Ranking the Top Five Worst Contracts in the NBA
Earlier in the week, we reviewed the five best contracts in the NBA this season. Plenty of players are smashing their value, even as they move beyond their rookie deals.
But there are always two sides to the coin, and the good comes with the bad. General Managers can make some boneheaded decisions that just look atrocious in hindsight.
Who possesses the worst contracts in the NBA presently? Read on to find the deals all executives wish they could take back.
Top Five Worst Contracts in the NBA
5. Aaron Gordon PF, Denver Nuggets
Contract: 4 years, $86 million - Free Agent in 2026
Gordon’s contract is about $40-$90 million less than the other names on this list, but the former slam dunk champion has one disadvantage the others do not. His deal does not start until this current season. Two years after the rest of these players have moved past their current contracts, the Denver Nuggets (or someone else) will still be paying $21.6 million per year.
Can someone also please remind me what Aaron Gordon does well? At least $86 million well? When Jamal Murray is healthy, he will be the fourth offensive option at best for the Nuggets. Last year Gordon averaged 12.4 points and 5.7 rebounds in just 50 total games. Which brings up the other baffling part of this deal. Gordon has played more than 62 games once since 2017 and constantly battles nagging injuries.
Last season, Gordon was a net negative in defensive plus/minus on the year (-0.2), and he had his lowest offensive and defensive win shares since his rookie year. He may be a nice complementary piece for the Nuggets, but you can find his talent for cheaper than $86 million.
4. Kyrie Irving PG, Brooklyn Nets
Contract: 4 years, $136 million - Free Agent in 2024
I can’t imagine what it must feel like to pay an employee $34.1 million per year and then he is legally prohibited from entering his place of employment. But it’s just another day in the life of the Kyrie Irving saga who seems to be perpetually unhappy, at odds with teammates, or otherwise disinterested.
Irving is, without a doubt, one of the greatest pure talents in the NBA, but for my money, I want someone in the workforce who is engaged and contributing. Irving has played more than 67 games once since 2015 and it looks unlikely he will come anywhere near that number in 2021-2022.
As general managers make their decisions about which players will bring the unwanted balance of talent vs. headaches, I am sure Irving is the leader in the clubhouse.
3. Kevin Love PF, Cleveland Cavaliers
Contract: 4 years, $120 million - Free Agent in 2023
At least Irving has age on his side in the years left on his deal. Irving will be only 31 when his contract expires, while Love is 33 and still has two more (likely injury-riddled) years left. Love has played in only 54% of his team’s games in the past five seasons, and now he is out for several games this year due to health and safety protocols.
There was a time when Love was one of the most feared rebounders and shooters in the game, but his minutes crashed to 20.7 per game last year, resulting in just 9.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per night. With Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen, and Lauri Markkanen now operating the frontcourt for the Cavaliers, it looks like Cleveland will just have to eat the rest of the deal in case they can take the expiring contract at next season’s trade deadline.
2. Kristaps Porzingis PF, Dallas Mavericks
Contract: 5 years, $158 million - Free Agent in 2024
When Dallas traded for Porzingis, they got access to his Bird rights, which allowed them to sign the Unicorn to a max-five year extension worth $158 million in July of 2019. His salary escalates from $31 million this season to $36 million by the end of 2023-2024 when he can become a free agent again.
Porzingis is only 26 years old, which is a tremendous benefit. But he is about the oldest 26 year old you are going to find in the association. He missed almost two full years with an ACL injury and now a never-ending parade of back issues and soft-muscle aggravations constantly keep him out. Last year, Porzingis was only able to play 43 games and he has sat out 40% of the Mavericks’ games so far this season.
He is a reliable 20-point/9-rebound player when he is healthy. The only problem is “reliable” and “healthy” don’t belong in the same sentence with Porzingis.
1. John Wall PG, Houston Rockets
Contract: 4 years, $171 million - Free Agent in 2023
Finally, we reach the masterclass on how not to sign long-term NBA contracts. After an amazing 2017 season that saw Wall score 23 points per game and dish out almost 11 assists per night, the Washington Wizards thought it best to lock up their star guard for the rest of his career. So, they gave him a contract extension. Reasonable, right?
The problem was the contract didn’t kick in until two years AFTER his All-Star/Third Team All-NBA season in 2017. By the time the contract came due, Wall was coming off two seasons where he played a total of 73 games, and then missed the whole next year with a left heel and Achilles problem.
Now, the Rockets are on the hook for $44 million this season and for a $47 million player option in 20222-2023. If you are betting, it’s the lock of the century that Wall will pick up that option, making his contact an albatross that will hang around the next of whoever employs him for another two years.