With NBA free agency in full swing right now, many players can cash in on their value right now. Players like Alex Caruso, DeMar DeRozan, Trae Young, and others have secured big paydays for themselves with teams. Free agency can be a pivotal period for players to maximize their earnings. Years and seasons of great play help them leverage their value in the market and earn the most amount of money in the free market. But players aren't often able to get the most amount of money.
Players can often lose out on their big contracts because of a major injury or a poor run of form. When players get a big contract offer in the middle of the season, they turn it down because they think they can earn more during free agency. This is something we have seen happen for a long time, even as recently as this offseason. With that in mind, here are some players who lost out on big paydays because they rejected a huge contract for an even bigger one.
Deal He Rejected: $17 Million For 6 Years (~$2.83 Million Per Season)
Deal He Signed: $600K For 1 Year
John Amaechi was playing some of the best basketball of his career in the 1999-00 season. Amaechi was leading the Magic with his scoring and overall basketball output as the team's starting center. Amaechi helped steady the ship for the Magic in his rookie year, enough to garner the attention of the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers offered him a massive $17 million contract stretched out over six years. But Amaechi turned down the contract, knowing full well what it meant for his career. The Magic could only offer him a six-figure sum of $600K for one season. Amaechi signed for the Magic because the Lakers needed him less than the Magic. He would never sign another contract close to the one the Lakers offered him.
Deal He Rejected: $80 Million
Deal He Signed: $1.75 Million Over 1 Year
Joe Smith was the number one overall pick in the 1995 NBA Draft. Smith ended up performing very well for the Golden State Warriors through the course of the season. Because of this, the Warriors offered him an $80 million contract extension (the length of the extension is unknown). But Smith surprisingly rejected the offer and was traded to the 76ers, where he stayed until free agency hit. During the lockout impacted 1999 free agency, Smith shockingly signed a minimum $1.75 million contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
It later turned out that the Timberwolves and Smith had an under-the-table agreement, under which Smith would continue to sign one-year minimum deals for three seasons which would allow the Wolves to acquire Smith's Bird rights. Then they could offer him a huge $86 million contract while going above the salary cap. But the league found out above this agreement, thus imposing punishments on the Timberwolves and voiding Smith's contract. Smith would go on to play for different NBA teams like the Pistons, Bucks, Cavaliers, Hawks, Nets, Thunder, Bulls, Nuggets, before eventually retiring with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Deal He Rejected: $21 Million For 3 Years (~$7 Million Per Season)
Deal He Signed: N/A
Latrell Sprewell ended up becoming one of the most pivotal figures for the Minnesota Timberwolves during the 2003-04 season. While Kevin Garnett garnered most of the attention with his MVP season, Sprewell was one of the best performers for the team behind KG. He was a key figure for the Timberwolves as they reached the Western Conference Finals in 2004. Because of his performances, the Timberwolves offered him a $21 million contract over 3 years.
But Sprewell shockingly rejected this offer, stating that the money on the table wasn't enough to provide for his family. He wouldn't sign another NBA contract after the 2004-05 season, and his career in the league came to an end.
Deal He Rejected: $42 Million Over 6 Years (~$7 Million A Season)
Deal He Signed: $31 Million Over 5 Years (~$5.2 Million A Season)
Vladimir Radmanovic became an important piece for the Seattle Supersonics in the mid-2000s. Radmanovic became a solid scorer behind the star players like Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, as the franchise began to make serious noise in the Western Conference. Seeing his performance, the Supersonics offered him a lucrative $42 million contract for 7 years.
Radmanovic went in a different direction, signing a smaller but still lucrative contract with the Los Angeles Lakers after being convinced by Vlade Divac, Kobe Bryant, and Phil Jackson. The deal was smaller than the one the Sonics gave him, by about $10 million and one year, respectively. But his career with the Lakers wouldn't last very long after signing in 2006 as he got traded just three years after an accident. Radmanovic played in the NBA till 2013, but he never got a contract even close to what the Sonics offered him.
Deal He Rejected: $40 Million Over 4 Years (~$10 Million Per Season)
Deal He Signed: $1.5 Million Over 1 Year
Shabazz Muhammad was having a decent season with Minnesota during the 2016-17 season and had been on the up and up over the last few seasons. Because of this, the Timberwolves offered Muhammad a solid $40 million contract over 4 years. But Muhammad rejected this contract offer, thinking that he would leverage more money during free agency after a strong season.
But Muhammad found that the free agency market was very dry for him. Because of this, he went back to the Timberwolves. But the Wolves could only offer him a minimum contract. Muhammad accepted the deal but fell out of head coach Tom Thibodeau's rotation. Shabazz would later be waived in the middle of the season before he went on to sign with the Bucks. Muhammad would leave the NBA in 2018, just a few months after signing with the Bucks.
Deal He Rejected: $70 Million Over 4 Years (~$17.5 Million Per Season)
Deal He Signed: $4.1 million Over 1 Year
Nerlens Noel was having a good time with the Dallas Mavericks. He performed well with the franchise, and the front office was clearly impressed with the big man. So much so, that they offered him a $70 million contract for four years. But Noel rejected that contract during the middle of the offseason.
When it came time for free agency, Noel signed a meager $4.1 million contract for one year with the Mavericks. His thinking was that he could really maximize his earning potential over the next season and earn a big payday. That never ended up happening. The following season, Noel had to settle for a $3.75 million contract over two years with OKC.
Deal He Rejected: $40 Million Over 2 Years (~$20 Million Per Season)
Deal He Signed: $5.3 Million Over 1 Year
DeMarcus Cousins was one of the most dominant players during the 2010s. Cousins' stint in Sacramento led to him finding a lot of success in the NBA, including All-Star nominations. But he found more success in New Orleans, where he played with Anthony Davis. The two meshed well together. And the front office seemed happy enough with Boogie to offer him a big contract worth $40 million over 2 seasons.
But Boogie had different things in mind. He rejected the Pelicans' contract offer to join then-reigning 2-time NBA champions Golden State Warriors on a minimum contract worth $5.3 million. The objective for Cousins was to win an NBA championship. But the Warriors lost in the NBA Finals to the Toronto Raptors.
Deal He Rejected: $112 Million Over 4 Years (~$28 Million Per Season)
Deal He Signed: $2.3 Million Over 1 Year
Victor Oladipo is perhaps the only player on the list who rejected a well-paying contract twice. In 2020, Victor Oladipo was still playing for the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers had a strong young core emerging, and Oladipo's place in the franchise had taken a backseat since his injury. But the franchise did make him a strong offer, close to $112 million over 4 years. But Oladipo rejected the offer, and the franchise sent him to Houston in the James Harden trade.
But the story doesn't end there. The Houston Rockets offered a $45.2 million contract to Oladipo over 2 years, who again rejected the offer. He got traded once again, this time to Miami. But an injury caused him to sit out the rest of the season. Oladipo re-signed with the Heat on a minimum contract that lets him test free agency during the next offseason.
Deal He Rejected: $84 Million Over 4 Years (~$21 Million Per Season)
Deal He Signed: N/A
Dennis Schroder is the most recent example of this happening. The Lakers traded for Schroder to bring him in from Oklahoma City. Schroder had a good 2019-20 season, where he was the runner-up for the Sixth Man Of The Year accolade. The Lakers realized Schroder only had one year left on his contract and wanted to sign him to a lucrative extension. The Lakers offered Schroder $84 million over 4 years, but Schroder rejected the deal, thinking he could leverage a $100 million deal in free agency.
But his lackluster play in the regular season and the playoffs have seen his value plummet in recent weeks. The Lakers decided to move on from Schroder, bringing former MVP Russell Westbrook as their new point guard. And despite being linked to teams like the Bulls, Schroder is yet to sign a new contract with any NBA team. But if and when he does sign a new deal, it will presumably be smaller than the $100 million contract he was looking for.
These players ended up regretting their decisions to turn down a lucrative contract. Oladipo and Schroder can still change their fortunes and secure a decent contract. But it is unlikely that they get a better payday than the one they got offered initially. Many players have experienced similar fortunes like these, but few made decisions as bad as these.