What the Top 10 Max-Contract NBA Stars Should Be Making
There’s reality, a society in which so many people are underpaid compared to what they truly deserve.
Then there’s the NBA, a culture for the overpaid. Even then, in this overly valued subculture, there are a number of guys who are priced even more ridiculously than others.
A max deal, the longest contract with the most money allowed, is conditional on a number of factors, including years played and the bottom line of the salary cap. It is designed to cap the best players' ability to earn, for instance, half of a team's payroll.
Players and agents, without blame here, are going to chase the money. And owners are often forced to buckle under the threat of losing their best players.
For a good young talent, it’s either pay him more than he deserves or lose him altogether. It’s always a seller’s market in the NBA. As a result, a number of guys have cashed in on undeserved max contracts.
On the other hand, a true superstar who earns a max contract could well be underpaid, by NBA standards, of course.
Not many believe LeBron James needs a raise. But by NBA standards, he certainly deserves it. The best player in basketball's salary of $17.45 million this season is only the 13th highest in the league. With no cap rules and James not taking a reduction to play in Miami, he should be paid more than Kobe Bryant's $27.8 million per year.
With only five guys on the court at a time, sometimes superstars even with max contracts can seem underpaid. But when those max contract players are clearly overpaid, it can devastate a franchise.
So for the sake of discussion, let's play independent arbitrator. Here’s a list of what the top-10 max-contract players should be making.
(All statistics in this story reflect games played prior to Friday, Nov. 16.)
10. Derrick Rose, $16.4 Million
There is little to dissect when it comes to the max contract of Derrick Rose.
The likable hero of the Chicago Bulls has improved with each season. First, he he won Rookie of the Year. Then he made his first All-Star team. In his third season, he won MVP; and last season, his second all-star season was ended by a torn ACL in the playoffs.
That final season was also the first of his max-deal contract extension, known as the “Derrick Rose Rule” of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement. He signed with Chicago for five years at $94.8 million.
It’s hard to say that Rose doesn’t still deserve each dollar of that contract. Extremely gifted with speed and quickness, Rose is working to be back this season in time to positively impact the Bulls' playoff hopes.
Conclusion: For now, there is little reason to question Rose’s worth.
9. Rudy Gay, $16.46 Million
Rudy Gay is a peculiar max-contract player. The wing certainly isn’t a superstar.
The 26-year-old has been the leading symbol of a Memphis Grizzlies franchise that has quietly been one of the league's most successful during the regular season. But he has never been an All-Star.
Gay signed a five-year max deal worth $82 million in the summer of 2010. Since then, he has been good, although he’s never consistently been "worthy of a max deal” good.
He’s never averaged more than 20 points, three assists or 6.5 rebounds per game.
So why does he deserve that kind of money? Because at the time of the contract, there weren't any other options, The Grizzlies could not have let a 23-year-old potential cornerstone walk away.
Gay is a prime example of a guy who might deserve a bit less than a max deal, but was simply in the right situation to get one.
Early on this season, Gay is above both 20 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. He might be coming into his own as one of the game’s more solid players, but he is still not worth a top-10 max contract.
Conclusion: It’s not a big drop from his current deal, but Gay is more accurately worth $14.8 million.
8. Deron Williams, $17.18 Million
It’s arguable whether Deron Williams is the second-best point guard in the league behind Chris Paul.
But he’s certainly paid the second best.
In July, Williams signed a max contract for five years and $98.7 million. He’s being asked to be the leading face of the newly relocated Brooklyn Nets.
There’s some pressure in that borough. Williams seems ready to handle it.
The 28-year-old is averaging 18.6 points and 7.7 assists this season. And those numbers are even down a bit from his potential, which is to match his 2010-11 production of 20.1 points and 10.3 assists per game.
Conclusion: At $17.18 million, Williams is where he should be.
7. Kevin Durant, $17.55 Million
Few max-contract players actually deserve more money, but Kevin Durant is one of them.
Durant deserves to be one of the league’s highest-paid players. But because he has fewer years of service than others, Durant's max numbers are limited. He is, however, paid nearly identical (and actually $3,800 more) to LeBron James, who opted out of a max contract when he signed with the Miami Heat.
Durant is part of the league’s superstar lineup and led Oklahoma City to the NBA Finals last season. His g 28 points and eight rebounds a game last season were impressive, and at just 24 years old, there is no reason to think he'll slow down anytime soon.
Durant is the Thunder. If there were no salary cap rules based on age, he’d deserve to be one of the game’s top-paid players.
Conclusion: He’s worth it all: $27 million.
6. Chris Paul, $17.78 Million
The game’s highest-paid point guard might deserve even more money.
Chris Paul, who is still playing on his max deal from the Hornets in 2008, declined a max extension from the Los Angeles Clippers this summer. The reported deal was worth roughly $60 million over three years.
But Paul would have been throwing away cash. If he re-signs with the Clippers following this season, the superstar guard is worth five years at $105 million.
He may deserve even more than that. He’s the leader of a now-relevant Clippers squad, and at age 27, he is also proving he can stay healthy. When he stays on the court, as he has for two consecutive seasons, Paul is one of the most valuable players in the game.
As displayed in a win this past week against the Miami Heat, when Paul is playing well he is capable of guiding a team—even the Clippers—to contender status. He’s averaging a double-double at 17 points and 10.3 assists per game.
Conclusion: The most electric court general in the game will earn his next max deal ($21 million per year), but he might be worth even more. A fair representation of his worth: $23 million.
5. Dwight Howard, $19.26 Million
Dwight Howard is earning $19.26 million at the end of his maximum contract deal from Orlando. But he deserves more, and he’ll be able to earn more (the most) by re-signing with the Lakers following this season.
Howard, 26, is entering the prime years of his career and has proven to be durable in each of his eight seasons, despite missing a career-most 12 games last year.
A game-changer offensively, defensively and as a rebounder, the game’s best big man will demand high dollars come season's end. But no team can offer him more than his current team, the Lakers.
Conclusion: Howard is worth the max contract that he’ll receive this summer: $24 million per season.
4. Carmelo Anthony, $19.45 Million
Carmelo Anthony is having one of the better starts of his career.
At age 28, the scoring superstar has led the Knicks to a surprisingly fast start by not only scoring (23.8 points per game), but also contributing in other ways, such as rebounding, averaging 8.2 per game.
Carrying the Knicks’ expectations on one’s shoulders is no simple task, so Anthony deserves a bonus for that alone.
Conclusion: Taking into account the consistent knock that Anthony is a one-dimensional player while at the same time crediting him for breaking away from that early this season, it's fair to say that Anthony is about where he should be at $19.45 million.
3. Joe Johnson, $19.75 Million
Joe Johnson was added to the Brooklyn Nets as a way to keep Deron Williams. The Nets ended up taking on Johnson's max contract (from a willing Hawks team looking to shave his salary) and are paying Johnson $19.75 million this season.
Statistically speaking, there is no way Johnson should earn that kind of cash. The 31-year-old saw his production fall below the 20-point per game mark as soon as he signed a max deal with the Hawks for the 2010-11 season. Johnson had averaged 20-plus points in each of his previous five seasons in Atlanta.
Johnson is now a 16-points-per-game scorer, and his rebounding and assists numbers have dipped to middling status. In comparison, the younger Raymond Felton, at 15.8 points and 6.5 assists with the New York Knicks, is being paid $3.4 million.
Conclusion: Johnson may take the biggest pay cut here at $8.2 million.
2. Amar’e Stoudemire, $19.9 Million
Despite collecting $19.9 million this year, Amar’e Stoudemire has not been part of the Knicks’ fantastic start.
For the second consecutive season, the athletic post has been sidelined for a significant amount of time because of injury. Although it wasn’t his knees last season, the forward’s injuries certainly have damaged his value in the league.
In his last full seasons of health, in 2009-10 with Phoenix and in 2010-11 with New York, Stoudemire was worth every dollar. But after one of his lowest-producing seasons last year and further serious injury this season, Stoudemire wouldn’t receive the same max contract.
Conclusion: A team today would still pay, but it’d be with a significant cut that would place Stoudemire in the range of $13.46 million.
1. Kobe Bryant, $27.8 Million
Kobe Bryant isn’t what he used to be. And he’s still one of the league’s elite.
The highest-paid player in the NBA at $27.8 million this season is maxed out in every category. His endorsement totals as of this summer reached $32 million for the past year, according to Forbes.
Bryant is still putting up impressive offensive numbers, maybe at a revitalized mark early this season. But the legs of the 34-year-old won’t sustain 26.4 points per game on 55 percent shooting all year long. Right?
It’s like the cheap restaurant with seemingly great food. There are corners being cut somewhere.
Defensively, Bryant can’t possibly continue to play with the same energy he once did. Offensively, the Lakers must adjust to his rhythm rather than the other way around.
But he’s Kobe Bryant. He has more titles than any of the other active superstars. He’ll demand what works best for him and hope the Lakers will win because of it.
But does he deserve to make $10 million more per year than LeBron James? Nope.
Let’s be fair. The Lakers are the Lakers because of Bryant, and his jersey sales around Southern California reflect one of the game’s most popular players of all time.
But Bryant is no more a multi-dimensional player than Carmelo Anthony was last year.
Conclusion: As arbitrator, Bryant is awarded $19.45 million.
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