10 Best Contract Bargains of the 2012-13 NBA Season

Jared Wade@@Jared_WadeContributor INovember 28, 2012

10 Best Contract Bargains of the 2012-13 NBA Season

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    The NBA is often viewed as a league full of lazy, overpaid millionaires. But some players are downright bargains. The underpaid player is definitely a much rarer commodity, but there are dozens of men in the league right now who are out-performing their contracts and helping their teams overachieve. 

    For general managers across the league, finding these diamonds in the rough is vital. Because in the modern NBA, how much you pay your players can be as important as what their names are. That doesn't mean having the best bargain players will beat having the best players, but the more production you can get for you dollar, the easier it will be to build a team.

    If you don't have a other-worldly star like LeBron James or Chris Paul, there may be no way to make up for the talent disparity, but an executive who spends wisely can often assemble a roster that beats teams whose GM splurges on flashier players. 

    The San Antonio Spurs, for example, have accumulated a fistful of rings by only paying top dollar to Tim Duncan, allotting reasonable sums to two All-Stars and then giving almost everyone else exactly what they are worth. That is a tough model to follow, but every GM is always looking for the next great deal. 

    The best contracts in the league almost universally fall into two categories: max contracts and rookie-scale contracts. Both pay out predetermined amounts defined by the league's collective bargaining agreement and neither the team's front office nor the player's agent have any leeway to negotiate. 

    Thus, in the following list, you won't find any player on these types of contracts. We can all agree that LeBron and Kevin Durant deserve a lot more than they earn and that every team would pay Kyrie Irving and DeMarcus Cousins a lot more if they were allowed to. There was no savvy bargaining happening behind the scenes when these players were being signed. 

    That said, the following players are the ones whose skills and paychecks are helping their teams the most—both on and off the court.

Reggie Evans

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    Current Salary: $1.6 million
    2013-14 Salary: $1.7 million
    2014-15 Salary: $1.8 million
    Total Deal: 3 years, $5.1 million

    Almost no one likes Reggie Evans, and it's understandable. His game is ugly and he flops constantly.

    But what he can do is rebound, and we have see his ability to grab boards in bunches turn a game time and time again. 

    His swan song in Los Angeles last year came during the Clippers' historic comeback against the Memphis Grizzlies in the playoffs. He grabbed 13 rebounds in just 21 minutes to help his team erase a 27-point deficit to win Game 1. In six games over the course of the series, he managed 60 rebounds in just 141 minutes.

    Teammate Brook Lopez has publicly praised Evans' attitude and tenacity as a positive influence on his attempts to grab missed shots.

    It isn't just talk in Brooklyn, though. Evans now has 56 boards in his last 5 games while only playing more than 20 minutes twice. Against the Knicks, he effectively changed the game by controlling the glass, resulting in an emotional Nets win against their rival Knicks.

    Evans may not be a fan favorite—and he certainly isn't an opponent favorite—but he is the ultimate reserve: a guy who can enter the game and play a role better than almost anyone in the league.

    And all for a sum of money owner Mikhail Prokhorov can find underneath the cushion of his jet ski.

Kyle Lowry

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    Current Salary: $5.8 million
    2013-14 Salary: $6.2 million
    Total Deal: 4 years, $24 million 

    You simply can't get more production for your buck from a guy playing the sport's most important position. This contract is the baseline bargain for a non-rookie contract in this league.

    While Kyle Lowry hasn't spent much time wowing audiences on national television over the past two seasons, he has been a League Pass darling and one of the more offensively complete point guards in the Association.

    Lowry is more than capable of dishing it off, attacking the basketball or pulling up in both the half court and the fast break. 

    There are several better starting point guards out there, but they are all making double or triple what Lowry does. With him signed on the super cheap for the next two seasons, the struggling Raptors will have way more opportunities to fill their holes than they would if their floor general was making $14 million and providing a few more points or assists per night. 

    While he has been slowed by injury this year, all you need to do to understand his value is watch one Raptors game in which he runs the offense, followed by one in which he is sitting on the sidelines. 

David West

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    Current Salary: $10 million
    Total Deal: 2 years, $20 million

    Where would the Pacers be without David West? The only starter on the team with a desirable PER (18.9), West has repeatedly put Indiana on his back late in games. The team has still struggled to get good looks at the hoop all season, but his ability to create has helped the Pacers notch a few wins during a surprising stretch of futility.

    Specifically, he has shot 43-for-77 (55.8 percent) over his last six games. In related news, his team went 4-2 in those contests and would have been 5-1 if not for a late-game offensive drought against the Spurs. This from a team that started off the year 3-6 against a weak schedule.

    When Larry Bird signed West to a two-year, $20 million deal, the deal seemed sensible, albeit risky. The two-time All-Star was coming off ACL surgery and was already on the wrong side of 30. The front office certainly didn't want to wind up with an injured player making eight figures.

    Now, with West being the lone bright spot for the underperforming Pacers, it's starting to look like the team would have been better off locking him up for a few more seasons.

Mike Conley

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    Current Salary: $7.3 million
    2013-14 Salary: $8.0 million
    2014-15 Salary: $8.7 million
    2015-16 Salary: $9.4 million
    Total Deal: 5 years, $40 million 

    Oh what a difference a few seasons can make.

    It was just 24 short months ago when Memphis handed Mike Conley a contract that basketball writers were calling an albatross before the ink was even dry. The wiry point guard had never averaged more than 12 points or six assists per game, yet the Grizzlies were handing him $40 million.

    This came just two years after GM Chris Wallace traded the reliable, veteran Gasol for the young, inexperienced one. As the Lakers won back-to-back titles with Pau Gasol, the mainstream view was that Wallace had made two franchise-killing decisions in as many years. 

    Needless to say, this perception has since changed.

    Marc Gasol proven to be one of the top centers in the league, and Conley is quickly establishing himself as a top-shelf point man, posting career-bests in almost every statistical category.

    In short, a formerly laughable salary has turned out to be an incredible value. 

Ray Allen

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    Current Salary: $3.1 million
    2013-14 Salary: $3.2 million (player option)
    Total Deal: 2 years, $6.3 million

    With all the offseason talk on how Ray Allen had become New England's new Benedict Arnold, fans seemed to forget that one of the game's best shooters of all-time would soon be playing alongside the game's most unstoppable player. 

    Now that we have actually gotten to see Mr. Shuttlesworth space the floor for LeBron James, however, it is abundantly clear that both players will thrive.

    And how. 

    Allen has hit an insane 52.9 percent of his threes this year. He has so much room to shoot, it stands to reason that he could convert more than half of his attempts for the entire season. After all, he had his most accurate year ever with Boston last season, hitting 45.3 percent of his threes.

    Even more important than how many he has made has been when he has made them. Allen has already hit two game-clinching triples late when opposing defenses have collapsed on the Heat's more dynamic scorers.

    Another asset is his free-throw shooting. He has made more than 90 percent of his freebies in nine different seasons and hasn't shot below 88 percent since Bill Clinton was president. With the one chink in LeBron's armor being shaky shooting from the line late in games, Eric Spoelstra will be ecstatic to draw up inbounds plays so Allen can ice games down the stretch. 

Tony Parker

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    Current Salary: $12.5 million
    2013-14 Salary: $12.5 million
    2014-15 Salary: $12.5 million
    Total Deal: 4 years, $50 million

    Tony Parker has become the Ichiro Suzuki of the NBA: Every year, you can pencil in his stats before the season even starts. Per usual, he will give you roughly 18 points per night on close to 50 percent shooting while dishing out around 7 assists. 

    Parker is still adding qualitative aspects to the Spurs offense as well. He is getting to the rim and hitting from mid-range as much as ever, but as Manu Ginobili continues to show his age, Parker has taken on more responsibility.

    During the team's current winning streak, for instance, the Frenchman has shot 47-for-77 (61.0 percent) as the team claimed four straight victories on the road. In Indiana, he played the entire third quarter as the Spurs mounted a comeback from 17 down to win.

    There may be a few better point guards in the league, but there is only one better than Parker who isn't making the max. Don't worry—you'll see him later on this list.

Joakim Noah

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    Current Salary: $11.3 million
    2013-14 Salary: $11.1 million
    2014-15 Salary: $12.2 million
    2015-16 Salary: $13.4 million
    Total Deal: 5 years, $60 million

    If you can't see how good Joakim Noah is, I don't know what to tell you.

    He currently anchors the league's fourth-best defense while gobbling up offensive boards. He serves as a linchpin in his team's offense, passing out of the post to reinforce ball-movement. He is the spiritual leader of a Bulls team that is running both him and Luol Deng into the ground (second and first in the NBA in minutes per game) as they wait for their wounded superstar to return.

    Coming into this season, general consensus was Chicago would play a half-hearted playoff series—maybe two—before retooling for next season. Honestly, with a 6-7 record and coming off an embarrassing loss to Milwaukee, that is still probably the best course.

    But Noah has little interest. 

    He is blocking more shots than ever, setting his teammates up on the perimeter and playing 39 minutes a night. Given the tone of this season, that's not something I would be doing. But he is, and that's why $11.3 million is a bargain.

Anderson Varejao

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    Current Salary: $8.4 million
    2013-14 Salary: $9.0 million
    2014-15 Salary: $9.7 million
    Total Deal: 6 years, $48.3 million 

    Reductive as it may be, Anderson Varejao gives you 90 percent of what Joakim Noah brings at 75 percent of the price. They certainly aren't the same player; Noah is a much better passer and defender while Varejao is a better cutter with unmatchable energy.

    But when you're trying to fit 12 players below a luxury-tax penalty threshold of $70 million, every dollar helps. If you're Chicago, New York or Los Angeles, the youth and talent of Noah might make the premium worth the price. But for most other teams—and thus, the player's league-wide value—the guy who makes a few million less and has one fewer year on his deal is likely the better asset. 

    Moreover, Varejao is having a career year right now. It's still early, but he has career-high scoring and efficiency numbers while leading the league in rebounding with nearly 15 boards per game. 

    In short, he is playing the best ball of his life and out-playing a lot of big men making twice his salary. Right now, every GM in the league would love to fit him under their cap. 

Chandler Parsons

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    Current Salary: $0.9 million
    2013-14 Salary: $0.9 million (non-guaranteed)
    2014-15 Salary: $1.0 million (non-guaranteed)
    Total Deal: 4 years, $3.7 million (non-guaranteed)

    It's no real surprise that the geekiest GM in the league got the biggest payoff anyone has found in recent memory on a bet that he couldn't lose. Much like the hedge-fund gurus who shorted the housing bubble by risking mere pennies for the chance to make millions, Rockets exec Daryl Morey signed second-round pick Chandler Parsons to a contract with no downside.

    And came out smelling like roses. 

    As mandated by the league's collective bargaining agreement, all first-round draft picks receive a standard salary based on the spot they were selected. Parsons was a second-round pick, however, so he was not guaranteed a contract or a spot on the team.

    But instead of just signing his second-round pick to a one-year non-guaranteed deal to find out if he could play, Morey got Parsons to take two years guaranteed and two years non-guaranteed. 

    If Parsons was a bust, the Rockets would be out less than $2 million, but if he was a diamond in the rough, the team would have an uber-bargain for the next four years that makes the standard rookie deal look like highway robbery.

    Morey isn't even close to the first GM to make such an arrangement, but few setups have ever paid off so well.

    Parsons has started all 14 of the Rockets' games this year and is second on the team in both scoring and rebounding with 15.7 points and 7.0 boards per night. His shooting accuracy, 47.6 percent, is also good for second among the team's regular rotation players. Best of all, the kid just turned 24 last month. 

    He has yet to play even 82 professional games, so there remains a definite possibility that all these impressive early-season numbers won't last. Plenty of players have had great runs for a few months before fading into obscurity. 

    Still, even if Parsons turns into a bust, the Rockets will only be out less than $4 million. Not too shabby.

Rajon Rondo

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    Current Salary: $11 million
    2013-14 Salary: $12 million
    2014-15 Salary: $12.9 million
    Total Deal: 5 years, $55 million

    GM Danny Ainge was once a league-wide laughingstock. Two masterstrokes later, he is an executive beyond reproach.

    The first was the title maker: a two-part trade that got the Celtics Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in one offseason. The next came a few months after those deals won Boston its first championship in 22 years: getting Rajon Rondo to play ball for just $11 million per year.

    While that negotiating wizardry hasn't resulted in a second ring, it will likely be the move that helps the Celtics transition from the Big Three era without falling to the bottom of the standings for several years to come. 

    Now, they have a top-five player in the league's deepest position and a guy who was a preseason contender—as much as anyone not named LeBron—to win the league MVP award.

    For the paltry sum of $11 million, Rondo is leading the league in assists and shooting the ball better than ever. To date, he has hit 51 percent of his mid-range attempts. 

    Jumpers have always been his Kryptonite, but his unique game is still improving and becoming more nuanced as he is thrust into a larger scoring role.

    And he is doing it all for a rock-bottom price.