Bad deals are inescapable in sports and pop culture. Endless, exorbitant, ridiculous contracts can destroy a team’s future, ensnare a rising young star, or cripple a major studio. Also, they’re hilarious. In honor of these horrible agreements, we present a look at some of the most egregious in their respective fields. Welcome to Worst Contracts Week.
In December, I gave my kids $20 for a toy store trip and they picked out $90 worth of stuff. They had no concept of money. They didn’t know if our house cost $2,000 or $2 billion. So I started making them pay for small things — Starbucks, Jamba Juice, pizza, whatever — hoping they’d slowly understand the concept of worth. I think it’s working. When we attended Monday-night Raw in L.A. last week, I gave them a $100 salary cap on whatever they wanted. They spent $60 on two T-shirts,1 $13.50 on pretzels and popcorn, and $9 on two Icee Cokes, leaving me $17.50.
Here’s the point: THIS ISN’T HARD. But had I brought Joe Dumars along as a spending adviser, they would have ended up with a $50 Rey Mysterio mask that my son already has, two T-shirts that were the wrong size … and then, they would have had to borrow an extra $30 for food and drinks. In last year’s Worst Contracts column, I wrote about Joe Dumars Cap Space Cologne (“You only have to spray it once, and then you can’t get away from the smell for three to five years!”) and made the following warning:
“One thing we’ve definitely learned: You don’t want to give Dumars cap space. And he has it this summer. So look out, Pistons fans.”
What happened? Well …
Door A: Brandon Knight; Trey Burke or Michael Carter-Williams; $15 million in 2013 cap space. Seems pretty enticing, right? You’d probably want to open that door, correct?
Door B: $80.5 million worth of Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings and Washed-Up Chauncey Billups; Kentavious Caldwell-Pope; no cap space whatsoever. That door has a “BEWARE: DO NOT OPEN!” sign on it … right?
What happened? Dumars busted down Door B like McConaughey during the incredible six-minute, continuously shot drug heist scene that single-handedly flipped my opinion on True Detective.2 Naturally, this was all Mo Cheeks’s fault, so poor Mo got canned recently; he’s the eighth coach jettisoned by Dumars in 14 years. Dumars remains employed because he caught fire from 2000 through 2004 and won a title.3 That magical stretch ended 10 YEARS AGO. Since 2008 alone, Dumars traded Billups for a washed-up Allen Iverson; gave away Arron Afflalo; famously over-over-over-overpaid Ben Gordon and Charlie Villaneuva; handed out way-too-lavish extensions to Hamilton and Prince; overpaid Jonas Jerebko, Rodney Stuckey and Jason Maxiell; then excreted 2014’s Smith-Jennings-Billups cap poop bisque. He remains employed because we’ve become desensitized to NBA teams shelling out dumb contracts.
So, why can’t certain GMs spend money correctly? Many are ex-players getting routinely outwitted by shrewd negotiators with law degrees and MBAs, bulldogs who were basically created by God to take advantage of overmatched former athletes. If your life depended on ONE contract negotiation, would you rather have Dan Fegan (Yale Law School, two decades of experience as a sports agent) … or Ernie Grunfeld? Would you rather have Arn Tellem (Michigan Law, former partner in a law firm, 32 years of experience as a sports agent) … or Joe Dumars? Come on.
That’s not the only problem, of course. Franchises can be handcuffed by a lack of organizational cohesion, owners pushing to win or be relevant “RIGHT NOW!!!,” executives rolling the dice with panic moves as a Hail Mary to avoid getting fired, and just sheer, staggering incompetence. For God’s sake, look at what happened to the poor Pelicans last summer:
Door A: 2013’s no. 6 pick (Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore, Burke and Carter-Williams all on the table); their 2014 first-rounder (top-five protected); the Greivis Vasquez/Robin Lopez expirings ($7.2 million combined); more than $10 million in cap space. I like it!
Door B: Jrue Holiday; $44 million of Tyreke Evans; no cap space; no 2014 first-rounder unless it falls in the top five. BEWARE: DO NOT OPEN! I AM SERIOUS! DO NOT OPEN THIS DOOR!
Did the Pellies pick Door B? Of course they did! At least when Detroit spent $54 million on Josh Smith, they were getting one of the NBA’s 10 best forwards … even if every Hawks fan within a 125-mile radius would have happily driven Josh to the airport. But wasting picks AND assets to lock down the NBA’s most expensive non-Lakers three-guard rotation (Holiday, Evans and Eric Gordon), then eschewing better protection on that 2014 pick when you’re in the fiercely competitive West? Amazing. Truly amazing. It’s been eight years since I wrote the Atrocious GM Summit column — I could throw another summit right now. And next year. And every year. Don’t ever stop being you, NBA GMs.
Before we tackle 2014’s “30 Worst NBA Contracts,” let’s plow through the players who missed the cut but deserved to be recognized in some way.
Category 1: Expiring Atrocities
Could you make a 12-man roster of expiring deals that cost nine figures and would absolutely lose 70-plus games? Let’s see … Gordon (one year, $13.2 million); Villaneuva (one year, $8.58 million); Caron Butler (one year, $8 million); John Salmons (one year, $7.58 million); Emeka Okafor (one year, $14.49 million); Danny Granger (one year, $14 million); Kris Humphries (one year, $12 million); Andrichard Biedrefferson (one year, $20.05 million);4 Keith Bogans (one year, $5.06 million); Marvin Williams (one year, $7.5 million); and Jameer Nelson (one year, $8.6 million). We did it! Every year, this paragraph costs more than $100 million.
Category 2: Amnestied Contracts or Bought-Out Deals5
I love the spirit behind the amnesty. We’re so collectively terrible at this, let’s create a one-time spending mulligan … and then, we’ll have even more chances to make mistakes! Every week or so, a reader e-mails me asking if I wished teams could trade their amnesties. My short answer: YES! Imagine the Knicks trading Tim Hardaway Jr. and their 2018 no. 1 pick for Boston’s amnesty just to dump Amar’e. Yes, we should trade amnesties.
Some quick amnesty/buyout stuff …
• Of the 10 teams that kept their amnesties, reasons range from “Billy King saved our *** from using it” (Atlanta) to “we never needed the help” (Boston, San Antonio, Chicago) to “we wish some of our current guys were eligible” (Sacramento, New Orleans, Memphis) to “we’re generally confused and probably misunderstood how it worked” (Detroit) to “we’re too freaking cheap” (Utah, Oklahoma City).
• Eight other amnesties already came and went: Philly (Elton Brand), New York (Chauncey Billups), Minnesota (Darko Milicic),6 Indiana (James Posey), Golden State (Charlie Bell), Cleveland (Baron Davis) and the Clippers (Ryan Gomes).
• Our greatest amnesty: Cleveland’s then-GM Chris Grant dumped Mo Williams on the Clippers for Baron Davis’s much-worse contract and an unprotected first-rounder, won the lottery with that pick (Kyrie Irving), and then — six months later, after the lockout ended — used his new fresh-out-of-the-box amnesty on Baron. You can’t play that any better. And yes, that’s the last time anyone said those words about Chris Grant. At least the man gave great amnesty.
• Amnesties still going: Portland (Brandon Roy: down to two years, $32.2 million remaining); Orlando (Gilbert Arenas: $22.35 million stretched over three years); Phoenix (Josh Childress: two years, $13.5 million), Dallas (Brendan Haywood: two years, $14.8 million); Houston (Luis Scola: two years, $11.9 million); Brooklyn (Travis Outlaw: two years, $8 million); Denver (Chris Andersen: one year, $4.82 million); and Washington (Andray Blatche: two years, $16.3 million). Shout-out to Arenas for getting overpaid through both Obama terms. He’s the GOAT of the Keep Getting Dem Checks All-Stars.
• Our newest amnesty/buyout guys since last season ended: Hedo “Somehow I’m The NBA’s Second-Most Famous Failed PED Test!” Turkoglu (Orlando: one year, $6 million buyout); Al “Somehow I’m Only 34 Years Old” Harrington (Orlando: $7.3 million buyout over two years); Metta World Amnesty (Lakers: one year, $7.7 million); Mike “Thank God For ‘The Decision’” Miller (Miami: two years, $12.8 million); Drew “Thanks, John Hammond!” Gooden (Milwaukee: two years, $13.4 million); Linas “Thanks, Bryan Colangelo!” Kleiza (Toronto: one year, $4.6 million); Royce “I Couldn’t Even Play One Minute And Earn My Own Basketball-Reference.com Page” White (Philly: one year, $1.7 million buyout); Tyrus “Thanks, MJ!” Thomas (Charlotte: two years, $18.1 million); and Mike “There Was Never One Minute When This Contract Was A Good Idea” Beasley (Phoenix: $7.1 million buyout stretched over two years).
So, in the past 12 months, another nine NBA players were paid nearly $79 million combined to go away — not including Andrew Bynum, who was acquired by Chicago specifically so they could tell him, “Go away.” If you add up all the amnesty/buyout money from the previous two paragraphs, it’s nearly as much money as Vivek Ranadive paid for the Kings. I love the NBA.