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Which NBA Free Agents Got Paid Too Much (And Too Little)?

Keep track of the chaotic NBA offseason with our Free Agency Diary.

In an offseason full of free-agent coups, blockbuster trades and other juicy drama, a three-player deal last Wednesday between the Memphis Grizzlies and Atlanta Hawks, two of the worst teams in the NBA last season, was hardly earth-shattering. By Friday night, the trade was all but forgotten. But one player in that deal stood out.

Chandler Parsons, who once hit the most 3-pointers (10) in a single half, earned more than $24 million last season. Since signing a four-year, $94 million contract with the Grizzlies in the contract bubble of 2016, Parsons has appeared in a total of 95 games averaging 7.2 points on a paltry 39 percent shooting from the field while recovering from a slew of knee injuries, including one sustained with his previous team, the Dallas Mavericks. That means the former Florida standout has averaged roughly $37,000 per minute playing Grit ’n’ Grind.1

Looking at the deal Parsons signed three years ago got me thinking about the most overpaid — and inadequately compensated — veteran free agents signed this summer. Fortunately, our CARMELO player projections allow the comparison of a player’s estimated market value to what his 2019-20 salary will be. While it’s tempting to say players like LeBron James, Stephen Curry and James Harden — all of whom earn more than $30 million per year — are overpaid, the reality is their market value still exceeds their compensation in terms of salary earned. Rather, it’s the short-term signees, brought in when teams like the Knicks strike out on top targets, who are often overpaid relative to their actual contributions. In total, six of the 10 most overpaid free-agent signees of 2019 are on short-term deals — defined as two years or fewer — while nine of the 10 best bargains signed contracts of three years or longer.

In the 2019 free-agent class, the big-name signees — such as Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler and Kemba Walker — were all bargains for their respective (new) teams, with each player set to earn a 2020 salary that is more than $10 million less than his CARMELO market value for the season. But lesser-known players — including Delon Wright, Kevon Looney and Jeremy Lamb — also found their names in the top 10 of CARMELO bargains.

The 10 best bargains of the 2019 NBA free-agent class

Players’ net values calculated by their 2019-20 CARMELO market values minus 2019-20 salaries, as of July 8

Rank Player Team CARMELO Market Value 2019-20 Salary Net Value
1 Kemba Walker Boston $58.4m $32.7m +$25.7m
2 Kevon Looney Golden State 28.7 4.6 +24.0
3 Jimmy Butler Miami 56.2 32.7 +23.5
4 DeMarcus Cousins L.A. Lakers 26.6 3.5 +23.1
5 Kyrie Irving Brooklyn 50.5 32.7 +17.7
6 Kevin Durant Brooklyn 54.5 38.2 +16.3
7 Delon Wright Dallas 24.6 9.2 +15.4
8 Jeremy Lamb Indiana 23.3 10.0 +13.3
9 Danny Green L.A. Lakers 27.1 14.6 +12.5
10 Kawhi Leonard L.A. Clippers 44.4 32.7 +11.7

Sources: FiveThirtyEight, Spotrac

The opposite end of the spectrum paints a bleaker, more Parsons-ian picture. Harrison Barnes, the least valuable player of the 2016 NBA Finals, ranks first among players who will earn far more than their CARMELO market value: He will rake in close to $19 million in the first year of a four-year, $85 million contract with the Sacramento Kings. Our projections see his value as just a fraction of that, at about $3.5 million, meaning that he is charging the Kings more than $15 million above his “market price.”

The 10 most overpaid free agents of 2019

Players’ net values calculated by their 2019-20 CARMELO market values minus 2019-20 salaries, as of July 8

Rank Player Team CARMELO Market Value 2019-20 Salary Net Value
1 Harrison Barnes Sacramento $3.5m $19.0m -$15.5m
2 Bobby Portis New York 1.1 15.1 -14.0
3 Trevor Ariza Sacramento -1.0 12.2 -13.2
4 Klay Thompson Golden State 22.5 32.7 -10.2
5 Rajon Rondo L.A. Lakers -6.6 2.6 -9.2
6 Mike Scott Philadelphia -4.4 4.8 -9.2
7 Tobias Harris Philadelphia 22.4 31.0 -8.6
8 Bojan Bogdanovic Utah 8.4 17.0 -8.6
9 Robin Lopez Milwaukee -3.1 4.8 -7.9
10 Taj Gibson New York 2.1 9.8 -7.7

Sources: fivethirtyeight, spotrac

Others on the bottom 10 include Bobby Portis, just one of the Knicks’ many overvalued signings; Sixers star Tobias Harris, who re-signed with the club that traded for him last season; and Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson, who likely will spend the season sidelined while he rehabs from a torn ACL suffered in Game 6 of this year’s finals. While Thompson’s injury no doubt dampens his value for the upcoming season, our model always has been a little low on him, and the five-year, $190 million extension he signed with the Warriors likely already was going to put him on this end of the rankings.

Looking at absolute differences, however, isn’t the only way to determine who is a relative “bargain” or is “overpaid.” The nature of max deals since the NBA salary cap ballooned in 2016 is such that you can afford to pay stars, even B-list ones, yearly salaries of more than $30 million. Even the short-term deals that overpay, such as those offered by the Knicks to Portis, Reggie Bullock2 and Taj Gibson, are forgivable in that they don’t limit a team’s long-term flexibility in signing marquee free agents.3

Where teams start to go wrong, however, is when they agree to certain long-term, expensive deals with players — ones that haven’t demonstrated much value — that make them almost untradeable. That’s the case of Barnes, predicted by CARMELO to generate a total of $8.3 million over the next four years, against the $85 million owed to him by Sacramento.

There are plenty of those kinds of deals out there, a spate of which arrived in 2016 — courtesy of players such as Parsons.4 He may have been an all-star of bad contracts for his deal with Memphis, but he has one year left on that contract, now with Atlanta, to change CARMELO’s mind about what he’s worth.

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CORRECTION (July 10, 2019, 6:15 p.m.): A previous version of a table in this article incorrectly showed Delon Wright as re-signing with Memphis. Wright was sent to Dallas in a sign-and-trade.


  1. And Parsons is set to earn $25 million more in 2019-20.

  2. Who ranks as the 14th-most overpaid free-agent signee.

  3. Well, unless you’re the Knicks, and you have trouble getting free agents any way you slice it,

  4. And Barnes, who is a repeat offender.

Santul Nerkar was a copy editor at FiveThirtyEight.