Kris Humphries hasn’t been the worth the large contract the Brooklyn Nets gave him. (Photo by Braxton/Flickr.com)
On a Friday, March 8, Bill Simmons wrote a piece for Grantland in which he ranked the 30 worst contracts in the NBA. The top choice was Joe Johnson of the Brooklyn Nets. For people who are aware of NBA contracts, this was not a surprising choice. Johnson was given a max contract by the Atlanta Hawks in 2010 and in the time since, he has not lived up to his exorbitant paycheck. By trading him to Brooklyn, Atlanta rid themselves of the problem, essentially passing the buck onto the Nets, who were all too willing to overpay a player so that they could win now and pack fans into the newly opened Barclays Center.
Now, if Johnson was the only brutal contract on the Nets roster, it wouldn’t be such a big deal. Teams overpay for players sometimes, it’s just a natural fact of the NBA. But no, the Nets have made bad deals else where. Of the 30 contracts on Simmons’ list, four of them belong to players currently on the Nets (five if you count Andray Blatche, but that referred to the contract the Washington Wizards gave him). In addition to Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Deron Williams and Kris Humphries all made appearances on the list. The Nets have more dubious contracts than any other team in the NBA.
Out of all these brutal contracts, Wallace’s might be the most problematic for Brooklyn. The Nets are on the hook for $40 million over four years to a player who is obviously well past his prime. The days of Wallace being an excellent defender and a borderline All-Star are over. He is having his worst season in years and he’s only going to get older. Even if he winds up improving next year, he’s still never going to be the player he once was and the Nets will be paying him for years to come. If this wasn’t bad enough, the first-round pick the Nets traded to Portland Trail Blazers for Wallace was used to select Damian Lillard. Had the Nets not made this trade, not only would they have avoided overpaying Wallace, they also could have drafted Lillard and avoided giving such a huge contract to Williams. Whoops.
The Humphries situation isn’t much better. As bad as Wallace has been, at least he’s been able to keep himself in the starting lineup all season long. The same can’t be said for Humphries, who lost his starting gig to Reggie Evans. If that wasn’t bad enough, these days, Humphries isn’t even a rotation player. In a win over the Hawks on Saturday, March 9, Humphries was given a “Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision.” Did I mention he’s making $12 million a year? Because that’s kind of important.
Out of all these contracts, the only semi-defensible one is the one given to Williams. After a rough start, he’s come on strong in recent weeks and continues to be one of the better point guards in the NBA. At the same time, however, he’s still not the player he was in his peak seasons with the Utah Jazz and it’s getting increasingly likely that he’ll never regain that form. Essentially, this deal isn’t as brutal as the others the Nets have taken on, but it’s still far from ideal. If Williams declines quickly, the Nets could be in even bigger trouble than they are now.
This is what happened when a team wants to win games right away instead of building a quality team through drafting and intelligent decision making. The Nets were a bad team and when they made the move from New Jersey to Brooklyn, they needed something to get the fans excited about. So, they threw huge contracts at decent-but-declining players for the sole purpose of creating a team that would make the playoffs in the immediate future. If they get lucky, they’ll win a playoff series this year, maybe even next year, but they don’t have the personnel to contend for a title and as players like Johnson and Wallace get older and decline further, they’ll likely fall out of playoff contention, giving way to talented younger teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards, who built for the future rather than the present. When the Nets go down in one of the first two rounds this postseason, I hope it will have been worth it.