After years of shelling out top dollar to the DeSagana Diops and Jerome Jameses of the league, cash-strapped owners went into the many long, closed-door meetings that made up last year’s NBA lockout searching for a reprieve.
And when both sides emerged in late November with the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement in place, they got just that. Among the many new rules and stipulations hashed out over the five-plus months between NBA players and owners was the amnesty clause, a get-out-of-jail-free card that allowed teams out from under some of their most burdensome contracts. Only it came with a few caveats: Teams could only use it once, on a player already under contract; and while the deals would no longer count against their cap, teams could still wind up paying released players their hefty sums.
But even now, after a large portion of the league has used their amnesty waivers, the NBA still has its share of unsightly deals. (And contracts like the four-year, $40 million one aging swingman Gerald Wallace inked with the Brooklyn Nets this past summer doesn’t exactly provide much hope for future frugality, either.)
So with the help of salary-cap connoisseur Nick Silva, we’ve compiled a list of 10 of the biggest current albatrosses in the sport. For this exercise, we’ve stayed away from most of the players who were sent packing via the amnesty clause, either because their yearly rate wasn’t as bad as the ones that made the list (Andray Blatche, Josh Childress) or because the players themselves are still serviceable (Elton Brand and, to a lesser extent, Brendan Haywood).
But there were some too dreadful to ignore. Which brings us to our first entry ...
1. Gilbert Arenas, six years, $111 million: Even from across the globe, Arenas continues to haunt the Orlando Magic. While the 30-year-old point guard is reportedly on the verge of signing a deal to spend the 2012-13 season in China, the Magic are still on the hook for a staggering $42.9 million over the next two seasons after waiving him via the amnesty clause last winter. Arenas, who was last seen averaging 4.2 points a game in an abbreviated late-season stint with Memphis, will be the fourth-highest-paid player in the NBA this season.
2. Amare Stoudemire, five years, $99.7 million: Stoudemire’s deal reeked of desperation from the outset; after whiffing on LeBron James et al., in 2010’s free-agent bonanza, the Knicks needed to overpay so they didn’t come away empty-handed. Now it’s wreaking all types of havoc on New York’s finances. Things started well, with Amare looking like an MVP candidate early in 2010-11, but now he can’t stay on the court -- which, given his diminishing skills and the fact that he blocks Carmelo Anthony at the 4, may actually be his best position.
3. Joe Johnson, six years, $119 million: With once-in-a-generation superstars like LeBron and Dwyane Wade on the market in the summer of 2010, Johnson ended up receiving the largest payday. Obviously. The 31-year-old swingman has played well since then, earning All-Star bids the past two years, but he’s certainly not this good (he didn’t crack the top 50 in player efficiency rating either season). Now he and his sacks of money are in Brooklyn, where he’ll play co-pilot to Deron Williams.
4. Andris Biedrins, six years, $63 million: The Warriors could’ve rid themselves of their apathetic spiky-haired center last winter. But the Dubs instead used their amnesty waiver to clear out Charlie Bell in order to sign DeAndre Jordan … for less than a week (the Clippers matched the deal for the restricted free agent). Now Golden State is likely stuck with Biedrins and his 1.7 points per game for the next two seasons at $9 million a pop, if he cashes in on a player option in the second year.
5. Hedo Turkoglu, five years, $53 million: Oddly enough, Otis Smith didn’t offer up this monstrosity. He only willfully traded for it half a season in. While Arenas no longer counts against Orlando’s cap, the Magic don’t have the same luxury with Turkoglu, whose contract number this season in millions (11.8) is bigger than his 2011-12 PER (11.78). Meanwhile, another Otis masterpiece, Rashard Lewis’ six-year, $110 million deal, will cost the Hornets $13.8 million in dead money.
6. Tyrus Thomas, five years, $40 million: At age 25, Thomas still has a chance to make good on the talent that landed him No. 4 overall in the 2006 draft. But he’s got some hole to dig himself out of. Playing out of position most of last season, Thomas’ PER was cut in half, from 18.25 to 9.06 -- the fourth-largest drop in the past two decades, according to John Hollinger. The Bobcats still owe him $26 million over the next three years.
7. Ben Gordon, five years, $55 million: Joe Dumars lost his mind with the crown jewel of the summer. Gordon spent his three seasons in Detroit coming off the bench searching for his lost trademark aim amid a crowded backcourt, to no avail. But unlike Charlie Villanueva (five years, $35 million), who continues to stew on the Pistons’ sidelines, Detroit was able to rid itself of this mistake, shipping Gordon to Charlotte, where basketball goes to die.
8. Carlos Boozer, five years, $82 million: Boozer is a capable second option to Derrick Rose in Chicago, but the problem is he’s getting paid like a top-flight superstar. And based on the Bulls’ first-round ousting, that doesn’t seem like a role he’s ready for. As long as no wild duffel bags get in his way, he’ll get his chance to prove otherwise this season with Rose out indefinitely and the bench stripped for parts.
9. David Lee, six years, $80 million: Lee’s 2012-13 numbers (and defensive effort) are pretty similar to Boozer’s, but his lower cap number makes his deal a little easier to swallow (although that extra year certainly doesn’t help). Injuries have hampered him since arriving in the Bay Area, but Lee, once an automatic double-double in his heyday, has seen his rebound rate slowly drop. He’s the second-highest-paid Warrior, but at this point he’s maybe the fourth-most important player on the team.
10. Brandon Roy, five years, $82 million: Roy’s situation is tough to evaluate. You can’t blame the Trail Blazers for handing out such riches to an All-Star twentysomething … or cutting ties with him when knee trouble seemed to end his career. But they’re still paying him $48.8 million over the next three seasons while he suits up for the Timberwolves, from whom Roy is receiving an additional $5 million.