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NBA Owners the Best at Handing Out the Worst Contracts

No league in professional sports can out-superlative the NBA, especially when it comes to worst all-time contracts.

The NBA justifiably prides itself on having the biggest, fastest, strongest, most athletic players in team sports. But in many cases, it comes at a terrible price.

Paying Juwan Howard $155 million, Zydrunas Ilgauskas $124 million and Brian Grant $110 million over the course of their undistinguished careers should be a punishable offense, but ticket buyers were the only ones paying any real penalty.

It would seem NBA owners put more thought into signing a restaurant receipt than they do long-term contracts that all include the one word every player loves: Guaranteed. If a player is unmotivated after the first year of his seven-year, $120 million contract, there’s little a team can do except continue to pay. Those last six years are guaranteed.

Owners are so bad at identifying legitimate talent that in the latest collective bargaining agreement, they inserted a “Get Out Of Jail” card in an attempt to cover up their most appalling acts of stupidity.

This “amnesty clause” allows teams to waive one player and not have his salary count against the team’s salary cap. Owners still must pay the player his guaranteed money, proving that stupidity does have a price.

$60 Million Not To Play

A few notable examples of  amnesty intervention:

  • Gilbert Arenas receiving $60 million not to play for the Orlando Magic for the final three years of his contract.
  • Baron Davis got $27 million to walk away from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
  • Travis Outlaw pulled in $28 million from Brooklyn.
  • Andray Blatche collected $23 million from the Washington Wizards to go away.

Yet none of these four make the All-NBA Worst Contract First Team. In fact, only Arenas was close, because he is the most recent Poster Boy of “What were you thinking when you signed him?”

To make our starting five for worst contracts, you had to meet two conditions:

  • Be paid more than $100 million in your career
  • Never be on a team that reached the NBA Finals

The first condition was met by scores of candidates. Most were guys entering the league in the 1990s, when teams needed two or three amnesty clauses a season to cover up atrocious signing.

Names like Vince Carter (career earnings of $162 million), Carlos Boozer ($146 million), Grant Hill ($145 million), Michael Finley ($138 million), Zach Randolph ($138 million), Nene Hilario ($122 million), Brian Grant ($110 million), Mike Bibby ($107 million), Jalen Rose ($102 million) and Theo Ratliff ($102 million) made more than enough to qualify. However, they weren’t judged awful enough, though the case for Grant could be re-opened any minute.

Not surprisingly, all of those candidates (and more) met the second condition. If a player was getting paid a lot of money and wasn’t terrible, his team probably was good enough to make the NBA Finals.

Some deserving underachievers like Juwan Howard ($155 million in career earnings, two appearances in NBA Finals),  Rashard Lewis ($152 million in career earnings, one appearance in NBA Finals) and Allan Houston ($117 million, one Finals appearance) should praise their former teammates for carrying them to a higher level.

All-Time Worst NBA Contracts Are …

With all those conditions behind us, let us introduce the Not-So-Fabulous, Five-Worst NBA Contracts:

Point guard: Four NBA teams paid Stephon Marbury $151 million to ruin their franchises, and he obliged. The toxic Marbury was one-and-done on his first four trips to the playoffs, and though he made a second-round appearance with the Celtics in 2009, he helped Boston lose a 3-2 series advantage for the first time in Celtic history. History-making incompetence? He should captain the worst-contract team.

Shooting guard: Someone suggested Tracy McGrady change the “c” in his last name to an “e” so it accurately reflected what mattered in his life. MeGrady led the league in scoring twice, was a first-team All NBA selection twice and an All-Star seven times. McGrady also made the playoffs eight times with four teams and never won a first-round series. For that, he was paid $163 million. Enough said.

Small forward: The best description of Antawn Jamison’s career is that he has been quietly worthless. He earned $142 million despite the fact his teams only made the playoffs six times in 15 years. He did make two All-Star Game appearances, but one career highlight for ‘Twan was getting traded for his best friend (Vince Carter) five minutes after he was drafted. It has been that kind of career of Jamison, now with the Lakers.

Power forward: Brian Grant deserves this spot, but Elton Brand, one of the nicest athletes in professional sports, gets it. Brand was more overpaid for doing less than Grant. Brand, the first pick in the 1999 NBA Draft, made only two all-star teams and three playoff appearances in 14 seasons. His team reached the second round of the playoffs twice, hardly enough to justify $161 million in compensation.

Center: Jermaine O’Neal had potential. That’s why Portland drafted him out of high school. It’s why Indiana gave him a $126 million contract. It’s why Toronto and Miami traded for him, and Boston and Phoenix signed him as a free agent. Problem was, no one could get enough potential out of him to make a significant difference. Somehow, all those teams saw fit to pay him $168 million for next to nothing.

Collectively, this group played 75 years among them and reached only one conference final, was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs 66 percent of the time (23 of 35) and got paid an average of $157 million each.

That’s why all professional athletes know the NBA is the best.

This is Part 2 of a four-part series on the worst contracts in professional sports. Read Part 1 on the MLB.

Bill “No Pay” Fay has lived a meager financial existence his entire life. He started writing/bragging about it in 2012, helping birth into existence as the site’s original “Frugal Man.” Prior to that, he spent more than 30 years covering the high finance world of college and professional sports for major publications, including the Associated Press, New York Times and Sports Illustrated. His interest in sports has waned some, but he is as passionate as ever about not reaching for his wallet. Bill can be reached at [email protected].

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