On Saturday, the Los Angeles Lakers agreed to a buyout deal with Luol Deng, who played a total of 13 minutes last season, scored two points—and made $18 million.
Deng’s deal was perhaps the worst of summer 2016, but there’s plenty competition.
The Knicks gave Joakim Noah’s corpse $72 million, the Lakers handed Timofey Mozgov $64 million as soon as free agency began, the Rockets beat the Wizards in signing Ryan Anderson for $80 million, and Evan Turner-plus-Chandler Parsons were given a total of $164 million by their respective (and regretful) teams.
None of those deals—shockingly—have panned out. The offerors have attempted trades and buyouts, but few have found an escape. The Rockets, though, somehow convinced the Suns to take Anderson’s contract and Mozgov was traded to Charlotte in a three-team deal, replacing Washington’s new-old center Dwight Howard.
Washington is a part of the unlucky bunch.
Ian Mahinmi has two years left on his contract and will make more than $15 million each season. The Mahinmi signing was a part of multiple deals that Ernie Grunfeld constructed in 2016 as part of an effort to restore Washington’s defense and add depth to the frontcourt.
With Nene gone, the Wizards needed a physical big—someone who can rebound, protect the paint and fill the gaps where Marcin Gortat couldn’t. Without reason, the team’s executives thought Mahinmi—a journeyman big whose career-year consisted of a 9-point and 7-rebound season—was worth $64 million. He became a consolation prize after Al Horford spurned the Wizards—a reward similar to receiving old stool in a box after expecting a diamond ring.
His first season was plagued by injury and the Wizards never had the chance to really see what their prized free agent signing could bring to the table. Mahinmi appeared poised for a breakthrough last summer - he lost weight, got healthy and was ready to compete with Gortat for the starting job. He followed it up by averaging 7.2 fouls per-36 minutes and was mostly unplayable, even when he wasn’t whacking people upside the head on defense.
If not for his absurd contract, Mahinmi would be a candidate for a trade—and if not for the Wizards’ poor roster construction, he would be a candidate for a buyout.
Before acquiring Howard, the Wizards flirted with the idea of starting Mahinmi—an idea that, given the rate at which he fouls, would have been disastrous. But the notion of having him as the primary backup is almost just as nauseating.
Mahinmi’s time in Washington has been anything but pleasant. He’s failed to do anything the Wizards signed him for—and it’s not his fault that the Wizards expected him to be something he never was. There’s a reason why Mahinmi has played just 16 minutes per game for his career—and had the league evolved a bit quicker, he would have already become a victim of the changing game. The only thing keeping him on an NBA roster is the nightmarish deal he got from the Wizards.
And the only thing keeping him in D.C. is the lack of options on the roster.
Thomas Bryant and Jason Smith are the only other centers on the team, both not ideal for separate reasons. Smith, 34, is at the end of his career and has also benefited from a bad contract he got from Washington in 2016. Smith was out of Brooks’ rotation last season and did little to earn minutes going forward. He shot 12.5 percent from three a season after making 47 percent of his attempts from deep. He lost his touch - and with the touch the coaches lost any reason of having him on the court.
Bryant, 21, is skilled but too raw to throw into the lineup (or at least that’s what the Wizards’ thinking will be, if history is correct). Washington has been hesitant to rely on young players at the beginning of their careers and that probably won’t change next season.
The Wizards are stuck with their bad decision, a bad player(s) taking up a spot on the bench and a boatload of cash waiting to be flushed down the toilet. To trade Mahinmi, Grunfeld would have to entice teams by attaching a first-round pick or a young wing—a move that should cause fans to revolt. To buy him out, the Wizards would have to concede that the signing was horrendous - and wouldn’t gain much financial wiggle room from it either. Washington still projects to be over the cap next summer even if the team waives and stretches the final year of his deal next season.
Mahinmi is going to be Washington’s backup center next season. And in the event of an injury to Howard, he’s going to be the first in line to start. Mahinmi’s contract is one of the many remaining cash-comprised landfills in the NBA—and the Wizards have no way to get around it.