Players are naturally paid in dollars, but their salary represents a percentage of each team’s overall payroll.
Some teams overspend on non-productive players; others find heavy contributors who earn just a small fraction of the franchise’s total investment.
The NBA’s current salary cap is $70 million, but most teams have climbed above that line. Next season’s cap projects to jump to at least $90 million. Teams will be required to spend at least 90 percent of that number ($82 million).
With that leap, players already under contract will take up a smaller percentage of the team.
The relative value of good players, under long-term contract — especially on rookie deals — skyrockets with the impending inflation. The top overall pick in the 2016-17 NBA Draft will take up roughly 6.6 percent of his team’s salary.
Productive, inexpensive players won’t stay cheap for long as they reach free agency; draft picks are locked in at an economic rate for their first four seasons.
The following percentages jump out as positives or negatives around the league:
The Atlanta Hawks have invested 42.5 percent of their team salary in All-Stars Paul Millsap and Al Horford. Kent Bazemore takes up just two percent.
Almost a quarter (24.4 percent) of the Boston Celtics’ money is going to David Lee, who now plays for the Dallas Mavericks. All-Star Isaiah Thomas earns just nine percent of the team’s salary.
Joe Johnson, now with the Miami HEAT, still takes up 27.3 percent of the Brooklyn Nets’ payroll. Three current starters (Bojan Bogdanovic, Wayne Ellington and Donald Sloan) combine for just 7.3 percent, with Brook Lopez the highest active Net at 24.6 percent.
The Charlotte Hornets badly miss defensive forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (8.1 percent of salary), although the team is still climbing in the Eastern Conference standings.
Pau Gasol joined the Chicago Bulls at a discounted rate, currently at 8.6 percent of payroll. The trio of Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and injured Joakim Noah represent 57.3 percent of Chicago’s investment.
LeBron James is one of the highest-paid players in the league, but with the Cleveland Cavaliers $107 million total payroll (not including luxury taxes), he takes up just 21.5 percent of the total.
The Wesley Matthews/Chandler Parsons pairing is at 43.5 percent of the Dallas Mavericks’ expenditure, while long-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki took a discounted 11.4 percent to help the team spend this past summer.
Wilson Chandler, who has missed the entire season with a hip injury, takes up 14.6 percent of the Denver Nuggets’ total salary. Will Barton has proven to a be a steal at just five percent.
Andre Drummond is one of the top bang-for-the-buck players in the NBA, earning just 4.3 percent of the Detroit Pistons’ payroll. Newcomer Tobias Harris, recently acquired from the Orlando Magic, takes up 20.9 percent.
Stephen Curry is arguably the best player in the league over the last two seasons. The Golden State Warriors have just 11.9 percent spent on the reigning MVP. Overall, 69.6 percent of the team’s salary goes to Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala and Curry.
The Houston Rockets have 43.1 percent invested in Dwight Howard and James Harden, along with 13.8 percent spent on the failed Ty Lawson experiment (now with the Indiana Pacers).
Almost half of the Pacers’ salary is spent on Paul George, Monta Ellis and George Hill — about a quarter of that is to George (23.7 percent).
The Los Angeles Clippers’ big three of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan earn 62.5 percent of the franchise’s salary.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers’ youthful trio of D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle are at just 12.5 percent of team salary. Clarkson is the real steal at just 1.2 percent. Meanwhile, the Kobe Bryant farewell tour is taking up 34.5 percent of the Lakers’ payroll. Roy Hibbert is another big chunk at 21.5 percent.
The Memphis Grizzlies are severely handicapped this year with 23.7 percent of their payroll invested in an injured Marc Gasol (foot).
Hassan Whiteside is another steal at just 1.2 percent of payroll, while the HEAT are spending 79.4 percent on the foursome of Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic and Luol Deng.
The Milwaukee Bucks just lost 14.7 percent of their investment this season with O.J. Mayo (ankle) and Michael Carter-Williams (knee) both lost for the season.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have 29 percent of their money invested in Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Garnett, 17.9 percent in Ricky Rubio and 15.7 percent in players no longer with the team. Meanwhile, youngsters Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine take up 19.2 percent.
Anthony Davis may be signed to a massive contract extension, but currently he’s earning jut 8.7 percent of the New Orleans Pelicans’ payroll. Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon, both injured for most of the season, are taking up a combined 32.4 percent.
Carmelo Anthony is one of the highest paid players in the league at 31 percent of the New York Knicks’ payroll.
The Oklahoma City Thunder spend 39.5 percent on their dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and 70.1 percent on the foursome with Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter.
Slam-dunk runner up Aaron Gordon earns 6.6 percent of the Orlando Magic’ payroll.
Almost half (46.4 percent) of what the Philadelphia 76ers are spending this season is going to players not even on the team’s roster like JaVale McGee and Gerald Wallace.
A major reason for the Phoenix Suns’ demise this season is 39.6 percent of payroll to injured players (Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and T.J. Warren). Knight is finally returning to action, but the damage is done.
The Portland Trail Blazers have one of the league’s great bargains in C.J. McCollum (four percent) — and he’s still under contract next season. Damian Lillard and McCollum at 10.8 percent combined may be the most productive duo in the league for the money. Meanwhile, the Blazers have 22.7 percent invested in cut players like Anderson Varejao and Mike Miller.
The Sacramento Kings have a much higher percentage invested in two players, (38.9 percent to DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay), but without the same level of success as the Blazers.
David West is earning just 1.4 percent of what the San Antonio Spurs are paying this season. Tim Duncan helped the team put it all together by taking just 6.1 percent this past summer. The tandem of Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge earn 41.6 percent.
The Toronto Raptors have a pair of All-Stars at 30.5 percent of salary (DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry). Currently-injured forward DeMarre Carroll is the team’s highest paid player (18.8 percent).
The Utah Jazz are still on the playoff bubble in the Western Conference, despite a 20.4 percent investment in injured players Dante Exum and Alec Burks.
Finally, the Washington Wizards are heavily invested (47.6 percent) in the trio of John Wall, Marcin Gortat and Nene. Bradley Beal earns just 6.8 percent of team salary, just a hair above waived forward Martell Webster’s 6.7 percent.
Note: Minimum salaries for experienced veterans are factored in at the discounted rate of $947,000 or 1.4 percent of the current salary cap.
Make sure to follow Basketball Insiders on Twitter at @BBallInsiders.