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.
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