Remember a year ago when everybody’s jaws hit the floor because the Memphis Grizzlies gave Mike Conley, Jr. the largest NBA contract in league history despite his never having made an All-Star Game? We all adorably complained about the bloated numbers, utterly dumfounded that contracts could top $150 million because before 2016, nobody had ever even topped $140 million.
Oh, how quickly things change.
Conley’s isn’t even among the five largest contracts in league history only a year later, and the way superstars are getting paid these days, there’s a very good chance we will have completely forgotten about this paltry $153 million deal in just a few years.
While the cap isn’t expected to rise too much higher than it already has, teams have more leeway than ever to keep hold of their most important players, which means $200 million contracts for the league’s best players are the new normal. The deals for Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook over the last few months certainly illustrate that.
All that said, here’s a look at the 20 largest contracts in NBA history:
20. Chris Webber, Sacramento Kings | Seven years, $122.7 million – One of the oldest contracts on this list, Webber’s deal wrapped up in 2007 as one of the richest of his era. Nobody in 2001 this side of Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant was getting paid like Webber, but then again, in 2001, there weren’t a lot of guys that could play like Webber, either.
19. Joe Johnson, Atlanta Hawks | Six years, $123.7 million – One of the bigger jaw-dropping free agency deals of all-time, this “untradeable” contract somehow got traded to Brooklyn against all odds when the Hawks were looking to go in a new direction. This contract is the main reason Johnson is currently one of the biggest overall earners in league history.
18. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks | Five years, $124.1 million – He may look back and wish he had joined the Chicago Bulls in 2014 rather than heading back to a lesser New York team, but whatever professional dissatisfaction he may have felt over the last few years, he’s been able to overcome via Scrooge McDuck levels of coin.
17. Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves; Rashard Lewis, Orlando Magic; Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans (three-way tie) | Six years, $126 million – Garnett getting this kind of money in 1999 was every bit as shocking as the $200 million deals being tossed around this past summer. Despite the sticker shock, Garnett earned his cash. Rashard Lewis had a much tougher time doing so in Orlando, though, as the team at the time admitted they overpaid to lure him away from Seattle. We have yet to see where Holiday will fall on the spectrum, but it’s likely to be somewhere in between Garnett and Lewis.
14. Jermaine O’Neal, Indiana Pacers | Seven years, $126.6 million – Indiana spent this money with smiles on their faces because O’Neal was the biggest Pacers star since Reggie Miller and, without question, his spiritual successor in Indianapolis. O’Neal still is on the Pacers’ hypothetical Mount Rushmore, but about halfway through this contract, O’Neal slowed considerably, turning his massive deal into something an albatross.
13. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards; Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans; Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons (three-way tie) | Five years, $127.2 million – The Wizards and Pistons had little choice but to lock in their 2012 NBA Draft studs into max deals, but Davis’ situation is much more interesting. Had he made one more All-Star Game or been named to one more All-NBA Team, he would’ve been eligible for a five-year, $145 million deal that would have placed him seventh on this list. It’s hard to imagine how he’ll survive on only $127.2 million.
10. Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics | Four years, $128 million – Hayward could have been even higher on this list had he re-upped in Utah, but he’ll trade in the extra bread for a university reunion with Brad Stevens.
9. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers | Seven years, $136.4 million – All eight of the deals larger than Bryant’s monster contract have been doled out in the last couple of years under the new salary cap, which should give a sense of just how huge this Kobe deal was for its era. This contract ran from 2004 to 2010, a full six years before anyone knew how to comprehend that kind of money. Of course, if anybody from that era was going to get paid in such a way, it was Kobe.
8. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors | Five years, $139 million – Toronto threw almost a quarter of a billion dollars at their two stars, giving Lowry $100 million over three years and DeRozan another five years and $139 million. Despite limited postseason success, these two are the faces of this franchise. Without both of them, their shot at a few more playoff runs would not have looked as good as it does now.
7. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers | Five years, $139.9 million – Simultaneously one of the most beloved and most underrated stars in the league, Lillard is a scoring machine, and scoring machines typically do fairly well when it comes time for the big payday.
6. Mike Conley, Jr., Memphis Grizzlies | Five years, $152.6 million – This was the most money ever for a player who never made an All-Star game (in fact, he’s the only non-All-Star on this list), but Conley’s grit and grind and leadership are what make him worth it for Memphis.
5. John Wall, Washington Wizards | Four years, $169 million – For all the hard work and heartache Wall has put in for the Wizards over the years, he has earned every dime of this deal. It was the quietest massive deal of the summer, but no less deserved than the others.
4. James Harden, Houston Rockets | Four years, $170 million – The big news over the summer was Harden’s “six-year, $228 million deal,” but that’s not exactly accurate since four of these years were tacked on in July in the form of an extension. It’s still an insane amount of money, not a dime of which will be spent on shaving supplies.
3. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers | Five years, $172.3 million dollars – Losing Chris Paul meant the Clippers either had to let Griffin walk and rebuild or keep him at any cost. They kept him, obviously, and it turns out “any cost” amounts to just shy of $35 million per year.
2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors | Five years, $201 million – The most popular star in today’s NBA was sure to get a huge payday eventually, especially after playing on a bargain-basement four-year, $44 million deal through two championship seasons by the Bay. The team seemingly will make back their investment exclusively from ten-year-old kids all over the world buying Curry’s jersey.
1. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder | Five years, $205 million – Last year’s MVP was going to be a free agent after the forthcoming season, and whether or not he would extend with the Thunder was going to be one of the year’s biggest storylines for sure, especially with Paul George also facing free agency and Carmelo Anthony possessing a player option for the 2018-2019 season. Locking in Westbrook not only helps Oklahoma City avoid another crushing loss for the fan base, but assures George and Anthony that there’s plenty to look forward to beyond this season.
All of this is just the start, of course, with many more big deals to come in a 2018 free agency season that promises to be the wildest one yet. As the great Jermaine Dupri once said, “Money ain’t a thang,” as the NBA proved these past couple of offseasons and certainly will continue to prove as more superstars come up for their first big extensions under the inflated cap.
NBA Daily: Will Philadelphia Struggle From Downtown?
Do the Philadelphia 76ers have enough outside shooting talent to spread the floor on the offensive end? Jordan Hicks takes a look.
It’s only been one game, and this could likely be an overreaction, but will the Philadelphia 76ers struggle this season from beyond-the-arc? With the departure of two highly capable shooters in Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova, it might not be insane to say this could turn into a large problem throughout the season.
Last season for the 76ers, Belinelli finished 38.5 percent from three and Ilyasova finished at 36.1 percent. While neither of those percentages is staggering, both sit above the league average, and those players shoot and make threes at a consistent pace. Neither player was necessarily streaky from downtown, so you knew what to expect from them on a nightly basis.
What the two players brought more than anything was gravity. Each game, teams had to strategically plan how to stop them from making three-point shots. Players had to maintain certain spots on the floor defensively, which in turn left offensive players in advantageous positions. Losing both Belinelli and Ilyasova allows defenses to suck in closer to the paint so they can better defend Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons at what they do best – attack the rim.
This is precisely what the Boston Celtics did to the 76ers on Tuesday night, and the final score definitely told the tale. The Celtics ended up winning, 105-87. Boston is a talented squad, and playing at the TD Garden is never an easy task, but the 76ers are too good to lose by high double-digits.
Apart from Boston’s stellar defense, Philadelphia’s mark from the perimeter paints a clear picture of what they might struggle with throughout the season. They finished 5-for-26, good for 19.7 percent.
It’s not like they don’t have any help from three. Robert Covington led the NBA in catch-and-shoot three-point percentage last season and J.J. Redick shot a scorching career 41.5 percent from deep. Their third option from three is likely Dario Saric, who finished last season at 39.3 percent. But after those three the drop-off is significant. Embiid might come in next, and he shot a poor 30.8 percent last season.
By the end of the season, the top three scorers for Philadelphia could likely be Simmons, Embiid and last year’s first-round pick, Markelle Fultz. Not one of those players can shoot the three consistently, certainly not at an efficient mark. Simmons and Fultz have never even made a three-point field goal in their young careers.
All three of those players have the ability to score efficiently around the rim, and they’ll likely get their buckets. But with fewer players on the roster to worry about as a deep threat, teams will mirror Boston’s success and crowd the paint.
If Brett Brown continues to play Saric, Covington and Redick in limited minutes – they played just eight minutes together on Tuesday – most of their lineups will only ever feature two above average three-point shooters. This can begin to get highly problematic for the 76ers as the season progresses. As previously mentioned, teams will just stuff the area around the hoop with great rim protectors and only worry about crashing the boards when mid-range jumpers clank off the basket.
Teams that had the most success last season, à la the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors, had at minimum three high-level deep threats on the floor at all times. This allowed them to spread the offense, keep defenses guessing and find an open shooter after throwing the ball around from player to player or cutting to the basket. With the fact that multiple shooters on the court can spread out the defense and essentially keep them on their toes, all it takes is an intelligent cut or a crafty pass to find someone open at the rim. If teams don’t have enough efficient shooters on the floor, defenses can just suck in and stop players going to the hoop.
But when there are three or more plus shooters on the court, defenders have a really difficult decision to make. Do you try and play help defense by attempting to stop the shot at the rim? This can leave your opponent open for an easy three. Will help defense get there in time to defend the three? Maybe, but then another quick pass can find another open shooter. So do you stay on your man? Sure, but then you give up an easy basket at the rim.
That last paragraph was elementary. Most teams and fans understand this concept. The importance of efficient shooters in today’s league is at an all-time high. The 76ers have a very talented, young team. Simmons and Embiid are a phenomenal duo to build around. But their lack of players that hold any sort of gravity from three-point land could really give them struggles.
Alas, we are only one game into the season. A handful of teams have yet to play, so there is still plenty of basketball to be had. The 76ers are still monstrous on defense and can obviously generate baskets on the offensive end. Thanks in part to Simmons, they are one of the most electric teams in transition, and can often score with ease around the hoop.
Are the 76ers a playoff team? That’s essentially a lock. Can they go deep in the playoffs? It certainly appears so. But in order for them to make a legitimate run to the Finals, they’ll need to find more efficiency from the three-point line. Not simply because they could use those points, but because they need that spacing for their offense to function at an elite level.
NBA Daily: Warriors Depth Shines on Opening Night
The Warriors have lost some key veterans but opening night showed they still have the depth to reign supreme, writes David Yapkowitz.
With the Golden State Warriors emerging victorious on ring night behind big performances from Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, and the summer addition of DeMarcus Cousins, it’s easy to see why many have penciled them in for a three-peat.
When Cousins returns to the court, the Warriors will be able to play a lineup of five All-Stars with Durant, Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. With all of that star talent they possess, it’s easy to overlook the surrounding depth that they’ve managed to accumulate.
A successful organization like the Warriors becomes successful because they have a great front office in place who can identify talent and a good coaching staff who can develop that talent. Having superstars in place certainly helps, but all championship teams need to have that key depth.
Last night, the Warriors showed that they don’t just consist of their superstars, they’ve got some weapons on the team that are very capable of having big nights of their own.
The past few seasons, the Warriors depth in the frontcourt consisted of older veterans such as Zaza Pachulia, JaVale McGee and David West. Pachulia and McGee signed elsewhere while West retired. With Cousins still recovering, that leaves the majority of the frontcourt minutes to younger, more inexperienced players such as Damion Jones and Kevon Looney.
Neither Jones nor Looney has seen much action during their first few seasons in the league. Looney had his fourth-year contract option declined a year ago, and this summer he received very little interest in free agency before re-signing with the Warriors. Prior to last night, it seemed as if Jones would follow the same fate as the team has until Oct. 31 to pick up his fourth-year option.
If last night was any indication, however, the Warriors would be wise to keep both around for as long as possible.
Making his first ever career start, Jones passed his initial test. He looked like a perfect compliment to the Warriors All-Stars. He ran the pick and roll to perfection, finishing with 12 points on 6-7 shooting from the field. He can finish around the rim, and he also had three assists.
Defensively, he blocked three shots and matched up well with Steven Adams all night.
Coming off the bench, Looney had a productive game of his own. He had a double-double with ten points and ten rebounds. Eight of his rebounds came on the offensive end, helping the Warriors gain extra possessions. He also had two assists and two blocked shots.
Both big men, Jones in particular since he’s the starter, will have a few more tests coming up as the Warriors travel to Utah and Denver. Rudy Gobert and Nikola Jokic await them. It will be interesting to see how they respond to that. For the duration that Cousins remains out, the Warriors will be relying quite a bit on their young big men.
Should either one falter at any point, the Warriors still have Jordan Bell waiting in the wings. Bell proved to be a second-round steal last season, but only saw six minutes of action on opening night. Bell brings a bit of a different skill set to the table than Jones and Looney. He’s a versatile big who can guard multiple positions.
As the season goes on, what was once thought of as an area of weakness for the Warriors, might turn out to be a position of strength. And if that occurs, that bodes ill for the rest of the league.
NBA Daily: Instant Reactions From Day One
With the NBA beginning its new season last night, Matt John analyzes all that’s happened so far in the season’s first two NBA games.
The NBA is BACK everybody!
After an agonizing five-month wait, the 2018-2019 season was born Tuesday night. As always, the NBA likes to start off the season with only two games, but with four teams who should play a big role in how this season turns out.
This year, it was Boston against Philadelphia and Golden State against Oklahoma City. The best part about it is that, this time, nobody had to leave with a season-ending leg injury five minutes into the game, so it’s already better than last year’s opening night!
Now, of course, it’s a long season – which to every NBA junkie is a good thing – but since we only got a taste of what this year could bring, it’s only appropriate to air out some knee-jerk reactions after day one of the new NBA year.
Some of these reactions will be about the players. Others will be about the team in general.
Game One: Boston Celtics 105, Philadelphia 76ers 87
The Atlantic Division rivals had a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals. Despite what the final score may say, this was a tight game until Boston pulled away in the fourth. Both teams had the jitters, as the very first shot this season was an airball three-point attempt by Robert Covington. Boston missed its first five shot attempts, and Philadelphia made only one of its first six tries.
When both finally shook off the rust, it was a game of runs. When one team got going, the other followed suit. The Celtics may have led for most of the game, but the Sixers refused to back down.
What’s to think of how these teams did in their season opener? Let’s take a look.
- Ben Simmons looked every bit like the reigning Rookie of the Year. In 43 minutes, Simmons put up a near-triple-double, scoring 19 points, corralling 15 rebounds and dishing out eight assists. He didn’t do much to disprove the skeptics who constantly point at his almost non-existent jump shot, but Simmons is such a freight train in transition that it might not even matter.
- Joel Embiid put up a usual Joel Embiid stat line – 23 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks, but he coughed up five turnovers and even committed a frustration foul or two. Aron Baynes and Al Horford always seem to give Embiid fits because they make him earn his buckets. If the Sixers hope to get past the Celtics, Embiid has to overcome their pesky defense.
- Markelle Fultz looked a bit out of place. Putting up five points on 2-for-7 shooting, committing three turnovers and recording the lowest plus-minus with a minus-16 isn’t a good look for him. Still, he wasn’t a complete disaster, and Philadelphia knows he’s a work in progress.
- The real disaster for the Sixers was their turnovers. Philadelphia led the league in turnovers last year with 16.4 per game. If they hope to improve on that, Tuesday night wasn’t the best start, as they surrendered 16 giveaways.
- As talented as they are, the Sixers have some holes that need to be filled, primarily with their shooting. Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova gave the Sixers more floor spacing to help them go on that late-season surge last season. With them gone, the Sixers might have a spacing problem if neither Mike Muscala nor Wilson Chandler fills the void.
- Coming into the season, many believed the Celtics’ calling card would be their depth, and the opening game showed why. The most notable statistic for them: Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward combined for 6-for-26 from the field, yet Boston still won by 18 points against a team many believe will be its toughest opponent in the conference.
- While Irving looked off his game, Hayward definitely looked rusty. It’s been said that Hayward still lacks explosion off his left foot, and it definitely looked that way. Still, Hayward hit a few long jumpers and showed hustle and great defense. Even if he won’t be 100 percent from the get-go, the Celtics can afford to be patient.
- Another telling statistic: The Celtics top nine rotation guys were in the game on a range from 19 to 30 minutes. If this is is what their minutes output will look like this season, then the Celtics’ stamina will be at an unfairly high level when the playoffs come around.
- Both Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier continue to prove that their performance from last postseason was no fluke. Tatum continued to demolish any defender Philadelphia threw at him. Rozier, on the other hand, played well enough that Brad Stevens decided to go with him in the finishing lineup instead of Irving. To be fair, Irving couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.
- The Celtics’ versatility also shined. Their starting lineup was Irving, Tatum, Hayward, Horford, and Jaylen Brown. To start the second half, they replaced Hayward with Baynes. Before Philadelphia waved the white flag, the Celtics’ finishing lineup was Horford, Hayward, Tatum, Rozier, and Marcus Smart. Should they stay healthy, the Celtics have limitless options.
Game Two: Golden State Warriors 108, Oklahoma City Thunder 100
We got round three of Russell Westbrook vs. Kevin Durant. The only problem? No Westbrook, as he sat out to rest his knee. Despite missing both Westbrook and Andre Roberson, the Thunder made the Warriors work for the win. Though the game looked like a typical Warriors route in the beginning, the Thunder impressively kept up with the reigning NBA champions until the very end.
The Warriors won because, well, they’re the Warriors. They’re a ridiculously talented team that shouldn’t be slowing down anytime soon. Although, this matchup should become all the tighter when the Thunder become fully healthy. Onto the reactions!
Oklahoma City Thunder
- The headline for these guys: Moral Victory. OKC gave Golden State all they could handle – even taking the lead at one point – down to the final minute. That’s not an easy task when you’re down your best player and arguably your best defender. Even if the season started with a loss, the Thunder can only build off of this.
- Goodness, the Thunder might just be the most athletic team in the league. Aside from world-class athletes such as Westbrook and Paul George, OKC has some high-flyers including Terrance Ferguson, Jerami Grant, Nerlens Noel and Hamidou Diallo. No matter how good they’ll be this season, we should brace ourselves for some exciting dunks from the Thunder this season.
- Props should go to George, Steven Adams, and Dennis Schroder for not backing down in their time of adversity – especially Schroder. Filling in for a former MVP candidate on a good team is no easy task, so his performance should really excite Thunder fans.
- While the Thunder are in salary cap hell and it may be difficult, they need to do everything in their power to get more shooting. Last season they tied for No. 24 in three-point shooting percentage at 35.4 percent from deep. The only team that ranked lower was the Spurs. If they want to make noise, they need a pure shooter on that team. It could open up so many possibilities for them.
- Billy Donovan could find himself on the hot seat this season. Since Kevin Durant’s departure, the Thunder have only mustered three playoff wins in the last two years. Now that George is committed long-term and the Thunder have re-tooled, he has to feel good about himself after their game against the Warriors.
Golden State Warriors
- No matter how much fans outside of the Bay Area hate them together, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant make beautiful basketball together. On their ring night opener at Oracle Arena, they combined for 59 points on 20-for-41 shooting and 15 assists. It may be frustrating, but it has always been a spectacle. Even if this is the last year they play together, Durant and Curry should go down as one of the league’s most potent scoring duos to ever play together.
- Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Klay Thompson or Draymond Green – at least in regards to this game. Neither of them was impressive to start the season. Thompson had 15 points on 5-for-20 shooting, including 1-for-8 from the perimeter. Green had two points on 1-for-6 shooting with six turnovers. His 13 rebounds made up for it, but it still was not his best performance.
- Who would have guessed that centers Damian Jones and Kevon Looney would play a big part in the Warriors toppling the Thunder? The two of them combined for 22 points and 13 rebounds on 11-for-18 shooting. If either of them has a legitimate role on the team, then the Warriors may have more frontcourt depth than we might’ve thought.
- It feels weird to say that the Warriors aren’t actually fully healthy at the moment with DeMarcus Cousins out indefinitely. It’s almost as if him being on the team is overkill. Though the Warriors’ act has grown tiresome, thinking of what this team could be with Cousins should excite any basketball junkie out there.
Overall, it was a satisfactory day one for the young season. The biggest takeaway is that the NBA has returned, which should make everyone as giddy as can be.