The NBA's biggest problem? Way too many overpaid players

 
 
Published8/3/2009 12:10 AM

Last week's big-man trade of Tyson Chandler for Emeka Okafor might have seemed random when it came to the players involved.

But the deal was built around salaries.

 

Chandler has two more years and $24.6 million left on the contract he originally signed with the Bulls in 2005.

Okafor has five years and $62.7 million remaining, which means Charlotte shaved nearly $40 million in future salary commitments by making the deal with New Orleans.

The Hornets, meanwhile, trimmed a few million off next year's luxury-tax bill, since Okafor will make less this season. So each side saved money in some way.

Like so many industries, economics are troubling the NBA, and many observers expect another lockout in 2011 when the current collective-bargaining agreement expires.

I'd say the biggest issues the league needs to solve are keeping the games affordable and evening the playing field for small-market teams.

But the fundamental problem in the NBA right now is simply too many players who are wildly overpaid and locked into guaranteed contracts.

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That's why teams make so many personnel decisions based on money.

With that in mind, let's rank the worst NBA contracts currently on the books:

1. Gilbert Arenas, Wizards (5 years, $96.3 million): Washington forgot the Grant Hill Rule - never foist a massive contract on someone who can't walk. Arenas has played in 15 games the past two seasons.

2. Elton Brand, Sixers (4 years, $66 million): This seemed like a good idea at the time, but Brand has played in just 37 games the past two years because of injuries.

3. Eddy Curry, Knicks (2 years, $21.7 million): Thanks to this contract, the former Bulls center may prevent New York's dream of chasing two major free agents in 2010.

4. Marko Jaric, Grizzlies (2 years, $14.7 million): This guy averaged 2.6 points last season. And that was before he married supermodel Adriana Lima.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

5. Tracy McGrady, Rockets (1 year, $23.3 million): He will be the league's highest-paid player this season. I still laugh at how ex-Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy congratulated McGrady on TV last spring for winning his first career playoff series. Of course, T-Mac was hurt and didn't play a second.

6. Andrei Kirilenko, Jazz (2 years, $33 million): Utah might not be so eager to unload Carlos Boozer if it hadn't rushed to give Kirilenko a ridiculous deal in 2004.

7. Peja Stojakovic, Hornets (2 years, $29.5 million): This is a classic NBA mistake, bidding wildly for a free agent when there is no serious competition. Ben Gordon and the Pistons might be Exhibit B.

8. DeSagana Diop, Bobcats (4 years, $26.8 million): Dallas has a history of overpaying for mediocre big men, but the Mavs managed to unload this deal. Diop averaged 2.3 points and 3.6 rebounds last season.

9. (tie) Mike Dunleavy (2 years, $20.2 million) and Troy Murphy (2 years, $23 million), Pacers: As they finish up huge contracts, this pair has combined to play 1,048 games without ever making the playoffs.

10. Beno Udrih, Kings (4 years, $27.8 million): Might have been the league's worst starting player last season.

11. Bobby Simmons, Nets (1 year, $10.6 million): Hopefully, the former DePaul star will spend some of this money in his hometown.

12. Corey Maggette, Warriors (4 years, $39.7 million): Golden State felt it had to do something last year after losing Baron Davis unexpectedly. Signing another shoot-first perimeter player wasn't it.

13. Michael Redd, Bucks (2 years, $35.3 million): Milwaukee realized too late this is too much for a one-dimensional player.

14. Jerome James, Bulls (1 year, $6.6 million): Signing the massive center to a five-year deal in 2005 wasn't even Isiah Thomas' worst move as Knicks GM.

15. Brian Cardinal, T-Wolves (1 year, $6.8 million): A source swears the league distributed a memo last year warning teams that signing players to a full-term midlevel exception usually turns out bad. It was titled The Cardinal Rule, I'm pretty sure.

Honorable mention: Dan Gadzuric, Bucks (2 years, $14 million); Jermaine O'Neal, Heat (1 year $22.9 million), Etan Thomas, Thunder (1 year, $7.4 million), Sam Dalembert, Sixers (2 years, $23.6 million), Jason Maxiell, Pistons (4 years, $20 million).

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