On Monday we focused on the 10 most tradable NBA contracts, and now it’s time for the least tradable, with the trade deadline looming Thursday.
Just like last time, there are some ground rules:
No contract is truly untradable. We’ve seen all sorts of terrible NBA deals get moved over the years. But it usually involves either a straight swap of bad money, like this season’s Jeff Teague for Allen Crabbe trade. Or the trading team has to entice the acquiring team by adding assets in the form of young players or draft picks. This list looks at the deals teams would struggle to move without paying to do so.
Unlike the most tradable contracts, max contracts are included. While max contracts can be an incredible bargain, they can also be an albatross when they turn out poorly.
No expiring contracts will appear on this list. Even if the player can’t even put on sneakers anymore, expiring contracts are always easy to move.
Because of all the cap space used this past summer, this list has some new additions.
The dishonorable mentions
The Miami Heat guys: Dion Waiters and Justise Winslow are on the books for the next two years at over $25 million combined each year. That’s tough, considering Waiters’ issues and Winslow’s inability to stay healthy. Jimmy Butler is an All-Star right now, but that $37.6 million player option in 2022-23 is already looming ominously.
Overpaid bigs: We could have made a whole list of just overpaid big men. NBA general managers just can’t help themselves from seeing a free-agent center and handing him a whole lot of money. DeAndre Jordan (in the first year of a four-year, $39.96 million deal), Larry Nance Jr. (three years, $31.9 million remaining), and Gorgui Dieng ($ 33.4 million combined this year and next) didn’t quite make the list, but they aren’t far off either.
Tobias Harris, Philadelphia 76ers: Because Harris is 27 years old and is able to score and shoot at a good clip, he isn’t on the list. But $180 million through 2023-24 almost guarantees him a spot on here in future years.
The Portland Trail Blazers’ guard duo: Before you get all crazy, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are awesome right now. That’s right now. But when they are making over $86 million combined in 2023-24 — with Lillard having a player option of over $54 million the next year — that starts to look a lot more questionable. Neither qualifies at the moment, but one, or both, will show up on this list in the future.
The NBA’s 10 least tradable contracts
10. Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic: Four years, $100 million.
The only saving grace here is that Vucevic’s contract declines each year from $28 million in 2019-20 to $22 million in 2022-23. The problem is that Vucevic got paid on the heels of what is likely to be his only All-Star appearance, and he’ll turn 30 before next season. At some point during this deal, Orlando might want to hand the starting center spot to Mo Bamba. Vucevic would then become an overpaid backup, or the Magic will have to pay someone to take Vucevic off their hands.
9. Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder: Three years, $124 million.
Paul is still playing at a high level and is once again an All-Star. But he turns 35 in May. Small point guards are “here today, gone tomorrow” more than any other type of NBA player. If this is Paul’s last hurrah, the remaining two years of his deal are going to be hard for Sam Presti to move.
8. Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets: Four years, $171 million (final-year player option).
What do you know? Paul and Westbrook right next to each other? It’s almost like that trade didn’t make a lot of sense or something. Westbrook has been playing better since a horrible start. The challenge is that he’s constantly nicked up and still heavily relies on his athleticism even in his age-31 season. That $47 million player option in 2022-23 is guaranteed to be bad money. Given Houston’s salary concerns and reluctance to pay the tax, something will eventually have to give with Westbrook.
7. Al Horford, Philadelphia 76ers: Four years, $109 million (final year partially guaranteed unless Philadelphia makes or wins NBA Finals in prior seasons).
Horford’s deal has a unique structure that gives the Sixers an easier out if they don’t make the NBA Finals in the next three years. Unfortunately, that would mean they failed in their goal. If they do make it, Horford is on the books for a lot more money than they would ever want. That’s a big-time Catch-22. Horford’s fit alongside Joel Embiid has been clunky, and he’s showing signs of slipping at age 33. This one was questionable before the ink dried and is only more so since.
6. Mike Conley, Utah Jazz: Two years, $67 million (final-year player option).
A small guard who can’t stay healthy and is struggling to fit with his new team? Yuck. Conley had a fantastic career with the Grizzlies, but the fit in Utah has been messy. And he’s back to being the guy who always has some sort of injury. Given the Jazz’s already tight payroll, and upcoming extension for Donovan Mitchell, that $34.5 million player option next season is a black mark on their cap sheet.
5. Nicolas Batum, Charlotte Hornets: Two years, $52.7 million (final-year player option).
Batum slid down a spot on this list, only because Blake Griffin moved up. Batum is now 31 years old, and he doesn’t even play for Charlotte anymore. He’s either hurt or ineffective. The last time he played meaningful minutes was in the Hornets’ trip to his home country of France. The other guys on this list at least get off the bench. Since Batum can’t do that, he’s become true dead money.
4. Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves: Four years, $122.2 million.
This one hasn’t gotten any better since last year, when Wiggins checked in at third place. He’s never had a serious injury, so his spot here at 24 years old is earned. He’s just not worth the max contract extension the Wolves gave him. He showed flashes earlier this season of figuring it out, but that’s the story of his career. Flashes of brilliance surrounded by ineffective and inefficient play. Nothing should lead us to believe it will ever be any different at this point.
3. Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers: Four years, $120 million.
Last year we wrote, “Love’s extension hasn’t even started yet and it’s already bad.” Nothing has changed in the year since, except the extension has now started. Well, that and Love is now unhappy and wants out of Cleveland. Being unhappy, past his prime and playing terrible defense don’t make for a very good trade combination. The Cavs are looking for Love trades and are coming up empty. They might have to wait on this one for a couple more years until it turns into an expiring deal.
2. Blake Griffin, Detroit Pistons: Three years, $110 million (final-year player option).
It’s a shame that Griffin moved up this list from seventh to second, but it’s not like we didn’t see it coming. Griffin turned in an All-NBA season last year, but was hurt by the end of the year. Now? He’s out for the season after knee surgery. He turns 31 next month and has clearly lost a lot athletically. And that was before this latest surgery. It’s sad to say, but it looks like Griffin’s deal will be a problem all the way through that player option in 2021-22.
1. John Wall, Washington Wizards: Four years, $171 million (final-year player option).
Wall checks in at the top of the list for a second straight year. He’s out for the 2019-20 season because of an Achilles injury after playing only 32 games a year ago. Wall’s finally back to on-court activities, but he’s got a long way to go before we see him in an actual NBA game. The Wizards couldn’t foresee any of this when they linked him to a max extension, but here we are. Everyone is hoping Wall makes it back and plays at an All-Star level, but he’ll be 30 years old next year, with a long injury history. That’s just not a smart bet. It is unlikely Wall will move off this list until 2022-23, when his contract becomes an expiring one.
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