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The Whiteboard: Bad NBA contracts do not always equal bad NBA players

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There is a strange effect that results from NBA players getting big money contracts that they fail to live up to. Even after a role player is done with the huge deal they received, some sort of stigma follows them, as though they’re cursed forever because one team decided they were worth a couple of Brinks trucks.

Case in point: the NBA community seemed to be somewhat stunned that Joakim Noah is playing well for the Memphis Grizzlies right now. Noah signed a now-infamous four-year, $72 million deal with the New York Knicks in 2016 that came after a disappointing final season with the Chicago Bulls that Noah missed most of due to a pair of shoulder injuries. Surprisingly, the injured defensive specialist on the wrong side of 30 did not impress early on in his Knicks tenure, and New York bought him out.

Noah then agreed to a minimum contract with the Grizzlies and has since started a game and played pretty well. That shouldn’t be all that surprising — Noah is probably as healthy as he’s been in years, and the dysfunction in New York isn’t helpful to a high-priced free agent trying to make a comeback — but it’s seemed more shocking than it should be because of how money influences the perception of NBA players.

Because Noah couldn’t live up to the huge contract he signed with the Knicks, it took these solid minutes in Memphis to prove to the league that he was still a worthwhile player. A similar thing is happening with Luol Deng in Minnesota after he was bought out of his big Lakers contract. These veterans aren’t bad, they were just unfairly labeled as such because teams have them stupidly big contracts.

Often, teams end up benching these overpaid role players out of what seems like pure frustration, mixed with some desire to tank and see the franchise’s young players. This drives down their value even further. Chandler Parsons is another vet who will probably turn heads when he finally gets out of Memphis and gets to a team that doesn’t hold the dumb contract they offered against him.

These role players all have, or could, benefit from a change of scenery. Every time one of them gets bought out, some smart team sees an opportunity to add a solid contributor at the right price. As fans have grown to think as armchair GMs more and more, bad contracts that teams offer are being held against players unfairly.

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