From a purely economic standpoint, everyone is "worth" what someone is willing to pay them. Even so, there are those in every walk of life who produce at a far higher rate than they are compensated for. And conversely, there are others whose value to their organization is far less than their actual salary.
The same principle holds true in the NBA: As much as general managers are loath to admit, there are underpaid and overpaid players on virtually every roster in the league.So as the big money offseason of 2012 finally begins to settle down, here's a look at the best values—and biggest offenders—at each position.
For the purposes of this discussion, we'll ignore those who are currently on their rookie deals. Obviously, Cleveland Cavaliers' point guard Kyrie Irving is one of the most grossly underpaid talents in the league, but due to the collective bargaining agreement, there isn't much that he can do about it.
Based on his past performance, Beno Udrih's $7.3 million salary would be fine...if he was a starter. In Milwaukee however, he's the first guard off of the bench, and the two players ahead of him—Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis—averaged a combined 72 minutes per game last year.
Udrih is far more productive in the starting lineup than he is on the bench (as evidenced by his four-year stint in Sacramento), and in today's NBA, it's hard for any team to justify paying a reserve player who averaged less than six points per game more than $7 million per year.
It's likely a matter of "wrong place, wrong time" for Udrih, and once his contract is up next summer, his production should be more in line with his paycheck.
Lou Williams is an undersized combo guard who won't ever make the NBA's All-Defensive Team. That said, his $5.2 million/year salary is a relatively small price to pay for someone who could average 18 points per game for the Atlanta Hawks this year.
Williams didn't start a single game last season, yet he led the Philadelphia 76ers in scoring with 14.9 PPG. The 6'1" Williams is a high volume shooter who has never met a jump shot that he didn't like, but his uncanny ability to come through in the clutch makes him an invaluable asset for a young Hawks' squad.
Williams—a former Georgia prep star—will get ample opportunity to carry the load on offense for Atlanta now that Joe Johnson is in Brooklyn. And as we saw in Philadelphia, Williams doesn't even have to be in the starting lineup in order to make his presence felt.
Brooklyn's Joe Johnson shouldn't be considered "bad" by any measure. Yet the fact remains that his paycheck simply isn't commensurate with his abilities.
Only three players in the NBA will earn more than Johnson's $19.75 million next season, yet the Nets' shooting guard is arguably the fourth-best professional basketball player in the city of New York.
To be fair, Johnson is a fixture on the Eastern Conference All-Star team, and he finished 18th in the league in scoring last season (18.8 PPG).
But while his stats are those of a very good player, his contract is that of a superstar. And with $89.3 million due to him over the next four seasons, Johnson will have to bring a title to Brooklyn in order to justify his hefty deal.
The two-year, $6.3 million contract that Ray Allen signed with the Miami Heat was the biggest bargain on the free agent market this summer.
Even at 37 years old, Allen could have made twice that if he had chosen to stay in Boston, and perhaps even more if he had shopped his talents around to other teams. Instead, he decided to join the "3 Kings" on South Beach as the Miami Heat prepare to defend their NBA championship.
And to the victor goes the spoils: When healthy, Allen is considered by many to be the best pure shooter in the league. The 6'5" shooting guard was hampered by bone spurs in his right ankle all of last season, yet he still shot a career-best 45.3 percent from beyond the arc.
Allen is no longer able to carry the load on the offensive end, but at a little over $3 million next year, he might be the finest fourth option in the NBA.
There was a time—2007-08 to be exact—where Corey Maggette's salary was reasonable. That season, he led the Los Angeles Clippers in scoring with 22.1 points per game, and he also chipped in 5.6 RPG and 2.7 APG for good measure.
As a free agent that summer, Maggette was able to parlay those numbers into a five-year, $48 million contract from the Golden State Warriors. Despite bouncing around the league quite a bit (Maggette has played on four teams in the past four years), the 6'6" forward has been a solid player until everything came apart in Charlotte last year.
Maggette shot 37.3 percent from the field on the season, and missed 34 games due to injury. 13 years on the NBA grind appear to be catching up with the former Duke standout, and it's hard to justify his $10.9 million salary, especially now that he's buried on the Detroit Pistons' depth chart behind Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye.
A player who averaged 2.6 PPG and 1.3 RPG in his most recent—and only—NBA season isn't usually classified as "underpaid." Then again, Jimmy Butler isn't a usual player.
The 6'7", 220-pound swingman is fresh off of a stellar performance in the Vegas Summer League (20.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG) and the Bulls hope that Butler can replicate that success once the action kicks off for real in a couple of months. If he does, then he might be the most cap-friendly player in the NBA.
With star point guard Derrick Rose on the shelf indefinitely, Chicago is in desperate need of someone on its second unit to be more assertive on the offensive end.
Butler is a prime candidate to emerge as the team's sixth man this year, and depending on the health of Luol Deng, could even start at small forward at the beginning of the season.
Tyrus Thomas enters this season as the Charlotte Bobcats' second-highest paid player, though he doesn't figure to start over Bismack Biyombo at the 4-spot.
In the summer of 2010, Thomas signed a five-year, $40 million deal. The 6'10" power forward had averaged 10.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per contest the year before, and he appeared to be on the verge of taking his game to the next level. But after a decent 2010-11 campaign, Thomas completely regressed last season.
The Bobcats were abysmal in 2011-12, and Thomas was one of main reasons why the team only mustered seven wins in their 66 games. Thomas scored a mere 5.6 PPG last year, and shot a miserable 36.7 percent from the floor.
Despite his struggles, Thomas' athleticism can't be denied. If his basketball IQ ever caught up with his physical ability, he'd be an absolute terror. Until that happens however, he'll just be an overpaid player who has yet to put it all together.
The one thing that can't be questioned about Tim Duncan is his sense of loyalty. After all, he willingly accepted a 50 percent pay cut in order to stay with the San Antonio Spurs when other teams would have thrown him a blank check if given the opportunity.
In fact, Duncan is making less this season than he did in 2000-01.
Tim Duncan won't show up on many highlight reels, but after 15 seasons in the league, he's still one of the NBA's premier big men. Duncan averaged 17.4 points and 9.4 rebounds per game in the postseason last year, and was two wins away from leading the Spurs to the NBA Finals.
If he can maintain that same level of play this season, he'll be a steal at $9.6 million.
Andris Biedrins started 35 games for Golden State last season, but he was such a liability while out on the floor that he tallied less than 16 minutes of playing time per night.
Things were much different four years ago when Biedrins averaged 10.5 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. That performance led to the Warriors signing him to a six-year, $54 million deal in the summer of 2008.
The last few years—and several injuries—haven't been kind to the 6'11" center, and the bottom completely fell out in 2011-12 when Biedrins averaged a mere 1.7 points per game. With the likelihood of him turning it around extremely slim, Biedrins' playing days may be over once his deal expires at the end of the 2013-14 season.
Nikola Pekovic is probably the best—and most underpaid—center that many NBA fans have never seen play.
Pekovic made phenomenal strides in his second season, averaging 13.9 PPG and 7.4 RPG last year for a Minnesota team that is well-positioned for future success.
Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio aren't the only stars on the Timberwolves: Pekovic is extremely talented on both ends of the court, and his Player Efficiency Rating in 2011-12 (21.47) was higher than those of Pau Gasol (20.51), Kevin Garnett (20.47), and Roy Hibbert (19.35).
The world may know about Pekovic soon enough: The 6'11" center will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, so Minnesota would be wise to lock him up before he hits the open market next summer.