It has become popular to discuss Gilbert Arenas as having the most "toxic" contract in the NBA. Toxic in the sense that the Wizards, if they were so inclined, could not move him in part because they would not get equal value for his talent and the trading team would likely not want to take on his contract based on what Gilbert will get paid for the remaining four years of the deal. The contract can also be considered toxic if it prevents a team from making moves to improve its team, due to a lack of salary cap space. I would also add that if a player isn’t outperforming his current wage rate, then that contract should also be considered toxic as the team will have money tied up in an under-performing player. In this light, when we look at the 21 highest paid players in the NBA, it becomes clear that there are a few other toxic contracts out there.
This post focuses on the 21 highest paid players in the NBA according to data pulled from Hoopshype, Basketball-Reference.com, Hoopsworld, DraftExpress and CBS Sports.com. Please note that in many cases the players rank is based only on these 21 players and not necessarily in relation to the full list of NBA players.
So here is the list of toxic contracts in no particular order.
Rashard Lewis, Orlando Magic:
- The Good: About the only good thing about this contract is that the Magic can get out after two more seasons – if they can’t trade him first.
- The Bad: Rashard Lewis is a solid role player who is getting paid like a NBA superstar. Lewis, who has missed 135 games over his 12 year NBA career, is not getting any younger. One would expect durability to be an issue over the remaining years of his contract.
- The Ugly: Lewis’ career averages have him as the 19th best scorer on this list. Rashard also has the second worst career PER rating, but yet he is the 4th highest paid player on the list. $19+ million per season is an insane amount of money to pay for a role player.
Michael Redd, Milwaukee Bucks:
- The Good: One year remains on his contract. At a more affordable price, he could prove to be a valuable guy coming off of a contending team’s bench.
- The Bad: Michael Redd is a top 11 scorer on this list, but given his ability to score the ball he does not possess the talent to push his team deep in the playoffs – as seen in his career 16 playoff games. He is clearly a complimentary player at best, but is currently the 7th highest paid player on this list.
- The Ugly: If you look at games missed due to injury, then Redd has missed more games due to injury than anyone on this list. Over his 10 year career he is averaging 25.2 games missed per season.
Andrei Kirilenko, Utah Jazz:
- The Good: One year remains on his contract.
- The Bad: Durability is a concern for AK47. During his 9 year career he has missed a total of 121 games for an average of 13.4 per season which is a bit above the average for the top 21 paid players.
- The Ugly: It is amazing to consider that a player who is the worst scorer on the list, is near the bottom in PER rating (19th) and has never made an All-Star appearance is the 8th highest paid player in the league.
Gilbert Arenas, Washington Wizards:
- The Good: Gilbert is a 9 year vet, but his body should be rested coming off of 2 injury shortened and 1 suspension shortened seasons. Gilbert, who is currently the 10th highest paid player on this list, has the 7th highest career PPG average of the 21 players. He also has a respectable career PER rating of 20.60. When Gilbert is healthy and focused he is a top 10 talent in the NBA and is still young enough to produce over the remaining years of his contract.
- The Bad: While Gilbert’s current $17M+ salary is big, it also increases over the remaining years of his contract. This means that he will take up an even larger percentage of the teams salary cap in the coming seasons.
- The Ugly: In a word, durability. Gilbert has missed a total of 273 games, 223 if you back out his 50-game suspension. If you adjust for his suspension, only Michael Redd has missed more games due to injury on this list.
Vince Carter, Orlando Magic:
- The Good: While Vince is currently overpaid ($17.5M) for his current level of performance, his numbers are solid. He is currently the 13th highest paid player on the list, while he has the 6th ranked PPG average and the 13th best career PER rating.
- The Bad: Two more seasons at $17.5 million per.
- The Ugly: He was dreadful in the playoffs last season and his numbers are beginning to fall back to earth. He has reached a point where his contract is getting tough to swallow given his level of production.
Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies:
- The Good: One year remaining on his contract.
- The Bad: While not as egregious as some, Randolph is still the 14th highest paid player on the list, but yet his career PPG and PER rating has him solidly as the 18th best player on this list. Factor in his 8 playoff games and 1 All-Star appearance and you would appear to have a solid role player, who unfortunately is receiving superstar money.
- The Ugly: His off court issues may again affect his or the team’s play.
A couple of players whose contracts are on the verge of becoming toxic:
Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics:
- The Good: Garnett has made 12 All-Star appearances during his 15 years in the league. He is still a vital cog on the Celtics as they make another run at a NBA Championship and is still capable of generating double-doubles and playing solid defense.
- The Bad: He has played in more regular season games than anyone on this list and while has been relatively healthy, age catches up with everyone. Garnett’s numbers have begun to decline over the last couple of seasons but he is still the 5th highest player in the league and has two years remaining on his contract.
- The Ugly: $18.8 million per tied up in a 15 year vet.
Yao Ming, Houston Rockets:
- The Good: When healthy Yao is probably the most difficult matchup in the post. His size and skills are unmatched in the league. Impressively at Center, Yao is the 7th most efficient player on the list with a career PER rating of 23.04.
- The Bad: Unfortunately Yao’s talents, in part due to injury, have not translated into post-season success.
- The Ugly: Yao missed all of last season and over his 8 year career is averaging 21.9 games missed per season. What isn’t known is if Yao will regain his form following his most recent injury. $17.6 million is a lot of money to be tied up in a talented, yet injury prone Center who did not help the team win in the post-season.
A few surprises:
- All things considered, the data seems to indicate that Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James are solid investments for the Miami Heat. Each player is currently producing well above their current salary rank on this list of the 21 highest paid players.
- At effectively the 20th highest paid player (out of 21) Dwight Howard is more than earning his money. Particularly when you consider that he has only missed THREE (3) games over the first six years of his career. Howard also has the 10th highest career PER rating (21.80) of all of the players on this list.
While Gilbert’s contract does not provide the kind of flexibility that many would like to have – particularly those who would like nothing better to dump in now. The biggest issue is not the money – as the team was not going to go on a spending spree – but it is the fact that he has missed a significant amount of time over the last three seasons. And as a result, we do not know what to expect from him moving forward. It is interesting, however, to see that Gilbert does not have the market cornered on bad contracts, as some would have us believe. That dubious honor he shares with the likes of Rashard Lewis, Michael Redd, Andrei Kirilenko, Vince Carter and Zach Randolph. Plus there are some long time stars (Kevin Garnett and Yao Ming) that are beginning to creep into that territory due to age and/or health concerns.