The worst contracts in NBA history   

Updated: February 12, 2009

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Recently, Page 2 compiled hefty lists of the best and worst contracts in baseball history. But one could easily argue that the NBA, in which rosters are much smaller, throws giant salaries around even more recklessly.

With that in mind, we proudly present the worst contracts in NBA history:

1. Stephon Marbury: four years, $76 million (2003)

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Coming off one of the best seasons in his career in 2002-03, Marbury brokered, without an agent, what was at the time the richest sports contract in the history of the state of Arizona. Three months after the contract extension was signed, Marbury was traded to the Knicks. By the time the deal kicked in for the 2005-06 season, Marbury's career was in decline. He played in just 24 games for New York last season, famously clashing with then-coach Isiah Thomas. Marbury was quoted by the New York Daily News as saying, "Isiah has to start me. I've got so much [stuff] on Isiah and he knows it. He thinks he can [get] me. But I'll [get] him first. You have no idea what I know." The Knicks are paying Marbury $21.9 million this season to not play at all.

   2. Kenyon Martin: seven years, $92.5 million (2004)

The Nuggets, who were well below the salary cap in the summer of '04, traded three first-round draft picks to the Nets for the right to commit a sizable amount of money to Martin in a sign-and-trade deal. Since then, the former No. 1 overall pick has been beset by injuries and was suspended following an insubordinate outburst during the 2006 playoffs. Like Marbury's performance after he left Phoenix, Martin's production has dropped off noticeably since leaving New Jersey, and he hasn't played in an All-Star Game. Meantime, there's no truth to the rumor that K-Mart has a brother named Walter who answers to the nickname "Wal-Mart."

 3. Allan Houston: six years, $100 million (2001)

Houston was an effective scorer for the first two years of this contract extension, but the Knicks' nine-figure commitment to a shooting guard left the team hamstrung in its ability to make roster moves. Houston's knees began to betray him in Year 3 of the deal, and he was never the same player again. He played his last game on Dec. 10, 2004, although the entire amount of his contract was guaranteed. He remained the second-highest-paid player in the NBA, behind only Kevin Garnett, more than two years after his last game. Houston flirted with comebacks in 2007 and '08. He went so far as to sign a playing contract with the Knicks prior to this season, but he was cut before the regular season began and then accepted a position in the team's front office.

  4A. Keith Van Horn: six years, $73 million (1999)
  4B. Keith Van Horn: one year, $4.3 million (2008)

Van Horn put up terrific numbers in the abbreviated 1999 season, prompting the Nets to lock him up with a deal that kicked in for the 2000-01 season. At the time, owner Lewis Katz said, "It took about 45 seconds. … We actually tried to drag it out to make it last two minutes." Indeed, Van Horn probably couldn't grab the pen quickly enough, and he never matched his '99 production again. Last season, Van Horn got an even sweeter deal when the Mavericks signed him out of retirement, then shipped him to New Jersey to complete the Jason Kidd trade. He played exactly zero minutes for the Nets.

  5. Vin Baker: seven years, $86 million (1999)

Baker enjoyed two decent seasons in Seattle after signing this deal. Then he fell off the map, battling weight and alcohol issues for the rest of his career. Baker was traded to Boston in 2002. The Celtics cut him in '04, following his third suspension with the team, with 2½ years and $35 million left on the contract. He received an undisclosed settlement from Boston, then resurfaced with the Knicks. Despite his massive income, Baker has recently fallen on hard times financially. In 2008, he had a restaurant and a 9,600-square-foot Connecticut home foreclosed upon.

 6. Jermaine O'Neal: seven years, $126.6 million (2003)

O'Neal emerged as a formidable big man in the two seasons prior to signing one of the largest contracts in NBA history. After signing the deal, he enjoyed one productive season, then missed significant time because of injuries and a suspension in three of the next four. The Raptors still took a flier on O'Neal and the remaining two years on his backloaded pact before this season. So far, though, his Toronto performance indicates he will never be an elite player again.

   7. Bryant Reeves: six years, $64 million (1997)

Reeves had a solid season in 1997-98, but his productivity bottomed out soon afterward. He was booed at the team's last game in Vancouver on April 14, 2001. He then played in two preseason games after the team moved to Memphis but retired because of a degenerative back condition. Who knew at the time he'd already peaked at a Final Four practice?

8. Ben Wallace: four years, $60 million (2006)

As soon as Wallace signed on the dotted line, he went from underrated defensive workhorse to overrated offensive liability. He's no longer even close to averaging double figures in rebounds, something he did for seven consecutive seasons earlier in his career. Certainly, it's not Wallace's job to be an offensive presence, especially now that he's with the Cavaliers. But did we mention he's averaging 3.1 points per game this season?

  9. Jim McIlvaine: seven years, $35 million (1996)

Fresh off an NBA Finals appearance, Seattle looked to upgrade its interior defense with the 7-foot-1, 260-pounder. It didn't seem to matter to general manager Wally Walker that McIlvaine had averaged 2.3 points and 2.9 rebounds as a backup with the Washington Bullets the previous season, numbers that didn't get much better with the Sonics. He never averaged more than 18 minutes per game despite starting for two seasons in Seattle, before he was unloaded on the Nets.

   10. Juwan Howard: seven years, $105 million (1996)

At first glance, this pact might seem to deserve a higher spot on this list, but Howard remained reasonably productive for the life of the contract. That said, he was traded twice during that span and was named to zero All-Star teams. What's difficult to believe, in retrospect, is that Howard had two teams fighting to award him a nine-figure contract. After initially rejecting a seven-year, $78 million offer from Washington, he signed a seven-year, $100 million deal with the Heat. The NBA voided the deal, saying it violated the salary cap, and Howard then signed an even richer deal with the Bullets. You can't say Howard doesn't love the game, though. He's playing for $586,457 as a member of the Bobcats this season, and he obviously doesn't need the scratch.

Worst executive contract

Isiah Thomas: four years, $24 million (Knicks, 2007)
Thomas was directly responsible for at least $187 million in team losses, according to this article. That figure doesn't even include trading for the albatross contracts of Steve Francis, Stephon Marbury and Zach Randolph, the ill-fated sign-and-trade deal for Eddy Curry or Thomas' own salary. To wit, Thomas had procured all but one of those deals before receiving this extension, and the team ultimately spent a league-high $424 million on player salaries during his tenure. Nevertheless, Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan awarded Thomas the extension, citing "evident progress" by the team with Zeke as coach in 2006-07. After the pact was announced, the Knicks went 4-15, dropping from the No. 8 spot in the East to seven games out of the playoffs by season's end. He hung on for another season before being relieved of coaching duties by new team president Donnie Walsh on April 18, 2008.

Worst coaching contract

Larry Brown: five years, $50 million (Knicks, 2005)
After Brown won two conference titles and a championship with the Pistons, Thomas became convinced Brown was the coach to return credibility to the struggling Knicks. The team subsequently went 23-59, tying the franchise record for losses in a season. The two sides eventually reached a settlement of $18.5 million for the four years remaining on the deal, meaning Brown ultimately was paid about $28.5 million for one season -- or $1.24 million per victory.

Honorable mention

Eddy Curry: six years, $56 million (Bulls, in sign-and-trade to Knicks, 2005): Curry had a great season in the second year of this deal and wasn't bad in the first and third years. This season, he has been plagued by health and personal issues and has played only three minutes. At this point, Curry's playing future is a question mark.

Erick Dampier: seven years, $73 million (Mavericks, 2004): Dampier averaged 12.3 points and 12 rebounds with the Warriors in a career season in 2003-04. This season, in the fifth year of the deal, he's averaging 5.5 points and 7.4 rebounds.

Steve Francis: six years, $85 million (Rockets, 2002): Houston locked up Francis with an extension just as he was emerging as one of the better guards in the NBA. But by the time the deal kicked in for the 2003-04 season, his numbers dipped. He was initially rejuvenated after being shipped to Orlando in a deal for Tracy McGrady in '04, but he went into steep decline after that. Francis, drafted No. 2 overall by Vancouver in 1999, began and ended his career as a Grizzlies property but never suited up for the team.

Larry Hughes: five years, $70 million (Cavaliers, 2005): Hughes enjoyed a career year with the Wizards in his contract season of 2004-05, and the Cavs had cap space to burn after being stood up by Carlos Boozer the previous offseason. Hughes hasn't approached his 2004-05 numbers since, and he has averaged just 12 points per game during the past four seasons. But we are grateful to Hughes for hanging out with Page 2 in the summer.

Jerome James: five years, $30 million (Knicks, 2005): Last season, James played five minutes and earned $5.8 million. However, he did shoot 100 percent from the field and the line.

Larry Johnson: seven years, $84 million (Hornets, 1993): This contract extension represented enormous money in 1993. Grandmama's stats began to dip sharply after he was traded to the Knicks in 1996, but don't forget about the four-point play.

Jon Koncak: six years, $13.1 million (Hawks, 1989): The figure seems unimpressive now, but $13.1 represented a monumental contract in 1989. Koncak's $2.2 million salary in 1989-90 wasn't far behind Michael Jordan's ($2.5 million). After signing the pact, "Jon Contract" never averaged more than 4.2 points or 5.5 rebounds per game.

Raef LaFrentz: seven years, $70 million (Mavericks, 2002): LaFrentz received this deal after arriving via trade from the Nuggets. Aside from averaging 11.1 points and 6.9 rebounds in 2004-05 after being dealt to the Celtics, he didn't come close to living up to the pact. LaFrentz was shipped to the Blazers for 2006-07, and the deal will come off Portland's books at the end of this season.

Nene: six years, $60 million (Nuggets, 2006): Coming off a 2005-06 campaign in which he blew out his knee three minutes into the season opener, the Nuggets made a major commitment to the Brazilian big man. Not surprisingly, he struggled to stay healthy each of the next two seasons. Still, we're not willing to anoint him as a Tskitishvilian bust just yet, as he's enjoying the best season of his career.

Theo Ratliff: three years, $35 million (Blazers, 2004): This deal kicked in for the 2005-06 season, and his statistics didn't approach those of his late-1990s prime. He earned trade value last season, becoming known in some quarters as "Theo Ratliff's expiring contract."

Thomas Neumann is an editor for Page 2. You can contact him here.


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