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LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and the 25 Richest Players Still Balling in the NBA

Ben ShapiroAnalyst IIIApril 25, 2012

LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and the 25 Richest Players Still Balling in the NBA

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    With an average salary of over $5 million per year, NBA players are among sports' wealthiest athletes. Yet, even within that stratosphere, there is a hierarchy. 

    Alex Rodriguez will make over $29 million to play baseball for the New York Yankees this season. That makes him the highest-paid professional athlete in the United States among the major sports teams. The NBA certainly has its fair share of wealthy professional athletes though. 

    Here are the top 25 that are currently in the league. 

No. 25: Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls

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    2011-2012 Salary: $13.55 Million

    Of the 25 highest-paid NBA players this season, there is only one who wasn't a first-round pick in the NBA draft. 

    That's Carlos Boozer. Boozer lasted all the way until the second round of the 2002 NBA draft. He went 35th to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Among those chosen in front of Boozer? Dajuan Wagner, Melvin Ely, Fred Jones, Dan Dickau, Steve Logan and Robert Archibald. That's quite a crew. 

    While I'm not entirely sure what each one of those former draft picks is up to these days, my bet is that none of them are earning anywhere near $13 million a year. 

No. 24: Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia 76eres

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    2011-2012 Salary: $13.53 Million

    Chosen ninth overall in the 2004 NBA draft, Iguodala has really solidified his reputation as a defensive player as of late. He made the All-Defensive Team, and he's been an All-Star. 

    He's in his fourth year of the six-year, $80 million deal and he has the Sixers headed toward the playoffs. 

No. 23: Al Jefferson, Utah Jazz

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    2011-2012 Salary: $14 Million

    Ever wonder who the key part of the trade that sent Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics was? It was this guy, and while he hasn't become a player of KG's caliber, he does earn the high salary that he collects. 

    Jefferson is one of the best rebounders in the NBA. He made the leap from high school directly to the pros back in 2004. The Celtics made him the 15th overall pick, and he's averaged over 15 points and nine rebounds per game in every season since 2006-2007, his final year in Boston.

    Playing in Utah, Jefferson isn't the first name that leaps to mind when thinking of top big men, but the Jazz clearly value his contributions, and Jefferson offers up a solid return on their investment. 

No. 22: Andrew Bynum, Los Angeles Lakers

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    2011-2012 Salary: $14.9 Million

    Not only does Bynum make almost $15 million this year, but the Lakers will be ponying up over $18 million next year. 

    The high pay may be worth it, though. In a league in which the dominant center is a dying breed replaced by a crop of dynamic point guards, Bynum could easily be the most dominant center in the NBA within the next two years. 

    He has been labeled as immature by some in the world of sports media, including the LA Times' Bill Plaschke. Perhaps he's not at the same level of maturity as some of his peers in the NBA, but the simple fact is he's only 24 years old. 

    With all that potential, he's a no-brainer for a raise and a long-term investment. 

No. 21: Rudy Gay, Memphis Grizzlies

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    2011-2012 Salary: $15.03 Million

    It's been less than two years since Rudy Gay signed a five-year, $82 million extension which would ensure his spot as a focal point of the Memphis Grizzlies for years to come. 

    He's battled some injuries, but his Grizzlies are on the right track. They pulled off a huge postseason upset last season when they knocked off the top seed in the Western Conference in the opening round. It was only the fourth time in NBA history that a No. 8 seed accomplished that feat, and they did it without Gay. 

    This season, Gay has been healthier; he's missed some time, but he's looking good as the playoffs approach. Memphis promises to be a very tough opponent for any Western Conference team. 

No. 20: Antawn Jamison, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    2011-2012 Salary: $15.07 Million

    This is one of those contracts that NBA GMs cringe at.

    Jamison is good player, but he's not $15 million good. Nonetheless, that's what he's being paid.

    The entire reason that he's on Cleveland is because the Cavs dealt for him before LeBron James left in hopes that his added offense would tempt James to stay. Instead, James left and Cleveland was left with Jamison's bulky contract and declining numbers. 

    That all ends later this week as both Cleveland's season and Jamison's contract conclude.

No. 19: Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies

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    2011-2012 Salary: $15.2 Million

    After an early season injury cost Randolph considerable time this season, he returned to find Marreese Speights occupying his starting power forward spot. 

    Memphis was playing pretty good basketball as well. So rather than disrupt the team's existing chemistry, he agreed to become the sixth man. The results have been positive for the most part. Memphis is headed toward either the No. 4 or No. 5 seed in the Western Conference, and right now, no one wants to face the Grizzlies. 

    With Randolph signed through the end of the 2014-2015 season, Memphis should remain competitive for quite some time. 

No. 18: Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics

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    2011-2012 Salary: $15.33 Million

    In the long, storied history of the Boston Celtics, there aren't too many players who have scored more points than Paul Pierce. Actually, there's only one: John Havlicek.

    Pierce still has some time left wearing that Celtics uniform. He is signed through the end of next season, and Celtics fans won't be upset about the high salary as long as he continues to come up big when it counts and lead on the court. 

No. 17: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    2011-2012 Salary: $15.5 Million

    When is $15 million a "bargain"?

    When it's being spent on a 23-year-old with boundless energy and nearly unstoppable scoring ability—that's when. 

    Kevin Durant may end up winning the league MVP this season. Even if he doesn't win, he's still one of the league's very best. With his youth, he's going to be near the top of the league through the conclusion of his contract in 2016 and beyond. 

No. 16: Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat

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    2011-2012 Salary: $15.51 Million

    While some would argue he's the most important member of Miami's Big Three, what can't be argued is that he's the lowest paid. It's not by much, but Wade does make less than his other well-known teammates. 

    It doesn't matter, though. Wade has been one of the very best in the NBA ever since he was drafted fifth in what will go down as one of the greatest drafts in NBA history. 

    Wade makes big bucks but in a league of high salaries, his is not one anyone would quibble with. 

No. 15: LeBron James, Miami Heat

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    LeBron James, Miami Heat: 2011-2012 Salary $16.02 Million

    Of all the things that critics can lambast LeBron James for, the one thing they can't say is that he chose Miami for the money. Sure, he's paid plenty of cash, but he had other options that would have paid him more. 

    He may have broken hearts in Cleveland and turned off countless Americans by running his own special to announce it, but it wasn't all about the money. 

No. 14: Chris Bosh, Miami Heat

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    2011-2012 Salary: $16.02 Million

    When they signed they were known as the Big Three. Almost two seasons later, it seems like at times they're the "Big Two." That's not a slight at Bosh as much as it's an acknowledgement of just how good LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are. 

    Bosh's contract is pretty high for a guy who is averaging some of the lowest rebounding numbers of his career. It's worth mentioning that Bosh has also come up pretty big for the Heat. If he does that this postseason, then that salary will feel like a bargain. 

No. 13 Deron Williams, New Jersey Nets

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    2011-2012 Salary: $16.35 Million

    The rich will indeed be getting richer this summer when it comes to point guard Deron Williams. 

    Williams will be a prime target of several teams this summer as he enters free agency in his prime. In this era, a top point guard is rapidly becoming a must-have for teams that wish to compete for the NBA championship. 

    It's unknown whether Williams will stay with the Nets as they move from New Jersey to Brooklyn, but it won't matter if his address is Brooklyn, Dallas or somewhere else next fall—he'll be making even more than his current salary, and he'll probably be worth it too. 

No. 12: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

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    2011-2012 Salary: $16.35 Million

    Not only is Chris Paul's current salary fairly high, but it's going to get higher—and soon. 

    One of two things will happen in the next year: Either the Clippers will sign Paul to a very lucrative contract extension or he'll test the free-agent waters in the summer of 2013.

    Both options are going to result in Paul cashing in big time on his considerable talents. Paul has been everything the Clippers could have hoped for when they made a huge trade with the New Orleans Hornets to acquire him just a few weeks before the season started. 

    Paul has really spearheaded what many hope will be a long-term change in the direction of the Clippers franchise. If he stays, that will likely continue; if he's allowed to leave, then Clippers fans might not forgive team management. 

No. 11: Elton Brand, Philadelphia 76ers

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    2011-2012 Salary: $17.05 Million

    One more year—that's all that remains on Elton Brand's mammoth contract after this current season concludes. It's not that Brand is a bad player, but he's not nearly productive enough to justify the salary he's collecting. 

    Next season, Brand will actually make a little more than this season's lofty sum. He'll clear $18 million, but once that season is over, Brand will be taking a fairly significant pay cut. Not to worry—he should have plenty of savings left after this current deal is through. 

No. 10: Joe Johnson, Atlanta Hawks

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    2011-2012 Salary: $18.03 Million

    The Atlanta Hawks made some odd choices, didn't they?

    They chose Marvin Williams over both Chris Paul and Deron Williams in the 2005 NBA draft. 

    Now, they might end up trading current star forward Josh Smith in the next year. 

    Why would they do that? It's got a lot to do with the size of the contract they gave to Joe Johnson back in the summer of 2010. Johnson, who is now 30 years old, signed a massive six-year, $119 million deal and will be collecting big paychecks for four more seasons after this one.

    Johnson is a very good basketball player, but there are more players that put up better numbers than players who get paid more. 

No. 9: Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic

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    2011-2012 Salary: $18.09 Million

    After all the drama that seemed to start a few years ago and then built towards a peak as the trade deadline approachedafter all of thatDwight Howard is still in Orlando. He's still making a ton of money, and he still may be traded to another team this offseason. 

    Howard is currently recovering from surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back. The Magic seem destined for an early playoff exit while playing without their superstar center. There has also been plenty of tension between Howard and his head coach Stan Van Gundy. 

    Add it all up, and the only thing that seems certain is that Howard will receive a lucrative contract between now and the start of the 2013-2014 season. With whom he will sign that contract, though, is up for debate.

No. 8: Amar'e Stoudemire, New York Knicks

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    2011-2012 Salary: $18.51 Million

    Amar'e Stoudemire is a big man with a bad back and balky knees, and he's even had issues with his eyes. The Knicks are on the hook for three more seasons of his services at amounts very similar to the one you see in boldface above. 

    Will Stoudemire continue to be among the most well-compensated players in the NBA? Yes. Will he be worth it for the Knicks? That's the big question. 

No. 7: Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks

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    2011-2012 Salary: $18.51 Million

    Up until mid-March, Carmelo Anthony was merely rich. However, since his former head coach Mike D'Antoni resigned and was replaced by Mike Woodson, there have been some major changes—most notably, in Anthony's on-court production.

    Say what you will about the amount of shots he hoists up or his on-again, off-again defensive intensity—Carmelo has been everything the Knicks could have possibly wanted and then some since the coaching change. 

    Anthony is one of the league's highest-paid players, and he's done nothing but prove worthy of that pay rate as this season draws closer to its conclusion. 

No. 6: Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers

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    2011-2012 Salary: $18.71 Million

    Pau Gasol isn't a spectacular, highlight-grabbing type of player, but he sure does do a lot of important things on the basketball court. 

    The versatile Spaniard was the third overall pick in the 2001 NBA draft, and he's lived up to the hype that would surround a top-three pick.

    He was able to fly under the radar while in Memphis, but since being dealt to Los Angeles, he's been to three NBA Finals and won two of them. Tough to lay low when you're racking up those types of accomplishments. It's also tough for your bosses to get away with underpaying you.

    No worries. Los Angeles has Gasol, but he's no bargain.  

No. 5: Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks

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    2011-2012 Salary: $19.09 Million

    How much would an NBA owner pay for a championship ring? Looks like about $19 million or so. That's what Dirk Nowitzki makes, and no individual player is more responsible for the final results of last season's NBA Finals than Nowitzki. 

    A legendary shooter, Nowitzki's range, accuracy and seven-foot frame make defending him exceptionally difficult. 

    Paying him his lofty salary isn't too easy either, but if an NBA championship is included in the high cost, then that ends up seeming like a relative bargain. 

No. 4: Rashard Lewis, Washington Wizards

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    2011-2012 Salary: $21.13 Million

    Pick a bad contract issued to any major free agent in any major sport, and it's unlikely that their deal would be that much worse than Rashard Lewis'.

    It's not exclusively Lewis' fault. He got injured, and as he pointed out to ESPN's J.A. Adande, he wasn't about to negotiate a lower deal for himself.

    So Lewis is one of the wealthier players in the NBA, and he's far from one of the top players. His contract will expire soon, and Lewis will go from being one of the most overpaid players in the NBA to just another NBA player. 

No. 3: Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs

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    2011-2012 Salary: $21.16 Million

    That salary listed above has made Tim Duncan a very rich man. It's expiring at the conclusion of this season, and while his next deal won't be small, it's highly unlikely to be in the same neighborhood of his current contract.

    In spite of Duncan's first-ballot Hall of Fame status, his next contract will feature something he's not used to: a pay cut. 

No. 2: Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics

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    2011-2012 Salary: $21.24 Million

    Kevin Garnett's time as both a member of the Boston Celtics and as a player earning more than $20 million a year may come to an end at the conclusion of this season. Actually, he may end up back in Boston next season, but if he does, he won't be getting paid $20 million to be there. 

    Garnett has earned over $250 million in his career. He's one of the highest-earning NBA players ever. He's had a fantastic career and is a first-ballot Hall of Fame lock. 

    He's rich, famous and successful. Not a bad career. 

No. 1: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

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    2011-2012 Salary: $25.24 million

    Not only is Kobe the highest-paid player by a fair margin, but given his body of work and the market he plays in, he may very well be worth every cent he's being paid. 

    He's done it all but he's not finished. Bryant sits on the cusp of yet another scoring title as this season comes to a close. His challenger for the scoring title is more than 10 years younger than him. 

    With Bryant still committed to driving the Lakers to the top of the league, his stratospheric salary may actually be worth it. That's hard to believe, but then again, Kobe's career has been pretty ideal. 

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