Having marquee players on your team in the NBA is something of a double-edged sword at times. Because getting paid is what some of these guys are all about, so as a GM, you have to walk a very fine line. You have to pay these guys to make sure they're going to continue to wear your jersey, but at the same time, you have to make sure that you still have enough money under the salary cap to fill out a roster with enough talent that you are still a contender. Or are at least competitive.
Rare is the player who is willing to give back to the team, who will sacrifice some of the money they could demand in order to make sure that the team is strong moving forward. Players like San Antonio Spurs stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli are rare breeds. All three could have demanded far more money on the open market than they're currently being paid. Instead though, all three signed contracts for less money to stay with the Spurs and build the championship dynasty they've become. For them, it seems, winning titles is more important than making an extra couple of million a season. I mean, they're still getting paid, it's not like they're playing for minimum wage. But they sacrificed quite a bit of money for the good of the team.
Of course, the other side of that argument is that as a player, your shelf life is limited, so you need to make as much as you can for as long as you can. And if a team is willing to pay you tens of millions of dollars to play for them, you'd be a fool not to take it.
There are compelling and valid points on both sides of the argument, but the fact remains that players in the NBA are still making a hell of a lot of money. But with the NBA's salary cap set at $63 million this season, GM's have had to be creative in moving money around to make sure they can field marquee players, as well as a talented supporting cast. Some have, obviously, been more successful than others.
Here then, are the 25 highest paid players in the NBA for the 2014-15 season, and their impact on their team's salary cap...
25 Tyson Chandler – Dallas Mavericks ($14,846,887)
Mark Cuban loves making a splash and getting his name in the papers. This offseason, he lured Chandler away from the New York Knicks by throwing a ridiculous contract at a 14-year veteran who is on the downside of his career. Big bodies in the middle are a precious commodity in the NBA and some teams are willing to pay big money for them. That being said, he's enjoyed a solid start to the season, averaging 11 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.
24 T23. Eric Gordon – New Orleans Pelicans ($14,898, 938)
Gordon made a name for himself with the LA Clippers when he entered the league in 2008. He was so highly thought of in LA, that the team was incredibly reluctant to include him in a number of different trades they could have made. That changed when Chris Paul, one of the top-10 players in the NBA, was made available by the then-New Orleans Hornets. Gordon was shipped off to the Big Easy, the Clippers got themselves a legit point guard, and in 2012, Gordon got himself a fat 4-year, $58M dollar payday after the Pelicans matched an offer sheet from the Phoenix Suns.
23 T23. Roy Hibbert – Indiana Pacers ($14,898,938)
Given his disappearing act during last season's playoffs, it can be argued quite effectively that the Pacers way overpaid for Hibbert. This year has carried over from last year, as Hibbert seems unable to carry the team without Paul George and Lance Stephenson. Still, for the most part, he puts up points, grabs rebounds, and is one of the better big men in the league. At least during the regular season.
22 Dwyane Wade – Miami Heat ($15,000,000)
Wade, the 12-year veteran as well as the heart and soul of the Miami Heat, is clearly a player in decline. He no longer possesses the quickness and pop that made him such a dominant player early on in his career. Though Lebron James departed South Beach to return to Cleveland, Wade re-signed with the Heat over the offseason. Though his physical skills are eroding and he is having a hard time staying healthy, the Heat gave him a $15 million dollar deal, perhaps as a golden handshake for all he's done for the organization. Although, to begin this season, Wade has looked good, averaging 19.7 points and 6.9 assists per game.
21 David Lee – Golden State Warriors ($15,012,000)
The Warriors are a team on the rise. As such, they are doing all they can to keep their young, talented nucleus together as they try to win the ultimate prize. To that end, they lavished a very fat contract on forward David Lee to make sure he sticks around. Given his penchant for putting up solid numbers, it's probably a good investment for the Warriors. They just need to hope he can stay healthy, as he's never played a full 82-game season.
20 Russell Westbrook – Oklahoma City Thunder ($15,719,062)
Unlike the Nets with Brook Lopez, at least the Thunder are getting some solid return on their massive investment. Westbrook, though a bit prickly personality-wise, is arguably a Top-5 point guard in the league. At times, he's carried the Thunder offensively, and has formed a lethal tandem with Kevin Durant, helping OKC to become perennial contenders. The Thunder hope he'll be able to come back soon and help them push for a playoff spot while they wait for KD to return.
19 T18. Brook Lopez – Brooklyn Nets ($15,719,062)
You have to wonder if the Nets have been able to shake off the case of buyer's remorse they undoubtedly had after handing Lopez a 4-year, $60 million dollar contract in 2012. Since he got that deal, he hasn't played a full season, appearing in 74 games in the 2012-13 season, 17 games in the 2013-14 season, and just 3 games so far this year. The best that can be said about Lopez is that he's a serviceable big man – and is grossly overpaid.
18 T18. Kevin Love – Cleveland Cavaliers ($15,719,063)
Prying him out of Minnesota was something of a coup for the Cleveland Cavaliers. And adding him to a roster that includes Lebron James and Kyrie Irving has made the Cavs a sexy pick to take the NBA title this year. Love can score points and rebound the hell out of the ball. He put up gaudy numbers for a terrible Timberwolves team. The question now is whether or not Cleveland's new Big 3 will be able to come together and gel into one cohesive unit.
17 Marc Gasol – Memphis Grizzlies ($15,829,688)
Gasol is one of the better big men in the NBA today. But unlike one-trick ponies like Dwight Howard, Gasol can actually shoot the ball and has a decent mid-range jumper. What's more, he can actually hit his free throws. He's big, strong, powerful, and is an intimidating presence in the paint for the Grizzlies and is one of the main reasons they're even relevant in the NBA.
16 Paul George – Indiana Pacers ($15,925,680)
George is going to make a hell of a lot of money despite not seeing the court for a single minute this season after suffering a gruesome leg injury in a scrimmage with Team USA this summer. When healthy, George is a terrific talent who can take over a game. Unfortunately for Indiana, they won't have his services this year and they're feeling the effects, as they currently sit at 1-6.
15 LaMarcus Aldridge – Portland Trailblazers ($16,256,000)
Aldridge is a tough, hard nosed player who isn't afraid to mix it up down low. But he can also score, averaging more than 20 points per game for the last four seasons in a row and is averaging 22.9 points per game this year. He's helped return the Blazers back to relevance and is helping make them a force in the loaded Western Conference. It's part of what helped him snag such a fat deal.
14 Zach Randolph – Memphis Grizzlies ($16,973,333)
Randolph can beat you in a number of different ways. He can score, rebound, or lock you down on defense. He's versatile and is part of a nucleus in Memphis, along with Marc Gasol, that has taken the team from laughingstock to respectability. They're the team nobody wants to match up with in the playoffs because they can hurt you in a number of different ways.
13 Blake Griffin – LA Clippers ($17,674,613)
Griffin is one of the most explosive dunkers in the game today. Give him an opening and he will absolutely posterize you. But for a while, that was the only real element to his game. But he's worked hard and has added a number of post moves, as well as worked hard on his jump shot. The result is that Griffin is becoming an all around threat and one of the better forwards in the game. He's vital to the Clippers' success and he's being paid like it.
12 Derrick Rose – Chicago Bulls ($18,862,876)
There is perhaps no player more important to his team's success than Derrick Rose. With him, the Bulls are incredibly tough to beat. Without him, they're just an average team. Unfortunately, for Chicago, Rose has a hard time staying healthy, playing in just 49 total games over the previous 3 seasons. He's talented but that talent is useless if he can't stay on the court. Chicago is hoping that this season will be different and he will finally justify the mammoth amount of money they're paying him. He's started out decently, averaging 15.3 points in the 3 games he's played.
11 Kevin Durant – Oklahoma City Thunder ($18,995, 624)
Durant is one of the best young players in the game today. At just 26 years old, he's the single most important player to a young Thunder team. As Durant goes, so goes OKC. His leadership and skills warranted his massive contract. Unfortunately, for Durant and the Thunder, he broke a bone in his foot and will miss some significant playing time this season. It will be interesting to see if the team can stay afloat until he returns to the court.
10 Rudy Gay – Sacramento Kings ($19,317,326)
Gay was connected to a number of different trades during the 2013-14 season. The last of those saw the Toronto Raptors deal him to the Sacramento Kings in December 2013, and in June 2014, Gay exercised his opt-in option to stay with the Kings – and collect a fat paycheck in the process. Gay is always a scoring threat and adds another dimension to a fairly dismal Sacramento offense. Paired with DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings might be able to make some noise this year.
9 Deron Williams – Brooklyn Nets ($19,754,465)
Williams was a very hot, highly sought after commodity before he opted to re-up with the Nets. And the team paid him handsomely for his services and loyalty. Though he's not nearly as explosive as he used to be – a decade in the league will do that to you – he is still a useful scoring threat and a capable point guard. Though he's being paid very well, maybe too well, the Nets are getting a better return on their investment in Williams than they are in Brook Lopez! Though that isn't saying much..
8 Chris Paul – LA Clippers ($20,068,563)
When it comes to deciding who the best point guard in the league is, there is always room for debate. Certainly, Chris Paul would have to finish in the Top-3 of any credible debate. He is explosive, elevates the play of his teammates, and gives opposing defenses fits. Since they acquired him in 2011-12, Paul has led a resurgence of the Clippers and has brought – perhaps for the first time – some credibility and respect to the long floundering franchise. From the point of view of many, Paul is worth every penny he's being paid.
7 T6. LeBron James – Cleveland Cavaliers ($20,644,400)
For everything he did wrong with The Decision, which led him to flee Cleveland for South Beach, James has made everything right again by returning to the place he once scorned. James is easily one of the best players in the NBA right now, and his presence in Cleveland, along with the addition of Kevin Love, has many believing we'll see the Cavs holding a championship trophy sooner rather than later. Whether they win it all or not though, James is getting paid and paid well.
6 T6. Chris Bosh – Miami Heat ($20,644,400)
Though a member of Miami's title winning Big 3, Chris Bosh was often the forgotten man. He was always the third option behind James and Wade, and never really seemed to fit in anywhere. Now that James has gone, and Wade is declining, Bosh will be expected to take on a bigger role for Miami. If he returns to the form he had with the Raptors, that led Miami to signing him to begin with ,and he leads them to a Lebron-less championship, the Heat will get a good return on investment. If not, they likely way overpaid for the guy. We're betting on the latter.
5 Dwight Howard – Houston Rockets ($21,436,271)
Howard is one of the most dominant centers in the game today – at least on one end of the court. Defensively, he's a madman and will punish anybody who steps into the paint. Unfortunately, he's also a bit of a one-trick pony. His only scoring prowess really, is to dunk the ball. He has absolutely zero range on his shots – get him outside of 2 feet and you might as well chalk it up to a miss – and he can't hit his free throws. He's the ultimate one-dimensional player, but that didn't stop the Rockets from throwing a ton of cash at the guy. Imagine what they would have paid him had he actually had some depth and dimension to his game!
4 Carmelo Anthony – New York Knicks ($22,458,401)
After an offseason decision that had everybody on the edge of their seats (okay, not really), Melo opted to re-sign with Phil Jackson and the Knicks – and get paid, really, really well to do so. Though a bit of a prima donna who doesn't play well with others, there is no denying that Melo is a special talent. He can break you down and score from anywhere. He's averaged more than 20 PPG since entering the league in 2003-04, which is a pretty outstanding feat in and of itself. He says the money isn't why he chose to come back to the Knicks this season, but that it was the opportunity to win a title that was presented to him. And with Phil running the show, we can't say he's lying. Of course, that amazing pile of cash couldn't have hurt either.
3 Joe Johnson – Brooklyn Nets ($23,180,790)
With the Atlanta Hawks, Johnson was the man. He scored from everywhere and put up some pretty gaudy stats. But ever since the Nets acquired him in 2012-13, he's been fairly average. His PPG average has dropped, declining every season since he came to Brooklyn, and he's looked like anything but the man. He's off to a hot start this season, and the Nets are hoping he can finally live up to the monster contract he signed. Only time will tell.
2 Amar'e Stoudamire – New York Knicks ($23,410,988)
Stoudamire made his bones with the Phoenix Suns. He was one of the best players on their roster, along with Steve Nash, for a number of years, averaging better than 20 PPG in 6 of his 8 seasons in the desert. He signed a mammoth deal with the Knicks in July 2010 (5-years, $99.7M) and since then, has seen his numbers fall of drastically as injury and ineffectiveness have taken a toll – not to mention a hell of a lot of cap space. He'll be a free agent after this season ends, and his 13-year career may very well be coming to an end as well.
1 Kobe Bryant – LA Lakers ($23,500,000)
The decision to give Kobe Bryant a two-year, $48.5 million dollar contract, a golden handshake for all he's done for the organization, has been criticized in a lot of different corners. Committing that kind of money to a player of his age, with as many minutes as he's logged, and with his injury history, seems foolish. It has prevented the Lakers from filling the roster with a strong supporting cast to surround Kobe – and hide his deficiencies. With 5 rings, Kobe has done a lot for the Lakers. But with a bare bones roster devoid of any other talent, there is no chance of him getting a 6th in the purple and gold. Hell, there seems little chance of them topping their meager 27 total wins last season.
Hit on Lakers' Payroll: 37%
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