Monday , Aug , 01 , 2005 Oly Sandor

Beware of Free Agency

By: Oly Sandor


The NBA owners and Players’ Association have ironed out the last few details of the new CBA. On Tuesday, July’s unofficial signings can finally become official. But landing a big name free agent doesn’t always lead to regular season success and a spot in the playoffs. In fact, some contracts have destroyed teams. NBA GMs should remember that free agency is a lot like life, it’s a case of buyer beware.

Beware of Free Agency
Below are some of the worst contracts in NBA history.


Only Atlanta would open the vaults for “Jon Contract” 

Believe it or not, the Hawks haven’t always been the NBA’s biggest joke. There was a time when Atlanta didn’t have to throw free Hammer concerts to draw fans. In the late eighties, nobody could touch Dominique Wilkins, Moses Malone, Doc Rivers and the hi-flying Hawks.

Their downfall began with one transaction: the Jon Koncak signing. In 1989, the Celtics had started to fade, and the Hawks and Pistons were dueling for Eastern Conference supremacy. Koncak, a back-up center with Atlanta, was close to signing with Detroit as a free agent. The Hawks panicked and gave him a six-year deal worth 13 million dollars.


Koncak found himself making more money than NBA greats like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. This was a huge mistake. Atlanta struggled for several seasons because Jon “Contract” took up a large portion of their salary cap. On the other hand, the rival Pistons had the financial flexibility to build a deep bench, which helped them capture two consecutive NBA titles.

The summer of Glen” 

Toronto’s current problems can be traced back to “the summer of Glen”.

In 2001, the Toronto Raptors overachieved, coming within a Vince Carter jump shot of advancing to the Eastern Conference final. Two months later, Raptors’ GM Glen Grunwald was given a blank check from ownership as a reward for the team’s success. Grunwald indulged in a summer of madness, paying his team of overachievers as if they were established NBA stars.  

Jerome Williams and Alvin Williams were each given contracts for more than 40 million dollars. The Raptors then funded the first few years of Hakeem Olajuwon’s retirement by inking the ancient center to a four-year 17 million dollar contract. Antonio Davis, on the downside of his career, was handed an 87 million dollar deal. Carter received a “max contract”, but stopped giving the club “max” effort.

Grunwald is no longer Toronto’s GM. However, the Raptors are still reeling from that “summer of Glen.” Jerome Williams and Antonio Davis were dealt to Chicago for the pricey Jalen Rose. Alvin Williams has suffered knee injuries; Olajuwon has been retired for three seasons. And Carter-he was tied with a bow and given to the Nets.

Portland is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 

Last July, Portland’s management publicly declared that the team would stop overpaying players and steer away from troublemakers. This was easier said than done for the Blazers. Check it out:

1) Zach Randolph got into a bar shooting and still received a “max” contract from the Blazers.

2) Darius Miles signed a 48 million dollar pact with the club even though the moody forward couldn’t stick with the Clippers or Cavaliers. Miles, an emotionally challenged player, had a poor season and got into a shouting match with former Blazers’ coach Maurice Cheeks.  


3) Meanwhile, a professional like Shareef Abdur-Rahim spent parts of last season glued to Portland’s bench. The former all-star has just left the schizophrenic Blazers for the Nets.

Adonal Foyle and Derek Fisher not so golden.

Chris Mullin, the Warriors’ Executive Vice President, wanted character players in Golden State. Fair enough. Basketball teams should have character. What Mullin failed to mention was that he was going to overpay these character players.


Last summer, Adonal Foyle and Derek Fisher were given a combined 76 million dollars. Foyle, a career backup, was handed a multi-year deal worth 40 million dollars. Fisher is a nice guard off the bench, but not at 36 million dollars over the next six seasons.

Mullin could have used that same 76 million dollars to sign a talented player with character. For example, Ray Allen got 80 million dollars from the Sonics. Zydrunas Ilgauskas went back to Cleveland for around 70 million.
McIlvaine sets off the “Reign” in Seattle

Jim McIlvaine destroyed the Seattle Sonics. That’s right-Jim McIlvaine.

In 1995-1996, McIlvaine averaged a measly 2.3 points per game for Washington. For some reason, Seattle gave the journeyman center a five-year 35 million dollar contract. Sonic fans were outraged. And so was Shawn Kemp. After leading the club to the NBA finals, he expected a lucrative contract. Seattle was right to turn down Kemp’s request for a new deal, but there was no reason to fork out superstar money for McIlvaine.

Kemp was so frustrated with McIlvaine’s contract that he skipped the team’s training camp in October of 1996. The “Reign Man” poisoned the Sonics with his bad attitude and off the court issues. Kemp was soon traded to Cleveland as part of a three-way trade. Seattle got back another infamous power forward: Vin Baker.


All of this happened because of Jim McIlvaine and his 35 million dollars.

We aren’t finished with Shawn Kemp and Vin Baker 

The Cavaliers missed the warning signs with Kemp.


After acquiring the forward, Cleveland immediately signed Kemp to a seven-year contract for 107 million dollars. In Ohio, his weight ballooned and he ended up in Portland. Things got worse in Rip City. Kemp was the face of the notorious “Jail-Blazers”, earning close to 14 million dollars a season, while only averaging six points per game.  He also spent some time in rehab. Eventually, Portland bought out Kemp’s contract.

Seattle was hoping that Vin Baker would be like Shawn Kemp. After getting an 80 million dollar extension, Baker put on weight and also did some time in rehab. That sounds a little too much like Kemp. The Celtics acquired Baker in a trade with the Sonics. But Boston released him after he violated the conditions of his alcohol treatment program. The forward warmed the bench in New York before being dealt to Houston.

In his prime with Milwaukee, Baker averaged over 20 points and 10 rebounds a game.  Last season, he averaged 1.3 points per game.

Again, all of this was originally set in motion because of Jim McIlvaine and his 35 million dollars.

No position, No problem 

These forwards are too slow for the “3” spot and can’t handle the “4” spot. But that didn’t stop them from getting big money.

Juwan Howard: 108 million 

Howard hasn’t done much since scoring a huge deal with the Bullets/Wizards in 1996. There’s always Michigan.

Keith Van Horn: “Max Contract

He’s the NBA’s version of Where is Waldo? Van Horn has done time in Philadelphia, Milwaukee, New York, New Jersey and Dallas.

Tim Thomas: 66 million


George Karl liked Thomas, so the Bucks gave him a 66 million dollar deal. But other than calling Kenyon Martin a “fugazi”, the former Villanova star hasn’t done much with the Knicks. Thomas has been so inconsistent that Spike Lee actually wants Waldo/Van Horn to reappear in New York.


Raef LaFrentz: 63 million 

Dan Issel tortured him in Denver. Of course, Dallas gave LaFrentz 63 million dollars even though he was too soft for small ball coach Don Nelson. The Celtics are stuck with his contract for the next four seasons.

Austin Croshere: 57 million 

The Pacers’ front office rarely makes a mistake, but 57 million for Croshere. He’s got a career scoring average of 7.5 points.

Maurice Taylor: 49 million 

Houston signed him as a free agent. Taylor has been injured and then got suspended for drugs. Last season, the Rockets traded him to the Knicks for, drum roll please, Vin Baker.


Big Country is a BIG, expensive mistake 

Good teams make smart decisions, while bad teams make terrible decisions. For example, the Vancouver Grizzlies, the worst team in NBA history, gave Bryant Reeves a 66 million dollar contract extension.


After signing his new contract, Reeves went on to lead the NBA in two categories: cheeseburgers devoured and all you can eat buffets. His 66 million dollar deal took up a large portion of the Grizzlies’ salary cap. This made it difficult for the team to bring in talented players. Eventually, Michael “I am committed to keeping the team in Vancouver” Heisley bought the Grizzlies and moved the organization to Memphis.


“Big Country” has since retired from basketball. And Heisley is trying to sell the Memphis Grizzlies.


By Oly Sandor. Oly is an NBA analyst and a free-lance journalist based out of Vancouver, Canada. His basketball writing has appeared in, Basketball Ballerz Magazine and Send him an email at [email protected]