NBA free agency recap: What were the worst contracts signed this summer?

Following one of the wildest free agency seasons in recent years, let’s take a look at the worst and most questionable contracts signed in 2019.

It stands to reason that any multi-year deal reaching deep into the six figures should be subject to high scrutiny. They put the team under financial stress and hold the player to the highest standard. There were 12 deals worth at least $100 million signed this past summer, some of which seem perfectly reasonable, like Nikola Vucevic’s $100 million, four-year contract and Kawhi Leonard’s $103 million, three-year agreement. Most others were somewhat risky or optimistic depending on your point of view. Conversely, a lower value contract does not automatically equate to a better deal. After combing through all of the summer signings, here are the worst ones we found.

5. Ricky Rubio, Phoenix: Three years, $51 million (AAV $17 million)

At $17 million a year, Rubio’s contract is far from the astronomical numbers earned by some of his counterparts. Indeed, the four highest salaries inthe NBA belong to point guards. In fact, Rubio will only be the 76th highest-paid player this year, 19th PG overall. The problem is Rubio does not appear in the Top 50 guards in terms of points, rebounds, FG% or 3 PT FG% (per NBA Advanced Stats). He only ranks as the 48th guard in FT% with 45.5 percent, 19th in assists (6.1), 23rd in steals (1.3) and 20th in turnovers (2.6), a list you’d rather not be a member of. To make matters worse, Rubio is already 29 years old and will be hard-pressed improving those numbers.

4. Harrison Barnes, Sacramento: Four years, $85 million (AAV $21.25 million)

With a four-year, $85 million deal in hand, Barnes will rank as the 46th highest-paid player in the league in 2019-20. Nothing insane, to be sure. Unfortunately for Sacramento, Barnes only ranks 29th amongst forwards in points (16.4 PPG), and is out of Top 50 in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks (per NBA Advanced Stats). Worse, most of his metrics went downhill in 2018-19 compared to the prior season, including his FG% (42 percent) even after it bounced back once he was traded to Sacramento (45.5 percent). Rebounds went down from 6.1 to 4.7, assists from 1.5 to 1.3 (1.9 in Sacramento), while steals (0.6) and blocks (0.2) remained unchanged from. His FG% also places him out of the top 50 forwards, ditto when compared to guards. On defense, his 3 PT% reached an honorable 39.5 percent last season.

3. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn: Four years, $164.26 million (AAV $41.06 million)

The man certainly got paid this offseason. With a four-year, $164 million contract, Durant becomes the fifth highest-paid player in the league entering the new season. Durant, who turns 31 in September, has a lot of miles on his body (31.3 regular season minutes plus 5.6 playoff minutes). Furthermore, his age and the nature of his injury could mean he’ll never be the same player again. Either way, he is bound to miss the entire first year of his contract. That effectively makes this already cap-taxing four-year $164 million contract an eye-popping three-year, $164 million deal with $54 million per year on the court. Some might argue that even if his mobility resembles that of Dirk Nowitzki in the last few years, he’ll still be worth it as near-seven-footers shooting a career 38.1% from the three-point line are hard to come by. Though that might be somewhat true and the Nets will undoubtedly be a very strong team with Durant on their roster, Nowitzki was never paid $54 million a year at any point in his illustrious career.

2. Tobias Harris, Philadelphia: Five years, $180 million (AAV $36 million)

In just a few short weeks, Tobias Harris went from being arguably the best value in NBA to one of the most questionable. As good a ballplayer as he is, Harris fails to appear in the Top 5 in any statistical category compiled by NBA Stats. Nor did he ever receive any such distinction with the all-rookie, All-Star, all-defense or all-NBA squads, however deserving he might be. Compared to six-time All-Star Star Paul George, who is currently on a four-year, $137 million max contract, he falls short in points, rebounds and assists, only topping him in blocks (0.5 per game vs 0.4) and turnovers (-0.9). With Al Horford’s and Joel Embiid’s contracts already on their books, Harris’ $36 million yearly average contract pushes the 76ers $16 million past the $109 million cap limit and into luxury tax territory for the following two years.

1. Kristaps Porzingis, Dallas: Five years, $158.25 million (AAV $31.65 million)

Yes, Kristaps Porzingis is 70-foot-3, can handle the ball as evidenced by his 2017 Skills Challenge win over Gordon Hayward, and is steadily improving as a deep shooter (39.5 3PT FG percent in 2018-19 vs. 33.3 percent in 2015-16). Yes, his average points per game did follow an upward trend during his first three years in the league: 14.3, 18.1 and 22.7 PPG. This ranks him eighth among forwards and near the top NBA centers gratified with similarily high salaries. But four out of the top five centers in PPG come at a lower price: Joel Embiid (5/$147.7M), Karl-Anthony Towns (5/$158M), Julius Randle (3/$62.1M), LaMarcus Aldridge (2/$50M) and Nikola Vucevic (4/$100M). They respectively score 27.5, 24.4, 21.4, 21.3 and 20.8 PPG. The comparison looks far worse in terms of rebounds, with Andre Drummond (5/$127M) grabbing 15.6 boards on average, Embiid at 13.6, DeAndre Jordan (4/$40M) at 13.1, Rudy Gobert (4/$102M) with 12.9 and Clint Capela (5/$90M) with 12.7.

He is nowhere near the Top 5 in assists, and no closer to the top in any of these metrics when compared to power forwards instead of centers. Worse yet, his other stats have actually been slipping since his rookie season: two-point FG% (45.4 percent, 49.3 percent, 45.4 percent), rebounds (7.3 per game, 7.2, 6.6), and assists (1.3, 1.5, 1.2). Most concerning of all, his durability is on the same downhill slope with 72, 66 and 48 games played. With extra muscle and new, talented teammates, he might just turns things around. Might.

Honorable mentions

This list would not be complete without mentioning the dubiously high numbers obtained by three other 2019 free agents, starting with Al Horford who moved from Boston to Philadelphia with a four-year, $109 million contract in his pocket. It is not so much that Horford, now the 23rd highest paid player in the league, doesn’t deserve it. But at age 33, the aging center will be paid an average $27.5 million per year until he turns 37 which, once again, puts the 76ers in a delicate financial situation for the next three years.

Rewarded for a strong 2018-19 season, D’Angelo Russell scored a four-year, $117.33 million deal which ties him with Porzingis, Devin Booker and Karl-Anthony Towns as the 30th most expensive player in 2019 ($27.3 million this year). He did bump his averages to 21.1 PPG and seven rebounds per game, but Russell has yet to prove he can perform at this level for more than one season on an average team.

Finally, how could we not question what happened in Milwaukee? The Bucks re-signed Khris Middleton to the tune of five years, $177.5 million. He now ranks as the 18th most expensive player, one spot ahead of Paul George. Unfortunately, that’s where the parallel ends as PG13 bests Middleton in every regard, safe for his shooting percentages. Let’s hope they all manage to somehow live up to their now sky-high expectations.

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