12 NBA Players Poised to Be Overpaid
It happens every year. Teams get a little cap space, gear up for free agency, and then spend like there’s no tomorrow to make sure that they get the guys they think can best help their teams. Sometimes, you end up with an appropriately-priced (or even bargain) free agent like Paul Millsap for $8 million or David West for $10 million. Or, you get what the Detroit Pistons got when they splurged in 2009: $90 million worth of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.
The point here is free agency is a difficult thing to approach, and inevitably some teams are going to overspend to get the guys they want. The organizations who look to have the most space this year include Cleveland ($26.5 million), Phoenix ($26.2 million), New Jersey ($23.4 million), Boston ($23.3 million), Indiana ($21.7 million), New Orleans ($21.4 million), Houston ($17.2 million), Portland ($16.9 million), Toronto ($16.1 million), Charlotte ($15 million), Sacramento ($13.9 million), Washington ($12.4 million), Golden State ($9.9 million), San Antonio ($8.8 million), and Utah ($5.4 million).
That’s a whole lot of money burning holes in a whole lot of deep pockets, and it doesn’t even take into consideration any cap space that could be added by teams using the amnesty provision. In short, GMs and team presidents are about to spend like crazy on a free agency class that isn’t even particularly impressive. There’s just enough talent, though, to warrant king-sized contracts for players who don’t quite deserve it, and this list is a starting point for a conversation about who those players might be.
Let’s start with a conversation about big guys, because we’ve heard the old adage many times about how size is a premium in the NBA, and if there is a bright spot in this year’s free agency class it’s definitely the impressive number of centers that could easily start for NBA teams.
JaVale McGee (Restricted) – We saw in Game 3 of the Nuggets/Lakers series what JaVale McGee can be when he’s at his best (16 points, 15 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals), and his performance since coming to Denver has been just good enough to talk Denver (or some other team) into throwing a whole lot of money in McGee’s direction. He’s a loopy kid at times, but his physical talents are impossible to ignore. Plus, he’s only 24 years old, which makes it easier to justify a bigger contract because he still has room to grow as a pro. Denver probably isn’t moving forward with only Timofey Mozgov and Kosta Koufos at center, so they’ll be motivated to spend on the kid they traded Nene for. That means they might have to talk themselves into over-spending if a big market presents itself for McGee, as is expected.
Brook Lopez (R) – Unlike McGee, who really did show a lot of growth as a player this last season, Brook Lopez regressed, mostly as a result of ongoing injury issues. A kid that young and that big who has shown to be that injury prone this early in his career absolutely is a risky investment, but that won’t stop some teams for overvaluing him when free agency hits. Brooklyn would love to use him as the centerpiece of a Dwight Howard trade, so there’s a whole slew of subplots to worry about there, but strictly as a free agent independent of the Howard nonsense, Lopez has his issues. After a great sophomore season in which he averaged 18.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per contest, Lopez’s rebounding numbers have dropped considerably in each of the last two seasons. It’s a small sample size, but in Lopez’s five games this year, playing over 27 minutes a night, he averaged only 3.6 rebounds per game. The year previous, in which he played all 82 games and averaged over 35 minutes a night, he managed a paltry 5.9 rpg. He’ll get $10+ million a year this July for being a seven-footer that can score, but that could prove to be costly if the team also needs him to rebound and defend.
Roy Hibbert (R) – There’s no questioning that Hibbert had the best year of his career this year, and he absolutely deserved the All-Star recognition he got back in February, but there’s a strong possibility that Indiana offers him a max (or near-max contract) this offseason. Asking whether or not he’s really worth that much is a fair question. Take, for example, Indy’s first round series with the Orlando Magic. In games 3 and 4, Hibbert averaged 16 points per game, which are the sort of numbers you’d expect out of an All-Star center. In Games 1 and 2, though, he averaged only 6 points. Of course, he’s also averaging 4.3 blocks and 11.8 rebounds for the series, but it’s his inconsistency on the offensive end that makes some wonder whether he’s a max-level guy. Even if he’s not, there’s a good chance he could get paid that way, though Indiana does want to be prudent heading into free agency because Hibbert’s isn’t the only extension they’ll have to face in the next couple of years. Darren Collison, Paul George, and George Hill will soon demand relatively sizable contracts, as well.
Spencer Hawes (Unrestricted) – Well, he’s roasting the Bulls in Philly’s first round shocker of a series, and were it not for injuries Hawes could’ve been a serious candidate for Most Improved Player. Philadelphia knew they’d lament only giving him a one-year deal last offseason (for a reasonable $4.1 million), but he’ll undoubtedly command considerably more. If he goes in the $6-7 million range and manages 10 points and 8 rebounds a game per night, it’s possible to consider him reasonably-priced. If he goes for much more than that, though, it’s a short distance to considering him overpaid.
Robin Lopez (R) – This was the first year in Robin Lopez’s pro career that he didn’t start a single game, and that came as a result of Marcin Gortat’s breakout season in Phoenix. The Suns are going to have little reason to drop any sort of big bucks on a back-up like Robin, who could command a decent contract from a team looking for help at center. He only averaged 5.4 ppg and 3.3 rpg in 14 minutes per contest last season, but he showed just enough flashes this to perhaps talk some team into thinking he could do more with bigger minutes. It wouldn’t be shocking to see some team offer Lopez their full midlevel exception, but there’s a strong possibility that would be entirely too much.
Ryan Anderson (R) – Coming off a season in which he not only led the league in three-pointers made and attempted, but also established career-bests in points (16.1 ppg) and rebounds (7.7 rpg), Anderson definitely looks like the kind of guy who could just miss the All-Star team every year for the rest of his career. He’s shown steady improvement in his three seasons since coming to Orlando in the Vince Carter trade, but will teams pay him based on his arc of improvement, or for the player he was this past year? Make no mistake, Anderson is a great player who deserves way more than the $2.2 million he made in 2011-2012. But despite that, guys have done this before, playing the best ball of their lives in a contract year and then reaping a huge deal that’s just impossible to live up to after that. The only other power forward to lead the league in three-pointers was Rashard Lewis, who, ironically enough, is arguably the worst contract of all time. And guess who paid him all that money? The same team that will have to decide how much to re-sign Anderson for.
Ersan Ilyasova (UR) – Right behind Anderson in MIP voting was Milwaukee’s Ilysaova, who made headlines a few times this season with monster stat lines (remember that 29-point, 25-rebound performance back in February?). He’s looked like an absolute double-double machine at times, but if you search through his game logs from this last season, there are just enough 3-point, 2-rebound performance sprinkled in there to be worrisome for teams considering offering him a big deal this offseason. That could just be a result of Scott Skiles’s play-the-hot-hand style of coaching, but it also might be the player’s own fault. Ilyasova made a huge jump as a pro this year, but again, we’re talking about a big season happening just in time for a new contract. That has a way of motivating guys to juice up their stats. Is that what happened this year with Ersan?
J.J. Hickson (R) – Is it time for us to believe in Hickson yet? We’ve always wanted to, dating back to his time in Cleveland, but year after year he’s fallen short of expectations. After heading to Portland this year, however, Hickson averaged 15.1 ppg and 8.3 rpg in his 19 games with the team. Had he played out the season in Sacramento and continued on his 5 ppg pace, he barely would’ve been a blip on the free agency radar. Instead, he’s primed to make decent bank, and nobody has any idea if he really deserves it. The year before he was traded to Sacramento, he averaged almost 14 points and 9 boards a game. After the trade… nothin’. Could he cool off similarly in a new situation next season? Has he played well enough to warrant a big deal from Portland, where he knows he fits in? Whoever throws that contract at him has to decide what he’s really capable of, and what he’s really worth.
O.J. Mayo (R) – Between Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley, the Memphis Grizzlies already have $54.1 million on the books for next season and $58.5 million the year after that. There’s no way they’re going to be able to offer Mayo a huge payday despite his solid end of the regular season and first round of the playoffs (well, Games 1 and 2, at least). Some team is going to have to put out a pretty sizable offer sheet to pry Mayo away from Memphis, who despite their financial crunch would still love to keep him in Tennessee. We know the story on Mayo—he’s great in bunches, but through four years in the league he’s still painfully inconsistent. It would be easy for a team to overpay him with the hope that he’d improve further or fit well with more minutes in a different system, but going too high wouldn’t necessarily be prudent. It would be easy to see him going for $6-8 million a season, but if he pulls $10 million/per, the buyer may end up with a little bit of remorse.
Nick Young (UR) – The kid has hit some big shots for the Clippers in the Memphis series, but he also had a Game 4 in which he only scored five points on 1-for-4 shooting from the floor. That’s just an example of the sort of thing Young has been doing for most of his career. Since scoring 35 points on Valentine’s Day, Young has only scored over 20 points once, proving that he’s not necessarily the big-time scorer a team may think they’re getting by offering him a fat contract this summer. He’s talented, and he’s young at only 26 (he’ll be 27 in June), but he’s already gone a long way towards his ceiling. Investing him as someone who will continue to improve doesn’t seem particularly wise.
Gerald Green (UR) – Green was one of the best stories of the year, coming back in full force for the Nets this past season and finally proving himself as a real, honest-to-goodness NBA player. He played for peanuts, though, typical of a player getting a short contract coming off time overseas and the D-League, and he’ll be due for a sizeable payday this summer when he hits the open market as an unrestricted free agent. He averaged a career-high 12.9 ppg in 31 games for the former New Jersey Nets, but he also hadn’t been in the league for two full seasons before blowing up in 2012. We want to believe he’s here to stay, but is he a fluke, or is he really ready to earn a big-time NBA deal?
Goran Dragic (UR) – You have to wonder if the Houston Rockets training staff put something special in their point guards’ water to make them superhuman, because both Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic had career years this past season in Texas. Dragic got his shot when Lowry was hurt, but he immediately went on a tear and almost certainly did enough in 28 starts (17.8 ppg and 7.9 apg) to earn a significant payday this summer. Considering how much the league relies on point guards these days, that doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility, but is 28 games enough to show us that this kid is for real? It’s very possible that what he did this year in Houston was a flash in the pan, and overpayment for Dragic is also well within that realm of possibility.
Something to keep in mind with this list is that none of this is to say these guys are bad players. In fact, the overwhelming majority of them absolutely deserve some kind of raise next year. The fact that they’ve played well at the right time shouldn’t be held against them; it just means that there’s a possibility that they end up getting more money than they’re actually worth because of their timely success.
Teams want to believe they’re getting a great deal on a guy, and sometimes the bidding for a certain player can get out of control pretty quickly. Agents are good at making that sort of thing happen because that’s how they make their own livelihoods. It doesn’t always help the actual teams, though, who end up hampered down with bad contracts as a result of those out-of-control negotiations.
Not all the guys on this list will cause buyer’s remorse. A few will, to be sure, but this is a fair list of possibilities for who those free agent busts might be. Who else do you think should be on the list? Check out the rest of this year’s free agents here, and let us know in the comments who else you think could end up overpaid this summer.