With the trade deadline a few weeks away, it is a good time to check in on the 10 Most Tradeable Contracts in the NBA. Before we get to the deals, a few ground rules for this list:
- No Rookie Scale contracts: Nearly all Rookie Scale contracts are inherently tradeable
- No expiring contracts: With most teams back to being capped out, expiring contracts are always tradable.
- No one on a Maximum Contract: It is impossible to sign a better deal, so anyone who is a bargain on a Max Contract is automatically tradeable. (One exception this year, but more on that later!)
- Special consideration was given to players who signed a Max Contract under the previous cap/old CBA. The entire list could be made up of the following players: Jimmy Butler, John Wall, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Anthony Davis, C.J. McCollum, Kyrie Irving and Paul George
10. Robert Covington (5 years/$63.6 million) – Covington, as much as anyone not named Joel Embiid, is the jewel of “The Process” in Philadelphia. While part of Sam Hinkie’s vision was to get high draft picks, the other part was to cycle through players on cheap deals in hopes of finding a diamond in the rough. Covington is that diamond for the 76ers. He’s put together the best shooting season of his career as he’s hitting 38.5 percent from behind the arc. He’s also rebounding well and playing the best defense of his career. Philadelphia also took advantage of a little-used extension rule, where they gave Covington what was left of their 17-18 cap space as a bonus of sorts. They then tacked on four more years to his contract, starting at $10.5 million for 18-19.
9. Eric Gordon (3 years/$40.5 million) – When Gordon signed a four-year, $52.9 million contract with the Rockets in 2016, it was met with skepticism, mostly due to his checkered injury history. A year later, the Rockets have one of the best deals in the NBA. Gordon is a perfect fit for Houston’s system and he’s put together two healthy seasons to this point. He won Sixth Man of the Year in 2017 and is a leading contender to win it again in 2018. Teams are always looking for shooting off the bench and the Rockets have Gordon providing it for an average $13.5 million over the rest of his deal.
8. Gary Harris (4 years/$74 million – after extension kicks in for 2018-19) – Harris remains one of the NBA’s more underrated players. When he signed his extension a few months ago, many wondered if the Nuggets overpaid him. When you look a little deeper, you see that isn’t the case at all. Harris is currently averaging a career-best 17 PPG, which is his fourth straight year of increasing his scoring average. He’s shooting just a couple of tics under 50 percent from the field and knocking down 38 percent of his three-pointers on 5.9 attempts per game. He’s also playing the best defense of his career, which is big for a Nuggets team that can occasionally be defensively challenged. And Harris will only turn 24 before next season. An annual average of $18.5 million for an efficient young shooting guard is an incredible value.
7. Goran Dragic (3 years/$54.3 million, final year Player Option) – Two years ago, in a different cap environment, Dragic checked in on the Least Tradable list. What a difference a couple of years makes! At just over $18 million average annual salary, Dragic is now on one of the better deals in the NBA. He’s gotten over some injury issues and become the leader of the Heat. Dragic now carries the mantle of current “Best Player to never make an All-Star team”.
6. Kemba Walker (2 years/$24 million) – $12 million per season is an absurd value for Walker, who checks in as the Hornets’ sixth highest paid player. Sixth! He made his first All-Star team last season and is playing just as well this year. His numbers might be down a touch, but that is more a result of the Hornets’ overall struggles than anything Walker is or isn’t doing. Only the fact that he has just two years left on his contract, and is due a big payday soon, has him knocked down a few pegs on this list. Recent reports say that Charlotte is willing to trade Walker. By himself, he should garner the Hornets a decent package of picks/young players. If Charlotte insists on attaching one of their bad contracts to Walker, the package lessens, but the cap sheet cleans up. It seems his time could be coming to an end with the Hornets, and what they get in return will be fascinating.
5. LaMarcus Aldridge (4 years/$93.8 million, final year $7 million guaranteed) – After two years in San Antonio, Aldridge asked the Spurs for a trade this summer. Aldridge and Gregg Popovich smoothed things out, with Popovich admitting he had to adjust his style to fit Aldridge better. They then agreed on a two-year contract extension and Aldridge has rewarded the Spurs for that with the best basketball of his career. He’s carried San Antonio with Kawhi Leonard out and kept the Spurs near the top of the Western Conference. Considering his game has never been about athleticism, he’ll continue to age well. That makes his contract, despite being for over $20 million, easy to take on. And the relatively minor partial guarantee of $7 million in the final year makes it even better.
4. Draymond Green (3 years/$52.4 million) – For Warriors to become what they have roster-wise, and to also stay together, someone has to have a team-friendly deal. Now that Stephen Curry is on a supermax, that guy is Green. He’s an annual contender for Defensive Player of the Year and one of the best all-around players in the NBA. Green is known as the key to everything the Warriors do defensively, but his facilitation ability is what also unlocks the team’s offense. He’s averaging a career-high 7.6 assists per game. It is Green’s ability to function as a primary playmaker, that allows Golden State to run sets to get Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant good looks. That he does it from the four and five positions, makes them virtually impossible to guard.
3. Khris Middleton (3 years/$40.1 million, final year Player Option) – Middleton falls from his perch as the Most Tradable contract two years running, but it wasn’t anything he did. Two other players signed team-friendly deals that bumped him. After getting back to full health following last year’s torn hamstring, Middleton is putting together a career year. His numbers across the board are the best they’ve ever been. He’s now fully entrenched as the Bucks’ second-best player and is averaging 20 points per game for the first time. He’s rebounding and passing at the best levels of his career too. His contract declines to $13 million for the final two years of his deal, which makes him a steal for Milwaukee. At this rate, he’s unlikely to opt in to that final season, but the Bucks should be making every attempt to get him re-signed, as he’ll be entering his prime at that point.
2. Joel Embiid (5 years/$146.5 million – after extension kicks in for 2018-19) – The rules above state that no max deals are on this list, nor are any generational talent. Embiid breaks both of those rules, not just because of his play, but due to the unique structure of his contract. As the prime jewel of The Process, Philadelphia happily ponied up a max deal for Embiid. He could earn even more if he makes All-NBA this year or wins MVP, which would qualify him for the so-called Super Max deal. When healthy, he’s worth every penny. But therein lies the rub: when he’s healthy. But the 76ers were smart and protected themselves, which makes this one of the NBA’s most tradable contracts. If Embiid misses games or minutes thresholds due to injuries to his back or feet, which has happened in the past, Philadelphia can waive him and recoup major savings on his contract. This clause exists for each of the final four seasons of his extension and is based on the previous season’s results. It is one of the most complex and creative contracts ever crafted and involved the Sixers management, Embiid’s agents, the NBA and the NBPA to put together.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo (4 years/$100 million) – When we look back at it, we’ll all wonder: how in the world did the Bucks get Antetokounmpo to take a dime less than a full max deal? The Greek Freak has become an MVP candidate and is one of the NBA’s most versatile players, cracking some rare air that has previously been occupied by only LeBron James and Draymond Green in recent years. He’s one of the most gifted players with the ball in his hands, as he regularly scores himself or creates good looks for his teammates. He’s also a terror defensively, with his pterodactyl-like limbs blocking the vision of opposing shooters and passers. Perhaps most frightening of all for opponents? Antetokounmpo just turned 23 years old and just keeps getting better.