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Holding out for the best possible contract can be a tricky thing for NBA players. On the one hand, history is rife with examples of players who spent their prime years making far too little. For those who have been watching ESPN’s The Last Dance documentary, Scottie Pippen is the perfect example. Stephen Curry also spent a few years on a decidedly team-friendly deal, although he finally got paid with his last contract.

On the other side are players who hold out for big contracts that never materialize. One great example is the now-retired Bonzi Wells. Wells left a lot of money on the table when he turned down a deal from his then-team, the Sacramento Kings. Here we take a look back at his career and the decision that ended up costing him $30 million.

Bonzi Wells’ rise in the NBA

Bonzi Wells looks on during an NBA game
Bonzi Wells | Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Detroit Pistons drafted Wells with the 11th pick of the 1998 NBA draft, only to trade him to the Portland Trail Blazers for a future first-round pick. The 6’5″ guard/forward only played seven games in his rookie season. The following year, however, he assumed regular back up duties, putting up 8.8 points and 2.8 rebounds in 17.6 minutes per game.

Those numbers ticked up in the following years, as Wells spent the majority of the time playing starting minutes. Wells soon became known for his fiery personality, which got him into occasional trouble both on and off the court. Soon after the start of the 2003-2004 season, the Trail Blazers traded Wells to the Grizzlies for Wesley Person and a future first-round pick.

Relegated to mostly a backup role, Wells’ numbers went down in Memphis. The Sacramento Kings traded for Wells before the start of the 2005-2006 season. Playing mostly as a starter, Wells performed well, putting up 13.6 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.

He was especially productive in the playoffs, when he averaged 23.2 points and 12 rebounds in a losing series against the San Antonio Spurs.

The Kings make an offer

The Kings were sufficiently impressed with Wells’ play that, following the 2005-2006 season they offered him a five-year contract worth $38.5 million, according to Complex. It’s important to note that, at the time, the Kings were a reasonably successful franchise. They’d put together a winning record for seven straight seasons, making the playoffs every year.

Furthermore, Wells was popular with his Kings teammates, and in particular Ron Artest. The pair had made one of the most formidable tandems in the league. Artest reportedly wanted Wells to stay so bad that he offered to forgo his salary for the following season.

Nonetheless, a 29-year-old Wells apparently put a higher value on himself than the Kings did, and turned their offer down.

Bonzi Wells’ career peters out

Wells was banking on the hope that he would attract an even more lucrative offer on the free market. Unfortunately, no such offer was forthcoming. Instead, Wells signed a one-year deal worth a piddly $2 million with the Houston Rockets. Injuries, mysterious personal issues, and friction with head coach Jeff Van Gundy limited Wells to just 28 games for the Rockets.

Wells returned to the Rockets the following season, but it was clear that was no longer capable of playing at his former level. Lack of conditioning and poor work ethic had a lot to do with it. Midway through the season, the Rockets traded Wells to the New Orleans Hornets, who failed to renew his contract at the end of the year.

Although he didn’t know it at the time, and despite a couple of attempted come-backs, that was to be the end of Wells’ NBA career. Instead of the $38.5 million he could have had with the Kings, Wells only made about $4.4 million in his final two years. In other words, his decision not to re-up with the Kings ultimately cost him over $34 million.

All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference


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