Hayward, but more so the fourth year. If he had one less year on the deal, the Hornets might not have such a hard time trading him later if things don’t work out.
Tobias Harris (Philadelphia)
Owed salary: $148,965,517 through 2023-24
When the Sixers traded for Harris, on the surface it looked like a great win-now move where they didn’t give up too much. But by trading assets for an expiring contract, they created a sunk cost fallacy if they didn’t re-sign him. This leveraged the Sixers into giving Harris a near-maximum contract worth $180 million over five years. Harris is a really good, versatile, and productive player who can slide into a role with any contender, but $36 million annually makes him the league’s highest-paid role player. If he were making closer to $25 million he would have a lot more suitors.
Kevin Love (Cleveland)
Owed salary: $91,459,342 through 2022-23
The Cavaliers gave Love this extension on the heels of losing both LeBron James to free agency and Kyrie Irving through a trade request. Cleveland thought that extending him would raise his trade value since he was approaching a contract year. It backfired and now the league has shifted away towards big men who can’t defend well. Love is definitely tradeable, but the Cavaliers are unlikely to get the haul of draft picks and young players they want for him.
Andrew Wiggins (Golden State)
Owed salary: $94,738,170 through 2022-23
Wiggins got a maximum extension because of his potential. He is a gifted player who can score at will and last season really started expanding his playmaking and defensive skills. Many teams lacking offense would love to have him starting for them but just not at $30 million annually. He certainly is productive and extremely valuable for the Warriors given their circumstances, but his trade value doesn’t contribute towards trading for a star. If anything, it might cost the Warriors assets to get off of it.
Al Horford (Oklahoma City)
Owed salary: $81,000,000 through 2022-23 ($69,000,000 guaranteed)
To be fair to Horford, he may still be one of the best centers in the league and should be playing for a contender right now. The reasons the Sixers signed him were a little misguided and his bad fit there confused a lot of people thinking he fell off. His contract isn’t bad considering he only has two fully guaranteed years left but the salary is just a bit too high. Still, there’s a good chance that as we get closer to the end of his contract, the Thunder should be able to rehabilitate his trade value and get some more future draft picks for him.
Kemba Walker (Boston)
Owed salary: $108,048,600 through 2022-23
Walker’s knee is a real issue now and it isn’t going away. If missing 30-40 percent of games each year becomes a regular thing, then the Celtics will have a hard time getting off of this contract. Even if he played every game, he would probably still be on this list, albeit much lower.
Eric Gordon (Houston)
Owed salary: $75,574,356 through 2023-24 ($54,656,454 guaranteed)
Gordon was wise to skip free agency this summer as he likely wouldn’t have gotten this much money on the open market. After signing his maximum possible extension amount with Houston, Gordon had a rocky season where knee issues cost him time and his efficiency suffered because of it. The last year of his deal isn’t guaranteed, essentially making it a three-year deal. An annual salary of $19 million makes it hard for other teams to acquire him.
Jerami Grant (Detroit)
Owed salary: $60,000,000 through 2022-23
Grant is a fantastic player who fit very well as a third or fourth option with what the Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder were doing. $20 million annually is about 20 percent overpriced for a player like Grant when other great role players like Joe Harris and Davis Bertans got less. It feels like this contract makes him destined to be traded, but it’s tough to see a contender want Grant at his salary.
Harrison Barnes (Sacramento)
Owed salary: $60,852,273 through 2022-23
The best thing about Barnes’ contract is that it decreases annually. This could make his contract more favorable to other teams compared to other players on this list. With neutral trade value at best, it’s hard to see another team acquiring him unless it is in a consolidation trade where the Kings get a more expensive player.
Mason Plumlee (Detroit)
Owed salary: $25,000,000 through 2022-23
What might be more shocking than Plumlee getting that contract is that he was the first center off the market. In what was supposed to be a quiet market for centers where they were expected to receive offers between the room mid-level and the veteran minimum, many bigs got near non-taxpayer mid-level money. And Plumlee’s contract may have set the market for that. Although he is only earning an average of $8.3 million annually, that is still a very undesirable contract.
Blake Griffin (Detroit)
Owed salary: $75,553,024 through 2021-22
The good news for the Pistons is that 60 percent of Griffin’s contract is complete. The bad news is that he’s earning an average of $37.7 million over the next two seasons. Heading into his age-32 season off a year lost with injuries, there might not be a market for Griffin even without giving up assets. The Pistons may have no choice but to run his contract to the end.
Eric Bledsoe (New Orleans)
Owed salary: $54,375,000 through 2022-23
Bledsoe is a great player in the regular season and a different one whose shot completely drops off in the playoffs. Many teams would love to have him but not at $18 million annually. Even if the Pelicans do not trade him, he could still be a great fit for them and is insurance in case the Pelicans don’t extend Lonzo Ball.
Draymond Green (Golden State)
Owed salary: $99,666,362 through 2023-24
Many thought Green was better off testing the 2020 free agency market to potentially get a maximum contract. That likely wasn’t out there, making his extension excellent value for him. Green thrives when both Stephen Curry and Thompson are on the floor with him. With Thompson set to miss a second consecutive season, Green’s utility diminishes. When Golden State is dominating, Green is worth every penny. But if circumstances don’t allow him to do what he does best, then his contract could be cumbersome.
Joe Harris (Brooklyn)
Owed salary: $70,843,931 through 2023-24
Harris came into 2020 free agency with so much leverage the Nets had no choice but to overpay him. Elite shooting is hard to come by, but if the Nets make the Finals, $18 million annually won’t feel like such a big deal. As long as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are on the roster and healthy, Harris makes sense there, which is important because his high salary could be hard to move in the future.
Malik Beasley (Minnesota)
Owed salary: $60,000,000 through 2023-24 ($43,475,894 guaranteed)
$15 million annually is probably the highest end of what Beasley should earn. The fear with Beasley is that this contract is based on the results of a small sample size and legal issues could hurt his trade value. If his shooting in his brief run after being moved to the Timberwolves holds, then this contract could be a bargain. If not, the Timberwolves will have a tough time getting value for him.
D'Angelo Russell (Minnesota)
Owed salary: $90,040,500
After this upcoming season, we should get a definitive answer on whether Russell is a true ‘max player’. If his defense doesn’t improve and the Timberwolves continue to not compete at a high level, then the answer is no. Still, it’s highly unlikely Minnesota looks to trade Russell anytime soon after the investment they made in him.
Dwight Powell (Dallas)
Owed salary: $33,000,000 through 2022-23
His contract seemed decent before he ruptured his Achilles, but now it’s hard to value his deal as more than salary filler. The Mavericks still need to get off a big contract if they want to reach maximum cap space next summer, and getting off Powell could lead them there. If he doesn’t come back strong from his injury, Dallas might have to include an asset to move his contract.
Davis Bertans (Washington)
Owed salary: $80 million through 2024-25
The 28-year-old sharpshooter is set to earn $16 million annually which is very fair. But it’s the length of the deal that could hamper his trade value. Not only is he signed for five seasons, but he has an Early Termination Option which gives him a lot of agency in the last year of the contract. This deal both feels like an overpay due to the years but feels team-friendly at the same time due to the annual salary.
DeAndre Jordan (Brooklyn)
Owed salary: $30,079,118 through 2022-23
Jordan’s inclusion on the Nets could cost them another great center in Jarrett Allen. It is very unlikely the Nets trade Jordan, but even if they did, they might have a hard time moving him at $10 million annually. The good thing about Jordan’s contract is that it decreases each year, making him a little easier to move down the line.
Nikola Vucevic (Orlando)
Owed salary: $72,000,000 through 2022-23
Vucevic is earning $26 million this season, which could make it hard for other teams to match salaries for him. His contract decreases by $2 million each season, so if the Magic decide to hit the reset button, they should have an easier time trading him in future seasons.
Al-Farouq Aminu (Orlando)
Owed salary: $19,904,700 through 2021-22
Aminu getting the full mid-level for three seasons seemed like a lot even after coming off a strong postseason run for the Blazers. His first season in Orlando was limited to 18 games due to a torn meniscus. With Jonathan Isaac out for the season, he has a chance to rehabilitate his value, but the thirty-year-old will have competition for minutes from Chuma Okeke, Michael Carter-Williams, James Ennis, and Gary Clark.
CJ McCollum (Portland)
Owed salary: $129,354,152 through 2023-24
McCollum has played phenomenally over the past few seasons for the Blazers. He signed a three-year $100 million extension last offseason that still hasn’t kicked in yet. Still, $33 million annually is a lot of money for a 29-year-old who hasn’t made an All-Star Game yet.