The saying goes, "Money can't buy happiness" and in the ultrarich NBA it can't even buy quality players. Contract figures have gone up in every professional league over the years and the NBA is no different, but with the league's new nine-year TV deal with ESPN and TNT, salaries have reached astronomical proportions. In the NHL, a superstar can make upwards of $10 million; in the NBA, that sum is now reserved for trainers, janitors, parking lot attendants, and Timofey Mozgov. Seriously, bench players are apt to make 10 figures in the modern NBA.
Superstars in the NBA have made upwards of $20 million a season since the start of the 21st century, though that figure only belonged to the game's absolute best. By the 2007-08 season, for instance, eight players made more than $19 million (Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O'Neal, Jason Kidd, Jermaine O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, and Stephon Marbury); entering the 2016-17 season, 29 players will earn more than $20 million, while 108 will make at least $10 million. While that's in part due to rising revenues, it can also be contributed to the increasing amount of insane general managers. This offseason was a a prime example of that and you'll be sure to find plenty of recent contracts in this list.
Rather than listing the highest contracts, there's a mix of high-end and middle tier players among the group below. Some of the highest earners in the game have actually earned the contract they received. LeBron James, for instance, could earn $100 million a season and still be worth it for the Cavs.
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13 Terrence Ross
Amber Rose is known primarily for sleeping with celebrities. It says a lot about Terrence Ross' game that the dude is best known for dating Amber Rose. The former first round pick of the Toronto Raptors is a one-dimensional bench player who somehow managed to convince Raptors then-GM Masai Ujiri to give him a three-year, $31 million contract. His annual earnings for next season puts him in 107th place among the league's 500-plus players, but there is no way Ross is even near the top 200 players in the league. Ross has incredible athleticism (he won the 2013 NBA Slam Dunk Contest) and can shoot the three, but he has yet to put it all together in the NBA. While his three-point shot is his greatest asset, he has a tendency to go cold at times. Last season he averaged just 9.9 points, 0.8 assists, and 2.6 rebounds per game. His 720 total points, should he equal that this season, would equate to him being paid $13,888 per point.
12 Chandler Parsons
The Memphis Grizzlies like to hand out an incredible amount of money to second-tier stars (more on that later), and they proved that again this offseason by giving 27 year old Chandler Parsons a 4-year, $94 million contract. Parsons can shoot the three, which is a skill that has become more valuable in recent years (he shot 41.4% from beyond the arc last year), but he comes to the Grizzlies with concerns. After a career year in 2013-14 with the Houston Rockets, his points per game total dropped in each of the next two years with the Dallas Mavericks, while his minutes fell from 37.6 per game to 29.5. The small forward will undoubtedly make the Grizzlies a better team this season, but he's nowhere near the 18th best player in the league, which is where his annual salary ranks for 2016/17. The fact that he's played just over 60 games in each of the last two seasons isn't a great sign either.
13. James Harden
Make no mistake, James Harden is the best offensive player on this list and were salaries based solely on a players performance with the ball in his hands, Harden's $26 million annual salary for the 2016-17 season would be worth it. The durable shooting guard is one of the best pure scorers in the league, having averaged 29 points per game last season and he can also dish and rebound the ball. Yet, for every offensive highlight he puts together, there's an embarrassing defensive effort on the other side of the court that leads to a basket for the opposition, sending Houston fans into fits of rage. He also set a NBA record last season with 374 turnovers, averaging 4.6 per game. The Lil B curse is real.
11 Ian Mahinmi
There's a number of reasons why Ian Mahinmi shouldn't be making $15 million a season, but the first and most important being that he is Ian Mahinmi. The Frenchman will turn 30 in November and before last season only started 21 games in his six-plus seasons of NBA service. His numbers improved in every stats category by starting all 71 games he played for the Indiana Pacers, but at 30, it's likely he has hit his ceiling. Yet, the Washington Wizards, even with Marcin Gortat at center, thought it a good idea to give Mahinmi a four-year deal with $64 million guaranteed. His average annual salary ranks 50th in the entire league for 2016/17, yet the average fan has likely never heard of him. Last year, he made a minuscule $4 million, which seemed a lot more accurate for his play.
11. Ryan Anderson
Count Ryan Anderson as another big winner in the 2016 offseason. The 28 year old power forward signed a four-year, $80 million contract with the Houston Rockets, which is more than double his previous four-year deal, which was signed with the New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans). He can score, but his three point shooting percentage has lowered since he recorded a career-high mark of 40.9% in 2013-14. He's a productive bench player and can start if needed, but Basketball-Reference lists his career numbers as most similar to Hedo Turkoglu, Luis Scola, and Drew Gooden, who were also solid role players who could provide some minutes from bench.. However, in no world should any of those players be paid like Anderson, whose salary in 2016-17 will rank 30th in the league.
10 DeMar DeRozan
Like James Harden, DeMar DeRozan is a premier scorer, though his strength lies in getting to the basket and drawing contact. He can knock down mid-range jumpers, but he's not the player on the Raptors you want shooting the ball with the game in his hands. He's also a defensive liability. While DeRozan has drastically improved since coming into the league, he's no more than a second-tier star and given the landscape of the NBA, he's not a player that's going to lead your team to a championship. But he's paid as though the Raptors feel he might. The team was handcuffed going into this past offseason, knowing DeRozan would likely get a max contract from his hometown Lakers or some other bubble team, and needing to stay competitive they gave the Compton native his asking price. Along with six other players, DeRozan is tied for the second highest annual salary heading into this season, making $26-plus million. He's also one of just seven players that has a $100-plus million deal. In comparison, teammate Kyle Lowry, who many consider the better player, will make just $12 million this season.
9 Allen Crabbe
The 23 year old rising star was another benefactor of rising revenues league wide. Last year Crabbe made less than $1 million, but he'll make an average of $18 million a year for the next four seasons, which is an absurd number for a guard who has started just 17 games in his three-year career and has averaged just 7 points per game. He was a solid contributor coming off the bench for the Portland Trail Blazers last season and averaged more than 10 points per game, but to receive the contract offer he did was a reach that would impress Manute Bol. Crabbe has a lot in common with the other 29 teams in the league: he can attribute his success to the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets offered Crabbe a four-year, $74 million offer sheet on July 10 and, surprisingly, the Blazers matched the offer despite having Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum locked up to $100 million deals.
8 Wesley Matthews
Wesley Matthews should be applauded. While most on this list cashed in on the crazy 2016 offseason, Matthews was able to score his four-year, $70 million contract with the Dallas Mavericks the year prior. What's even more impressive is he got the contract offer from Dallas despite coming off of a ruptured achilles, which came with some uncertainty moving forward. The soon-to-be 30 year old managed to stay healthy in 2015-16, his first year with the Mavs, but had a thoroughly disappointing season. Despite playing similar minutes the year before, Matthews numbers dropped in all categories with Dallas; his points per game dropped from 15.9 to 12.5, while his field goal percentage fell from 44.8% to 38.8%. Fortunately for Matthews, he'll be overshadowed by another overpaid recruit in 2016-17 (again, we'll get to that later).
7 Luol Deng
It's hard to tell what's more surprising: the contract the Los Angeles Lakers gave Loul Deng or the Sudanese forward's age. Deng is just 31, but if you told someone he was once a teammate of Michael Jordan, they might believe you. In fact, Deng's NBA career began just a year after Jordan played his last game with the Washington Wizards. He spent 10 very productive seasons with the Chicago Bulls, but has been in a steady decline since he left in 2013. He's an above average defender, but his age and minutes played are starting to catch up with him; last year with the Miami Heat, Deng had just 12.3 points per game, his lowest total since his rookie season. Yet, next season he will make more than Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, and Jimmy Butler.
6 Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes has been a productive member of the powerhouse Golden State Warriors in all of his first four seasons, but not exactly $20 million per year kind of productive. Yet, because he can shoot the three and because the Mavericks were moving on from Chandler Parsons, they threw a boatload of money at Barnes - $94 million over four years to be exact. It's a risk, but it's not one without great potential. Prior to being selected seventh overall in the 2012 NBA Draft, Barnes was thought of as a top-three selection and, while he has shown flashes of brilliance in the NBA, he has never quite been able to put it all together. He's still just 24, so there's still room to grow and the hope is he does throughout the duration of his contract, but it's hard to imagine that happening given his consistent inconsistencies.
5 Bismack Biyombo
In the other major professional sports leagues, franchises need to see consistency before handing out big-money contracts. One strong season by a player doesn't often see them rewarded as a top player, but in the case of Bismack Biyombo, it took just a few games in the playoffs. The big man had an impressive season defensively for the Toronto Raptors, primarily coming off the bench, but thanks to an injury to Jonas Valanciunas in the postseason, Biyombo saw the floor more and was a big part of the Raptors making the Eastern Conference Finals. His chest-beating, finger-wagging enthusiasm and energy made him a crowd favorite, but it also put his price tag out of reach for Toronto. The Orlando Magic swooped in and signed Biyombo to a four-year, $72 million deal and there's no doubt they're hoping his defense and rebounding abilities keep the contract from feeling like an albatross, because his career 4.6 points per game certainly won't help much.
4 Evan Turner
A terrific college player, Evan Turner has never quite been able to become a superstar in the NBA, but that hasn't stopped teams from paying him like one. "The Villain," as he was dubbed by former college teammate Mark Titus in his book Don't Put Me In Coach, went from being a primary offensive option on the lowly Philadelphia 67ers to a secondary piece (albeit a good one) on an improving Boston Celtics team. Last season, the Celtics figured out exactly what Turner was - an average scorer with decent vision who was best suited as a bench player; Turner started just 12 of 81 games as opposed to 57 of 82 the year prior. Still, the Portland Trail Blazers decided to make him the 47th highest paid player in the league for 2016/17 in the summer, by signing him to a four-year, $70 million contract. Surely, it had to be because of his remarkable three-point field goal percentage? You might think so, if not for the fact that Turner shot a career worst 24.1% from beyond the arc in just 83 attempts.
3 Mike Conley
If you were unaware and had three stabs at naming the player who signed the biggest contract in NBA history, Mike Conley would not be one of the first names to come to mind. Yet, to kick off the 2016 offseason, Conley and the Grizzlies agreed to a colossal five-year, $153 million contract. The veteran is a top guard in the league, yet he has never been named an All-Star and played just 56 games last season due to a season-ending achilles injury. Despite all that, Conley entered free agency in the prime of his career and with a team eager to re-sign the player they had drafted and developed. Rising revenues or not, you'll be hard-pressed to find anyone claiming Conley isn't overpaid. In a Player's Tribune article, Conley spoke of his desire to remain with the Grizzlies because of team chemistry. But we think there's 153 reasons ahead of chemistry as to why he stayed.
2 Derrick Rose
The New York Knicks are fortunate. It's not because they traded for Derrick Rose, who can, when healthy, be a game-changer, but because he only has one more year left on his five-year, $94 million deal. At his best, Rose can be an awe-inspiring player, just as he was during the 2010-11 season when he won the NBA's Most Valuable Player in only his third year in the league. But he has been a shell of that player since due to injuries which have caused him to miss 182 regular season games over the last four seasons. The Knicks could use some positive vibes, but they're unlikely to get any with Rose, who could also become a distraction off the court as he fights a sexual assault charge.
1 Timofey Mozgov
Timofey Mozgov's $16 million annual salary isn't completely egregious when you consider some of the contracts handed out in the 2016 offseason and the Los Angeles Lakers signed a proven winner in Mozgov, who had just come off of winning a championship with the Cavs. Except, the problem is, Mozgov hardly played in the Cavs' postseason run and his becoming a bench player in the regular season coincided with Cleveland playing its best basketball of the season. In the past, he's proven himself a capable rebounder with an average touch under the basket, but scored just 6.3 points per game in the regular season, his worst total since 2012-13. During Cleveland's championship run, Mozgov played just 76 minutes and dressed for only 13 games. It wouldn't have been a huge shock to see him play in Europe this season, but instead, the Lakers threw $64 million at him over four years. Welcome to the new NBA.
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