The 8 Highest Team Payrolls in NBA History

David KenyonFeatured Columnist IVJuly 2, 2022

The 8 Highest Team Payrolls in NBA History

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    Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

    As NBA revenue has soared in recent years, team payrolls have skyrocketed.

    Though there is a salary cap, certain rules permit clubs to exceed the nine-figure number. During the last few years in particular, some front offices have become masters at taking advantage of loopholes.

    In 2012-22, for example, the Golden State Warriors set a record with $184 million on the books. They were $71.6 million over the $112.4 million cap.

    Because the 2022-23 team sheets are not official, next season was not included. But it's fair to expect a few teams to surpass these figures.

    Salary-cap information via Spotrac. Stats courtesy of

8. 2020-21 Washington Wizards

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    Will Newton/Getty Images

    Payroll: $160.8 Million

    In case you needed evidence that money doesn't buy success, look at the 2020-21 Washington Wizards.

    Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook headlined the roster, which played fast and attacked the rim but was not much of a perimeter threat.

    The bright side is the Wiz sneaked into the postseason with a 34-38 record and won a play-in game against the Indiana Pacers. They promptly dropped a five-game series to the Philadelphia 76ers, however.

    Washington ranked 17th and 20th in offensive rating and effective field-goal percentage. The defense finished 20th and 14th in those categories, too.

7. 2021-22 Los Angeles Lakers

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    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Payroll: $160.9 Million

    Soon after the Wizards ended that disappointing season, they sent Westbrook to join LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the Los Angeles Lakers.

    And the preseason Western Conference favorites collapsed.

    James and Davis missed 26 and 42 games, and Westbrook had arguably the worst offensive season of his career. Considering Los Angeles spent $120.8 million on the trio alone, it's no surprise it stumbled to a 33-49 record.

    When the regular season ended, the Lakers moved on from head coach Frank Vogel.

6. 2021-22 Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Payroll: $165.7 Million

    In 2020-21, the Minnesota Timberwolves had the fourth-highest payroll but finished 23-49. While their expenditures stayed at No. 4 in 2021-22, the results substantially improved.

    Led by young stars Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and D'Angelo Russell, the Wolves were offense-driven. They played at the league's fastest pace and posted the third-highest three-point attempt rate, leading the league in points per game.

    Minnesota notched a 46-36 record and made the postseason for only the second time in 18 years.

    Even though the Memphis Grizzlies bounced the Timberwolves in six games in the opening round, Minnesota brought much-needed optimism back to the franchise.

5. 2021-22 Los Angeles Clippers

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Payroll: $166.2 Million

    Sometimes, a team has a season of horrible luck.

    Such was reality for the Los Angeles Clippers in 2021-22, as they basically played without two All-NBA players. Kawhi Leonard missed the entire year while recovering from a torn right ACL, and an elbow injury sidelined Paul George for most of the 51 games he missed.

    On the bright side, Los Angeles squeezed out a 42-40 record and finished eighth in the Western Conference. The defense tallied the fourth-best effective field-goal percentage allowed.

    Two losses in the play-in tournament, though, prevented the Clippers from making their 10th playoff trip in 11 seasons.

4. 2020-21 Brooklyn Nets

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

    Payroll: $168.6 Million

    The 2020-21 season will always be a "what if?" for the Brooklyn Nets and their fans.

    Injuries limited Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden to just eight games and 202 minutes together. Yet the Nets still topped the league in offensive rating and effective field-goal percentage, finishing second in the East with a 48-24 record.

    And then, the roller coaster continued.

    Brooklyn dispatched the Boston Celtics in five games in the first round of the playoffs, but then injuries again bit Irving and Harden opposite the Milwaukee Bucks. In Game 7, Kevin Durant came within inches of a game-winning three-pointer at the end of regulation, but his toes were on the line.

    Milwaukee won in overtime, and the Bucks went on to win the title.

3. 2021-22 Brooklyn Nets

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Payroll: $172.8 Million

    While the previous year marked a "what if?" season, Brooklyn's 2021-22 campaign felt more like a missed opportunity.

    Durant again had a notable injury, and for most of the season Irving was only eligible to play outside of New York and Toronto. Harden forced a move to the 76ers, who sent Ben Simmons to the Nets—though he never played.

    Brooklyn endured an 11-game losing skid but managed a 44-38 record and found its way into the playoffs as the East's No. 7 seed.

    But it was a short-lived postseason. The Nets dropped four consecutive games to the Celtics, losing by a combined 18 points.

2. 2020-21 Golden State Warriors

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    Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

    Payroll: $175.8 Million

    Klay Thompson missed 2019-20 after he suffered a torn ACL in the 2019 Finals. Durant had left in July 2019 via a sign-and-trade, and Stephen Curry made only four appearances before a broken wrist sidelined him for 58 games. Then, the coronavirus pandemic ended the Warriors' campaign.

    Golden State aimed for a bounce-back year in 2020-21, but Curry's return to the All-NBA first team wasn't enough.

    An offseason Achilles injury kept Thompson on the shelf, and Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre Jr. struggled to acclimate. Injuries to the supporting cast stung the Dubs, too.

    Golden State posted a 39-33 record but lost both its play-in games, missing the playoffs for the second straight season.

1. 2021-22 Golden State Warriors

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    Jesse D. GarrabrantNBAE via Getty Images

    Payroll: $184.0 Million

    Finally, a celebration. It wasn't a smooth ride, though.

    Golden State ripped off an 18-2 start to the season and soared to 41-13 in early February. From there, however, the Warriors stumbled to 12-16 down the stretch as—you guessed it—injuries affected Green and Curry.

    But Golden State was at full strength in the postseason, and the Warriors put together a convincing title run. They defeated the Denver Nuggets, Grizzles, Dallas Mavericks and Celtics, recording double-digit margins of victory in 10 of 16 games.

    Curry won his first Finals MVP Award, and Golden State landed its fourth championship in eight years.

    Money well spent.


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