If there is one thing that can be taken away from the most recent NBA offseason, it is that players are increasingly valuing stable environments that provide the best opportunity to contend for a championship in the near future. LaMarcus Aldridge left a Portland team that bowed out early in the playoffs to join a perennial contender in San Antonio and David West soon followed suit by taking the veteran’s minimum to join Aldridge after opting out of a guaranteed $12-million player option with Indiana.
It was once the case that players valued contract offers in terms of the money, the market and the team’s ability to contend somewhat equally. Carmelo Anthony, for example, chose to stay in New York over better basketball situations elsewhere because the Knicks could offer a significantly more valuable contract and a better media market than his other suitors. Just a single season later and it seems that more players are placing a greater emphasis on their ability to contend above all else.
One of the reasons these players are increasingly targeting winning situations is the knowledge that a player’s career is often judged in terms of not just their individual accolades but also their team’s success. When all things are essentially equal in the MVP vote, the award typically goes to the player on the best team. So while James Harden, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook could easily make a case for their 2014-15 performances being deserving of the MVP, Steph Curry’s 67-win season made it a foregone conclusion that he would win the award, and deservedly so.
No player wants to go through their career while playing for a team that never competes for a title, and it is even more frustrating for players who have never even made the playoffs. Before joining the Cleveland Cavaliers via trade, Kevin Love’s performances were always questioned due to his status as the best player on a bad team. His reputation has not exactly improved after a somewhat tumultuous season with the Cavs, but he is no longer among those who qualify as one the top 20 highest paid players to never make the playoffs.
This list only excludes players who just completed their rookie seasons, so there are a fair amount of players who are still on their rookie contracts who qualify among the top 20. If players on rookie contracts were excluded, this list would be limited to those who have played for Minnesota, Sacramento, Detroit and Phoenix, as these are the only franchises with playoff droughts lasting longer than three seasons. As it stands, this list is still heavy with players from those franchises, though there are several who changed teams this offseason with the hope of finally reaching the playoffs for the first time.
20 Ben McLemore - $3.156 Million
19 Andre Drummond - $3.27 Million
In just three NBA seasons, Drummond has already established himself as one of the better young centers in the league, averaging a double-double in each of the last two seasons. Despite pairing with another talented big man in Greg Monroe, Drummond has not yet been able to lead Detroit to the playoffs. Drummond is still under a team-friendly deal at just under $3.3 million for next season, but the Pistons have not done much to bolster their roster after completing a 30-win season and losing Monroe in free agency.
18 Alexey Shved - $3.28 Million*
Though he only has three years of NBA experience, Shved has already been a part of four NBA rosters, playing for Minnesota, Houston, Philadelphia and, most recently, New York. In a 16-game run with the Knicks this past season, Shved scored 14.8 points per game while adding averages of 4.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists, perhaps setting himself up for a more lucrative deal on the open market this summer. The fact that he has bounced around so much while playing for lottery-bound franchises may be part of the reason, however, that he is considering a return to the European pro leagues rather than sticking around in the NBA.
17 Anthony Morrow - $3.34 Million
A veteran of seven NBA seasons, Morrow is one of the longest-tenured players to appear on this list. Set to make $3.3 million next season while under contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Morrow has bounced around the league in such a way that he has never made a playoff appearance. He’s played with the Warriors, Nets, Hawks, Mavericks and Pelicans before joining the Thunder, and while Morrow has a career average of 10.5 points per game in the regular season, he has never played a minute of playoff basketball in any of his seven pro seasons.
16 Alex Len - $3.8 Million
15 Derrick Williams - $4.4 Million
14 T13. Chase Budinger - $5 Million
13 T13. Marcus Morris - $5 Million
12 Dion Waiters - $5.1 Million
11 Victor Oladipo - $5.19 Million
10 P.J. Tucker - $5.5 Million
9 Anthony Bennett - $5.8 Million
8 Jason Thompson - $6.66 Million
7 Markieff Morris - $8 Million
6 Nikola Pekovic - $12.1 Million
5 Ricky Rubio - $12.7 Million
4 Brandon Knight - $14 Million
3 DeMarcus Cousins - $15.85 Million
2 Tobias Harris - $16 Million
1 Greg Monroe - $16.4 Million
Monroe is perhaps most emblematic of the changing free agency mindset of NBA players. Though he was pursued by both the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers, Monroe chose to sign a three-year deal worth nearly $50 million with the Milwaukee Bucks. After spending his first five seasons with a Pistons team unable to make the postseason, Monroe picked the free agent destination that made the most basketball sense and one that is more likely to end his lengthy playoff drought. Coming off a season in which he averaged a double-double (15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds), Monroe instantly legitimizes a young Bucks team that made the playoffs a season ago despite not having Jabari Parker at their disposal.
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