NBA trade season: The 10 least tradable contracts in the league

Keith Smith
John Wall and Kevin Love are injured and are owed a ton of money. (Getty)
John Wall and Kevin Love are injured and are owed a ton of money. (Getty)

Last week we focused on the 10 most tradable contracts in the NBA, and now it’s time for the least tradable, with the trade deadline looming on Feb. 7.

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 (this past summer’s Dwight Howard/Timofey Mozgov/Bismack Biyombo deals), 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 contracts that teams would struggle to move without paying to do so.

  • Unlike the most tradable deals, 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 are on this list. Even if the player can’t even put on sneakers anymore, expiring contracts always have value. This is especially true as half the NBA is positioning itself to have cap space this summer.

  • Despite the overflowing amount of bad contracts that were signed in the 2016 and 2017 offseasons, this list isn’t quite as deep as it could have been. Many of those deals have expired, or, quite simply, don’t look as bad as the cap continues to climb.

  • All years and money references are what are left beyond this current season.

The dishonorable mentions

G Dennis Schroder, Oklahoma City Thunder: Two years, $31 million – Expensive deal for a backup point guard behind Russell Westbrook on a luxury-tax team.

G/F Tony Snell, Milwaukee Bucks: Two years, $23.6 million – Another backup trapped behind better players on a team that is getting increasingly more expensive.

PF/C Gorgui Dieng, Minnesota Timberwolves: Two years, $33.5 million – Sensing a theme here? Yet another backup behind a good player on a team with two max deals.

The NBA’s 10 least tradable contracts

10. Cristiano Felicio, Chicago Bulls: Two years, $15.7 million – While this contract includes the least annual and total money owed, it’s just a complete waste of cap space. Felicio doesn’t get off the bench for a Chicago team that is now stocked with better frontcourt options. The only saving grace is that this deal declines in value over the next two seasons, but even that isn’t enough to get anyone to bite.

9. Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies: Two years, $67 million (final-year player option) – Conley is still a very good player, as he’s garnering attention for the first All-Star nod of his career. But he’s now 31 years old and coming off a series of seasons in which he’s battled injuries. An average of over $33 million for an aging, injury-prone point guard is just not something most teams can afford. For Memphis to trade Conley (and it should if it can), it would have to take back bad money or pay the acquiring team. Not a great situation for the once-proud Grizzlies.

8. Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks: Two years, $37.1 million (final-year player option, 15 percent trade bonus) – This one is as much about the situation as it is about the player. Hardaway is fine for what he is: a volume scorer that is probably best as a team’s fourth- or fifth-best player. The total of $18 million or so over each of the next two years isn’t awful. But the rub is the Knicks have big dreams and almost enough cap space to make them a reality. If New York really wants to add two max free agents this summer, it needs to move Hardaway to get there. Other teams know this and will make the Knicks pay, which is the exact kind of situation New York has screwed up in the past. It’s a new front office, but it’ll have to work to move Hardaway.

Blake Griffin is a good but injury-prone player with a really big deal on a bad team. (AP)
Blake Griffin is a good but injury-prone player with a really big deal on a bad team. (AP)

7. Blake Griffin, Detroit Pistons: Three years, $110 million (final-year player option) – Griffin is turning in a wonderful season. He’s an All-NBA candidate in his first full year in Detroit. That’s the good. The bad? The Pistons stink. They’re a .500 team with a bloated cap sheet. Griffin turns 30 in March and has an injury history, especially the kind that tends to sink big men who rely on athleticism. He’s added more skill to his game, but trading for Griffin was a gamble for Detroit. It’s one that most other teams won’t make going forward.

6. Chandler Parsons, Memphis Grizzlies: One year, $25.1 million – Parsons has just one year left on Memphis’ 2016 max-contract mistake. One year doesn’t seem so bad, right? Wrong. He can’t get on the court. On the brief occasions he is healthy enough to play, he doesn’t play long. It’s no fault of his own, but his body is shot. Things have gotten so bad, the Grizzlies wanted him to work his way back to the NBA through the G League. Memphis is going to pay a hefty price to rid themselves of Parsons, one way or another. It will either waive him and eat his contract, take back bad money or dump him using one of its precious few future assets — all to shed one year of really bad money.

5. Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics: Two years, $66.9 million (final-year player option, 15 percent trade bonus) – We all know that if Hayward can regain his previous form, he’ll come right off this list. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet. To expect him to be the guy the Celtics signed to a four-year, max deal in 2017 this soon after breaking his ankle is unfair. But the reality is that Hayward is unmovable at the moment. Boston would have to attach young players, picks or both to get his contract off the books. The Celtics aren’t going to do that because he has shown flashes. But for now, he’s the NBA’s most expensive bench player.

4. Nicolas Batum, Charlotte Hornets: Two years, $52.7 million (final-year player option) – Things have gotten so bad on Charlotte’s cap sheet that it was hoping it could entice another team to take on Batum’s deal if the Hornets threw in Frank Kaminsky. That’s the sort of flawed thinking that got the team here in the first place. At the time Charlotte signed Batum in 2016, it was locking in a group that had shown some promise. Now, the Hornets have a team in which Kemba Walker is the only guy close to being an All-Star and he’s their sixth-highest-paid player. Normally, you might jump for joy at finding such a great steal. With the Hornets, it’s a case of having overpaid guys up and down the roster, and Batum is the worst of the bunch. To top it off, he’s already 30 years old. It’s going to take a heck of a lot more than Kaminsky to get someone to trade for Batum.

3. Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves: Four years, $122 million – For a 23-year-old to be on this list, you know something had to go horribly wrong. Generally that would mean a catastrophic injury. Wiggins? He’s just not worth anything close to a max deal. He’s still young, but he’s somehow a relic of the NBA’s past. He’s an inefficient, volume scorer who offers little else. Wiggins was once touted as a promising defender, but he’s shown little of that. He hasn’t developed his playmaking skills either. And there were questions about his work ethic, even though Minnesota owner Glen Taylor said part of his confidence in giving Wiggins a max extension was “that his contributions to the team will be more in the future.” Well, let’s just say that hasn’t happened. And Wiggins’ approach to basketball was a contributing factor in Jimmy Butler wanting out of Minnesota. None of this adds up to a max deal, and the Wolves will be hard-pressed to move Wiggins.

2. Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers: Four years, $120 million – This extension hasn’t even started yet, and it’s already bad. Love’s best, and healthiest, days seem behind him. He’s struggled with injuries throughout his career and has played just four games this season. When healthy, Love has become strictly a stretch four who can rebound well. That has value, but it’s not $30 million-a-year value. Making this contract even more confusing is that Cleveland was clearly kicking off a rebuild after LeBron James left for Los Angeles this past offseason. Well, that was obvious to everyone but the Cavs. Now, they’re stuck with a mess of a contract for a player who can’t stay healthy.

1. John Wall, Washington Wizards: Four years, $171 million (final-year player option) – Wall’s deal — which hasn’t even started yet — is unequivocally the worst in the NBA. With his extension kicking in next season, the final figures haven’t even locked in yet. He’s signed to a Designated Player Veteran Extension that will start at 35 percent of the 2019-20 salary cap. That’s currently projected to be a first-year salary of $38.2 million. From there, the deal will climb to a final-year player option of $47.3 million for 2022-23. The deal already looked questionable before Wall’s 2018-19 season ended after 32 games because of surgery on his left heel. He’ll also be 29 at the start of next season, with a game that is highly predicated on speed and athleticism. On top of all that, Wall’s current deal, of which he’s in the final year, includes a 15 percent trade bonus. It’s still unclear how that would apply toward the years of his extension because the NBA hasn’t faced the situation before and the CBA doesn’t account for it. It’s probably not going to matter because Wall’s contract is easily the least tradable in the NBA, leaving the Wizards to eat this one all on their own.

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