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2021 NBA free agency: The 10 worst contracts, starring Jarrett Allen and desperation

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There are no truly dumb general managers in the NBA anymore, so when we talk about "the 10 worst contracts" of 2021 free agency, what we're really talking about are debatable flaws that give you pause.

There also may not be such a thing as a truly terrible deal anymore. Russell Westbrook, among "the least tradable contracts in the NBA" for several years running, has now been traded three times in three years. Leveraging Westbrook, the Washington Wizards turned John Wall's albatross contract and a handful of second-round picks into an entirely new rotation around Bradley Beal and roster flexibility moving forward.

[ 2021 NBA free agency: The 10 best contracts, Lonzo Ball and title contenders ]

I would not call any of the contracts signed in the first few days of free agency outright bad. At least there is reasoning behind all of them. Evan Fournier's four-year, $78 million deal from the New York Knicks caught some flak, but that actually felt like a move made with the express intention of trading him down the line. A lot of deals were done with a similar thought process, and that is progress from not so long ago, when the Los Angeles Lakers handed Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov $136 million just because they had cap space.

(The Lakers still owe Deng $5 million this season as a result.)

Even in a cap-conscious world without dumb GMs, 10 contracts still have to be the worst. These are them.

Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns (4 years, $120 million)

  • Age: 36

  • Stats (31.4 MPG): 16.4 PPG (50/40/93), 4.5 RPG, 8.9 APG (2.2 TO), 1.7 S/BPG, 21.4 PER

Paul is an incredible story. He reached his first NBA Finals at age 36, and he was not just along for the ride. He was the reason the Suns transformed from a lottery mainstay to a contender overnight. His presence elevated Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges to heights they may have never reached without him, and that is practically a priceless commodity. Not to bring him back would have sent a message to the young core that their efforts to restore the franchise's glory were not worth team ownership's full investment.

The Suns had to re-sign Paul. Whether they had to give him a four-year deal that could pay him $30 million at age 40 is another question. (The final year is non-guaranteed. The third year is partially guaranteed.)

The Knicks, Dallas Mavericks and New Orleans Pelicans all could have paid Paul to fill a similar role as a veteran steward of the highest order, but would any of those teams have tied the next few years of their rising stars' careers so closely to an aging point guard? And would Paul have traded the promise of returning to the Finals for the challenge of recapturing his Phoenix magic elsewhere?

The Suns saw the finish line with Paul, and he limped across it, fending off COVID-19 and multiple injuries along the way. What are the odds he can lead the Suns back to the Finals and be healthy enough to push them over the top once they get there? Those chances will decline over the course of the next four years, the last of which Booker can become an unrestricted free agent. If Phoenix takes a step back in Year 1 of Paul's deal, how committed will Robert Sarver be to paying escalating luxury tax bills in years to come?

Paul played like a $30 million player this past season, but the Suns are not paying for past performance, and there has to be at least some concern that the value of his contract could become cumbersome quick.

Jarrett Allen is an above-average starting center on a lottery team. (Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
Jarrett Allen is an above-average starting center on a lottery team. (Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

Jarrett Allen, Cleveland Cavaliers (5 years, $100 million)

  • Age: 23

  • Stats (29.6 MPG): 12.8 PPG (62/32/70), 10 RPG, 1.7 APG (1.5 TO), 1.9 S/BPG, 19.8 PER

Allen is a 7-foot rim runner and protector. That is a valuable commodity, even as the NBA trends position-less, but it is not one any recent champion has invested so heavily in. JaVale McGee was the starting center for three of the last five champions, and the Suns just signed him to a one-year, $5 million deal. Allen is 23 years old and miles better than McGee, but the rest of the league has figured out you are better off investing high salaries into more versatile players and paying less for some facsimile of Allen's production.

Was anyone giving Allen this contract in restricted free agency? What was the harm in waiting to match whatever four-year offer Allen might have found elsewhere? All Allen cost Cleveland was a late first-round pick, and losing him to an outrageous offer might not have been so bad as paying him $23 million in 2026.

Norman Powell, Portland Trail Blazers (5 years, $90 million)

  • Age: 28

  • Stats (32 MPG): 18.6 PPG (48/41/87), 3.1 RPG, 1.9 APG (1.7 TO), 1.5 S/BPG, 16.2 PER

The Blazers had to pay Powell to satisfy Damian Lillard, so in that sense, he is worth more than his individual value — unless Lillard decides he wants out anyway. Powell is a productive scorer, but he does not bring a ton more to the table, and the first few months of his tenure in Portland produced a 16-12 record before a first-round series loss to the injury-depleted Denver Nuggets. Not exactly earth-shattering.

The Blazers traded Gary Trent Jr. for Powell's services in March, and the 22-year-old Trent cost the Toronto Raptors $54 million over the next three years to retain him. Is Powell's shot creation worth so much more?

DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls (3 years, $85 million)

  • Age: 31

  • Stats (33.7 MPG): 21.6 PPG (50/26/88), 4.2 RPG, 6.9 APG (2 TO), 1.1 S/BPG, 22 PER

You will not find a bigger defender of DeRozan than me. People considered him so overrated that he actually became wildly underrated. He is a mid-range master, gets to the rim a ton and has turned himself into a high-level facilitator. He is really good. I just don't know where else he was getting this contract.

The Oklahoma City Thunder were the only team with significant cap space remaining, and neither side was interested in a partnership. There just were not many teams out there who could fit DeRozan's $27 million starting salary under the hard cap in a sign-and-trade transaction, let alone teams that actually wanted to.

DeRozan's signing also makes a long-term extension for All-Star guard Zach LaVine less likely this summer. That may not sit well with a player who demanded "respect" from the front office and will be an unrestricted free agent next year. Maybe DeRozan at less than max money and max years is better than meeting the younger LaVine's demands, and maybe the Bulls can turn LaVine into more assets, but if the goal is to build a championship roster, I'm not sure DeRozan gets them much closer, and he might just set them back.   

Doug McDermott and Zach Collins, San Antonio Spurs (3 years, $64 million)

  • Ages: 29, 23

  • Stats (24.5 MPG): 13.6 PPG (53/39/82), 3.3 RPG, 1.3 APG (0.8 TO), 0.4 S/BPG, 15.6 PER

McDermott is solid, and Collins was worth a flier, but at $64 million combined? If that is the price of luring free agents to San Antonio, I don't want to know how much more it would have cost them to bid for even marginally better players. The Spurs entered free agency with more than $50 million in cap space, lost two rotational players to a pair of free agency's best bargain deals, and replaced them for $40 million more with the fourth option on a 34-win team and a guy who has barely played since the end of the 2018-19 season.

Devonte' Graham, New Orleans Pelicans (4 years, $47 million)

  • Age: 26

  • Stats (30.2 MPG): 14.8 PPG (38/38/84), 2.7 RPG, 5.4 APG (1.5 TO), 1 S/BPG, 14.6 PER

On its face, Graham's deal is fair. He is undersized and overmatched on defense, but a decent enough shooter and creator to warrant double-digit millions annually. Although, the Charlotte Hornets did not think so, and they picked up a lottery-protected first-round pick for delivering him via sign-and-trade. The Pelicans could have just matched Lonzo Ball's $85 million contract and kept their pick. Is anyone else trading Ball and a first-round pick for Graham, Tomas Satoransky, Garrett Temple and a second-rounder?

Daniel Theis, Houston Rockets (4 years, $36 million)

  • Age: 29

  • Stats (24.6 MPG): 9.6 PPG (54/32/67), 5.5 RPG, 1.7 APG (1 TO), 1.5 S/BPG, 15 PER

Theis was a great find for the Boston Celtics, who paid him roughly $10 million over three-plus seasons to be a productive center on a playoff team. He scraps around the rim on both ends, sets great screens and knocks down the occasional 3-pointer. He is valuable on short money to a winning franchise. That value gets spread awfully thin when he is eating up $9 million a season for four years on a team trying to lose.

Nerlens Noel, New York Knicks (3 years, $32 million)

  • Age: 27

  • Stats (24.2 MPG): 5.1 PPG (61 FG%, 71 FT%), 6.4 RPG, 0.7 APG (1 TO), 3.3 S/BPG, 14.8 PER

Again, Noel is a solid rim runner and protector. He is insurance against starting center Mitchell Robinson's failure to fully return from a fractured foot and his potential departure in 2022 restricted free agency. Should that insurance cost $10 million a year? What did we learn about Noel this past season that made him worth more than twice the $5 million the Knicks paid him on the open market last offseason to fill the same role?

The reported third-year team option on Noel's contract makes this more palatable, but he is a known commodity at this point, and teams are increasingly finding that commodity for better bargain prices.

Alex Len, Sacramento Kings (2 years, $7.65 million)

  • Age: 28

  • Stats (15.3 MPG): 6.6 PPG (62/32/63), 4.1 RPG, 1.8 APG (0.9 TO), 1.3 S/BPG, 16.4 PER

Case in point, here are the centers who signed for less than Alex Len: Andre Drummond, Dwight Howard, Hassan Whiteside, Enes Kanter, Cody Zeller, Dewayne Dedmon, Tony Bradley and Frank Kaminsky. Granted, two of those guys already wanted out of Sacramento, and none of them might have taken the bi-annual exception from the Kings, but they also already have three centers on the roster. What is the point of offering Len anything more than the minimum he got from the Washington Wizards seven months ago?

It is nitpicking to criticize such a small deal, but that is a testament to how few poor decisions were made in the opening days of free agency, and what would a list of worst free-agent contracts be without the Kings?

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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