Arenas, Houston, Reeves, Noah.... the 10 worst ever NBA contracts
AS’ Fernando Faucha takes a look at some of the big-money contracts signed by NBA players who far from delivered on their team’s investment.
Bryant Reeves, Vancouver Grizzlies: six years, $61.8m
Probably the worst contract ever given out in the NBA. In 1997, it was clear to see that Reeves wasn’t in the right physical shape to play in the league, but the Vancouver Grizzlies still decided to offer him a six-year contract, two seasons after making him the number-one overall pick in the Draft. Perhaps because of that, they felt compelled to tie down a player who claimed he was unable to keep in shape over the summer because in his hometown in Oklahoma there was no gym or anyone to play basketball with. When the 1999 lockout ended, he turned up for Grizzlies practice weighing 142 pounds. He was even seen chewing tobacco. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t see out his extended contract. In 2001, a back problem - far from the first injury he had suffered - led to his retirement.
Joe Smith, Minnesota Timberwolves: seven years, $86m
The problem with the contract the Minnesota Timberwolves handed to Smith in 1999 was that it was illegal, and both parties paid the price for that. The 1995 first overall pick allowed himself to be led astray by his agent, who agreed a one-year deal with the Timberwolves worth $1.75m - with a further six years under the table. When the NBA found out about the scheme, it stripped Minnesota of its next five first-round Draft picks, at a time when the franchise was making plans to build a championship-winning team around Kevin Garnett. The player, meanwhile, was forced to accept a new, six-year contract worth just $34m - less than half the amount previously agreed.
Allan Houston, New York Knicks: six years, $100m
Houston was a very important player for the New York Knicks in the 1990s, even scoring the basket that sent the team through to the Conference Semi-Finals in 1999, a year in which they went on to reach the NBA Finals. But by 2001 he was now 30, and it’s almost as if no-one at the Knicks realised that if they gave him a six-year extension, he’d be 36 by the end of it. He wasn’t bad for the first two seasons - if far from justifying the money the franchise was investing in him - but a terrible knee injury sidelined him from the third onwards. Such was the impact of his case that it led the NBA to update its collective bargaining agreement with what is known as the ‘Allan Houston clause’. This provision allows teams to release one player without his contract counting towards the league’s luxury-tax threshold.
Eddie Curry, New York Knicks: six years, $60m
It should come as a surprise to nobody that the list continues with another contract signed by the New York Knicks. The franchise hasn’t become one of the NBA’s chief meme fodders in the 21st century for nothing. The Curry case takes the breath away for two reasons: just how poorly the player performed, and just how much the Knicks handed over to take him to the franchise. Namely, the number-two pick in the 2006 Draft, which the Chicago Bulls used to select LaMarcus Aldridge (before trading him right away to the Portland Trail Blazers, but that’s a story for another day). Curry had led the Bulls to the Playoffs at the age of just 22, but in 2005, when he was traded to the Knicks, he had been sidelined by heart issues. What’s more, the player had demonstrated his talent for scoring points, but also that he wasn’t a good rebounder and that his lack of speed impacted on his defensive abilities - a weakness that only got worse with age. In 2008, his weight reached as high as 330lbs. He went on to win the championship ring with the Miami Heat in 2012, albeit he didn’t play a single minute in the Playoffs.
Ben Wallace, Chicago Bulls: four years, $60m
Wallace is a Hall of Famer, a terrific player who, at his peak, had the defensive prowess and leadership abilities that meant he certainly deserved a contract as big as this. By 2006, however, he was 31 and was on the way down - something the Chicago Bulls didn’t seem to be sensitive to, despite already having a younger, cheaper version of Wallace on their roster (and with five years still on his contract): Tyson Chandler. The center lasted a year and a half in the Windy City, and made no impact - as also proved the case at other franchises he played for afterwards.
Gilbert Arenas, Washington Wizards: six years, $111m
In 2007, the Washington Wizards gave Arenas a six-year extension, despite the player only managing 13 games the previous season because of a serious knee injury. His knee was never the same again, and two years later he left the Wizards. In the meantime, though, he had pressured the franchise into renewing Antawn Jamison on a four-year, $50m deal, a contract that didn’t work out particularly well, either. Arenas was also at the centre of an infamous locker-room episode, a scrap with Javaris Crittenton (who is currently in prison for involuntary homicide) that was the result of ill-feeling originating in a card game on the team plane.
Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng, LA Lakers: four years, $136m combined
2016 is without doubt one of the NBA’s blackest years when it comes to the contracts that were handed out - and the Los Angeles Lakers were among the teams that did the poorest business. Following the departure of Kobe Bryant, the franchise had a lot of available money in its budget and quickly set about spending it on ageing, ineffective players. Mozgov signed for $64m, despite playing just 25 minutes of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ famous Finals comeback against the Golden State Warriors. A year later, the Lakers had to hand over their number-two Draft pick to get rid of the Russian. As for Deng, he signed a contract worth $72m and played 79 games for the Lakers: he cost almost $1m per game. Given he arrived at the age of 31 and had been playing Tom Thibodeau’s physically-draining brand of basketball, it could have been worse.
Joakim Noah, New York Knicks: four years, $72m
Once again, the Knicks are involved. In this instance, New York gave a four-year, $72m contract in 2016 to a player who had mustered just 29 games the previous season and was clearly physically over the hill. It ought to have come as no surprise to anyone that he played a total of 95 games for the Knicks in the following two seasons, before being released. In the second of those two years, he appeared for a grand total of 40 minutes, which translated into earnings of $450,000 per 60 seconds of game time. Noah later admitted that his form For New York wasn’t helped by a party-animal lifestyle in his time in the Big Apple.
Chandler Parsons, Memphis Grizzlies: four years, $94m
2016′s most egregiously bad contract was without doubt the deal the Memphis Grizzlies gave Parsons. A player who showed promise at the Houston Rockets, he had then failed to pull up any trees at the Dallas Mavericks, and had missed the end of the previous season, including the Playoffs, because of a knee injury. He only managed three of the four years of his contract in Memphis, playing a total of 95 games and never coming close to justifying a contract worth nearly $100m. It was a contract that was a major factor in the death of the ‘Grit and Grind’ project that had led the Grizzlies to a Conference Finals. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol ended up leaving the team.
John Wall, Washington Wizards: four years, $170m
When he signed on the dotted line, Wall was the Washington Wizards’ key man, and had been an All-Star in the five previous seasons. When the contract came into force, in the summer of 2019, the point guard had torn his Achilles tendon and wouldn’t play a single spend in the first of the four years. $38m for doing nothing. The Wizards traded Wall to the Rockets in exchange for Russell Westbrook, and in Houston he played 40 games in the 2020/21 season, failing at any point to look remotely like the player of his Washington zenith. In 2021/22, he picked up $44m but again didn’t appear on the court once, and less then a month ago he triggered his player option for the fourth year of his contract, worth another $47m. It remains to be seen whether the Rockets pay that, manage to offload him to another team, or reach an agreement with Wall to release the 31-year-old. A disastrous contract.