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NBA front offices seem a lot sharper than they were several years ago. Truly egregious moves are getting harder to come by.
Even in an offseason like 2022, where there was loads of player movement throughout the league, the number of seemingly “bad” decisions is relatively low.
But that’s the subject of today’s slideshow.
There’s no way to know with certainty that any of the below will age poorly. Legitimate clairvoyance is in much shorter supply than the hot-take industrial complex would have you believe, but these moves at least generated some head-scratching.
Determining the worst is largely an exercise in subjectivity, but some objective factors—like age, past production and team fit—were certainly consulted.
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The Golden State Warriors’ luxury-tax bill has been a common and fascinating topic of conversation all offseason.
Retaining Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr., especially with upcoming extensions or new contracts for Jordan Poole, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins on the horizon, would’ve been a very expensive decision.
But losing two of the most important role players on a championship team is a bad alternative.
Payton and Porter were tied with Green for second on the team in regular-season wins over replacement player. Both were integral in the playoffs too.
Porter is exactly the kind of three-and-D, multipositional forward that every team in the league is after. Payton is one of the game’s best perimeter defenders, and he finally figured out his niche on offense in 2021-22 (cutting to the rim and being a threat from the corners).
The organization’s faith in itself is warranted. Maybe Donte DiVincenzo, JaMychal Green and the young core can pick up the slack, but that’s not guaranteed.
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Gary Harris’ two-year, $26 million contract is probably fine. Only the first year is guaranteed, which suggests the Orlando Magic may have offered this largely to be a trade chip in a few months. If that’s the case, even the amount isn’t a big deal. Having more salary to send out in a deal can come in handy.
Still, Harris has had a hard time staying healthy throughout his career. Over the last three years, he’s averaged just 52 games a season. And during the same stretch, he hasn’t had a single campaign with an above-replacement-level box plus/minus.
(“BPM is a basketball box score-based metric that estimates a basketball player’s contribution to the team when that player is on the court,” according to Basketball Reference.)
If Harris’ shooting returns to the well-below-average level it was for three years prior to 2021-22, it may be difficult to move his salary, even if it is essentially an expiring contract.
The other factor to consider here is the competition for Harris. In other words, was there any?
There was very little cap space available this offseason, which gave teams a ton of leverage to re-sign their own guys.
Yossi Gozlan @YossiGozlan
Spending power update w/ salary cap adjustments:<br><br>SAS: $39.9M (if Lonnie Walker doesn’t return and if Danilo Gallinari gets an $11.5M partial guarantee)<br>NYK: $35.1M (if they waive Taj Gibson and keep Mitchell Robinson’s cap hold)<br>IND: $28M<br>ORL: $27.8M<br>OKC: $23.4M (expires today) <a href=”https://t.co/OAWrSnBbbk”>pic.twitter.com/OAWrSnBbbk</a>
Retaining a veteran presence, trade chip, the perception that you take care of your players or some combination of all of the above are all valid reasons for this deal.
But again, it was at least a bit of a head-scratcher.
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Like Orlando, the Detroit Pistons seemed to be bidding against themselves for the services of Marvin Bagley.
He’s averaged double figures in each of his four NBA seasons, but he hasn’t had an above-average true shooting percentage since his rookie campaign (when he barely cleared that threshold).
He also boasts dangerously low block and steal rates for a player of his size and hasn’t really shown flashes to suggest he can be a rim protector or switchable perimeter guy.
His 14.6 points on 11.1 shots in 18 games after being traded to Detroit was mildly encouraging, but was it enough to warrant a three-year, fully guaranteed $37.5 million deal?
If he suddenly lives up to his status as a No. 2 overall draft pick, that annual salary is going to look like a pittance, but he has a handful of more proven frontcourt players to beat out for minutes (including Kelly Olynyk, Isaiah Stewart, Nerlens Noel and Saddiq Bey). Detroit will also be looking to give Jalen Duren plenty of early opportunities.
It seems like the Pistons could’ve added to that rotation of forwards and centers for less than what it spent on Bagley. If they hadn’t given him that deal, who would have?
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There’s some distance between this decision and the worst one, because there’s still plenty of time for the Los Angeles Lakers to change it.
For now, L.A. seemingly passing on some Russell Westbrook deals feels like the wrong call.
Earlier this summer, rumors surfaced that Russ and two first-round picks (presumably 2027 and 2029) for Kyrie Irving was on the table, but the “Lakers don’t want to give up multiple first-round picks to trade Russell Westbrook,” according to HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto.
A similar package (Russ and the two picks) for Myles Turner and Buddy Hield may have been entertained at another point. Again, Westbrook is still a Laker.
Either one of those trades probably puts the Lakers closer to a championship in 2023, simply because the incoming players fit better alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Either deal, but especially the Pacers one, brings some balance to a roster that currently looks like a mess.
The hesitance to mortgage your future for a team led by a 37-year old makes sense, but the “title or bust” mentality has accompanied LeBron for over a decade. It’s just sort of what you sign up for when you acquire him.
If the Lakers enter training camp without giving the green light to some trade that moves Russ, and we have a chance to revisit this exercise, this decision could rise to No. 1.
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P.J. Tucker had one of the best seasons of his career in 2021-22. He shot a career-high 41.5 percent from three. He posted his highest BPM since 2013-14 (and his first above-average mark since 2014-15). And the Miami Heat’s point differential was a little better when he was on the floor.
But Tucker turned 37 in May, and banking on him to duplicate that level of play for three more years is bold.
Was this past season an outlier? The Philadelphia 76ers are making a three-year, $33 million bet that it wasn’t.
And though a yearly salary in the range of $11 million isn’t overly cumbersome under the current salary cap, a return to Tucker’s pre-2021-22 form could be a problem for a team that has over $100 million per year heading to Joel Embiid, James Harden and Tobias Harris for at least the next two seasons.
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The Denver Nuggets signed DeAndre Jordan to a one-year, veteran minimum deal in the opening minutes of free agency. That shouldn’t be a big deal. It may not turn out to be.
But surely, there was a better use of that roster spot waiting out there. Why fill it almost as soon as free agency tipped off? And why fill it with Jordan?
The 34-year-old rim-runner hasn’t had a positive impact on his teams’ net rating since 2016-17. Over the last five seasons, his teams are minus-3.4 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor and plus-1.8 when he’s off.
Among the 1,002 players who’ve stepped foot on an NBA court in that same stretch, Jordan’s total plus-minus of minus-576 ranks 966th.
In the twilight of his career, Jordan has become far too prone to lapses on defense. Without the same athletic burst he had in his prime, the lack of a jump shot, bad free-throw shooting and underwater assist-to-turnover ratio are a lot harder to overcome.
Backing up the two-time reigning MVP means Jordan won’t be asked to play a ton, but it still feels like there had to be a better use of that veteran minimum and roster spot.
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Bradley Beal is a great NBA player. He’s one of just 18 in league history who averaged at least 30 points per game in more than one season. And he’s still a year shy of his 30th birthday.
But supermax contracts are daunting, and that’s what the Washington Wizards gave Beal this summer.
Now, he’s set to make $57.1 million in 2026-27 (when he has a player option that feels like a virtual certainty to be picked up).
Even with another potential salary-cap spike in the forecast for 2025, that’s a number that could be difficult to work around.
For a fortune-changer like Nikola Jokic or Stephen Curry, it’s understandable. For Beal, it’s at least a little worrisome.
The Wizards have been better with him on the floor, but not worlds better, and their point differential is still negative when he plays.
This deal has a chance to age mighty poorly.