Bad Business: Ranking the NBA's 15 worst contracts ahead of 2021-22

Melissa Majchrzak / National Basketball Association / Getty

Like a terrible deal that simply won't end, we're back with the fourth annual edition of the Bad Business rankings, where we'll run through the NBA's 15 worst contracts heading into the next season.

As always, there's one main rule: None of the contracts listed below are in their final year, as even the heftiest cap hits can become valuable as they approach expiration. There will always be teams looking to free up cap space and other teams, like the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are more than willing to help launder the league's bad money.

With the pandemic disrupting the salary cap's steady rise, there haven't been quite as many opportunities for teams to engage in wild bidding wars. As a result, the most common poor investments hinge on bad injury luck - especially when it comes to superstars - rather than a front office overpaying for mid-level talent.

15. Luke Kennard, Clippers

Adam Pantozzi / National Basketball Association / Getty
25 2021-22 $12.7M
26 2022-23 $13.7M
27 2023-24 $14.8M
28 2024-25 $14.8M*

* Team option

As recently as June, opposing fans were taunting the Los Angeles Clippers by chanting Kennard's cap hit. Gulp.

14. Gordon Hayward, Hornets

Dylan Buell / Getty Images Sport / Getty
31 2021-22 $29.9M
32 2022-23 $30.1M
33 2023-24 $31.5M

15% trade kicker

Hayward is a good floor-raiser when healthy but was held to just 44 appearances in Year 1 of his four-year pact. Paying over $30 million annually for someone who probably shouldn't have a starter's workload at this point could end up being an obstacle rather than a boost to the Charlotte Hornets' development.

13. Klay Thompson, Warriors

Noah Graham / National Basketball Association / Getty
31 2021-22 $38M
32 2022-23 $40.6M
33 2023-24 $43.2M

15% trade kicker

A career 41.9% 3-point accuracy rate points to Thompson potentially remaining a useful player after missing two seasons with a pair of major leg injuries. But with three expensive years left on the books, the Golden State Warriors need the sharpshooter to be a lot more than just useful.

12. Jimmy Butler, Heat

David Dow / National Basketball Association / Getty
32 2021-22 $36M
33 2022-23 $37.7M
34 2023-24 $45.2M
35 2024-25 $48.8M
36 2025-26 $52.4M*

* Player option

With 21.5 points, 7.1 assists, 6.9 rebounds, and a league-leading 2.1 steals per game, Butler projected as a top-five MVP candidate last season.

Still, the sheer size of Butler's deal could be concerning in the coming years. Last season's career-high passing numbers are encouraging, but wings with terrible outside shooting don't tend to age gracefully in the modern game. It doesn't help that he's missed about a quarter of his team's games over the past four seasons.

11. Derrick White, Spurs

Logan Riely / National Basketball Association / Getty
27 2021-22 $15.2M
28 2022-23 $16.4M
29 2023-24 $17.6M
30 2024-25 $18.8M

White averaged a career-best 15.4 points per game last year but did so on career-worst 41.1% shooting from the floor. His entire statistical package ranked him 176th in the league in Player Efficiency Rating.

He made just 36 appearances last year due to toe and ankle injuries.

10. Jonathan Isaac, Magic

Harry Aaron / Getty Images Sport / Getty
23 2021-22 $17.4M
24 2022-23 $17.4M
25 2023-24 $17.4M
26 2024-25 $17.4M

Isaac has appeared in just 44% of the Orlando Magic's regular-season games since being selected sixth overall in 2017, including missing all of 2020-21 with a torn ACL. Even the injury-ravaged Zach Collins, the No. 10 pick in the same draft, has played more than Isaac - and the Spurs are paying Collins just $22 million over the next three years.

9. Andrew Wiggins, Warriors

Noah Graham / National Basketball Association / Getty
26 2021-22 $31.6M
27 2022-23 $33.6M

What does it say about Wiggins' impact that the Warriors' most common three-man group in 2020-21 featured him, two-time MVP Stephen Curry, and perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate Draymond Green, and yet the team barely scraped its way to the eighth-best record in the West?

At this point, 2014's first overall pick is trending toward being a 3-and-D Danny Green-type player - still valuable, of course, but by no means a franchise cornerstone or even a dependable No. 2 option. At least Wiggins' five-year, $129.4-million extension is more than halfway over.

8. DeAndre Jordan, Nets

Sarah Stier / NBA / Getty Images
33 2021-22 $9.9M
34 2022-23 $9.8M

The only nice things you can say about Jordan's contract for the win-now Brooklyn Nets is that it's halfway to expiration and the cap hit is descending (almost imperceptibly) in value.

7. Al Horford, Celtics

Barry Gossage / National Basketball Association / Getty
35 2021-22 $27M
36 2022-23 $26.5M*

* The last year of Horford's deal is only guaranteed for $14.5 million; it jumps to $19.5M if his team makes the Finals this season and is fully guaranteed if the team wins the title.

Unless Horford really shows out this season after spending most of 2020-21 in purgatory with the Oklahoma City Thunder, there's a real possibility he ends up as a $14.5-million dead-cap hold on the Boston Celtics' books for 2022-23.

At this figure, there's not a lot of upside to the former All-Star big man, but there's plenty of risk that his floor drops as his career winds down.

6. Rudy Gobert, Jazz

Ben Green / Getty Images Sport / Getty
29 2021-22 $35.3M
30 2022-23 $38.2M
31 2023-24 $41M
32 2024-25 $43.8M
33 2025-26 $46.7M*

* Player option

On one hand, Gobert has captured three of the last four Defensive Player of the Year awards and quite literally just played a central role in the Utah Jazz's league-best 52-20 record. However, the Frenchman's limitations - including on the defensive end, where he sometimes finds himself in hot water when drawn out to the 3-point arc - are well established.

Just how much is an all-world rim-protector really worth in a perimeter-oriented era? Judging by the deals that several traditional fives received this summer - Nerlens Noel received $27.7 million over three years; newly minted gold medalist JaVale McGee got one year and $5 million - substantially less than an average of $41 million per year through 2026.

5. Kristaps Porzingis, Mavericks

Glenn James / National Basketball Association / Getty
26 2021-22 $31.7M
27 2022-23 $33.8M
28 2023-24 $36M*

* Player option

After missing the entire 2018-19 season and then joining the Dallas Mavericks, Porzingis has only suited up for 68% of his team's games. One would assume his injury issues will persist considering he's a 7-foot-3 stork with a litany of lower-body issues, and he'll be soaking up 21.5% of the Mavs' cap in 2023-24.

Will Dallas attach picks to move Porzingis' contract, or will they risk alienating Luka Doncic by saddling him with a flawed second banana who can't be counted on to stay healthy?

4. Davis Bertans, Wizards

Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images Sport / Getty
28 2021-22 $16M
29 2022-23 $16M
30 2023-24 $17M
31 2024-25 $16M*

* Early termination option; final year guaranteed for $5 million and is fully guaranteed if Bertans plays 75% of his team's games.

While Bertans' outside shooting numbers remain sharp, his 42.6% clip from 2018-20 looks a lot nicer than last year's 39.5% mark - especially since he gives up a fair amount on the defensive end.

The combination of an early termination option (Bertans' to exercise) and a guaranteed salary figure tied to games played adds a fair amount of uncertainty to the deal. Washington Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard - or any executive who may acquire the high-priced roleplayer - could lose sleep.

3. Russell Westbrook, Lakers

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty
32 2021-22 $44.2M
33 2022-23 $47M*

* Player option

Westbrook's supposedly untradeable five-year, $204.5-million contract has now been shuttled between the Thunder, Houston Rockets, Wizards, and now Los Angeles Lakers - a damn good indicator that no deal, no matter how onerous, is ever truly unmovable.

The Lakers are a special situation, obviously. Having LeBron James and Anthony Davis already in the fold ensures a high floor and ceiling if everyone's healthy.

Beyond the fourth-largest cap hit in the league this season, the true cost of the Westbrook addition is sacrificing so much depth in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, and Montrezl Harrell.

The Lakers will soon discover whether Westbrook's benefits as a floor-raiser - again, something the team already had in spades - outweigh the drawbacks that have frequently hurt his employers come playoff time - namely, poor scoring efficiency and an unenthusiastic approach to defense. It's unclear what upside Pelinka and Co. saw in their high-priced gamble.

2. John Wall, Rockets

Cato Cataldo / National Basketball Association / Getty
31 2021-22 $44.3M
32 2022-23 $47.4M*

* Player option

After two years atop the Bad Business rankings, Wall's contract is now close enough to its conclusion that it's fallen to No. 2.

To the soon-to-be 31-year-old's credit, he actually kind of looked like his former self in Year 1 with the Rockets last year, putting up 20.6 points, 6.9 assists, and 1.1 steals in 32.2 minutes per game.

Wall still boasted rough efficiency numbers thanks in large part to chucking over six threes a night with 31.7% accuracy. He only played 40 games, though some of his inaction down the stretch presumably had as much to do with his career-long health issues as Houston's fixation on lottery odds.

We saw the Detroit Pistons and Thunder reach buyout agreements with Blake Griffin and Kemba Walker with more than a season left on their deals (sparing both inclusion on this list). Wall likely faces a similar fate in the next 18 months or so. He'll still get his money, but at least memory of his contract will be allowed to drift mercifully into the recesses of NBA history.

1. Kevin Love, Cavaliers

David Liam Kyle / National Basketball Association / Getty
33 2021-22 $31.3M
34 2022-23 $28.9M

Once thought to be a bridge to post-LeBron respectability, Love's four-year, $118.6-million deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers was basically dead on arrival.

It isn't entirely Love's fault. Injuries have held the stretch big to 47% of the Cavs' games since 2018, including just 25 outings in 2020-21. However, frequent trips to the team doctor are hardly an excuse for ... whatever this sort of thing is:

Even at 33, a 6-foot-9 rebounding specialist with a lifetime 37% mark from 3-point range should absolutely be part of a winning program. But instead of re-establishing his value as a potential trade chip, Love's most recent performances have caused respected basketball lifers to lash out in atypical fashion.

Following his short-lived time with the national team ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo said Love's addition to the roster was a "mistake," a result of the veteran vastly overselling his abilities. Colangelo pretty much took the Olympic torch to any of Love's remaining trade value.

Bad Business: Ranking the NBA's 15 worst contracts ahead of 2021-22
  Got something to say? Leave a comment below!

Daily Newsletter

Get the latest trending sports news daily in your inbox