NBA Salaries: Who Should Be the 25 Highest Paid Players in the League?

Maxwell Ogden@MaxwellOgdenCorrespondent IIISeptember 27, 2012

NBA Salaries: Who Should Be the 25 Highest Paid Players in the League?

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    The NBA is a land of great risk and even greater reward. For players hoping to make a living playing the sport that they love, there is a chance that they never see the money they deserve. For the lucky few, however, the financial compensation for their play will be of extraordinary proportions.

    The question is, who actually deserves to get paid? While we've all seen the monster contracts go their respective ways, it's rare that we actually acknowledge who has earned the money they receive.

    For that reason, the following slides will offer insight as to who the highest paid players in the NBA should be.

    Some players will be underpaid, while others may be receiving more than they have proven worthy of earning. A select few might even be making the amount that they should. Based off the combination of talent, marketability and revenue generation, however, each player will be ranked by how much money they should be seeing.

    All that you have to do now is begin this slideshow.

25. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Position: Point Guard

    Age: 20

    Salary: $11,007,960 over two seasons


    Kyrie Irving may only have one year of experience under his belt, but he's already made quite a significant mark on the NBA. Not only was Irving named the 2012 NBA Rookie of the Year, but he also dazzled fans at the All-Star weekend when he took home the 2012 Rising Stars Challenge MVP award.

    And that only scratches the surface of why the 2011 NBA draft's first overall selection makes this list.

    Irving was phenomenal on both ends of the floor. His slash line was one to marvel at, .469/.400/.872, while his player efficiency rating (PER) of 21.49 had him as one of the top-25 players in the NBA. His averages of 18.5 points, 5.4 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game certainly don't hurt either.

    Nor does the fact that the 20-year-old point guard has already become the best clutch scorer in the NBA. For those who doubt this statement, the numbers don't lie.

    Irving averaged 56.4 points per 48 clutch minutes, the highest mark in the NBA. The next best was Kevin Durant, who sat at 50.8 points. The difference is, Durant shot 41.1 percent in the clutch, while Kyrie Irving connected on 54.4 percent of his shots.

    The phrase "wise beyond his years" doesn't do this young man justice. Nor does the money he currently makes, as he deserves to be one of the top 25 highest paid players in the NBA.

    Until he's spent more than one year in the league, however, he can go no higher than he presently is ranked.


    2011-12 Season Averages

    21.49 PER, 18.5 PPG, 5.4 APG, 3.7 RPG, 1.1 SPG

24. John Wall, Washington Wizards

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    Position: Point Guard

    Age: 22

    Salary: $16,590,240 over three seasons


    During the 2011-12 NBA regular season, only three players averaged more than 16 points and eight assists per game. Those players were Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers, Deron Williams of the now Brooklyn Nets, and John Wall of the Washington Wizards.

    For all those who have been waiting for Wall to make his arrival, take note: he already has.

    From a statistical standpoint, Wall has proven capable of being a franchise player. He was the only player in the NBA to average 16 points, eight assists and at least four rebounds per game.

    The former Kentucky Wildcat also flirted with becoming the first point guard in NBA history to average at least one steal and one block per game (finishing the year with 1.4 swipes and 0.9 swats a game)—a near-miss that deserves more attention than it has received.

    Although he continues to struggle with his shot selection and turnovers, Wall has proven capable of producing at an All-Star level. The Washington Wizards finished the season on an 8-2 run, which proves the young guard has the potential to lead a postseason contender.

    Whether or not he actually does, however, is the only thing that can help him rise up this list. After all, we already know the statistics will blow us away.


    2011-12 Season Averages

    17.77 PER, 16.3 PPG, 8.0 APG, 4.5 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 0.9 BPG

23. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Position: Power Forward

    Age: 27

    Salary: $67,500,000 over five seasons


    LaMarcus Aldridge has wasted no time in becoming one of the game's best at his position. In fact, over the past two seasons, Aldridge has combined to average 21.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.0 blocks and 0.9 steals per game. He has become an All-Star and the leader of one of the most promising young teams in the NBA.

    Aldridge is one of the rare youngsters who has made his name based off of his fundamentals. He's an excellent low-post player who can shoot over both shoulders and passes as well as any big in basketball. Aldridge's mid-range game is also lethal, which has made him one of the fastest rising offensive forces in the game today.

    On defense, Aldridge lacks any one true elite quality. His effort is consistent, however, and he rebounds at an average rate. The fact that he's upped his averages to 1.7 blocks and 1.0 steals per game in 18 postseason games, however, should be evidence of how big-time the former Texas Longhorn truly is.

    Career playoff averages of 19.8 points and 7.0 rebounds offer further evidence as to why he has found placement on this list. Aldridge does not possess the star power or marketability of a Blake Griffin, which does have an adverse effect on his ranking. Still, with further exposure and postseason experience, which is certain to come, he will move right on up.

    For what it's worth, LaMarcus Aldridge is currently a more polished player than a majority of the names ahead of him on this list.


    2011-12 Season Averages

    22.73 PER, 21.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 2.4 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.8 BPG

22. Steve Nash, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Position: Point Guard

    Age: 38

    Salary: $27,000,000 over three seasons


    Steve Nash is 38 years old and will be entering his 17th season in the NBA come October. Based off what history has told us, he's well past his inflection point of decline and will soon be a mere shadow of his former self.

    Well, call me when that happens. Until then, Nash remains the best pacemaker the NBA has to offer. And that, my friends, is why he's on this list.

    At 38, Nash joined Rajon Rondo as the only other player to average at least 10.0 assists per game last season. He finished second in the league with a proud 10.7, despite playing with a roster filled with inexperience and past disappointment.

    Now that he has a cast of All-Stars alongside him, one can only dream of the possibilities.

    The truth of the matter is, this league is driven by point guard play. With an elite facilitator, a team can reach extraordinary heights. Even in his late 30s, Nash remains one of the top players at his position and the best facilitator in the NBA not named Rajon Rondo.

    One could argue that he doesn't do enough on defense to warrant such a giant paycheck, but that's an overstated belief. Nash is solid in team, help and rotation defense, he simply struggles in man-to-man situations.

    The fact that he can orchestrate a 100-point game with his ball movement, penetration and shooting skills only puts the icing on the cake. Don't forget, folks, Nash has a career slash line of .491/.428/.904. Even higher than that of the active legend Ray Allen.


    2011-12 Season Averages

    20.29 PER, 12.5 PPG, 10.7 APG, 3.0 RPG, 39.0% 3PT

21. Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks

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    Position: Center

    Age: 29

    Salary: $58,000,000 over four seasons


    Tyson Chandler had an absolutely astonishing 2011-12 NBA regular season. He averaged 9.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game, but more importantly, transformed the New York Knicks as a team.

    No longer were the Knicks of an all-out offense approach, instead, they applied themselves wholeheartedly to the defensive side of the floor. As badly as you'd like to sing head coach Mike Woodson's praises, Chandler had that happening even before Mike D'Antoni's firing. Which is exactly why he won the 2012 NBA Defensive Player of the Year award.

    And while we all know about Tyson Chandler's defensive tenacity, we often ignore his offensive efficiency. Chandler led the league in field-goal percentage by making an outrageous 67.9 percent of his shots. This led to an average of 11.3 points per game, the second-highest in his career.

    If that's not enough, how about the fact that Chandler helped anchor the 2011 NBA champion Dallas Mavericks and brought the Knicks to their first postseason win in over a decade?

    Although he's not of the Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum build, Chandler is an extremely valuable player. Interior defense is the most powerful weapon in today's NBA and the 11-year veteran is as dominant a player as you'll find in that category.

    I guess we know why he was the second overall selection in the 2001 NBA draft. He deserves a fat paycheck and his spot on this list.


    2011-12 Season Averages

    18.66 PER, 11.3 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 0.9 SPG, 67.9% FG

20. Manu Ginobil, San Antonio Spurs

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    Position: Shooting Guard

    Age: 35

    Salary: $38,943,114 over three seasons


    Manu Ginobili was plagued by injury during the past season. In turn, many began to forget just how dominant the Argentinian slasher had been over the past 10 seasons.

    Game 5 of the Western Conference finals reminded everyone what they'd been missing. Ginobili went off for 34 points, seven assists, six rebounds, two steals and five three-point field goals. He nearly single-handedly lifted the San Antonio Spurs to a victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder, but his teammates simply did not produce at a similar level.

    The result was a 108-103 defeat and Ginobili returning to the back of our minds. Fortunately, he took over the London Olympics and reaffirmed his status as one of the best in the world.

    Ginobili is an elite ball-handler who has penetrated against NBA defenses at virtual will for a full decade. He's won three NBA championships, won the 2008 Sixth Man of the Year award, and made two All-NBA appearances.

    At 35, he's also proven that age is meaningless in San Antonio. His production remains at an impressive level, while his ability to dribble through and finish in traffic has yet to take even the slightest of hits.

    Although time is against him, Ginobili's current ability to take over a game at any point in time earns him placement on this list. After all, Ginobili remains one of the best players at his position and one of the few who can claim status as a perennial title contender.

    This future Hall of Famer has a whole lot more to offer.


    2011-12 Season Averages

    24.18 PER, 23.3 MPG, 12.9 PPG, 4.4 APG, 3.4 RPG, 41.3% 3PT

19. Chris Bosh, Miami Heat

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    Position: Power Forward

    Age: 28

    Salary: $109,837,500 over six seasons


    Lost amongst the star power of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade has been the exceptional play of Chris Bosh. Although he's no longer the statistical wonder he proved to be with the Toronto Raptors, Bosh was a consistent contributor on both ends of the floor throughout the duration of the 2011-12 NBA season.

    For those who need reassurance on how valuable he truly is, simply watch the Miami Heat narrowly avoid a series loss to the Indiana Pacers in Bosh's absence.

    Regardless of what a stat sheet might show, the former Georgia Tech star has improved tremendously on defense. Although he has holes in his game, the effort he puts forth is higher than we have ever previously seen from the stretch 4.

    On the offensive side of things, there is no shame in averaging 18.0 points per game. It's even more impressive, however, when you consider the fact that Bosh is tallying such a number while LeBron James and Dwyane Wade take on the majority of the offensive responsibilities.

    Bosh remains a threat from mid-range and has even expanded his range to beyond the arc. He's also improved his low-post scoring game and developed a respectable right hand. Although he may be overlooked, he is not to be forgotten.

    If all else fails, just take a look at that NBA championship that Chris Bosh helped bring to Miami. If you can win a title, you've earned your money.


    2011-12 Season Averages

    18.94 PER, 18.0 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.8 BPG

18. Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Position: Power Forward

    Age: 32

    Salary: $57,000,000 over three seasons


    Pau Gasol is often referred to as the weak link in Los Angeles. Quite an odd label for a player who averaged 17.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.4 blocks per game.

    Even stranger when you consider the fact that Gasol was the only star on the floor with the Lakers' second unit to start the second and fourth quarters.

    There's no way around how disappointing Pau Gasol has been in the past two postseasons. There's also no way to dodge how dominant Gasol was in each of the Los Angeles Lakers' past two NBA championship runs.

    You take the good with the bad and accept Pau Gasol for what he is: one of the most skilled big men in the history of the NBA.

    Gasol remains one of the best passers at his position. This opens up a variety of options, especially now that he is joined by Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. He's also one of the better low-post scorers who has suffered from an inability to get the ball close to the basket with no true point guard.

    Those issues are about to change.

    Although his age remains a concern, much like a majority of the other names on this list, Gasol remains an elite talent. He has two NBA titles to prove such, and a long history of averaging close to 20 points and 10 rebounds a night.

    You'd be hard-pressed to find five players that are more skilled than Gasol at his position. For that reason, he becomes a member of this list.


    2011-12 Season Averages

    20.51 PER, 17.4 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.4 BPG

17. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Position: Power Forward

    Age: 23

    Salary: $95,000,000 over five seasons


    Not only is Blake Griffin one of the most promising young stars in the NBA, but he's already become one of the faces of the league. With such great marketability and top-tier production, it's irrational to argue that he deserves to miss this list.

    Any argument claiming that he should be lower also suffers significantly for the same reasons.

    The 23-year-old Griffin has already made his name as a two-time All-Star and the 2011 Rookie of the Year. Regardless of the accolades, however, Griffin is purely known as the most ferocious dunker since Shawn Kemp tore down rims in the 1990s.

    With all due respect to Vince Carter, they're simply dunking in different ways. For everything he possesses in flash, however, many believe that he lacks in fundamentals. The truth of the matter is, Griffin is progressing at a rapid rate and the arrival of All-NBA point guard Chris Paul has certainly helped the process.

    In two or three years, barring injury or a major stunt in development, Griffin should be one of the top-10 players in the NBA. At that point in time, he'll deserve the praise for such a position.

    The key for Blake Griffin is to match his indescribable marketability with some defensive prowess. He began to display such during the postseason, averaging 2.0 blocks per game against the San Antonio Spurs, but hasn't been able to put it all together on a consistent basis.

    Once he does, he'll move even further up this list.


    2011-12 Season Averages

    23.50 PER, 20.7 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 3.2 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.7 BPG

16. Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics

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    Position: Power Forward

    Age: 36

    Salary: $36,010,000 over three seasons


    On one hand, Kevin Garnett is a 17-year veteran who, at 36, could fall victim to injury at any fragile moment. On the other hand, KG remains one of the best players in the game and one of the few who is elite on both ends of the floor.

    Consider his proven mastery of the postseason to be the tiebreaker.

    During the 2011-12 NBA playoffs, Garnett averaged 19.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. These were his highest postseason averages since 2008, which suggests the possible revitalization of his career at quite an uncommon stage.

    If anyone could do it, however, it's the man they call "The Big Ticket."

    Kevin Garnett continues to be one of the most fierce competitors in the NBA. He's the ultimate motivator on defense and an absolute killer in the clutch from both mid-range and the post. As the Miami Heat will tell you, he's also the master of agitation.

    Although his age offers cause for concern, his production and value prove him worthy of a big-time contract—something the Boston Celtics appear to agree upon, as they are paying him near $12 million per season.

    Time for KG to prove that he's worth his money.


    2011-12 Season Averages

    20.47 PER, 15.8 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.0 BPG, 0.9 SPG

15. Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets

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    Position: Point Guard

    Age: 28

    Salary: $98,750,000 over five seasons


    Deron Williams has been one of the game's elite point guards for quite some time. Before moving to New Jersey, Williams was the master of the pick-and-roll. For what it's worth, he even made Carlos Boozer appear to be an All-NBA-caliber player.

    As Williams moves to Brooklyn, he'll again have the opportunity to prove himself as a franchise player. For those expecting the crafty ball-handler to back down from the challenge, they have another thing coming to them.

    D-Will is not only capable of posting 10 assists per contest, but has proven to be a threat for 20 points as well. He's improved his shooting touch over the past few seasons, which was poorly reflected by his weak 2012 shooting percentages.

    They should hold no bearing on the truth due to the fact that Williams was often forced into shots that do not represent his often intelligent shot selection. A lack of significant talent on the roster set him up for such shortcomings.

    Nevertheless, Williams was the only player in the NBA to average at least 20 points and eight assists per game. He also posted a respectable PER despite how inconsistent his teammates proved to be. If he can make his teammates better, he's a top-10 player. If he cannot lift them to the postseason, however, he remains on the outside looking in.


    2011-12 Season Averages

    20.34 PER, 21.0 PPG, 8.7 APG, 3.3 RPG, 1.2 SPG

14. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs

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    Position: Point Guard

    Age: 30

    Salary: $50,000,000 over four seasons


    With Manu Ginobili sidelined with injury and Tim Duncan aging, Tony Parker took over for the San Antonio Spurs last season. He did so in impressive fashion, averaging 18.3 points and 7.7 assists per game.

    He also led the Spurs to the best record in the NBA at 50-16. Although Gregg Popovich's coaching and the team depth could garner some credit, Parker proved that he's a legitimate star this past season—as if his 2007 Finals MVP award wasn't proof enough already.

    With three NBA championships, that Finals MVP trophy, and four All-Star game selections under his belt, Parker automatically qualifies for placement on this list. The fact that he's finally stepped up and proven capable of taking a franchise on his back and leading them to elite status simply pushes his stock a little higher.

    The true question is, which Tony Parker is the real one? Is it the player with elite talent who has always flirted with obscurity? Or is it the MVP contender that we most recently saw?

    Under the assumption that the 2012 Tony Parker is the one that we will see from here on out, the 30-year-old has established himself as one of the game's elite point guards. He's also a proven winner, so his hypothetical payday would be well deserved.


    2011-12 Season Averages

    22.04 PER, 18.3 PPG, 7.7 APG, 2.9 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 48.0% FG

13. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Position: Point Guard

    Age: 23

    Salary: $78,595,310 over five Seasons


    Russell Westbrook has redefined the term "hit or miss." When he's on his game, he's one of the great players that the NBA has to offer. When he's not, he's a liability whose shot selection can destroy the Thunder's chances at victory.

    And the Oklahoma City Thunder wouldn't even attempt to take the ball out of his hands. Consider the reward to be more powerful than the risk.

    Westbrook is, arguably, one of the most athletically gifted player that the point guard position has ever seen. He leaps as if there are springs in his legs, runs the floor at a blazing speed, and can throw down a dunk as well as anyone in the league.

    He also has picture-perfect form on his jumper, which suggests that he'll one day develop into one of the best shooters in the game.

    When focused, Russell Westbrook is also one of the most smothering defenders in the league. He plays in an all-out attack mode that often finds opponents struggling to fight him off from the inbound pass until the final shot.

    If only his jump shooting could become more consistent, Westbrook would find himself in the top five on this list. Until then, he'll have to settle for a pleasant ranking.

    Westbrook has already helped guide OKC to two Western Conference finals appearances and one NBA Finals berth. Considering he's only 23 years old, it's safe to say that more greatness is on the way.

    Westbrook has earned his payday.


    2011-12 Season Averages

    23.00 PER, 23.6 PPG, 5.5 APG, 4.6 RPG, 1.7 SPG

12. Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Position: Power Forward

    Age: 24

    Salary: $64,000,000 over four seasons


    Kevin Love is one of the greatest statistical performers in the history of the NBA. He consistently posts a stat line that appears to be fresh out of a video game, with 2011-12 season averages of 26.0 points and 13.3 rebounds per contest to back that claim up.

    Unfortunately, Love has never been able to lead the Minnesota Timberwolves to a winning season, let alone a postseason berth.

    If Love is able to lead the T-Wolves to the postseason in 2012-13, he'll move up this list by a significant margin. Until then, however, Love remains a statistical wonder who has yet to truly prove his status as a genuine superstar.

    After spending his summer with Team USA at the London Olympics, things are looking up for the former UCLA star. He's finally won something significant and can now build from that experience. It also doesn't hurt that the Minnesota Timberwolves revamped their roster with quality players this offseason.

    With all of this being noted, Love is one of the best talents in the NBA. He can score in a variety of ways, including a lethal three-point stroke that had a 37.2 percent success rate. Love can also dominate the offensive glass, thus creating second chance scoring opportunities.

    If he can win and learn to play defense, he may just be the complete package.


    2011-12 Season Averages

    25.41 PER, 26.0 PPG, 13.3 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 37.2% 3PT

11. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks

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    Position: Small Forward

    Age: 28

    Salary: $67,222,422 over three seasons


    For those who claim that Carmelo Anthony is all about statistics and rarely plays defense, turn that argument right back to Kevin Love. And then acknowledge that 'Melo has actually led his teams to the postseason.

    Thank you.

    Carmelo Anthony may be one of the most heavily-criticized players in the NBA, but he's also been one of the most consistent. 2012 marked just the second time since 2005 that he has shot worse than 45 percent from the floor. It was also just the second time since then that he averaged less than 25 points per game.

    Coincidentally, both of those prior low points came during a disappointing 2009 season.

    More times than not, Anthony flirts with 30 points per game and shoots between 46 and 49 percent from the floor. He's also averaged upwards of 6.0 rebounds per game in each of the past six seasons and at least 3.0 assists in all but one year since 2006.

    Expect a return to that form in 2012. If not, look for 'Melo to finally discover how to play alongside Amar'e Stoudemire and post much more responsible statistics than a year ago. For those in need of proof, simply evaluate his final month of the 2012 regular season. 'Melo averaged 29.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.1 steals per game. He did this while posting a slash line of .496/.460/.813.

    Although he may not be the most popular player in the game, 'Melo has been one of the best for the better part of a decade. Unlike another statistical anomaly, he's also made the postseason each and every season of his nine-year career.


    2011-12 Season Averages

    21.15 PER, 22.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.1 SPG

10. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics

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    Position: Point Guard

    Age: 26

    Salary: $55,000,000 over five seasons


    For those familiar with my writing, you're well aware of my affinity for Rajon Rondo. For those unaware, I have long supported the theory that Rondo is the best point guard in the NBA. A stance that I stand by. Also a position that I acknowledge as only a fraction of the puzzle as we evaluate who deserves to get paid.

    Rondo is the best facilitator in the game and proved that by averaging 11.7 assists most recently. He's also one of the top defenders at his position and one of the most underrated ball handlers in the game. The fact that Rondo dribbles through and around defenses at virtual will should garner him more attention than it does.

    Although his hot shooting during the 2012 postseason does not end the debate about whether or not he can shoot, it is a promising sign for the future. If it proves to be more than a mere fluke, it could also be a sign that a new MVP will be crowned.

    Until that happens, however, we must acknowledge Rondo as an elite facilitator and defender who has holes in his game elsewhere. For that reason, he sits promptly at No. 10 on this list as he leads the storied Boston Celtics on their pursuit of yet another NBA title.

    If he's able to succeed and take home his second career championship, expect his name to move up this list accordingly.


    2011-12 Season Averages

    17.55 PER, 11.9 PPG, 11.7 APG, 4.8 RPG, 1.8 SPG

9. Andrew Bynum, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Position: Center

    Age: 24

    Salary: $58,015,998 over four seasons


    Andrew Bynum is an elite player at a dying position. He's also a two-time NBA champion with 74 games of postseason experience. If that's not valuable, I'm not quite sure what is.

    Bynum isn't the most mentally mature player, but as a seven-year veteran at 24, he's leagues ahead of most his age. After averaging 11.3 points and 9.4 rebounds per game in 2011, the big man made the leap to elite in 2012. His averages of 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds helped him reach his first career All-Star Game.

    His 10 blocks during Game 1 of the Los Angeles Lakers' first-round series against the Denver Nuggets tied an NBA record. Bynum added 10 points and 13 rebounds that game for a triple-double.

    Time for him to prove that he's capable of elite play every time out.

    Dominant big men are no longer at a premium and Andrew Bynum is as powerful a force as you'll find in the NBA. Although we've yet to see him in a Philadelphia 76ers uniform, we know what to expect when he's on his game.

    Without Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol, Bynum is in store for a major statistical rise. Even with those two elite scorers, he was a threat to score 30 points and grab 20 rebounds on any given night.

    And let's not forget about Bynum's elite defense; all he lacks is a consistent motor.

    And that's exactly why he deserves a salary that represents his placement on this list. 



    2011-12 Season Averages

    23.00 PER, 18.7 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.9 BPG

8. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Position: Point Guard

    Age: 27

    Salary: $68,000,000 over four seasons


    Chris Paul has established himself as the golden standard for NBA point guards. The one thing he hasn't done, however, is find himself in possession of some championship gold.

    Nevertheless, CP3 has had a marvelous seven-year career. It began with the 2005 Rookie of the Year award and has since led to four postseason berths, five All-Star selections, two years in which he led the league in assists, and an NBA record four times in which he topped the NBA in steals per game.

    Four All-NBA appearances aren't too shabby, either.

    Paul set an NBA record in 2008 by recording a steal in 108 consecutive games. He set another when he became the first player to lead the league in both assists and steals in consecutive seasons. His 24 franchise records for the New Orleans Hornets only further establish his greatness.

    This past season, CP3 led the Los Angeles Clippers to their first postseason berth since 2006. He averaged 19.8 points, 9.1 assists and 2.5 steals per game. Paul also made history when he led the Clippers to a 27-point fourth quarter comeback against the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 1 of their first-round matchup during the 2012 NBA playoffs.

    So why is he so low? Until he wins an NBA championship, that's just the way it has to be.



    2011-12 Season Averages

    27.09 PER, 19.8 PPG, 9.1 APG, 3.6 RPG, 2.5 SPG

7. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks

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    Position: Power Forward

    Age: 34

    Salary: $80,000,000 over four seasons


    Oh, what a difference a year makes.

    This time last year, we were hailing Dirk Nowitzki as one of the greatest players of all time. He had just dominated the NBA en route to his first career NBA title, taking down the almighty Miami Heat with his clutch shooting and unbreakable poise.

    And now we label the 34-year-old as a star on the decline.

    Over the span of his illustrious 14-year career, Nowitzki has posted career averages of 22.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.0 blocks per game, with a slash line of .475/.380/.878. In that time, Nowitzki has won both the regular season and finals MVP awards, made 11 All-Star appearances and received 12 All-NBA selections.

    Even as he ages, being the most dynamic offensive power forward of all time warrants him such glorious placement on this list. After all, we're talking about what they should be paid, not how long their contract should be.

    The German big man can still carry a team to the postseason. Don't forget, he was also a Kevin Durant clutch game-winning shot away from leading the Dallas Mavericks to a Game 1 upset in Oklahoma City during the 2012 postseason.

    With a better roster around him, Nowitzki may even be able to lead a team on another title run.


    2011-12 Season Averages

    21.81 PER, 21.6 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 2.2 APG, 36.8% 3PT

6. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls

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    Position: Point Guard

    Age: 23

    Salary: $94,314,672 over five seasons


    The 2011 NBA MVP could be brought down a few ranks due to his injury-plagued 2012 campaign. There would be great reason behind such a drop, as there is endless uncertainty about how Derrick Rose will be able to recover from his torn ACL.

    We'll keep the punishment to a minimum, however, as Rose's road to recovery is generating as much attention for the Chicago Bulls as his return to MVP-caliber form would. Whether we like it or not, a player's ability to generate image and revenue is just as important as his on-court performance.

    D-Rose does both, as his jersey remains the highest-selling in the world. This has helped the Bulls generate the most money via merchandise of any NBA franchise.

    And that's all before we talk about what he's capable of during a basketball game.

    Although his athletic ability is likely to take a hit after this severe knee injury, his game should continue to dazzle. Rose is an outstanding ball handler who can dribble his way through any and every defense. When in the paint, he can finish in a variety of ways, including his patented dunks and circus shots.

    An improved, albeit still average, jump shot won't hurt either.

    All in all, there is great reason to believe in Derrick Rose's ability to return with a vengeance. His work ethic is unparalleled, while his skill ranges far beyond mere athleticism.

    Until he's proved that he can come back as an All-NBA performer, however, D-Rose will stay out of the top five of this list.


    2011-12 Season Averages

    23.10 PER, 21.8 PPG, 7.9 APG, 3.4 RPG, 0.9 SPG, 0.7 BPG

5. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat

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    Position: Shooting Guard

    Age: 30

    Salary: $107,186,000 over six seasons


    Statistics are nice but players are paid to bring championships to their respective cities. With that being established, it's not too difficult to see why Dwyane Wade is so close to the top of this list.

    We will never forget the day that LeBron James won his first career NBA championship. What we seem to have already overlooked, however, was the fact that D-Wade had just conquered the world for the second time, as he won ring No. 2.

    Three NBA Finals appearances and two titles later, D-Wade remains one of the most valuable players in the league.

    The only time the Miami Heat have missed the postseason since Dwyane Wade was drafted in 2003 was a 2008 season in which he missed 31 games.

    The following year, Wade bounced back by averaging 30.2 points, 7.5 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 1.3 blocks per game.  That same year, MVP LeBron James averaged 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks per game.

    D-Wade has been of the LeBron James caliber since day one.

    Although he's 30 years old and appears to be on the statistical decline, the control he's granted James is directly responsible for any dip in production. Wade remains one of the top 2 shooting guards in the game and is as much of a lock to take over a postseason game as anyone in the NBA.

    Having two shiny NBA championship rings, a Finals MVP award, a scoring title and eight All-Star appearances makes him a near lock for the Hall of Fame. 


    2011-12 Season Averages

    26.37 PER, 22.1 PPG, 4.6 APG, 4.8 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 1.3 BPG

4. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

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    Position: Shooting Guard

    Age: 34

    Salary: $83,547,447 over three seasons


    You may love him or you may hate him, but you cannot knock the results.

    Five NBA championships, 14 All-Star appearances, 12 All-Defensive team selections, two scoring titles and an MVP award speak volumes to what Kobe Bryant has done for the Los Angeles Lakers. His average of 27.9 points per game during the 2012 regular season and 30.0 during the postseason sheds light on what he remains capable of.

    For that reason, it's virtually impossible to place Kobe Bryant any lower than this.

    Not only is Bryant one of the most accomplished players in NBA history, but he is one of the most marketable as well. His international fan base meets or exceeds that of any active player, while his domestic following is equally as powerful.

    As a result, the Los Angeles Lakers are entirely justified with what they are paying him. After all, the revenue he generates far exceeds that hefty price tag.

    As we return to his on-court production, he has been the lone perimeter scoring option in Los Angeles for quite some time. Nevertheless, he's worked with elite big men and consistently taken the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA Finals, winning five titles.

    Until another player from this generation can stake the same claim, Bryant cannot be compared. He deserves to be paid as his rank suggests.


    2011-12 Season Averages

    21.95 PER, 27.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.2 SPG

3. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Position: Small Forward

    Age: 23

    Salary: $86,000,000 over five seasons


    Kevin Durant made significant strides this past season, going from the game's best scorer to one of the most well-rounded players in the NBA. His improvements were substantial, including jumps from 6.8 to 8.0 rebounds per game and 2.7 assists to 3.5.

    His slash line also improved from .462/.350/.880 in 2011 to .496/.387/.860 in 2012. This came with the same average of 19.1 shots per game and a mere drop from 5.3 three-point attempts to 5.2 a year later.

    Durant finished with an improved stat line of 28.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks per game.

    What was most impressive about the way Durant improved, however, was the fact that he became the game's most feared clutch performer. Regardless of how he played through three quarters, which was usually quite well, he was a force to be reckoned with once the fourth period of play rolled around.

    His average of 50.4 points per 48 minutes in the clutch ranked second to just rookie Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Durant's +/- of a plus-35 was equally as reflective on how much better his defense became with the game on the line.

    For those in need of further proof, this montage should put those doubts to rest.

    There is fair reason to say that Durant deserves to be No. 2 on this list. Due to his age, current abilities, and upside, the former Texas Longhorn has made it a widespread opinion that he is the second-best player in the league.

    The following slide, however, will outline why Durant has a short ways to go just yet.


    2011-12 Season Averages

    26.26 PER, 28.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.0 BPG

2. Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers

24 of 25

    Position: Center

    Age: 26

    Salary: $80,000,000 over five seasons


    Say what you will about his actions leading up to his eventual trade, Dwight Howard is the most dominant force in the NBA not named LeBron James. With D-12 on the roster and virtually nothing else, you're a postseason lock and a contender to make the NBA Finals.

    Just evaluate his history with the Orlando Magic.

    Despite lacking any true support in Orlando, Howard led the Magic to six consecutive postseason berths. This included two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals and an appearance in the 2009 NBA Finals.

    Howard has also emerged as the most overwhelming defensive player in the entire league. His three Defensive Player of the Year awards are the second-most in NBA history. His four years as the league's leading rebounder and two as the leading shot blocker only strengthen his argument for being the greatest center since Shaquille O'Neal.

    Averaging at least 20 points per game in four of his past five seasons certainly doesn't hurt, either.

    The fact of the matter is, no one can alter the game without even touching the basketball quite like Howard. His mere presence alters an offensive game plan, while his ability to finish off of the pick-and-roll is on par with the best of all time.

    Not to mention, his career postseason per-game averages are 19.9 points, 14.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks on 60.0 percent shooting.

    Although LeBron James remains the best player in the NBA, there is no one who can lift a team quite like Howard. It's scary to imagine how good the Los Angeles Lakers will be with him residing in the middle. 


    2011-12 Season Averages

    24.29 PER, 20.6 PPG, 14.5 RPG, 1. APG, 1.5 SPG, 2.1 BPG

1. LeBron James, Miami Heat

25 of 25

    Position: Small Forward

    Age: 27

    Salary: $109,837,500 over six seasons


    It would only make sense that the the best player in the NBA would receive the greatest financial reward. For that reason, LeBron James rests atop this list with very few questions to be asked in reference to why that is.

    James has reached the playoffs in each season since 2006. In each of those seasons, he has been the leader of his team and, despite his previous shortcomings, established himself as one of the most dominant forces in the game.

    Upon securing an NBA championship, three MVP awards and eight All-Star appearances, however, the doubts about who rules the basketball world have come to a close. LeBron can now find truth in the nickname "King James."

    And anyone who argues that fact should reconsider their stance until Kevin Durant further develops his game.

    Now it would be foolish to complain about a $109 million contract that averages roughly $18 million a season. That places James as the seventh highest-paid player in the NBA, behind Blake Griffin, Amar'e Stoudemire and Joe Johnson, to name a few.

    If he were paid in the way his talent suggests, James would rival Kobe Bryant's average of $27 million a year. I guess he'll have to settle for NBA championships with the most stacked team in NBA history.


    2011-12 Season Averages

    30.80 PER, 27.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 6.2 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.8 BPG