Some NBA teams might feel they'd need a miracle to get out of their worst contracts.
Others likely aren't sure which of their contracts is even the worst.
Association payrolls aren't created equally, and that's especially true at this point on the hoops calendar. While 27 teams have officially entered their offseasons, none has started its roster-replenishing process. The draft is nearly a month away, and free agency is even further into the future. While some clubs have only a few holes to fill, others are almost starting from scratch.
That makes identifying each team's worst contract dramatically different from one squad to the next. Some have clear albatrosses that might be impossible to move. Others only have a handful of financial commitments that all seem reasonably priced.
But we're here to identify the worst deal on the books for everyone. While the basic idea is measuring cost against performance, other factors include age, upside, contract length and injury history.
Once the contracts are chosen, the second step is finding them new homes. This is much easier in some cases than others—and impossible in one. Because the 2019-20 rosters are incomplete, we're focusing more on rough trade ideas than particular transactions that include all the necessary nuts and bolts.
Atlanta Hawks: Miles Plumlee to Pistons
The Atlanta Hawks are deep enough into their rebuild that most bad money has been cleared from their books. Their only two eight-figure salaries—both of which expire after next season—belong to Kent Bazemore ($19.3 million) and Miles Plumlee ($12.5 million).
Bazemore is overpaid as a glorified energy guy, but at least he's usable. Plumlee barely saw the floor in 2018-19 (173 minutes over 18 outings) due both to a nagging knee injury that sent him under the knife in March and his place in the interior pecking order.
Moving Plumlee won't be easy. He's basically a rim-runner in a market with plenty of them available, and he offers nothing in the way of shooting (career 54.3 free-throw percentage, zero three-point attempts).
But maybe the Detroit Pistons want a more reliable option behind Andre Drummond than Thon Maker. If Atlanta packaged Plumlee with a second-rounder—the Hawks have two extra seconds in this draft—that could be enough for Maker (a developmental stretch big who theoretically fits alongside John Collins) and salary filler.
Boston Celtics: Gordon Hayward to Grizzlies
Gordon Hayward seemed a sensible signing when the Boston Celtics maxed him out in 2017, but a gruesome leg injury suffered just a few months later changed everything.
The first season of his four-year, $128 million contract was erased by the opening-night injury. While he recovered to make 72 regular-season appearances in 2018-19, he averaged just 11.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists over 25.9 minutes. He showed a few flashes of his former self, but consistency remains an ongoing issue. Over his final four postseason outings, he scored just 24 points on 27 shots.
If the Shamrocks hope to make a win-now push, Hayward's $32.7 million salary in 2019-20 would become a hindrance. But The Ringer's Bill Simmons offered a way to shed it while also erasing the need to pursue Kyrie Irving in free agency.
"Hayward, [draft picks] 14 and 20 for [Mike] Conley," he said on The Bill Simmons Podcast (via NESN).
With the Memphis Grizzlies reportedly locked in on Ja Morant, they no longer have a need for their longtime floor general. What they could use are more young pieces to complement Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.
The C's, meanwhile, would add an easier fit to work alongside Al Horford, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown (or maybe Anthony Davis?). Irving might be the superior scorer, but Conley is a better distributor and more willing defender who'd have an easier time sharing the spotlight with Boston's up-and-comers.
Brooklyn Nets: Allen Crabbe to Cavaliers
The Brooklyn Nets are dreaming as big as possible this summer with the likes of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler all on the wish list, per Brian Lewis of the New York Post. Considering what the Nets can offer—a major market, a talented young nucleus, synergy between general manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson, a path to two max-contract slots—it's possible their wildest dreams come true.
But those dreams will be dashed without excising themselves of Crabbe's bloated $18.5 million salary. The overpaid specialist must be removed before Brooklyn can even think about courting multiple stars.
The Cleveland Cavaliers can help with that. They have the Association's best avenue to salary savings in JR Smith's uniquely structured contract. To make a long explanation short, just $3.8 million of Smith's $15.6 million salary is guaranteed. But since the deal was signed under the old collective bargaining agreement, its outgoing value equals the full amount—not just the guaranteed portion.
While the Cavs could use Crabbe's shooting stroke (career 39.3 percent from distance), what they really want are assets. If the Nets paired Crabbe with, say, the 27th pick (via Denver) and 2018 first-rounder Dzanan Musa, that might nab them Smith and put them on the fast track to pursuing multiple elites.
Charlotte Hornets: Nicolas Batum to Pistons
Nicolas Batum is...fine. In fact, his 14.9 career player efficiency rating paints him as almost perfectly average (15.0 is the metric's midpoint).
In most circumstances, that would be...well, fine.
But it's disastrous when the Charlotte Hornets are paying him superstar money ($25.6 million next season with a $27.1 million player option for 2020-21). Especially when head coach James Borrego admits "I don't really know" Batum's role going forward, per Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer.
The Hornets' future with or without Kemba Walker looks infinitely better without Batum bogging down the books. So, how can they get rid of him?
It's fair to question whether they could. But since our job is to make that happen (hypothetically, at least), what if the Hornets packaged Batum with Malik Monk and the 12th overall pick to pry Andre Drummond away from the Detroit Pistons? It feels like Walker keeps looking for a reason to stay in Charlotte, and maybe having an All-Star-caliber, explosive pick-and-roll partner would do the trick.
Detroit, meanwhile, might be ready for a shakeup given its own cap crunch and four-game flop out of the postseason's first round.
Chicago Bulls: Cristiano Felicio to Grizzlies
It's tempting to go with Otto Porter, Jr. here, since he's essentially a glue guy collecting a marquee player's pay ($27.3 million next season, $28.5 million player option the following year). But the Chicago Bulls deemed him worthy of it when they traded for him in February, and to his credit, he responded with personal bests in points (17.5), assists (2.7) and threes (2.6) over his 15 games with the Windy City's finest.
Cristiano Felicio, on the other hand, appeared grossly overcompensated before the ink dried on the four-year, $32 million contract he signed in 2017. The Bulls were apparently betting on his upside, but he's remained a bit player since (4.8 points and 3.9 rebounds in 15.0 minutes a night).
The good news is the dollar amount isn't egregious by NBA standards: $8.2 million next season, $7.5 million in 2020-21. The brutal news is he offers so little inside the lines that potential trade partners would nevertheless require a sweetener if he's not part of a larger transaction.
Using Felicio's money to help match salaries should be the Bulls' focus since clearing cap space would only help if top-shelf free agents were itching to come to Chicago. (Spoiler alert: they're not.) Given the Bulls' ongoing issues at point guard and apparent desire to win sooner than later, they should make a run at the Mike Conley sweepstakes with an offer built around Felicio, Kris Dunn and a lottery-protected future first.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Kevin Love to Jazz
When LeBron James left Northeast Ohio last summer, bottoming out seemed the best recovery strategy for the Cleveland Cavaliers. But they hoped to remain playoff-relevant without the King, and that desire could've been the driving influence behind their decision to hand Kevin Love a four-year, $120.4 million extension.
The Cavs predictably crumbled, and Love was powerless to prevent it. He lost most of the campaign to a toe injury, and he didn't look especially sharp when he could play (38.5/36.1/90.4 shooting slash).
Other than being an above-average spot-up sniper, his game hasn't aged well. His back-to-the-basket skills are less usable in today's NBA, and his defensive limitations are more problematic. Considering his new deal hasn't kicked in yet and lasts until his mid-30s, it appears one of the Association's trickiest contracts to shed.
"You're not getting an asset for him under any circumstances," a Western Conference executive told Bleacher Report's Ken Berger in January.
The key for Cleveland will be identifying a non-destination franchise that has cap space but almost certainly can't sign a top-tier player. The Utah Jazz make a ton of sense as a potential trade partner.
They need a stretch big and a second scorer/shot-creator to help Donovan Mitchell. They also have the defensive depth to work around a liability on that end. They might be one of the only teams to view Love as a legitimate asset.
The Cavs, meanwhile, could potentially add Derrick Favors (either a plug-and-play big or salary relief), Dante Exum (an intriguing long-term option alongside Collin Sexton) and the 53rd pick to help their reconstruction project.
Dallas Mavericks: Tim Hardaway Jr. to Hornets
In order for the Dallas Mavericks to land potential building block Kristaps Porzingis, they had to add Tim Hardaway Jr. and his onerous contract, as well. But they probably aren't keen on paying a scoring specialist with middling efficiency $20 million next season (or his $19 million player option for 2020-21).
While overpaid, Hardaway has an intriguing offensive skill set. He's an effortless athlete with three-point range, enough off-the-dribble shake to find his own shot and a willingness to share the rock. Consistency can be an issue, but he's ignitable—he has 50 games with 20-plus points since the start of last season, tied for 41st in the league.
But if this summer goes according to plan, Dallas won't need his scoring. Should the Mavs retain Porzingis and pick up another impact free agent to slot alongside Luka Doncic, Hardaway could be bumped down to a fourth option or even the sixth-man slot—jobs well beneath his pay grade.
The Hornets could use Hardaway as a Kemba Walker recruiter, though.
His 18.1 points per game this past season were more than any Walker teammate has scored since Al Jefferson's All-NBA effort in 2013-14. If Charlotte is all-in on keeping Walker (like it says), then parting with a lottery-protected future first and Bismack Biyombo's expiring salary for Hardaway could show him a commitment to competing sooner than later.
Denver Nuggets: Will Barton to Blazers
Will Barton ranked among the Denver Nuggets' top five in minutes (fourth), points (fifth) and assists (fifth). That his rich but not ridiculous contract ($26.5 million over the next two seasons, $14.7 million player option for 2021-22) would grade as the worst shows there's a bunch of good money on the books.
But given how stocked the Nuggets are with young, improving perimeter players and the fact most will need new deals before Barton's is up, it's possible they'd gauge the 28-year-old's trade market. This wasn't his best year by durability or production, and he picked the worst time for a frigid stretch, shooting just 34.8 percent overall and 27.3 percent outside over Denver's 14 playoff games.
Still, his instant-offense profile and energy would appeal to plenty of contenders.
The Portland Trail Blazers, who brought Barton into the league as the 40th pick in 2012, look like a logical landing spot. They need more shot-creators around Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, especially if Rodney Hood or Seth Curry exits in free agency. Plus, the thought of returning to Portland has crossed Barton's mind before.
"I was so close with Dame," he told Chris Haynes, then with ESPN, last April. "He's always been one of my biggest supporters. It was a dream of mine to play alongside him. ... How special would it have been with me, him and CJ in the backcourt?"
If Portland wants The Thrill back, there might be two ways to get this done. A straight swap of Barton for Maurice Harkless would increase the Blazers' firepower while addressing the Nuggets' need for another wing defender. If Denver is more focused on an asset, Portland could pair a future pick with Meyers Leonard in a different iteration.
Detroit Pistons: Reggie Jackson to Bulls
After the honeymoon period ended and the injury bug reared its ugly head, the Detroit Pistons likely knew Reggie Jackson wasn't going to be the player they paid him $80 million to be.
That contract is mercifully almost finished, but he still has one more season making an inflated $18.1 million salary. Its relatively close expiration date might make it less worrisome than the longer, richer deals tied to Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, but at least that pair produces like All-Stars. Over the past three seasons, Jackson is just a 42.2 percent shooter with a wholly underwhelming 15.3 PER.
It would take an anemic point guard group to make Jackson appear an enticing target. The Bulls have exactly that.
Kris Dunn is three years into his NBA career and still has no discernible offensive identity. Shaquille Harrison (non-guaranteed contract) and Ryan Arcidiacono (restricted free agent) aren't necessarily part of Chicago's 2019-20 roster. If they are, they're still Shaquille Harrison and Ryan Arcidiacono.
Jackson wouldn't fix Chicago's issues, but adding him to next season's equation might make it easier to see what's possible with the Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. core. Jackson might not be confused for a top-flight floor general, but he offers a higher floor than anyone the Bulls are likely to have at the position.
As for the other side of the swap, Chicago could pair Denzel Valentine—oft-injured but interesting when healthy—with Felicio (for salary-matching purposes) and the 38th pick in the upcoming draft.
Golden State Warriors: Andre Iguodala to Raptors
The Golden State Warriors have five guaranteed contracts on next season's payroll.
Two belong to Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. Two are rookie-scale wages attached to recent first-rounders Damian Jones and Jacob Evans. So...we guess Andre Iguodala's $17.2 million is the worst of the bunch, then?
He's tricky to appreciate through the stat sheet, especially during the regular season. The 35-year-old almost treats the 82-game marathon as his prolonged warmup for when he's most needed in the playoffs. Once he flips the postseason switch, he's an invaluable one-on-one defender who also contributes as a complementary playmaker, cutter, transition finisher and occasional three-point splasher.
That's hard to evaluate monetarily, but the Warriors are more than fine with Iggy's pact.
"Are we overpaying statistically? Probably. Are we overpaying in terms of his value on winning a championship? Hell, no," head coach Steve Kerr told The Athletic's Anthony Slater. "Can you imagine us without him?"
We'll try since that's the purpose of the article.
If the Toronto Raptors keep Kawhi Leonard, they'd become a potential trade partner. Lining up Iguodala and Leonard next to Danny Green and Pascal Siakam sounds like a defensive cheat code. Plus, Toronto could scratch Golden State's itch for more youth in its perimeter rotation with a deal built around OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet.
Houston Rockets: Chris Paul to Lakers
When the Houston Rockets inked a then-33-year-old Chris Paul to a four-year, $160 million deal, they likely braced themselves for a rough campaign or two on the contract's back end. But after watching him post the worst PER of his career (19.7), they might be worried this will be painful for the duration of the deal.
Houston, which has a narrow window to strike in James Harden's prime, will have a tough time dramatically reshaping the roster as long as Paul's contract is on the books. But the Rockets might find a willing taker in the Los Angeles Lakers, who are desperate for the win-now support their young players can't provide LeBron James, Paul's Banana Boat buddy.
"The Lakers don't need a reboot as much as they need some missing parts," Arash Markazi of the Los Angeles Times wrote. "Along with an experienced front-office executive, they need to add a veteran or two to pair with James, who is still arguably the best player in the NBA."
With L.A.'s free-agency outlook dimming and the New Orleans Pelicans reportedly disinterested in trading Anthony Davis to the Lakers, Paul could be their most realistic hope for finding James immediate assistance. If they're committed to chasing a championship, they could form an offer around Lonzo Ball and a lottery-protected 2020 first-rounder, both of which Houston could keep or flip in a future move.
Indiana Pacers: Myles Turner to Pelicans
The Indiana Pacers don't have many contracts carrying through 2019-20, and nitpicking is required to find a less-than-shrewd investment among them. Paying Myles Turner $72 million for the next four seasons could prove a bargain if his offense comes around.
That said, he's four years into his NBA career and hasn't shown significant signs of growth at that end.
Even if you stretch his marks out to the per-36-minute scale—he's averaged fewer than 29 minutes the past two seasons—he still sports a non-elite career line of 16.5 points, 1.6 assists and 0.8 threes. Indy desperately needed him to step up in Victor Oladipo's absence this postseason, and he scored just 39 points across four games.
The Pacers probably aren't actively looking to move Turner since he's a brilliant defender and valuable floor-spacer (38.8 percent from distance in 2018-19). But if they found an offer to their liking, they might have to consider it, as they'll presumably need to choose between Turner and Domantas Sabonis at some point.
Making Turner the centerpiece of an exchange that frees Jrue Holiday from New Orleans would work for both sides. The Pelicans should shape their supporting cast around presumed No. 1 pick Zion Williamson, who'd benefit from Turner's rim protection and distance shooting. Holiday, meanwhile, would address the Pacers' need for a second scorer and long-term backcourt mate for Oladipo.
Los Angeles Clippers: Danilo Gallinari to Mavericks
Danilo Gallinari is a gifted scorer who just set a personal best in points per game while also delivering career highs in PER and true shooting percentage. He shouldn't have any business even being mentioned in this discussion.
But the Los Angeles Clippers might have the cleanest books in the business. Three of their six guaranteed contracts for next season belong to 2018 first-rounders. Two others are held by Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, Sixth Man of the Year finalists who'll cost a combined $14 million in 2019-20. Given Gallo's age (30) and injury history, his $22.6 million salary stands out as the worst (or least good) of the bunch.
The Clippers might need to move him. They want to snag two superstars this summer, but they won't have double-max room without a Gallinari deal.
L.A. needs cap space. Dallas has cap space and needs a third star to complement the Doncic-Porzingis duo. These are logical trade partners, although the compensation is a bit tricky to figure out. It's possible the Clips would settle for flexibility alone, but the Mavs might need to sweeten the pot with either a prospect like Justin Jackson or a few future second-rounders.
Los Angeles Lakers: Lonzo Ball to Bulls
This feels harsh to Lonzo Ball, who's just the 12th player in NBA history to average at least nine points, five assists and five rebounds in each of his first two seasons.
But the only contracts the Los Angeles Lakers possess are with players on their rookie deals or LeBron James. Since Ball is the highest-paid of the former and maybe the toughest to project given his shooting challenges, he's left shouldering this dubious distinction.
However, he wouldn't be without suitors should the Lakers put him on the market. He's a tone-setter as an able and willing passer who's always looking to push the pace. That's already gotten him noticed by the point guard-needy Bulls, who've reportedly discussed Ball with the Lakers, an NBA executive told Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.
After Chicago slipped to seventh at the draft lottery—likely outside the range of both Ja Morant and Darius Garland—maybe it would package that pick with Kris Dunn in a deal for Ball. The Bulls would upgrade their playmaking and perimeter defense, while the Lakers would add extra assets in hopes of making a cannonball splash this summer.
Memphis Grizzlies: Chandler Parsons to Heat
You know the old adage about keeping quiet when there's nothing nice to say? Well, that makes it really hard to discuss the four-year, $94.4 million pact Chandler Parsons signed with the Memphis Grizzlies during the anything-goes summer of 2016.
Under those rules, the only thing we're allowed to say about the deal is that it's finally (and mercifully) expiring after 2019-20. (The unpleasant stuff we're not allowed to say includes pointing out how he's missed 151 of 246 games since signing the deal and played below replacement level in two of those three seasons.)
Memphis has been shopping Parsons for a while, and it won't be easy to find a taker. His value is all tied to his expiring contract, and it's set to expire ahead of a dismal free-agent class.
Luckily, the Miami Heat have nevertheless decided 2020 is their time to make a move. They'd actually value Parsons' deal if it let them escape some of their longer commitments. They could clear their rotation congestion by shipping out Kelly Olynyk and Dion Waiters, who, if they play to their potential, could make life easier on Jaren Jackson Jr. and likely draft pick Ja Morant.
Miami Heat: James Johnson to Jazz
The Utah Jazz have been on a years-long search for the ideal frontcourt complement to Rudy Gobert. Back in 2017, they identified James Johnson as a possibility, and the two sides reportedly shared "mutual interest."
Two years later, would that still be the case?
Well, the fact Johnson stands out as the worst of the Miami Heat's many bloated contracts shows his stock isn't exactly where it used to be. In 2017, he was coming off a potential late-blooming breakout, setting multiple career highs and showing more promise than ever as a three-point shooter. His stats have slipped in the two seasons since, and 2018-19 was close to rock bottom due to injuries and inconsistency.
Still, if he can be a league-average shooter from distance, he meets much of what Utah covets in a Gobert running mate. Johnson defends multiple positions, can make plays off the dribble and keeps the offense flowing as a ball-mover. If the Jazz have decided against a future with Derrick Favors (whose salary can be shed either now or next summer), they could flip him to the Heat for Johnson and a 2022 second-rounder.
Milwaukee Bucks: Tony Snell to Pistons
While the Milwaukee Bucks may eventually regret Eric Bledsoe's four-year, $70 million extension, it has obvious value now. ESPN's real plus-minus graded the explosive point guard 26th overall and eighth at his position this season, giving the new pact bargain potential on the front end.
Tony Snell, meanwhile, pocketed a $10.6 million salary for his 305th-place finish in RPM. He was sixth on the team in salary and 12th in minutes per game while offering little beyond outside shooting.
That's not enough to demand minutes in Milwaukee's deep wing rotation, but it could get Snell consistent floor time in the Motor City. The Pistons are woefully short on serviceable wings, which increases the risk of their all-in gamble on Blake Griffin. If they're ever going to make a push with the All-Star forward, they must flesh out the perimeter with more plug-and-play options.
This would be a cap-conscious move for Milwaukee, as Snell is still on the hook for $11.4 million with a $12.2 million player option for 2020-21. If the Bucks exchange him for Jon Leuer, they'd slice their future commitment to just his $9.5 million 2019-20 salary. And who knows? Maybe head coach Mike Budenholzer could coax some floor-spacing out of the 6'10" Leuer, who's twice hit a three per 36 minutes at a 38-plus percent clip.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Andrew Wiggins to Hawks
Andrew Wiggins is either on a very short list of the Association's worst contracts, or he is the entire list.
Maybe that sounds harsh to those who remember he was 2014's top overall pick and note he's twice averaged 20-plus points. But anyone looking for analytical evidence of his impact could tell you he's been nowhere near worth the five-year, $147.7 million contract extension he signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2017.
He doesn't score efficiently. He's not an impact rebounder or distributor. Despite possessing tremendous physical tools, he's graded out as a negative defender each of his five NBA seasons. Save for a touch of name recognition, it's tough to tell why anyone would willingly take his contract off the Wolves' hands.
"Is there a contending team that will take on his max salary? Does he sell tickets?" a scout asked Bleacher Report's Eric Pincus. "And for rebuilding teams looking to add a young scorer, again, the price is the issue."
But maybe the Hawks, who have time on their side and little money on the books, see Wiggins in a different light. In their eyes, perhaps a change of scenery and a Trae Young-led offense could help the 24-year-old recapture his potential. They might also view Wiggins as their only potential difference-maker if they exit July after coming up empty on all their free-agency pursuits.
If Minnesota would take Kent Bazemore and Miles Plumlee for Wiggins and the 43rd pick, each side might see the swap as a win.
New Orleans Pelicans: Solomon Hill to Lakers
Anthony Davis is a once-in-a-generation talent. His career 27.4 PER is third on the all-time list. Only Michael Jordan and LeBron James land above him.
If the New Orleans Pelicans are forced to trade Davis away—despite the lottery win, that remains the most likely outcome—they should ask for the world in return. Then, they should ask for even more.
Somewhere along the way of adding picks, prospects and maybe a win-now player or two to the incoming AD package, New Orleans must find a way to dump Solomon Hill and not be on the hook for his $12.8 million 2019-20 salary. He's never been what the Pelicans needed him to be, and a clean break seems best for both sides at this point.
Any potential AD trade partner works as a landing spot for Hill, but the Lakers are the choice here since they've previously signed off on his inclusion. Back then, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and multiple first-rounders were all on the table, and New Orleans should seek the same type of offer now.
New York Knicks: Frank Ntilikina to Pelicans
Apologies to the friends and family of Frank Ntilikina for this. Players on their rookie deals should almost never qualify. The fact he does just two years after joining the New York Knicks as 2017's eighth overall pick makes the start of his career seem terrible.
It's been turbulent, for sure. But this isn't about him. Rather, it's primarily a reflection of the 'Bockers having previously shed all their significant salaries in anticipation of an optimism-fueled offseason. Believe it or not, Ntilikina's $4.9 million is their largest guaranteed commitment for 2019-20.
The Knicks are shopping him ahead of the draft in search of a late first-round or early second-round pick, per Marc Berman of the New York Post. That's hardly surprising. Ntilikina was drafted before the Knicks hired Scott Perry as general manager and David Fizdale as head coach. The combo guard's career 35.4/30.5/73.5 shooting slash isn't helping his case as a long-term keeper.
All that said, a trade for a lesser asset seems premature, given that the 20-year-old Ntilikina boasts incredible defensive potential and hasn't had much time to blossom at the opposite end. He's worth keeping around unless the Knicks end up winning the Anthony Davis sweepstakes. Then, Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr. and the No. 3 pick are all probably bound for the Big Easy.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Russell Westbrook to Suns
Let's. Get. Wild.
Back in 2017, the Oklahoma City Thunder seemed to secure one of the largest small-market jackpots in NBA history when they received Russell Westbrook's commitment on a five-year, $206.8 million extension. Two years later, it's one of the Association's most worrisome arrangements.
Decision-making and inefficiency plague Westbrook in the worst kind of way. As helpful as he appears for his unprecedented triple-double streak, his anemic shooting and turnover woes have helped send the Thunder packing early the past two playoffs.
His contract is brutal, especially when OKC has a ton of non-Westbrook money on the books for the next two seasons. Is it possible the team might decide it's too flawed to continue as constructed and consider a major change?
While the Thunder wouldn't receive as much in return as the former MVP's stature might suggest, the Phoenix Suns could cobble together something that gets their attention.
It'd be a three-piece offer headlined by the sixth overall pick in the upcoming draft, which perhaps delivers a point guard replacement in Darius Garland or Coby Smith. The rest of the deal would feature Tyler Johnson, who's owed just his $19.2 million player option for next season, and TJ Warren, a 25-year-old combo forward who scores at ease and seamlessly added a three-ball to his arsenal in 2018-19.
Orlando Magic: Timofey Mozgov to Grizzlies
The summer of 2016 was a wild time to be an NBA free agent, and Timofey Mozgov is living proof.
The Lakers somehow deemed him worthy of $64 million that July, only to shut him down the following March. He was salary-dumped less than a year after signing the deal at the cost of former No. 2 pick D'Angelo Russell, who has since blossomed into an All-Star.
Mozgov's contract is down to its last year, but his expiring salary is all he can offer a potential trade partner. He never even suited up this past season and had arthroscopic knee surgery in January. He could have value in helping match money in a bigger exchange, though.
The Ringer's Justin Verrier presented a compelling case for Orlando to give Mike Conley chase:
"As ridiculous as it might sound, the Magic may have a small window here to try to make some ground in the East, especially if any of Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and Kyrie Irving flee to the West Coast. You could send out the salaries of Mozgov and D.J. Augustin, with Mo Bamba as the sweetener, for Conley and all of a sudden have a feisty little core of Conley, Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, and Vucevic. Giving up on Bamba, last year's no. 6 overall pick, this early would be tough, but at some point your roster has to progress past the theoretical phase, and Bamba is realistically fourth on the depth chart for minutes at the 5 behind Vooch, Isaac, and Khem Birch."
Mozgov is useless to the Magic.
They're already crowded in the frontcourt, and the space they'd create when his contract expires would only go so far when this has never been a destination franchise. Any trade that ships him out is worth exploring, and one that involves Conley solving the club's point guard problems would be a no-brainer.
Philadelphia 76ers: Ben Simmons* to Lakers
In a vacuum, the Philadelphia 76ers might have the Association's strongest foundation. Who else has built back-to-back 50-win seasons on a pair of 25-and-under cornerstones?
There's just one minor issue—their primary building blocks don't exactly fit. If you created the ideal running mates for Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, they'd look nothing like the other. Embiid works best alongside shooters and half-court creators who allow him to dazzle on the low block. Simmons needs open-court gunners who want to get up and down with him.
The talent is good enough for the Sixers to fake it until they've made it to the second round. But just because you can hammer a square peg into a round hole doesn't mean the process is worth repeating. Philly needs pieces that fit, and right now it's like the organization is working with separate puzzles all mixed together.
With Simmons up for a possible max extension this summer (*his next deal is the one that worries us), this might be the perfect time for them to split from the physically gifted but often frustrating floor general. Why not see if his size, youth and athleticism might convince the Lakers to pull the plug on the LeBron James experiment and shift their focus forward?
"I think they very well might explore that," a rival executive said of a possible Simmons-for-James swap, per NBC Sports' Tom Haberstroh.
Bolting to the City of Brotherly Love could rejuvenate the 34-year-old James, who might immediately regain control of his old conference. His willingness to shoot and gravitational pull on defenders would make life easier on the supporting cast, which could be championship-level if Philly brings back all its key contributors in free agency.
Phoenix Suns: Tyler Johnson to Bulls
While most of the Phoenix Suns' money is tied to rookie-scale contracts, they splurged at the deadline for the remainder of Tyler Johnson's deal, which is now down to only his $19.2 million player option for 2019-20.
Johnson is a rotational role player—probably not someone you want starting but fine as a preferred reserve. His contract doesn't accurately reflect his skill level, but it wasn't really designed to. It came courtesy of a poison-pill offer sheet from the Nets—during, you guessed it, the summer of 2016—who made the Heat pay dearly on the back end of the deal.
The one-year hit is high, but that's the extent of it. In other words, should Phoenix make Johnson available, his inflated salary may not scare off as many suitors as you'd think. Clubs who still have cap space once the big names are off the 2019 free-agent market might view Johnson as a serviceable placeholder.
The Bulls, for instance, could nab Johnson and the 32nd overall pick for Kris Dunn and Cristiano Felicio. Chicago walks away with future savings, guard depth (maybe a mentor for a freshman floor general) and essentially an extra first-rounder. Phoenix adds a recent fifth overall selection at a position of need for a player it might not view as a keeper and a draft pick with a modest hit rate at best.
Portland Trail Blazers: Evan Turner to Pelicans
If the Portland Trail Blazers have resisted temptations to break apart the Damian Lillard-CJ McCollum backcourt, surely they're not about to reverse course now. This is the deepest the franchise has probed into the postseason since Rasheed Wallace, Steve Smith and Scottie Pippen steered this squad to the 2000 conference finals.
But the Blazers must know they're nearing the now-or-never point with their star guards. Lillard's 29th birthday is coming in July. McCollum will turn 28 two months later.
The problem is the budget won't allow for major free-agency expenditures this summer, and next offseason could be the same story. Portland also probably isn't coming anywhere near the lottery as long as Lillard and McCollum are around, so it's unlikely the draft will deliver a difference-maker.
The trade market is the one possible exception, and the Blazers should plunge into it head-first. While it's hard to see them winning the AD sweepstakes—especially without letting McCollum go—maybe Boston would get cold feet about including Tatum and New Orleans would hate the idea of doing business with L.A. Would that be enough to help Portland sneak through the door?
Would an offer built around Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, Anfernee Simons, Evan Turner, the 25th pick and a 2021 lottery-protected first be enough for Davis and Hill? It's the longest of long shots, but the Blazers lose nothing by exploring it. While the offer lacks a marquee name, it does have several pieces for the future, plus present assets like Nurkic, who's only 24, and Turner, whose $18.6 million salary is expiring.
Sacramento Kings: Harrison Barnes to Blazers
The Sacramento Kings might not agree with this assessment.
After all, they knew Harrison Barnes held a $25.1 million player option for 2019-20 when they acquired him in February and desired a longer deal immediately. He likely strengthened that opinion over his 28 games in Sacramento, averaging 14.3 points on 45.5/40.8/80.0 shooting and generally acing the big-forward defensive assignments he was brought in to handle.
But he's still a complementary scorer who's paid like a star. If the Kings think twice about accelerating their rebuild—De'Aaron Fox, Marvin Bagley III and Harry Giles are all 21 and under—they might also have second thoughts about committing major coin to Barnes, who'll need a new deal this summer or next.
Maybe Barnes then becomes the impact piece for the cash-strapped Blazers. A combination of Meyers Leonard, Gary Trent Jr. and the 25th pick would deliver Sacramento a balance of financial savings and future capital, while Portland would finally find a forward who can shoot the three, defend multiple positions and create offense off the bounce.
San Antonio Spurs: LaMarcus Aldridge to Blazers
Who doesn't like a hoops homecoming?
Sure, there might be a few Portland fans still feeling some type of way about LaMarcus Aldridge's exit in 2015. But so much has changed since for the scoring big man, his former franchise and his current club.
The San Antonio Spurs seem ripe for a reset around Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, Jakob Poeltl and Lonnie Walker IV. Aldridge, who turns 34 in July, obviously has no place in a youth movement. But if he found his way back to the Pacific Northwest, he'd be the third scorer Lillard and McCollum need. While Aldridge and Lillard were disjointed in their first run, they've reconnected in a way that could reshape their future.
"I keep telling him I'm going to come back and finish there," Aldridge told The Athletic's Jason Quick. "That's something him and I have talked about—playing together again."
Provided the Spurs are ready to think about their future, they could move Aldridge and Marco Belinelli for Jusuf Nurkic, Maurice Harkless and the No. 25 pick. Portland would add an elite frontcourt scorer and a floor-spacer, while San Antonio adds three pieces—including a possible Gregg Popovich favorite in Nurkic—to assist both the long-term nucleus and the current core built around 29-year-old DeMar DeRozan.
Toronto Raptors: Marc Gasol to Hornets
The Toronto Raptors beat the Hornets to Marc Gasol at the deadline, helping them beef up before the playoff run. Perhaps of equal importance, it also sent a message to star free-agent-to-be Kawhi Leonard that they're fully committed to winning.
Charlotte was in the sweepstakes for the same reason. While the roster clearly needed a talent upgrade, the organization also needed to prove to Kemba Walker that it could add a potential difference-maker. Failing on that front reportedly "deflated" Walker, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski (via NBC Sports).
But the Hornets might have a chance to get Gasol now. The 34-year-old has a $25.6 million player option for next season the Raptors would likely want to unload if Kawhi Leonard exits in free agency. The Hornets, meanwhile, could still need a notable name for Walker to feel comfortable about re-signing there.
If Charlotte wants Walker badly enough, it could view Gasol as something close to a necessity. Through that lens, it could be willing to part with Malik Monk, Willy Hernangomez and Bismack Biyombo to make it happen. Gasol's spacing, playmaking and interior defense are all more helpful to Walker now than what the outgoing pieces here provide. If Toronto chooses to rebuild, it will need young dart throws like the 21-year-old Monk.
Utah Jazz: Dante Exum to Suns
Dante "Street Clothes" Exum is theoretically tons of fun. If you bought into his most optimistic outlooks, you'd have thought the Utah Jazz found the next Penny Hardaway with the No. 5 pick of the 2014 draft.
That comparison sounds comically inflated now, though it's fair to note we still aren't sure what Exum really is. We've seen him dazzle as the head of some venomous defensive snakes and rock the rim in traffic. We've also seen him struggle mightily to score efficiently (career 40.0/30.4/77.0 shooting slash).
But unfortunately, most of what we've seen are injuries reducing him to the role of spectator. He could've made as many as 410 appearances through his first five seasons; he's suited up for fewer than half (204). This past campaign was cut short by a torn patellar tendon in his right knee that sent him under the knife in March.
All of the above leaves his remaining two years and $19.2 million emerging as the worst money on Utah's mostly clean books. But his size, youth and untapped potential might still endear him to suitors, especially those unable to add a Ja Morant, Jrue Holiday or Mike Conley this summer.
If the Suns are in that boat, they should push for Exum. He can thrive in the transition game they're built to run, and he could take on the defensive assignments Devin Booker can't handle. Phoenix, in return, can send back T.J. Warren, who'd meet Utah's demand for secondary scoring and frontcourt stretching.
Washington Wizards: John Wall To...¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Sorry, Washington Wizards fans. We tried to solve this puzzle, but we're stumped.
And it's not just us. People who make great livings by brokering NBA deals see John Wall's skyrocketing supermax price (four years, $170.9 million) and eroding skill set, and they can't solve it, either.
"The Wall extension right now is the toughest contract I have seen a team try to move in 20 years," an executive told ESPN's Bobby Marks. "I couldn't look my owner in the eye and tell him there is value with the player even if we didn't have to trade anything of significance."
But the kicker in this quote isn't the words; it's the timing. These words were spoken all the way back in November—before Wall had this past season wiped out by heel surgery and perhaps the next one erased by a ruptured Achilles.
He turns 29 in September, right before the first season on his extension starts. His game is built around athleticism. Nothing with this deal will age well.
Money aside, Wall is too old for rebuilders and too injured to help contenders. Maybe there's a team desperate enough out there to roll the dice on 2010's top pick, but our crystal ball is clueless on the identity of that trade partner or the other pieces involved.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com. Salary information obtained via Basketball Insiders.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.