In the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons, veteran guard John Wall was paid more than $80 million by the Rockets despite not playing a single game. Effectively, Houston prioritized minutes and development for its younger players ahead of the former five-time All-Star.
It was a bitter financial pill to swallow for owner Tilman Fertitta and general manager Rafael Stone, but it’s worth remembering that there weren’t many alternatives when it came to acquiring Wall in the first place. At the time, aging star Russell Westbrook was disgruntled and on a nearly identical contract to Wall — and it wasn’t realistic to move one very bloated contract without taking back another.
With that in mind, the Rockets swapped Westbrook for Wall and a future first-round draft pick just prior to the 2020-21 season. Because Wall was considered a somewhat lesser player with a greater injury history, Washington had to include a draft asset, and that incentive made sense for a Houston team starting its rebuild.
But from a basketball standpoint, Wall only played one season with the franchise. In 2021-22, which was the second-to-last year of Wall’s contract at the time, Houston agreed to a non-playing arrangement with Wall while working to trade him. During the 2022 offseason, when it was clear that further trades weren’t realistic, the Rockets struck an agreement with Wall to buy out the final year.
To no surprise, Wall’s salary relative to production in those years contributed to him being statistically the most overpaid player in NBA history, according to HoopsHype’s Real Value metric.
Here’s a look at which players with Rockets ties ended up on HoopsHype’s list of the 30 most overpaid players of all-time, with analysis by Frank Urbina and Raul Barrigon as to the reasoning. It’s worth noting that some of these players were overpaid by non-Houston franchises during other portions of their long careers.
No. 1: John Wall
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 5-8
Real Value: $161,517,595
Career earnings: $276,580,866
Difference: -$115,063,271 (-41.60%)
Rockets seasons: 2020-21, 2021-22
Another season of minimal playing vaulted John Wall to the No. 1 spot in this ranking (he was No. 6 before 2022-23), as our metric now values the five-time All-Star as the most overpaid player in NBA history. Of course, that’s no fault of Wall’s, as he underwent multiple major injuries in what should have been his prime, a peak that had him looking like one of the best point guards in the league for a time.
Wall was never able to regain that borderline All-NBA form after the injuries. In 2022-23, he played 34 unimpactful games for the Los Angeles Clippers, averaging 11.4 points on 40.8 percent shooting while earning $47.4 million. Real Value had him worth $4.8 million for an astronomical $42.6 million overpay.
Most of the money Wall earned came from the Houston Rockets, though the contract itself was signed when Wall was still with the Washington Wizards. It must also be pointed out that Wall still had more seasons in which Real Value believed he was underpaid (he had eight of those, per Real Value, to five seasons where he was overpaid).
The problem is, the returns from his massive last contract from the Wizards were borderline non-existent leading to Wall now being in first place in our ranking of the most overpaid players in NBA history.
For more on John Wall’s career salary info, click here.
No. 4: Tyson Chandler
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 17-2
Real Value: $100,214,306
Career earnings: $189,644,026
Difference: -$89,429,720 (-47.16%)
Rockets season: 2019-20
Former NBA big man Tyson Chandler fell from first last time we did this exercise to fourth thanks to the enormous salaries Wall, Hayward and Thompson were just paid in 2022-23. Even so, Chandler probably isn’t thought of as someone who was hugely overpaid in his NBA career – in fact, he’s one of the only players ever to win NBA, World and Olympic titles in their career. He also made an All-Star team and was Defensive Player of the Year once.
He wasn’t obscenely overpaid for any one season, but the fact that he played for so long while earning so much money is why he finds himself near the top of this list. His most overpaid season, according to Real Value, came in 2018-19 when he made $13.6 million to average 3.1 points and 3.9 rebounds, an $11.5 million overpay, per our metric.
For more on Tyson Chandler’s career salary info, click here.
No. 5: Juwan Howard
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 14-5
Real Value: $67,627,323
Career earnings: $151,839,471
Difference: -$84,212,148 (-55.46%)
Rockets seasons: 2004-05, 2005-06, 2006-07
After just two NBA seasons and one All-Star appearance, Juwan Howard’s services were already the subject of a bidding war between the Miami Heat and Washington Wizards, one in which the latter party came out victorious. Howard got a seven-year, $105 million deal with the then-Bullets, an enormous deal for the time.
The problem for Washington was Howard didn’t develop much after his first two seasons, never making another All-Star campaign and experiencing little team success until late in his career. Howard’s most overpaid season came in 2002-03 when he earned $20.6 million while averaging 18.4 points over 77 games, a $13.4 million overpay, according to Real Value.
For more on Juwan Howard’s career salary info, click here.
No. 7: Dikembe Mutombo
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 16-2
Real Value: $63,928,441
Career earnings: $143,666,581
Difference: -$79,738,140 (-55.50%)
Rockets seasons: 2004-05, 2005-06, 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09
One of the best defensive players ever, ranking second in NBA history in blocks, Dikembe Mutombo was highly paid throughout his career, almost to an inflated extent. Mutombo never developed into much of an offensive threat outside of lobs and near-bucket finishing and yet ranked Top 11 in salary nine times throughout his 18-year career, even peaking as the league’s second-highest-paid player in 2004-05 when he made $19.5 million.
Needless to say, that was an overpay. In fact, that year was Mutombo’s most overpaid campaign, per Real Value, as he averaged 4.0 points and 5.3 rebounds over 80 appearances for an overpay of $17.3 million, according to the metric.
For more on Dikembe Mutombo’s career salary info, click here.
No. 9: Chandler Parsons
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 6-3
Real Value: $49,902,469
Career earnings: $127,164,774
Difference: -$77,262,305 (-60.76%)
Rockets seasons: 2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14
Considered one of the worst contracts in NBA history, former NBA forward Chandler Parsons signed a four-year, $94.5 million deal with the Memphis Grizzlies in the summer of 2016, despite showing signs of injury troubles in the seasons just prior to that.
The contract went even more disastrously than expected, as Parsons would go on to play in 34, 36, 25 and five games in the four campaigns of the deal, never averaging more than 7.9 points in that span of time before being out of the league by his age-32 season. In that five-game season, Parsons was paid $25.1 million for contributions Real Value deemed worth roughly $509,000, a gargantuan $24.6 million overpay.
For more on Chandler Parsons’ career salary info, click here.
No. 21: Joe Johnson
Seasons overpaid vs. underpaid: 9-9
Real Value: $155,031,368
Career earnings: $217,468,696
Difference: -$62,437,328 (-28.71%)
Rockets season: 2017-18
Real Value may believe Joe Johnson was overpaid a lot throughout his career but he was definitely a better player than his reputation indicates. Johnson was a seven-time All-Star and one-time 3rd Team All-NBAer for a reason.
Nevertheless, Johnson’s most overpaid year, according to Real Value, came in 2015-16 when he split time between the Nets and Heat, averaging 12.2 points and 3.9 assists on 43.9 percent shooting while making $22.3 million. Real Value valued Johnson at $6.0 million that season, making that a $16.4 million overpay.
For more on Joe Johnson’s career salary info, click here.
Fifteen of the 30 most overpaid players ever (per our Real Value metric) are in the league right now.https://t.co/vz81EeUahr
— HoopsHype (@hoopshype) September 16, 2023