There is a lot of money to go around in the NBA. After the league signed its most recent TV deal with ESPN and TNT the salary cap and salary floor both shot up. That meant that players could make more money and owners had to spend more money. As a result, we have an NBA full of guys getting paid insane amounts when compared to their production or overall value to their team.
One thing that didn't really change was the rookie pay structure. There is still a set amount a rookie will earn over the life of his first contract based on where he was picked in the draft. These situations combine to create a disparity on a lot of teams. The productive young players are stuck in non-negotiable contracts, while veterans are able to make ten figures a year while contributing limited minutes.
This isn't to say every veteran is overpaid. What more does LeBron James have to do to prove to his haters that he is worth every penny and then some that the Cavs want to give him? But for every LeBron James making $33 million per year, there is an Enes Kanter making $20 million, and for every Enes Kanter making $20 million there is a Joel Embiid making $6 million. It is a disparity that to quote Homer Simpson "will leave you scratching your head until it is raw and bloody."
16 OVERPAID VETERAN: CHANDLER PARSONS
Chandler Parsons has been in the league for 7 years. He has been to zero All Star Games, and has been named to zero All NBA teams. He averages about 13 points and 4 rebounds per night for his career. This season those numbers were down to 8 and 3. Chandler Parsons made over $23 million this season. To put that in perspective, let’s say Chandler Parsons really loved the Tesla Model X, the company’s full electric SUV. A fully tricked out model with all available options costs $133,800.
That means for playing in just 36 games for the Grizzlies this season and contributing just over 19 minutes per game, Chandler Parsons could afford to buy 171 Tesla Model Xs and still have more than $120,000 left over. To add insult to injury for Memphis fans, Parsons is paid more than hometown hero and three time All Star Marc Gasol, who is considered one of the league’s premier defenders. Being fair to Parsons, he did miss extended time in 2018 with a knee injury, but even if he is healthy all next season, his numbers would have to skyrocket in order for that contract to match his production on the court.
15 RIPPED OFF YOUNG STAR: KRISTAPS PORZINGIS
The injustice in Kristaps Porzingis’s paycheque is not just about his on court production. You also have to consider that he is the face of the New York Knicks. This is a franchise that charges fans over $100 just to get in the building to see a game in person. Surely its only marketable star should be making more than $4.5 million he made this past season. Now look, no one is saying you should weep for the Latvian Unicorn, but it is worth noting that in his home country, that $4.5 million is only worth $2.6 million because of the lat’s strong performance against the dollar.
Porzingis has seen his points per game rise in each of his three NBA seasons.
The same is true of his defensive numbers and outside shooting efficiency. The guy will get paid only $5.6 million next season. That might be justifiable if the Knicks can use the savings to woo another star to play alongside Kristaps Porzingis and give him a chance to make it to the postseason. Otherwise, it seems nearly criminal to pay the only guy that your fans are willing to pay to see less than half of what you pay Courtney Lee.
14 OVERPAID VETERAN: IAN MAHINMI
There may be no one that benefitted more from the NBA’s exploding salaries after the new TV deals were signed than Ian Mahinmi. The French center was able to turn one “good” season in Indiana into a massive payday from the Washington Wizards. I put good in quotation marks, because that season included a career high in points per game (just over 9), rebounds per game (around 7) and minutes per game (less than 26).
Those were the numbers that the Wizards’ front office was looking out when the team decided to give Ian Mahinmi a four year deal worth $64 million and absolutely hamstring the franchise. The first season of the deal saw Mahinmi miss more than 50 games with a knee injury. To make things worse, when he was on the court, Mahinmi couldn’t overtake the less expensive Marcin Gortat as the starting center. Ian Mahinmi collected $16.6 million dollars this past season and the Wizards are doing all they can to dump him and clear space to add a more effective scorer. It’s not a surprise considering the team paid him enough to buy 83 tickets on Virgin Galactic flights to outer space last season and he averaged around just 16 minutes per night.
13 RIPPED OFF YOUNG STAR: BEN SIMMONS
Let’s add all the necessary caveats here. The Philadelphia 76ers have already stated that the team is committed to paying Ben Simmons and building around him and Joel Embiid for the future, and if the Sixers are going to have any immediate success, then it makes sense to keep Ben Simmons on his rookie contract for as long as it can, and last but not least until he develops a reliable jump shot, there will always be a glaring weakness in Simmons’ game.
Now, let’s be practical. As a rookie, Ben Simmons averaged 16/8/8 per night. He started all but one game for Philly this past season and was on the floor for close to 34 minutes of each game. Despite Donovan Mitchell’s and his supporters’ best efforts, Simmons will probably cruise to victory in the rookie of the year voting next month. His development into the league’s next superstar is the payoff of “The Process.” If fans are ever truly going to “trust the process,” the Sixers need to lock down its payoff. Simmons made just over $6 million this past season and t will be at least 2 more before he can make over $10 million.
12 OVERPAID VETERAN: NICOLAS BATUM
Nic Batum is a good basketball player. It’s just that he isn’t $22 million per year good, which is what he makes. He isn’t top 40 salaries in the league good, which is what his is. Batum has started every game he is has played since signing in Charlotte in 2015, but hasn’t really done much to establish the Hornets as a playoff presence in the very weak Southeast division.
He doesn’t lead the team in any meaningful offensive category, but still out-earned the Hornets’ real star, Kemba Walker, by nearly $10 million in 2018.
The difference in their salaries alone is almost enough to buy 850,000 tickets to the first screening of Solo at the Studio Movie Grill just a few blocks up from the Spectrum Center in Uptown Charlotte, where the Hornets play their home games. No word on whether or not the theatre is large enough to accommodate such a sale. Unless the team can find a trade partner willing to take Batum, he is on the books for the Hornets until at least 2020 and after that he has a player option for the following season worth more than $27 million. It looks like this is a deal that Charlotte is stuck with.
11 RIPPED OFF YOUNG STAR: GARY HARRIS
Gary Harris made just over $2.5 million this season, his fourth in the NBA. His rookie deal is over, and he is about to cash in, but it is worth pointing out just how much production the Denver Nuggets got out of a guy the team barely paid more than it paid Richard Jefferson. Harris’ scoring numbers have risen each of his NBA seasons. The same is true of his assist and defensive stats. Paul Millsap, who the Nuggets made one of the five highest paid players in the NBA this past offseason, didn’t even play half the year and produced an eight-year low in scoring.
An injured wrist cut Millsap’s season short, so don’t misconstrue this and think we’re calling Millsap overpaid. We’re just pointing out how criminally underpaid Gary Harris was considering he kept Denver in the playoff chase until the very end of the regular season. The Nuggets will right that wrong next year when Garry Harris will see his paycheque skyrocket to around $16.5 million. That’s still just over halfway to where Millsap sits, but it does represent a nearly 800% raise, so how can anyone really complain? Also, it shows a commitment to Harris as the Nuggets’ centrepiece should the team decide to hit the reset button.
10 OVERPAID VETERAN: TRISTAN THOMPSON
Tristan Thompson proved definitively in 2017 and 2018 that he is not capable of being the type of help LeBron James needs to establish the Cleveland Cavaliers as the unstoppable monster on the mountain top that is the NBA’s Eastern Conference. He lost his starting job and put up career low numbers in scoring, rebounds and blocks. Thompson just sort of looked every bit like the bum that we accuse all of LeBron’s Cleveland teammates of being, and yet through it all, Tristan Thompson got paid! He got paid more than $16 million to be exact. What has to frustrate Cavs fans more is that Thompson’s salary will rise each of the next two years.
It’s a good thing that Thompson has so much money coming into his bank account, because he has to pay for a lot of diapers and if tabloids are to be believed, probably a large chunk of child support. On the court though, he is a roadblock that could help make LeBron’s decision to leave Cleveland this offseason a little easier. As long as Tristan Thompson is there taking up cap space, it is less wiggle room the Cavs will have to land another star to pair with King James.
9 RIPPED OFF YOUNG STAR: LUKE KENNARD
Luke Kennard didn’t have an All-Star or even All-Rookie team calibre first season in Detroit, but he showed that he is capable of being the sharpshooter a team built around 2 big men, like the Pistons are, will need in order to truly thrive. Kennard only started nine games this past season, but found significant playing time in 64 more, averaging around 20 minutes per night. Kennard, like so many of our underpaid guys on this list, is still firmly under the control of his rookie contract. In his case, that means that it will be 2020 before he makes over $5 million in a season. When you compare the money to the role and the production though, it has to be more than a little frustrating.
Luke Kennard makes almost seven times less than Reggie Jackson and about a third of what Ish Smith makes. Both of those guys struggled to do their jobs for the Pistons this past season. Luke Kennard’s payday will come as long as he continues to put up the kind of shooting numbers and builds on the minutes per game he already has. Pistons fans just have to hope that production and payday come while Luke is still in Detroit.
8 OVERPAID VETERAN: TIMOFEY MOZGOV
The Brooklyn Nets have a history of spending money purely for the sake of spending money. They gave Jeremy Lin a long term, big money contract long after Jeremy Lin was worth big money. They traded away their future for two of the Celtics’ Big 3 long after they were worth trading away their future for. And then they went and took on the Los Angeles Lakers’ poorly thought out four year contract for Timofey Mozgov. Why? It’s hard to say.
Mozgov is in the middle of a four year, $64 million contract and there’s just no way to see how that kind of money makes any sort of sense.
He stands at 7+ feet and has never averaged more than ten points or more than 7 rebounds per game in his nine year career. How can you justify paying a guy, who isn’t a game changer, enough to enter Disney World’s Epcot Center more than 600,000 times? The Nets have some decent young talent to build around, but as long as Mozgov’s massive contract is on the books, it will be hard to get the kind of top-line starters the team needs to aid in their development to come to Brooklyn.
7 RIPPED OFF YOUNG STAR: THON MAKER
Thon Maker, like Luke Kennard, doesn’t have the numbers yet to justify a major raise, but what he has done in his two years in Milwaukee is constantly improve and provide a significant defensive bump off the bench. It is the kind of contribution that has allowed the Bucks to get the most out of their superstar Giannis Antetoukumpo. In his second season in the league, Thon Maker improved his scoring, defensive, assist, and rebounding numbers, and the good news for Milwaukee is that the team watched Maker do all of this while on his rookie contract. That’s pretty good value considering Thon Maker’s paycheque will be stuck below $3 million per year for the next two seasons.
Maker isn’t a dumb guy. It’s a safe assumption that he realizes his best shot at winning a title in Milwaukee is to let the team use the savings on his contract to add another scorer to play alongside the Greek Freak, but there aren’t a whole lot of effective seven-footers coming off the bench in the league right now. So, at some point, the team will have to pony up if it wants to keep Thon Maker in green and… what color do you can that? Cream? Egg shell, maybe?
6 OVERPAID VETERAN: SERGE IBAKA
Serge Ibaka is 100% the beneficiary of a few teams’ desperation. They were all desperate for different reasons, but they were all desperate, and that is what matters. The Oklahoma City Thunder desperately needed to find that third scorer to make up for the loss of James Harden. The Orlando Magic desperately needed a star to build around when it traded Victor Oladipo and others to acquire Ibaka. Finally, he is the beneficiary of the Toronto Raptors; desire to add an elite piece that could get the team over the hump in the Eastern Conference. All of these desperation moves have resulted in Ibaka making more than $20 million this past season. That’s enough to buy one Nintendo Switch for yourself and 66,665 others for your closest friends.
Ibaka is a good player, that is undeniable, but that is kind of his ceiling - good. As long as he is on Toronto’s roster and making that kind of roster, the team’s options for making additions to the roster and becoming a legit candidate to reach the NBA Finals are kind of limited. It became clear in the Raptors’ crushing defeat in the playoffs at the hands of Cleveland that the team needs to make big changes. It may want to start with trying to unload Serge Ibaka’s contract.
5 RIPPED OFF YOUNG STAR: JOEL EMBIID
It’s not exactly fair to say that Joel Embiid is underpaid. First, he’s still on his rookie contract, so a major payday is still to come, but on top of that, he has also missed a lot of time with injuries. So, it would be foolish for the Philadelphia 76ers to have committed any more to Joel Embiid than the $6.1 million that was left on his contract headed into the season. Now it looks like the team is ready to right that wrong. The Sixers will give Embiid a 241% raise next season.
Still though, that $6.1 million dollar commitment was ridiculous when you consider that Philadelphia gave JJ Redick a one year deal worth $23 million last off-season.
Redick had a good season and was a big part of the maturation of the Sixers, but compared to Embiid’s All-Star and likely all NBA output, he was a role player. The future of the Philadelphia 76ers will be really interesting. Will the team be able to afford to make the same kind of commitment to Ben Simmons when his rookie contract is up? That will be in 2020, when Joel Embiid is scheduled to make close to $30 million. Will there be enough room on the payroll for both guys?
4 OVERPAID VETERAN: JOKIM NOAH
Since signing with the New York Knicks in 2016, Joakim Noah has played in a grand total of 53 games. That’s less than a third of the number that the team has played. It cost the Knicks nearly $18 million this past season to have Noah on the bench modeLling street clothes. Noah has been unable to stay out of his own way during his two seasons in New York. In year one it was injuries and a suspension. In year two it was a pair of demotions, first to the bench and then to the D-League, followed by feuding with former head coach Jeff Hornacek.
Joakim Noah was active for only seven games in 2017-18 and for that lack of production, the Knicks paid enough take take nearly one million people to visit the Statue of Liberty. It may seem like it, but the Knicks’ front office isn’t full of dummies. They hired highly coveted coach David Fizdale to lead their turn around. If they want to make their vision of success a reality, the next step is figuring out how to dump Noah’s bad contract and get a real star to pair with Kristaps Porzingis.
3 RIPPED OFF YOUNG STAR: JAYLEN BROWN
Jaylen Brown took such a huge step forward for the Boston Celtics in 2018. Each of the last two drafts the Celtics have ended up with the number three pick and in each draft, it looks like general manager Danny Ainge has hit a home run. Right now the team is paying just over $10 million combined for its young superstars, Brown and Jayson Tatum. Moving forward, Boston has both 28 year old Gordon Hayward and 31 year old Al Horford on the books for more than $30 million a piece. The time is going to come when Boston will have to decide which group of players to commit to.
Brown, at age 21, made a little over a seventh of what Hayward, who ended up playing less than five minutes for the entire season, did. Brown offers a little more flexibility because he can play either the two or the three, but technically these two guys play the same position. Given his latest campaign, it is hard to picture Boston forcing Jaylen Brown to come off the bench. If Brown continues to produce the way he did this past season (a stat line of 14/5/2), the Celtics will want to extend his contract at a more appropriate dollar amount when his rookie deal is up.
2 OVERPAID VETERAN: HARRISON BARNES
Harrison Barnes contract is a testament to the possibility that maybe there isn’t anyone in the Mavericks’ front office that knows what the hell they are doing, and if you had asked me ten years ago if I would have said that, I would have laughed in your face. Everything we said about Ben Simmons when he committed to LSU in 2015 was said almost twice as loudly about Barnes in 2010 when he committed to UNC. Barnes became an effective NBA starter and helped the Warriors secure the team’s first championship of the Kerr era, but he wasn’t an essential piece of the puzzle. The Mavericks saw him as being worth a max deal simply because he was on the market and willing to come to Dallas.
Barnes made more than $23 million last season while simply accumulating stats and minutes for a team only managed to win 24 games. That dollar figure, by the way, is nearly five times what franchise legend Dirk Nowitzki makes. And look, the team discount is Dirk’s choice, but the least Mark Cuban and his staff could do is go out and get the greatest player the franchise has ever had some real help as a thank you gift.
1 RIPPED OFF YOUNG STAR: DONOVAN MITCHELL
The Utah Jazz owe Donovan Mitchell a major raise and significant extension and they owe it to him right now. This isn’t about Mitchell’s insane rookie season. Well, it is, but it isn’t just about that. The team owes Donovan Mitchell for making it relevant and fun to watch again. He gave us a reason to stay up for the late game in ESPN’s and TNT’s double headers. In his rookie season, Mitchell put up a legitimate challenge to Ben Simmons for the Rookie of the Year Award, he won the Slam Dunk Contest, and he led the Jazz to the second round of the NBA Playoffs. That kind of player isn’t supposed to be playing in Salt Lake City, Utah!
Donovan Mitchell made less than $3 million last season. He was the league’s 273rd highest paid player, behind the likes of Frank Kaminsky, James Ennis, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas. Did you hear any of those names being mentioned as the future of the NBA this season? Donovan Mitchell has ten guys on his own team making more money than he does. He could do for Utah what LeBron did for Cleveland and put the team in the conversation for big time players that want a legit shot at a championship. The team just has to show its commitment to him first.