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No contract in the NBA is untradeable, no matter how egregious or lengthy it may be.
There are a few ways to move a bad deal. The Houston Rockets just demonstrated one by trading Chris Paul for another hefty contract in Russell Westbrook, also throwing in draft compensation to make up for the gap in age and talent level.
Swapping bad contracts is perhaps the most popular way, and attaching draft picks or young talent is another tried-and-true method.
Finding the right team to dump a bloated deal on is key as well. Usually this involves a rebuilding squad desperate for picks or a fringe contender in a bad free-agent market that’s OK overpaying for a player with star potential.
Here is how the five worst contracts in the NBA can be moved.
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Cavaliers Receive: SF Gordon Hayward, C Robert Williams, 2020 first-round pick (lottery-protected)
Celtics Receive: C Tristan Thompson, SG Jordan Clarkson
Hayward is owed $66.9 million over the next two years, will enter his 30s in March and is coming off a season in which he averaged 11.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 25.9 minutes.
While his deal is the shortest on this list, paying Hayward $33.5 million a year to be a backup is seriously constraining what the Celtics can do to make a title push this season or make a splash in free agency next summer.
Moving him to the Cavs for Thompson and Clarkson would make sense both now and in the future.
Boston likely craves a defensive center after Al Horford left for the Philadelphia 76ers in free agency and Enes Kanter was brought in as his replacement. Thompson, 28, averaged 10.9 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists and held opponents to 56.1 percent shooting at the rim, a better mark than Horford (59.6 percent) last season.
Clarkson, 27, would give them instant offense off the bench, as he ranked second on the Cavs in scoring (career-high 16.8 points) despite not starting any of his 81 games.
For a rebuilding Cavs team, Hayward would serve as a veteran presence for young wings like Cedi Osman and rookie Dylan Windler until his contract expires. Cleveland would pick up a first-round pick that should be in the low 20s, and Williams would give them a 21-year-old center that blocked 5.1 shots per 36 minutes last season as a rookie.
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Raptors Receive: SF Andrew Wiggins, 2020 first-round pick (top-five protected)
Timberwolves Receive: PF Serge Ibaka
The Raptors can still be good this season even without Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, although they won’t make much noise in the playoffs without an additional scoring punch.
For all his faults, Wiggins can put the ball in the basket (career 19.4 points per game), and the veteran supporting cast around him (Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet) would do wonders for the 24-year-old’s development.
Taking Wiggins out of a Minnesota rebuild and putting him on his hometown team would be the best possible situation to extract the talent that made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2014.
For the Timberwolves, this move would mainly be about clearing future cap space.
Adding Ibaka would be great for the short term, given he’d be the team’s best power forward and bring championship experience.
Ibaka averaged 16.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and shot 53.6 percent from the floor when he started for the Raptors last season, and his $23.3 million deal expires next summer.
The Wolves would have to sacrifice a lightly protected first-round pick in the process, given the amount of money they’d be saving by not having to pay the remaining $122.2 million on Wiggins’ contract.
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Nuggets Receive: F Tobias Harris
76ers Receive: SG Gary Harris, SF Will Barton, PF Jarred Vanderbilt
This is the best Harris’ new five-year, $180 million contract will ever look.
Philadelphia massively overpaid its trade deadline acquisition so as not to lose him for nothing. Even with Harris serving as a quality contributor, the 76ers should start looking for trade partners as early as this season.
Harris is a good player, but his new deal pays an average of $36 million per season until the year 2024. That’s more than LeBron James has ever made in any of his 16 seasons, and it’s especially generous considering Harris’ averages of 18.2 points and 7.9 rebounds in 27 games with Philly last season. He’ll also be playing out of position for most of the year, moved out to the wing from power forward with the signing of veteran Al Horford.
Trading Harris for the Nuggets’ package of Gary Harris, Barton and Vanderbilt would give the 76ers a far more balanced roster with manageable contracts all around. Harris is still just 24 and has averaged 15.2 points on 38.7 percent shooting from three over the past three years. His outside shooting would keep the floor spread for the Sixers and let Josh Richardson play small forward, the spot where he’s spent 70 percent of his time over the past three years. Barton (11.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists last season) would give Philly an ideal sixth man, and Vanderbilt, 20, provides the team with some young depth at power forward.
For Denver, getting the best player in a deal is usually a win, even if he comes on an $180 million contract.
The Nuggets could also slide Harris down to his natural position of power forward in a year, given that 34-year-old Paul Millsap’s $30.4 million contract will expire next summer. For now, Harris could start at small forward and give Denver some scoring punch from the wing.
Given how deep and talented the Western Conference is, Denver may need to make a big splash before the trade deadline to stay afloat.
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Mavericks Receive: PG Chris Paul, 2020 first-round pick (top-10 protected via Denver Nuggets), 2024 first-round pick (lottery-protected)
Thunder Receive: SG Tim Hardaway Jr., SG Courtney Lee
With $124.1 million remaining over three years, Paul has a brutal contract, even if he’s still a very good point guard when healthy.
The Rockets had to surrender two first-round picks and two pick swaps as well as take on Westbrook’s contract (four years, $171 million remaining) just to move Paul.
For the Thunder to move Paul, they’ll likely have to attach some draft compensation as well, which shouldn’t be a problem given how much they’ve accumulated from trades involving Westbrook, Paul George and Jerami Grant.
Finding a team that has a need for Paul and would be willing to take the gamble on his age/health/contract is nearly impossible. The Miami Heat were mentioned as a possible landing spot, although those talks have cooled.
Instead, Dallas could be willing to roll the dice on Paul.
The Mavericks have a need at point guard and made Kemba Walker their top free-agent priority, per Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer. After failing to get Walker, Dallas is left with two rising stars in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis but little else outside of role players.
If the Mavericks start out the season in playoff contention, Paul is the type of high-upside player Mark Cuban may be willing to take a chance on. His contract also aligns with Doncic’s rookie deal, meaning by the time Dallas would have to give the reigning Rookie of the Year a likely max extension, Paul’s contract would be off the books.
For the Thunder, Lee only has one more year at $12.8 million remaining on his contract. At 33, he would be a prime buyout candidate for a rebuilding OKC squad. Hardaway Jr. is owed $20 million this year and will likely pick up his $19.0 million player option for 2020-21. That amounts to a huge savings for the Thunder overall, meaning they’d have to sacrifice a draft pick or two for Dallas to agree.
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Pistons Receive: PG John Wall, 2020 first-round pick (top-five protected, converts to unprotected in 2021)
Wizards Receive: PG Reggie Jackson, SG Langston Galloway, SF Tony Snell
Wall’s supermax contract, combined with his Achilles injury, makes his deal perhaps the NBA’s hardest to move. According to Wizards owner Ted Leonsis, Wall isn’t expected to play in 2019-20, via The Athletic’s Michael Lee.
The Wizards are set to pay Wall $171.1 million over the next four years, culminating with a $47.4 million player option in 2022-23. That would be a tough pay for anyone, even if he had two healthy Achilles. If Washington can somehow move Wall without having to sacrifice Bradley Beal in the process, that’s a win.
Detroit makes sense as a suitor since it is not projected to have much cap space next summer to provide help around Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond and has had trouble attracting star free agents to begin with. Perhaps the only way to make a significant jump in the East is to take a gamble on a player like Wall to regain his All-Star form.
The Pistons could package enough expiring and short-term deals together to satisfy the Wizards without having to include any of their core pieces. Moving Jackson, their starting point guard, is realistic because they signed Derrick Rose this summer.
Detroit would likely ask for some serious draft compensation as well, given how bad Wall’s contract is and the uncertainty of what his game will look like when he’s fully healed. Washington’s upcoming draft picks should fall in the top 10, giving the Pistons a chance at a star in the draft as well.
A healthy Wall combined with Griffin, Drummond, Rose, Luke Kennard and Sekou Doumbouya could be really, really good in 2020-21. For Detroit, a trade for Wall may be its best chance at adding elite talent.