The NBA owners are in a complete standstill with the players over the expired collective bargaining agreement, and with no new deal in sight, it seems like there is little chance we will be seeing the season start on time.
The biggest reason I say that is because the NBA has filed two lawsuits against the players union before the union could file their inevitable antitrust suit against the NBA. Basically, this means the foreseeable future of the NBA will be spent in a court room, rather than just on a court.
If I had to pick a side, and I really don't want to because both sides are to blame, I would lean closer to the owners for one reason: Player salaries are out of control.
You can say that it is the owners that are paying these guys ridiculous amounts of money, but with the insane pressure on general managers to put a winning product on the court, it's hard not to go out and spend money on guys that might not quite be franchise guys (Joe Johnson, Rudy Gay: I'm talking to you).
Plus, these general managers are playing within the rules of the previous CBA, meaning most of the money is guaranteed money, leading to guys like Eddy Curry getting $20 million over three years while playing just 10 games and Rashard Lewis becoming the second-highest player in the NBA this season (OK, I pretty much put that one completely on Otis Smith).
Basically there are four types of players who should be making more than $10 million a year in my mind: legitimate franchise players, top-tier secondary players, veterans getting their dues for past accomplishments, sure-thing up-and-comers. I would possibly add as a fifth option any legitimate big man in the league.
So to put it all in order and figure out exactly who is getting paid what they should be getting paid, and who is fleecing the league, I've taken the 50 highest-paid players in the league this coming season and ranked them in order of how deserving they are of their contract.
In other words, guys from 50-40 are underpaid (or getting paid a lot and worth every penny), the top 10 are definitely overpaid and everyone in the middle is somewhere in between.
Kevin Durant making $13.6 million this coming season is almost making me feel bad for the Durantula.
Maybe we should pass around a collection plate whenever the season starts up and send him the money we collect. Or we could do what they did way back in the day in baseball and every time he does something amazing we can throw silver dollars and buffalo nickles on the court.
Seriously, he has won back-to-back scoring titles and is only the 26th-highest paid player this year. Plus, he is due only about $68 million over the final four years of that deal.
Enjoy him Oklahoma City—you have a fine player down there.
Steve Nash can make the Phoenix Suns compete for a playoff spot; that alone should be worth $15 million.
Let me put it to you this way: Exchange him with the next closest point guard in terms of salary and you have Tony Parker for $12.5 million.
Now, even Parker for that price is a bargain, but replace Nash with the Frenchman and the Suns don't crack 30 wins.
LeBron James is probably the best athlete in the world.
Put him in pads and he could be a tight end; throw some cleats on him and he could be a soccer goalie; hell, I'm pretty convinced that if he would have started either sport in high school he would be an amazing first baseman or even pitcher in baseball, or a hard-hitting and high-scoring defender in hockey.
He should be getting a maximum salary, so he is underpaid, even if you don't like him (and trust me, I don't).
Dwight Howard plays the most desired position in the game and he does it better than anyone else in the league.
He should be able to be more dominant down low on offense, but he is the best defensive player in the game and is a definite franchise player.
By far, Manu Ginobili is the most unique player to have played in my lifetime. Outwardly he looks to have no athletic ability; in fact, I would guess that he is an accountant or a lawyer before I would guess that he's a basketball player.
Ginobili is the most important player on the Spurs right now and the reason the Spurs aren't done yet.
Scoring 25 points in any given game is not something your run-of-the-mill player can do, but Monta Ellis can.
I have gone on and on about not being able to win a title with the Warriors' style of play, but you can win a championship with Monta Ellis as your No. 1 guy.
He's a legit big man, so automatically he's worth at least $10 million, but when you throw on top the fact that he is a top-three big man, then you are entering $15 million territory.
Bogut can block every shot that comes within a few feet of him and is becoming quite the polished offensive player as well.
If you have this version of Kobe Bryant on your team then you have a chance of winning a championship (2007 Kobe? Probably not, but 2011 Kobe definitely).
If there was one player in the league that I would say could be the man to win me a big game (of course, there is that 6-of-24 Game 7 back in 2010) it would be Kobe.
As soon as you win a championship you are allowed to make as much money as you want the following year and still be underpaid so long as you are the best player on that team.
Dirk Nowitzki was the reason that the Dallas Mavericks made it to and eventually won the NBA Finals this year, so he could be making as much as Mark Cuban this year and I would be fine with it.
He played out of position and still made the jump from promising young player to borderline superstar this past season.
Not only that, the best player and the guy that everyone tabbed as the best young player on their team suffered season-ending injuries at some point in the season and he stepped up and led his team to the playoffs.
Tony Parker isn't Chris Paul or Deron Williams, but he is a very fine point guard and he works perfectly in the system that the Spurs have him in.
Parker was the starting point guard for their three championship teams in the past decade.
Chris Paul is one of the two best point guards in the league right now (depending on who you ask), and with playing the most important position on the floor (once again, depending on who you ask), he should be able to make just about anything and be paid right on the money.
He has had some injury problems in the past, but if anything that has forced him to refine the way he plays and make every move he makes the right move, and most of the time it is.
The other guy that is one of the two best point guards in the NBA, Deron Williams is making the exact same amount as Chris Paul next season.
Williams is so good that the Nets thought it was worth it to send their future away just for a chance to have him long-term. If he's worth that then he's worth a measly $16 million.
Gerald Wallace is one of my favorite players in the league, so I may be a bit biased with him, but I think he is slightly underpaid at just over $10 million this season.
For sure, Wallace is under-appreciated, which is partly a side effect of playing for the Bobcats for the better part of a decade, but with the defense he plays and his above-average offense he should be much more coveted player.
Paul Pierce a tough guy and a good actor at the same time. He sells it when he gets hit and dishes out hits at about the same rate. Plus he is a very good leader and matured nicely over the years.
Pierce—now with a championship to his name, the ability to drop 25 or 30 on any given night and some very good defense—is worth at least $15 million.
Another under-appreciated player, mostly because of the results his team has gotten over the years and because of how often his name has been bandied about as trade bait, Andre Iguodala is probably a bit underpaid.
He became an elite defender in the past year and is still quite a good offensive player. The best thing about his offensive game now is that he knows when to be the primary scorer and when to defer to his teammates; he has become much more trustworthy over the years.
Some say Carmelo Anthony is the best scorer in the NBA, some say he's overrated, but it's hard to say that he is overpaid.
Anthony, whether you think he is the best or not, has an amazing offensive game and can probably pick apart a defense better than any forward in the league.
One of the originals in this wave of "tweener" forwards, Josh Smith has become an easy 15-point, nine-rebound, two-block player night in and night out.
Smith getting $12 million to do what he does is a bit of a bargain, as he can guard almost every player in the NBA with at least some confidence and competence.
Kevin Martin is currently the King of the Island of Misfit Toys that is the Houston Rockets.
They have a finesse power forward who is as tough as nails, a 6'6" center, a point guard who is shorter than most point guards but plays like a shooting guard and a small forward who is the closest thing to transparent that the league has ever seen.
As the leading scorer of the misfits, Martin is one of the most gifted offensive players in the game, but has a defensive game that resembles a walk-on at a junior college.
I had a thought this afternoon, and it really has nothing to do with anything I'm writing about here, but it does pertain to Amar'e Stoudemire, so I'll share.
If you had a time machine and took any player back to 1961, would any do better than Amar'e Stoudemire?
Think about it. Stoudemire has a legitimate low-post game; it's not amazing, but it's good enough so that when he goes up against 6'9" centers it could be deadly. Plus he has a long-range shot that some guards didn't even have back in the day.
He would be impossible to guard one-on-one.
As the best low-post offensive player in the NBA right now, Pau Gasol has a definite claim to the money that he makes. He does something better than, or as good as, anyone else in the NBA.
However, after the playoffs put his defense on front street and showed that he could be stopped on offense, some questions started to arise.
They haven't turned on him yet in Los Angeles, but if he lays another stinker this year they may start to point fingers.
Kevin Garnett is one of the guys getting paid for what he has done in the past, but is still producing enough to make it seem slightly reasonable to pay him what he is getting paid.
Many veterans sign back-loaded contracts to help their teams with salary cap stuff when they sign with their teams, so they get more money when they are older and producing less.
However, Garnett is producing less, but he is still producing and is the only person in the lineup giving the Celtics an edge on defense.
Luol Deng is probably one of the five most underrated players in the NBA today, and I would put him up in the top 50 most underrated players of all time.
A decent three-point shooter, a great defender, a threat to shoot 50 percent in any given season, a good free-throw shooter and a guy who can score 25 points on any given night is worth at least $12 million.
You will say, "But he's a bench player!" and I will agree with you; no bench player should make upward of $10 million, unless there is something special about them.
There is something special about Jason Terry.
He can score and he can defend a bit, but no more than say, Jamal Crawford. But there are things about him that make him worth what he is worth.
Terry has more motivation than most of the players in the NBA, evidenced by his O'Brien Trophy tattoo that he got before the season.
Al Horford is a legitimate big man, so that's worth at least $10 million once again.
Then, Horford is a good defender for a big man, can block shots and he is coming along nicely as a low-post scorer and is a very good rebounder, so in all I would say that he is making what he should be making.
Zach Randolph hit the big pay day this past season, and after watching him in the playoffs I would say that he deserved every penny.
It's not every day that I can justify $77 million going to a fat power forward who can't jump and is the real-life, black version of Billy Hoyle from White Men Can't Jump, but with Randolph I can.
He has turned from a huge distraction to being one of the best physical, low-post players in the game. Plus he actually seems to care about the game now—I mean, are those tears in that picture? Is former Jail Blazer Z-Bo crying?
Tim Duncan is overpaid for what he is doing on the court, but for what he has done in the past he deserves it.
If I could have Tim Duncan score 13 and get nine boards for $21 million or Al Horford score 15 and get closer to 10 boards for $12 million, I would probably still pick Duncan, but I would have to think about it.
Duncan still has the intangibles, plus he is the best leader in the NBA (I put him just above Steve Nash), something you can't really put a dollar sign on.
People say Andrew Bynum is the second-best center in the league (I would go with Andrew Bogut myself, but that's just personal preference I suppose), so he is certainly worth about $15 million.
However, there are some things that drag him down a bit, starting with his injury issues that he has always had, and then there are some immaturity issues, which you can see in the picture to the left.
Chris Bosh is not a franchise player, but he is making franchise-player money.
Bosh is a game-changer, and he can have great games, but anything over $15 million for the big man is a bit too much for me.
Plus, he should be making at least a million bucks less per year just because he screams like a 14-year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert every time he does something good.
I'm not quite on the Danny Granger bandwagon as much as some of the people in Indiana. He's a fine player, but I don't think that he is quite the game-changer that his salary says he is.
He may be worth around $12 million for his stats, but he is supposed to be the leader of this team, and as the leader of the Pacers he hasn't done much in terms of getting them playoff success (although they haven't had great teams behind him).
Yo Joe, you make way too much.
Joe Johnson has a maximum contract, but he is almost certainly on the downside of his career, and he has yet to do much for the Atlanta Hawks in terms of playoff success.
I'm not convinced that they are a part of the elite in the Eastern Conference, and I'm not sure that they ever really were.
Another maximum-deal guy, Rudy Gay has the opposite problem that Joe Johnson has. I'm assuming that he has yet to peak, but there is no telling that is true.
Gay scored 20 a game in his rookie year and hasn't got back since, but Memphis was convinced that he would be able to get back there and beyond, so they gave him a max deal.
Plus, Gay is now damaged goods after having shoulder surgery.
If he improves over the next few years like the Grizzlies are hoping, then he's definitely worth the money, otherwise he is overpaid.
Chauncey Billups did average 20 points a game for the Knicks this season, but with the style of offense that the Knicks run, I think I could come in and score at least seven a game, which definitely isn't a good thing.
Billups doesn't get the assists a point guard making nearly $15 million a year should get, and he doesn't play the defense that you would want a $14.2-million-point guard to play.
He can score, but he doesn't do it efficiently. But hey, he'll be a nice trade piece this year.
Brandon Roy's knees don't exist. It goes straight from calf to hamstring. His femur is attached directly to his tibia. He would be better off barnstorming playing wheelchair basketball.
That being said, Roy is still quite a good player despite his obvious limitations; I just don't want to put $14.5 million into a guy that has a better chance of getting hurt and missing at least 20 games in a season than playing the whole thing.
Al Jefferson's offense is nice, and he is one of the best low-post offensive guys in the league, but that alone is not worth $14 million.
Jefferson can score, and that's about it. His defense is uninspired, and even though he can usually rack up some decent stats (even averaging near a double-double), it's still painfully obvious that he is constantly overmatched down low.
The Detroit Pistons made some deals that are asinine looking back, with Rip Hamilton being one of the victims of their slipshod managerial skills.
Spending a bucket of money on Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon seemed to have put Hamilton into a funk, and spending time stuck as the ninth-best team in the East seems to have made him not care.
He could easily come back and be a nice player, but he needs to be traded first.
Emeka Okafor is one of the better starting centers in the NBA, so he is worth at least $10 million, but I think that's about it.
Okafor can't seem to score more than 10 or 12 points in any given game, has never really developed a great low-post game and rides mostly on defense (which I am fine with), but he's just not good enough to make what he's making.
So far the worst signing of the Summer of LeBron is Chicago giving Carlos Boozer the keys to their power forward car when they had a good, young Taj Gibson developing right in their very organization.
Boozer's defensive shortcomings were expected, but when he even struggled to score in the playoffs, people were calling for his head all over Chicago, and I can't really blame them.
There once was a time that Elton Brand was worth what he is making now, but I would rather pay Carlos Boozer $17 million a year than Brand, and I hate Boozer.
Brand is averaging 15 points and eight rebounds for a team floating around the bottom of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, so there is no way that he is worth nearly $20 million.
You could see it happening as it was happening. Just like a truck stalled on railroad tracks with a train approaching, you knew that David Lee was getting overpaid.
He was averaging a double-double! Yeah, but it was for the Knicks who scored 120 points a game.
He can score 20 a game! Yeah, but only on one of the three teams in the league that play such a fast-paced game.
Lee went to the right team, but he isn't helping them win a title anytime soon.
Chris Kaman has played more than 60 games in a season just once in the past four years. Would you want to pay a guy like that $12 million in any year?
When he plays he can score at a decent rate and he can play some defense, which almost qualifies him for the automatic $10 million a legitimate big can make, but with injury issues you just can't justify that money.
Baron Davis may make me reconsider putting him so low, but then again, he may make me reconsider putting him so high.
Davis kind of seems like a reformed man, and part of me wants to believe that he won't show up 30 pounds overweight when the league settles their dispute with the players sometime around January—but with such a long layover, it's almost impossible that it doesn't happen.
Mehmet Okur ballooned up in weight pretty quickly and his Achilles exploding last season doesn't help his case much.
He's getting to be old, and he's getting to be a much worse player, so I couldn't justify giving Okur anywhere near $10 million.
The Detroit Pistons were trying to retool their lineup and stay afloat after their 2009 season, but instead of doing something smart, they signed Barlie Gordanueva.
Because anytime you have the opportunity to pay two guys $90 million and then bring them off the bench on a 30-52 team, you have to jump on it.
Blow up the team Detroit—just start over from scratch.
Corey Maggette is in basketball purgatory in Charlotte.
On paper, he is going to be one of the two best players for the Bobcats, but paying him $10 million to "lead" the team to the top end of the lottery is insane.
Trading for Maggette brought Charlotte Bismack Biyombo, which is good, but it also brought them Maggette, who scored 12 points a game last year, which is terrible for the price.
Ladies and gentlemen of the front offices of the NBA, please stop giving white, three-point shooting specialists at the top of their careers insane contracts.
Hedo Turkoglu, Peja Stojakovic, Vladimir Radmanovic, Jason Kapono, Troy Murphy and Mike Miller made way too much money last season.
Stojakovic led the overpaid, three-point shooting white guy train last season, but this year Turkoglu is the conductor, without a doubt.
If I were to offer you a 34-year-old "tweener" forward who needs the ball in his hands and high numbers of shots to put up the numbers he is expected, plays mediocre defense and is overrated from long range for $15 million, you would jump all over him...right?
My only hope is that Cleveland trades his expiring contract before I have to watch him much more this season—otherwise I may have a nervous breakdown.
We're close folks, but not quite there.
Gilbert Arenas is almost the guy that personifies the lockout, but his case is too unique to exemplify why the league is hemorrhaging money.
Arenas' gun troubles mixed with the injury bug that bit him have made for the second-biggest albatross contract in the NBA, but he was swapped for the biggest in the league last season.
Here he is folks: the reason we are going to miss at least two months of basketball in a nutshell.
If I were to sum up the lockout in two words, they would be "Rashard Lewis."
Lewis got a huge contract at the absolute peak of his career, never put up the same numbers again and now that he is averaging 10 points a game and shooting 34 percent for three (what is supposed to be his redeeming quality), he is owed $45 million over the next two seasons.
Forty-five. Million. Dollars.
Honestly, everyone but Rashard Lewis is to blame for this absurd contract.
The Magic scrambled to pair someone to clear out the middle for Dwight Howard, and up until two years ago it worked. The NBA has failed to negotiate guaranteed contracts down to the level that the NFL has them.
That, combined with the fact that it's impossible to accurately predict how talent will pan out, has led to Lewis making up 54.5 percent of the Wizards' current payroll.
Fix this, NBA—I don't want to see guys milking paychecks out of teams while seven other young, hard-working guys are pushing the team forward while making less than $5 million each.