Ranking the Best Value Contracts in the NBA Today

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistAugust 13, 2012

Ranking the Best Value Contracts in the NBA Today

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    In a league wrought with obscene salaries and undeserving paychecks, there are some NBA players who provide an extra bang for their buck.

    While the word "lunacy" is often associated with a majority of the Association's contracts, bargains do exist; not every athlete can be considered the benefactor of a bolstered or unjust salary. 

    In fact, certain deals aren't just merely deserved, they're underwhelming; some contracts actually stray away from the stereotypical motif of unwarranted and unfair, and meander their way into the realm of justifiability.

    And it's not just about the dollars and cents, it's about what the team is getting for those dollars and cents, regardless of if it's $1 million or more than $10 million.

    From underpaid veterans to established steals to modestly compensated superstars, there are plenty of players whose salary-to-performance ratio cannot only be accepted, but actually embraced.

     

    *Note: Due to the increased financial limitations imposed on rookie contracts, athletes still playing under their first NBA deal are not eligible to be considered.

10. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Current Contract Value: Five years, $70 million

    2012-13 Salary: $13 million

    In a league where big men are routinely overpaid, LaMarcus Aldridge is one of the few bargains.

    Yes, Aldridge's contract seems hefty, but he was an MVP candidate during the 2010-11 campaign and is often overlooked because of his penchant for understated dominance.

    The power forward is a strong defender and incredible scorer. He's good for 20-plus points and eight rebounds per night, and is on the cusp of becoming a perennial All-Star.

    Most importantly, though, Aldridge is Portland's cornerstone, yet he remains as underappreciated as Rajon Rondo once was—and arguably still is—in Boston.

    Prolific, two-way bigs are hard to come by, but they're near impossible to find at a salary that justifies what they do on the court.

    Aldridge's contract hardly does his performance justice, and that's part of what makes him so special.

9. Gerald Green, Indiana Pacers

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    Current Contract Value: Three years, $10 million 

    2012-13 Salary: $3.5 million

    Say what you will about the athletic freak known as Gerald Green still needing to prove himself, but he's delivered whenever he's received consistent playing time.

    Though Green has spent five seasons in the NBA, only two of those have seen him assume a steady role as a rotational player. And in those situations, under those circumstances, he has excelled, averaging double-digit point totals per game while shooting nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc.

    Combine that with his passing-lane prowess on the defensive end, and you have a young gun who's capable of putting up gaudy stat lines while bringing the crowd to their feet all for the bargain price of just over $3 million per season.

    It's very rare you see an athlete outside his rookie deal capable of having that kind of impact, making what Green makes, but here he is, with a new contract in hand that he'll easily outperform.

8. J.R. Smith, New York Knicks

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    Current Contract Value: $5.6 million

    2012-13 Salary: $2,806,452

    J.R. Smith may be liable to pay more fines than the NBA season has games, but he's also liable to shoot the lights out of a building.

    The perennial sixth man has a penchant for inefficiency, but at less than $3 million per season, his antics and perpetual flaws are well worth the offensive spark he has proven to provide over the past eight years.

    And when all is said and done, he's really just as trigger-happy and prone to turnovers as Jamal Crawford of the Clippers, yet he's currently raking in a third of the combo guard's salary.

    So, while Smith is a revolving public relations–and Twitter—headache for his respective organization, he stands to be much more of a matchup headache for opposing teams.

    One that's extremely easy on the wallet. 

7. Ray Allen, Miami Heat

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    Current Contract Value: Three years, $9.5 million

    2012-13 Salary: $3,090,000

    Ray Allen has reached the point of his career when he can cash in on his name more than anything, but the combination of his three-point prowess and legal moniker is easily worth more than he's currently making.

    In fact, the Celtics were prepared to pay Allen, and all his three-point glory, nearly double the yearly salary he's receiving from the Heat.

    Despite having reached the fragile age of 37, seeing a significant drop in his statistics and an increase in defensive ineptitude, Allen remains one of the league's best shooters.

    And in an environment that worships players who stretch the floor with their unlimited range, the established, Hall of Fame-bound Allen, is preparing to earn less than long-range specialists who still have plenty to prove.

    Past his prime, prone to injury, deteriorating lateral quickness—I don't care. I'll take a guy capable of putting up a cool 15 points per game at Allen's going rate any day of the week. 

6. Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

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    Current Contract Value: Three years, $10 million

    2012-13 Salary: $3,300,000 

    If defense supposedly wins championships, why is Tony Allen—perhaps the NBA's most effective perimeter defender—paid less than a bevy of one-trick ponies who live and die on the offensive end?

    Allen is the type of defender with quick enough hands and feet to minimize the type of havoc even the most talented of scorers can wreak.

    His anticipation on the defensive side of the ball is terrific; every step he takes is calculated and his penchant for forcing opponents into weak-side corners is nothing short of brilliant. The impact he can have on the offensive end with his ability to get to the rim and even run the point renders him a lethal two-way threat as well.

    There are plenty of 2-guards much more limited in their bag of tricks—Jason Richardson, anyone?—yet compensated at a much higher rate than Allen is.

    After eight years in the league, he remains one of the best values out there.

5. O.J. Mayo, Dallas Mavericks

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    Current Contract Value: Two years, $8 million

    2012-13 Salary: $4 million

    O.J. Mayo has superstar potential, yet his salary suggests he will merely be the eighth or ninth guy off Dallas' bench.

    Few wings can score as effectively and in as much excess as Mayo can. He can drain shots from the outside, but is also adept at attacking and finishing strong at the rim.

    He's also a strong perimeter defender, with the lateral quickness necessary to keep pace with even the most elusive of ball handlers.

    Though the shooting guard has been rendered a volatile presence, the potential dividends he will pay easily outweigh any risk involved.

    We're talking about a 24-year-old athlete, capable of being immediately inserted into a starting lineup, who has maintained a career average of over 15 points per game. That's cause enough for a near max deal.

    And yet he's slated to make about $4 million next season.

    Talk about a steal.

4. Antawn Jamison, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Current Contract Value: One year, $1.4 million

    2012-13 Salary: $1,352,181

    At 36, Antawn Jamison can score as well as anyone, yet he's paid less than most benchwarmers. 

    Sure, the power forward's salary is the product of his preference to contend for a title, but that doesn't prevent it from being one of the most valuable contracts in the entire league.

    Jamison averaged over 17 points per game last season and his presence will completely change the culture of the Lakers bench, providing them with a starting-caliber scorer and rebounder to lead the second unit's cause.

    And while plenty of teams boast bench players who can play starter-level minutes, how many of those players are going to make a hair over $1 million next season?

    We've seen players embrace pay cuts before—it's become a staple in Miami—but Jamison's potential impact far outweighs his current salary, which accounts for just over one percent of Los Angeles' entire payroll.

    And that's simply incredible.

3. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

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    Current Contract Value: Four years, $24 million

    2012-13 Salary: $5,750,000

    In no certain terms is Kyle Lowry a superstar, but his ability to lead a playoff-caliber charge on less than $6 million next season renders him nothing short of a steal.

    Lowry makes about half of what the Raptors incumbent floor general Jose Calderon nets, yet he's only 26 and averaged nearly 15 points and 6.6 assists per game last season, posting a PER of almost 19 before injuries forced him to the bench.

    And while the Rockets continued to fight for a playoff spot without Lowry last year, they stood a much more realistic chance at clinching a top-8 seed had he remained healthy; his absence from the lineup essentially relegated them to the lottery.

    Lowry's ability to turn the tides of the game with his shooting prowess while breaking down opposing defenses with his exceptional court vision has allowed him to develop into a Top-10 point guard, someone a team can depend on and build around. 

    And he offers all that for a yearly salary that often reflects that of seldom-used role player.

    Now that's what I call a bargain.

2. LeBron James, Miami Heat

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    Current Contract Value: Six years, $110.1 million

    2012-13 Salary: $17,545,000

    LeBron James is hardly the NBA's version of a pauper, but his less-than-max contract presents one of the league's most touted steals.

    Though James' salary is the result of a self-imposed pay cut and nonexistent Miami income tax, the fact is, he gets paid almost $2 million less than fellow 2003 draft alum Carmelo Anthony—as well as a hair less than his younger Olympics teammate Kevin Durant—to be the best player in the world.

    This is a guy who reshaped the landscape of the NBA just by switching teams, who managed to win the league's 2011-12 MVP award despite playing alongside a slew of superstars and who single-handedly carried the Cavaliers to prominence for nearly a decade.

    And yet, the Association's most prolific athlete, isn't even the most handsomely compensated player of his draft class, let alone the league.

    So, while James is responsible for his current pay grade, expected to win championships and MVPs and making more than enough to feed his family, his dominant two-way impact exceeds the amount of money he receives.

    By leaps and bounds. 

1. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics

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    Current Contract Value: Five years, $55 million

    2012-2013 Salary: $11 million

    Rajon Rondo is currently under the best contract in the NBA.

    The floor general has developed into a bona fide superstar, and is officially the face of a suddenly optimistic Celtics franchise.

    Though the point guard continues to struggle with his long-range jump shot, he executes in every other area of the game to near perfection. His court vision is exceeded by no one, his ability to weave in and out of the paint breaks down defenses in seconds, and his defense of the passing lanes is among the best in the league.

    And yet, Boston's best asset, a perpetual triple-double threat, isn't even the highest paid player on the team. In fact, he's getting paid almost $7 million less next season than fellow stud Chris Paul, who many would argue is worth every penny he earns.

    The Celtics are built to contend for a championship next season, but they will only go as far as Rondo can take them. And to have a pillar capable of leading a championship charge on such an affordable salary is rare, borderline unheard of.