Doc Rivers moving from West to East has given the Eastern Conference a lit bit of star power. The East has glamorous teams that are capable of winning the title but most of the team(s) lack elite players over the age of 30. It’s why Jimmy Butler dominated in the bubble.
The East is young. But that doesn’t mean GM’s have bought into development. Some of them have done a little extra to sign players they thought were worth it but are now weighing down the cap, unable to meet the enormous expectations.
If the East is going to dethrone the West (8 out of the last 12 champions have come from the West) they are going to do it with a healthy mix of young talent and skilled veterans. In other words, heal thyself. Get rid of the overpaid.
The Stealing Money Crew (Eastern Version)
1. Tobias Harris, Sixers. $148,865,517 owed. No opt-outs.
This is the Eastern Conference’s version of the Buddy Hield contract. Harris has done nothing to deserve such extreme financial loyalty. He’s never been an All-Star. He can’t defend athletic threes like KD or Paul George. His highest PER has been 17.2. In the playoffs, he is worse than the regular season, averaging 15 ppg. He’s only played in 20 playoff games and has only been in the second round once. He’s the third-best player on the Sixers but getting paid like he’s the face of the franchise.
2. Khris Middleton, Bucks. $106,500,000 owed. Player option 2023-24 $40,396, 552.
The Bucks had a choice to make between Malcolm Brogdon and Khris Middleton in the summer of 2019. Both were free agents. The Bucks chose Middleton because of his upside. This era of NBA basketball is dependent upon a small forward to compliment the star. But Middleton isn’t someone you can count on in the playoffs to be consistent. He will come through in moments and he will freeze in others. That is not the definition of a max player, someone who makes 8 of 25 shots in a closeout game. Not to mention Middleton is no match for Jimmy Butler’s toughness and skill. He can’t guard him. Rumors about trading Khris Middleton for Paul George are enticing but…um…aren’t they the same player?
3. Kevin Love, Cavaliers. $91,500,000 owed. No opt-outs.
Kevin Love has no purpose on a developmental team. His stats are empty stats that pad his resume for a possible Hall of Fame inclusion. (Currently, he has a 73% HOF probability, Basketball-Reference). At 32 years old, Love is very consistent. In the last three seasons, with LeBron and without, he has posted 17 ppg, 10 rebounds, 29 minutes. You know what he is going to give you which makes him a nice trade piece for a contending team but the question with trading Love is what pieces are you going to get back to make the trade worthwhile for a very young team.
4. John Wall, Wizards. $84,672,000 owed. Player option 2022-23 $46,872,000.
John Wall hasn’t played an NBA game in 22 months. So the question is what does John Wall have left after a brutal Achilles tear. Traditionally, an Achilles injury steals players quickness. Wall has never been an elite shooter. His game was overly dependent on quickness, speed, getting to the rim, and his defense. But what has the injury taken away? No one knows. It makes the contract unmovable in the short term because Wall isn’t opting out of $46 million. Whoever trades for him is stuck with him.
5. Al Horford, Sixers. $54,500,000 owed. Partially guaranteed 2022-23 $26,500,000.
Why does it feel like someone in Sacramento is generating these Philly contracts? Al Horford is way past his prime. At 34 years old he can be a productive 12 ppg and 7 reb player. He does a lot of little things and he has great leadership which is why organizations tend to overpay him. But being a great teammate, if you’re not careful, can ruin the financial balance of a team which is what is happening with the Sixers. Al Horford is worth what he can negotiate but on the open market his value is in the $15-$17 million range and not the egregious amount of money he’s getting paid to average 7 points and 7 rebounds in the playoffs.
6. Blake Griffin, Pistons. $36,595,996 owed. Player option 2021-22 $38,957,028.
Blake Griffin’s salary is reflective of when he was a free agent. Before trading him, the Clippers gave him the max. Whoever employs Griffin won’t be out from under that contract for another two years, unless he gets traded to a contender and they force him to opt-out the final year. Griffin’s skills have diminished under a fugue of injuries. He only played 18 games last season. Three years ago, he played 58 games. In the 2016-17 season, he played 61 games after playing 35 games the year prior. He was injured before his rookie season began so it’s a continuing nightmare for Blake Griffin. It’s hard to evaluate what he can and cannot do on the court because he doesn’t play enough which makes trading for him a hope and a prayer.