The first jump ball hasn’t even been competed for and the New York Knicks are already taking it on the chin.
With summer the summer free agent binge mostly in the books, the Knicks have been slagged for signing former first round pick Tim Hardaway Jr. to a hefty four-year, $71 million contract.
The signing, already called by some pundits the worst of the ’17 free agent class, comes on the heels of a disastrous NBA season that ended with Phil Jackson’s unceremonious exit from the management team. New president Steve Mills has been shown no quarter for inking Hardaway, who muddies an already cloudy Knicks cap position. They have Joakim Noah’s albatross of a deal to contend with (three years and $55.6 million remaining), as well as Courtney Lee’s pact (three years and $36.8 million remaining).
Hardaway Jr. did make strides last season to being a decent shooting guard, but the Knicks threw big money at a guy no one would have made that offer to.
He doesn’t make this list, but we have 15 horrid free agent signings from the first 16 years of the new century (since free agency has exploded, pretty much). In no particular order, of course.
15. Ben Wallace – Chicago Bulls 2006
Big Ben was no offensive juggernaut in his first 10 seasons in the league. What the Chicago Bulls were banking on when they signed him to a big, four-year $60 million contract in the summer of 2006 was that he was still a defensive force who was an All-Star in the four previous seasons. Twice a rebound leader and once a best shot blocker, Wallace was already in decline after the 2005-06 season. For instance, in 2002-03, his first All-Star campaign with the Pistons, Wallace recorded a career best 15.4 rebounds per game and added 3.2 blocks (second best). Just three seasons later, those numbers had shrunk to 11.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. He lasted all of a season and a half in the Windy City, averaging 5.9 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks before being traded to Cleveland midway through the 2007-08 season.
14. Allan Houston – New York Knicks 2001
The Knicks have a reputation for throwing good money at suspect players and in 2001, they threw caution to the wind to extend shooting guard Allan Houston. The Knicks based the monster six-year, $100 million pact on the basis of his two All-Star seasons leading up to the end of the 2000-01 season. Fair enough, however, Houston was already 30 at the time and had wonky knees. In all fairness, those knees did hold up for Houston to have arguably his two best seasons in the league in 2001-02 and 2002-03, where he scored 20.4 and a career high 22.5 points per game, respectively. However, those joints started to give out in 2003-04, forcing him to miss 32 games and then finally in 2004-05 his failing knees allowed him to play just 20 times. He announced his retirement in October 2005 with two years still left on his contract.
13. Hedo Turkoglu – Toronto Raptors 2009
The Raptors were in the first year of another playoffs trough in 2009 (they would miss the post-season for five straight seasons between 09 and 2013), when they figured putting a five-year, $53 million contract in front of forward Hedo Turkoglu was a good thing. He was a decent scorer with the Orlando Magic, who he spurned in free agency, but a middling defender who looked disinterested in his own end. After scoring 19.5 and 16.8 points per game in the two seasons preceding his move to Toronto, Turkoglu put up just 11.3 PPG in 74 games with the Raptors in 2009-10. Adding to that was the fact he was a defensive liability who also liked the nightlife in Toronto a little too much. Turkoglu was benched late in that campaign after being spotted out late at night, immediately after missing a game due to a “stomach virus.” The Raptors cleared him and his outsized contract in a trade to Phoenix later that year.
12. Emeka Okafor – Charlotte Bobcats 2008
After the Charlotte Bobcats made UConn C/PF Emeka Okafor the second overall pick in the 2004 draft, he had a great rookie season, averaging a double-double in points (15.1) and rebounds (10.9) per game. That trend continued for the next three seasons of his rookie contract. In the summer of 2008, then, management thought it prescient to re-sign their big man, handing him a rich six-year, $72 million contract. Okafor rewarded their munificence in 2008-09 by tying his lowest point output (13.1) and having his second lowest total rebounds (10.1) in his career. Buyers remorse got the better of them in the 2009 off-season and they dealt him and his hefty pact to the New Orleans Hornets for Tyson Chandler. Okafor continued to underachieve in ‘Nawlins until 2011-12, while Chandler played well, so there was that.
11. Rashard Lewis – Orlando Magic 2007
Like many a player on this list, Rashard Lewis “earned” a big payday by stringing together pretty good multiple seasons before hitting free agency. In 2007, the Seattle Supersonics star forward was coming off three straight seasons of 20 or more points per game and five-plus rebounds. But where those good enough numbers to warrant the hefty six-year, $118 million contract tabled by the Orlando Magic as part of a sign-and-trade deal with the Sonics? In hindsight, no. For two seasons in central Florida, one of which he was an All-Star, he did earn his keep, but by the third year of the deal, 2009-10, his production began to slip (due in part to missing the first 10 games of the season for a suspension linked to substance abuse). He posted his worst PPG at 14.1 and his lowest rebounds since his sophomore season with 4.4. He struggled through the first half of the 2010-11 campaign, netting just 12.2 PPG and 4.2 rebounds, before the Magic had seen enough and he was traded to Washington for Gilbert Arenas.
10. Darius Miles – Portland Trail Blazers 2004
We’re not sure why anyone would hand a 23-year-old forward with substance abuse issues, injury problems and a tenuous relationship with his coach a fat contract, but that is exactly what the Blazers did with Darius Miles in the summer of 2004. The former high school draftee posted good, but not great numbers in his first half season with Portland after a trade from Cleveland during the 2003-04 season, compiling 12.6 points (a then career high) and 4.6 rebounds. A free agent in the summer of ’04, the Blazers handed him a six-year, $48 million contract. However, not long into the 2004-05 campaign, he had an infamous run-in with coach Maurice Cheeks, where it was alleged he used racial slurs and insults. While he did post decent, but not stellar, numbers in 2004-05, a severe knee injury curtailed his 2005-06 season. It was bad enough that he would miss the next two seasons and the Blazers officially petitioned the league to put him on waivers in 2008.
9. Josh Smith – Detroit Pistons 2013
For nine years in Atlanta, J-Smoove was all he was cracked up to be after being selected 17th overall out of high school by the Hawks in 2004. He averaged 15.3 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.3 steals and 2.1 blocks per game in 676 contests. A member of the 2010 NBA All-Defensive Second Team, Smith hit free agency in the summer of 2013 and cashed in with the Pistons, to the tune of four years and $54 million. It seemed like a good deal at the time, considering his offensive and defensive prowess. Saddled with having to fulfill that big pact, Josh Smith actually tried to hard. He attempted over 300 three-pointers in 105 total games with Detroit, but hit on just 26 percent of them. He also fell off in the rebounding department, from the 8.0 he had in Atlanta to just 6.9 in Detroit. Having seen enough, the Pistons waived him 28 games into the 2014-15 season.
8. Kenyon Martin – Denver Nuggets 2004
In Kenyon Martin’s case, injuries derailed a career that showed fine promise in his first four years with the New Jersey Nets. A free agent in the summer of 2004, he was swung to the Nuggets in a sign-and-trade that netted him a cool seven-year, $92 million contract. However, Martin had to undergo microfracture surgery on both knees and would miss 118 total games in his first four years with the Nuggets. Adding to that, his production fell off precipitously, from 15.5 PPG and 7.3 rebounds in 2004-05 to just 8.6 points and 6.2 rebounds in the seventh and last year of that contract in 2010-11. Martin also had some off-court problems as well, getting fined $15,000 for a verbal altercation with Chicago Bulls fans that also included help from his ever-present entourage.
7. Luol Deng And Timofey Mozgov – Los Angeles Lakers 2016
There must be considerable Schadenfreude around the NBA, what with the woes the Lakers have experienced over the last four seasons. From back-to-back champs in 2009 and 2010 to cellar dwelling chumps since 2013. They compounded their problems last summer by heaving bucket loads of cash in the summer of 2016 to one veteran on the decline and another who couldn’t possibly live up to it. PF Deng, the former, was already in marked decline after 12 seasons, when the Lakers inked him to a four-year, $72 million pact. In 2016-17, he played just 56 games and had his lowest point total ever at 7.6 PPG. Mozgov, the latter, got a four-year, $64 million contract that everyone shook their head at. A middling center, he appeared in 54 games, scoring 7.4 points and pulling down 4.9 rebounds. The Lakers were so impressed, they traded him to Brooklyn this off-season. How apt.
6. Andrei Kirilenko – Utah Jazz 2004
Rather than lose Andrei Kirilenko to free agency in 2005, the Utah Jazz chose to extend the big Russian forward to a hefty six-year, $86 million contract during the 2004 off-season. He was coming off a good 2003-04 campaign that saw him reach new highs in points (16.5), rebounds (8.1), assists (3.1), steals (1.9) and blocks (2.8). During the first season of his new deal, Kirilenko did lead the NBA in blocks per game at 3.3, but just about all his other numbers fell off, which was cause for concern. Kirilenko rebounded in 2005-06, but for the next five seasons he averaged around 11.0 points, 4.8 rebounds about 1.5 blocks. He also had a fragile psyche, what with a widely publicized breakdown near the end of the Jazz’s first-round playoff series against the Houston Rockets in 2007 (his worst season in a Jazz uniform).
5. Elton Brand – Philadelphia 76ers 2008
The only thing that saves this deal gone wrong was the fact that Brand actually wanted to sign with the Sixers after spurning his old team, the L.A. Clippers. It made him beloved in the City of Brotherly Love. Brand, who missed all but eight games during the 2007-08 season due to a ruptured Achilles tendon, still got a five-year, $82 million contract from Philly. He was awarded that dough based on the numbers he put up in two seasons with Chicago early in his career and then seven with the Clips, where he averaged over 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. Injuries would play a big part in his four seasons with the Sixers. He missed nearly a full season worth of games (80) during his tenure and his best output was 15.0 PPG and 8.3 rebounds in 2010-11. Philadelphia would use the amnesty clause to release him after an injury-plagued 2011-12 season.
4. Wesley Matthews – Dallas Mavericks 2015
Matthews hasn’t a bad player for the Mavericks since coming over as a free agent in the summer of 2015. But he hasn’t been good enough to make people believe Mark Cuban was thinking clearly when he coughed up $70 million to pay the swing man over four years. Matthews was a role player in Portland and did very well in that role, averaging 15.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.2 steals in five seasons. Now he’s one of the highest paid players on the Mavs and his numbers pale beside the money. In 151 games, he has averaged just 13.0 points as a “go-to” guy, and has seen his three-point shooting percentage dip from .394 in Portland to .362 in Big D. Mavs fans have been none to impressed either, calling for management to trade him this off-season.
3. Peja Stojakovic – New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets 2016
Perhaps it was fitting, considering the problems that Hurricane Katrina foisted on the folks in New Orleans and their basketball team, the Hornets, that Peja Stojakovic’s first year with the team was dismal. The three-time All-Star with the Sacramento Kings signed with ‘Nawlins in the summer of 2006 for the princely sum of $64 million spread over five years. However, he would play the first 13 games of that season spent mostly in OKC after going down to injury. The three-point sharpshooting forward bounced back to play 77 games in 2007-08, but his PPG of 16.4 was nearly eight points less than his best year in California, when he had 24.2 in 2003-04. His games played and production fell steadily over the next four seasons, to a low of 12.6 his last full campaign in 2009-10. He was traded to Toronto early in his final season, where he played just 33 games total (six with New Orleans).
2. Evan Turner – Portland Trail Blazers 2016
Let’s just say that Evan Turner was blessed by the fact the salary cap went way up in 2016. Because as a bench-depth swing man, there is no way he could command a four-year, $70 million contract that he wouldn’t otherwise. Turner started just 12 of 81 games for the Boston Celtics in 2015-16 and for the most part, the numbers were respectable at 10.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. But “the Villain” is not a very good three-point shooter and his numbers have bore that out. He shot just 24.1 percent from beyond the arc in Beantown and only narrowly exceeded that number in the first year of his big deal in Portland, at 26.3 percent. Overall, he declined when there should have been on an uptick, as he averaged 9.0 PPG, 3.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 65 games (12 starts) for the Trail Blazers last year.
1. Joakim Noah – New York Knicks 2016
Phil Jackson pretty much assured he would be shown the door earlier this year when he made one of the last in a series of boneheaded moves in free agency in the summer of 2016. The comedy that has been the Knicks for the last four years came to a roaring crescendo when the team inked center Joakim Noah to a four-year, $72 million pact. Noah played just 46 games for the Knicks last season and averaged just 5.0 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, which was actually a significant improvement over from his final season with the Bulls, where he appeared in only 29 games (two starts) and had 4.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. Which begs the question: why would the Knicks overpay for someone no one else had much of an interest in? Knicks fans will be scratching their heads for as many as three years to come.