Where do the Big Three and company rank among the league's richest starting fives?
Teams can pour tens of millions into their starting lineups, but does that money really buy greatness?
The priciest units feature at least one max or near-max deal, and those eight-figure salaries tend to go to the best players. However, there are always misfires in free-agent negotiations, so some guys who haven't quite worked out as planned are propelling their respective teams up this list.
NBA rosters are necessarily top-heavy, and no team has ever won a championship without paying the luxury tax since its inception. In theory, any franchise included here should be aiming to win now, but that won't be the case for everyone.
For consistency's sake, the starting fives considered were the ones used in each team's opening game. That means high-salaried guys like Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook are not being factored into the equation at this point.
All salary figures per Basketball-Reference.com.
Starting Five: Raymond Felton ($3.64 million), Pablo Prigioni ($1.59 million), Iman Shumpert ($1.70 million), Carmelo Anthony ($22.41 million), Tyson Chandler ($14.10 million)
Without Andrea Bargnani standing for the opening tip, the New York Knicks lineup is more cost-effective than you might think.
Raymond Felton is a good point guard, not a very good one, but paying him less than the mid-level exception is still nice. Pablo Prigioni is a useful pest of a player who, at age 36, is making about what he should. Finally healthy and adding skills to his repertoire, Iman Shumpert could be ready to make a leap and even further exceed his rookie deal.
Even the stars in this lineup are appropriately compensated. 'Melo's max deal is steep, but he's a bona fide superstar; that's the going rate for a player of his caliber. When he's 100 percent, Tyson Chandler is still one of the best rim-protectors in the league, and many lesser centers are commanding similarly rich deals.
Second-unit guys like Bargnani and Amar'e Stoudemire are providing the real financial bloat. Believe it or not, the starters are fairly reasonable.
Starting Five: Kyle Lowry ($6.21 million), DeMar DeRozan ($9.50 million), Rudy Gay ($17.89 million), Amir Johnson ($6.50 million), Jonas Valanciunas ($3.53 million)
Between the injured stars and benched busts, a handful of championship hopefuls fell off this list, allowing the puzzling Toronto Raptors to sneak in.
They'll be nowhere in sight once they deal Rudy Gay, though. He has never made good on his great athleticism and length, and at this point in his career, he's just a talented but inefficient swingman. All-Star money is way too much for him.
DeMar DeRozan deserves some of the same criticism, but his contract, falling just shy of eight digits, isn't too bad. Beyond that, Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson are on pretty reasonable deals for their above-average play, while Jonas Valanciunas' rookie contract is an absolute steal.
New general manager Masai Ujiri is likely to reform this roster around his young center, so expect some salary to be trimmed along the way.
This is the proof of general manager Daryl Morey's genius. He set out to find the biggest bargains, then parlay draft picks and assets into cap space and superstars.
Just look at the Houston Rockets now.
Their shooting guard and center are the best players at their respective positions. Dwight Howard is well worth that price tag, while James Harden is actually underpaid.
But that says nothing of Patrick Beverley and especially Chandler Parsons, both of whom were drafted in the second round and are still getting paid as such. Beverley just recently earned his starting job, but Parsons is the third-best player on a burgeoning contender. His deal is downright ridiculous.
Well played, Morey.
Starting Five: Jose Calderon ($6.79 million), Monta Ellis, ($8.00 million), Shawn Marion ($9.32 million), Dirk Nowitzki ($22.72 million), Samuel Dalembert ($3.70 million)
The Dallas Mavericks failed to land Dwight Howard for the second straight summer, so they went out and blew all their money anyway.
Spending might not buy Dirk and the Mavs another title, but it will certainly buy them points. Jose Calderon is a talented passer, and Monta Ellis is one of the most explosive guards in the league, but neither plays a lick of defense. Playing alongside Nowitzki, they're going to be in shootouts constantly.
On the other hand, Shawn Marion and Samuel Dalembert are there to D people up, though they won't be remotely able to offset the three minuses next to them. It's also more than likely some of that money will be wasted as one or both rehab an injury at some point during the season.
Grit and grind is a blue-collar mentality, but it still costs to play that way.
While Dallas paid for scoring this summer, the Memphis Grizzlies have built their identity by throwing money at defense and toughness.
Those are steep prices for Z-Bo and Tayshaun Prince at this point, but they fit the profile of what Memphis wants to do: Play physical basketball on both ends of the floor. Prince isn't the deep threat this team needs, and Randolph isn't a very good individual defender, but they're both willing to bang around under any circumstances.
Meanwhile, Marc Gasol is even better than Tyson Chandler with more diverse skills, Mike Conley has worked his way from overpaid to properly compensated with his savvy orchestration of a clogged-up offense and Tony Allen's lockdown ability makes up for his shooting woes. Besides, fans would riot if Memphis let the Grindfather leave.
With the Andre Iguodala signing, the Golden State Warriors made the leap from upstarts to contenders.
Execs from 29 other teams must be cursing the Dubs for locking up Stephen Curry to such a cheap deal, allowing Golden State to pay Iggy, David Lee and Andrew Bogut without facing the luxury tax.
After Curry, no one on this deep roster makes more than $3.5 million, allowing the Warriors to invest so heavily in their starters.
All of them have a glaring flaw or two—Curry and Bogut have injury histories, Curry and Lee are sieves defensively, Iggy isn't a great shooter, Thompson is still learning—but they have immense talent and fit well together.
Golden State paid handsomely for this lineup, but this goes beyond just shoving cash at good players; sound signings and long-term salary-cap awareness made this team.
The Los Angeles Clippers did two things this summer: paid Chris Paul and got some starting wings.
Even with Blake Griffin already signed to an expensive contract, Paul is the priority in L.A. Every player on the Clippers roster, Blake included, exists as a complement to the superstar point guard.
That's where J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley come in.
In the past, the Clippers relied on Paul to carry the half-court offense himself, especially late in the game. If a Paul-Griffin pick-and-roll got quashed, he'd be forced to create his own look. Now, he has two deadeye shooters spotting up, giving him more options while easing defensive pressure on his tandem with Blake.
It will be interesting to see how L.A. performs after doing nothing to shore up its post defense, but the money it did spend will go to good use.
Thank goodness Jimmy Butler's on a gem of a deal, because the Chicago Bulls are in a tricky spot in relation to the salary cap.
This past summer, Jerry Reinsdorf paid the luxury tax for the first time in his tenure as Bulls owner. Chicago's $82 million cap hit puts him in line to do so this season, which would earn the organization repeat-payer status and the higher penalties that come with it.
If Reinsdorf wants to cut about $11 million from the payroll, he'll have to trade either Luol Deng or Carlos Boozer, but doing so would sacrifice Chicago's best chance at a title since Michael Jordan.
Derrick Rose is back, and he's too good to waste on a penny-pinching team. Expect Reinsdorf to accept what must be done and foot the bill.
After back-to-back titles, the Miami Heat don't care one bit about how much they're shelling out to their players.
Everyone knows this lineup at this point. The Big Three are the Big Three, Rio is the runt of the litter and Udonis Haslem has been bodying up and hitting 12-footers since Dwyane Wade won his first championship.
The Achilles heel of this starting five also hasn't changed since last postseason. If Wade and Chris Bosh are limited, this group is vulnerable. Having the best player in the world to bear the burden surely helps, but LeBron also needs frontcourt support to save his energy.
And if James gets hurt, the three-peat hopes are dead, but that's obvious.
That's the risk of investing so heavily in so few players; the margin of error shrinks with every bang and bruise.
Remember how the Bulls are over the luxury-tax line with an $82 million roster? That's what the Brooklyn Nets are paying their starters.
There has never been a lineup like this. All of the Nets starters have been All-Stars in their careers, and all of them will make a minimum of $12 million this season; somehow, Kevin Garnett is paid the least of any Brooklyn starter.
Give Mikhail Prokhorov all of the credit. He demanded a title and backed up his order with more money than anyone has ever spent on a roster for a single season, factoring in the luxury tax.
We'll see if this historic spending bonanza works out as planned. The star power is there, but Brooklyn is old, slow and brittle, too. Prokhorov's cash can buy an insane-looking starting five, but it can't buy their health.