NBA PM: Analyzing This Year’s Top Salaries

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Each season, Basketball Insiders lists the NBA’s 50 highest-paid players. In addition to showing which individuals are viewed as franchise cornerstones, the list also reveals some trends about the NBA (such as which types of players are being given lucrative contracts) and the state of the league’s economy.

This is especially true of this year’s list since some of the largest contracts in NBA history were given out this past offseason after the league’s new television deal led to an unprecedented salary cap increase.

Here are some interesting takeaways from this year’s salary data:

–    Some of the highest-paid players for this season may surprise you. LeBron James ($30,963,450) is a no-brainer, but six players are tied for the second-highest salary in the NBA: DeMar DeRozan ($26,540,100), Al Horford ($26,540,100), Mike Conley ($26,540,100), Kevin Durant ($26,540,100), James Harden ($26,540,100) and Russell Westbrook ($26,540,100).

Durant, Harden and Westbrook aren’t shocking. Conley is a surprise since he has never even been an All-Star, but he hit free agency at the right time and landed a huge, maximum contract from the Memphis Grizzlies as a result. DeRozan and Horford also found themselves in the right place at the right time, landing huge deals from the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics, respectively, this summer. Conley, DeRozan and Horford aren’t typically brought up when we’re discussing top-three players in the NBA, yet the only player paid more money than them is James. Expect more surprising highest-paid players next summer, when even more lucrative deals will be handed out to free agents.

–    This year, 19 non-All-Stars are among the top 50 highest-paid players. Mike Conley is the highest, tied for the second-largest salary this season, and he’s joined by Harrison Barnes, Hassan Whiteside, Chandler Parsons, Bradley Beal, DeAndre Jordan, Nicolas Batum, Ryan Anderson, Allen Crabbe, Tobias Harris, Greg Monroe, Enes Kanter, Wesley Matthews, Bismack Biyombo, Evan Fournier, Evan Turner, Gordon Hayward, Timofey Mozgov and Ian Mahinmi in the top 50 list.

As you can see, this list includes many players who just signed deals this summer. As if it wasn’t clear back in July, this summer was an amazing time to be a free agent and these rankings further prove that. After Conley, the next highest-paid non-All-Stars are Barnes, Whiteside, Parsons and Beal – all of whom will make $22,116,750 this season.

–    One trend that we see is that 3-and-D players are being paid very, very well in today’s NBA. Allen Crabbe ($18,500,000) is probably the best example. Crabbe is a reserve for the Portland Trail Blazers, but he still managed to cash in due to his skill set and upside. The Brooklyn Nets were willing to throw a ton of money at Crabbe in their offer sheet (since he was a restricted free agent), but the Blazers viewed him as too valuable to let him go and matched the contract.

Now, Crabbe will earn more money in 2016-17 than stars who signed deals prior to this summer such as Paul George ($18,314,532), Kawhi Leonard ($17,638,063), Kyrie Irving ($17,638,063), Jimmy Butler ($17,552,209) and DeMarcus Cousins ($16,957,900). This shows how free agents struck gold this offseason, but also that teams really value 3-and-D specialists in today’s NBA.

Interestingly, three of Portland’s four highest-paid players for the 2016-17 season are reserves (Crabbe, Turner and Meyers Leonard). That trio will earn a combined $44,106,927 this year while coming off of the bench.

–     Allen Crabbe and Evan Turner aren’t the only bench players who finished in the top 50 highest-paid player list. Six of the top 50 players this year are reserves for their respective teams: Crabbe, Turner, Greg Monroe, Enes Kanter, Bismack Biyombo and Ian Mahinmi.

Each of these players will make at least $15.9 million this season. For comparison’s sake, this is significantly more money than All-Stars like Stephen Curry ($12,112,359) and Isaiah Thomas ($6,587,132) will earn this year.

–    Speaking of Isaiah Thomas, let’s take a closer look at his contract. It’s well-documented that Stephen Curry’s $12,112,359 contract is a huge bargain since he signed his long-term deal when his injuries were still a concern and he wasn’t considered a superstar yet. He’s clearly underpaid, but we all know that (and, fortunately for Curry, he’s racking in endorsement money these days).

Thomas’ bargain contract doesn’t get nearly as much attention. The Boston Celtics’ All-Star is making just $6,587,132 this season and his salary will decrease next year to $6,261,395. When Thomas signed this contract, it was after he had played really well with the Sacramento Kings, but some NBA decision-makers wondered if he had simply put up solid numbers on a bad team and if he could duplicate his success elsewhere. He signed this four-year deal with the Phoenix Suns, but they traded him to Boston (in exchange for Marcus Thornton and a 2016 first-round pick) roughly seven months after he joined the team. Now, Thomas is a star for the Celtics, yet he’s earning less than many role players around the NBA (such as Jose Calderon and Anthony Tolliver, for example). This has allowed the Celtics to build around Thomas, adding Horford over the summer and still having cap room to spend.

–     There are 29 NBA players earning more than $20 million this season (and that’s just looking at the players’ NBA contracts, so this is before additional endorsement money). It’s a good time to be a star NBA player!

For a complete look at the top 50 highest-paid player list, click here. For Basketball Insiders’ in-depth team salary cap pages, click here.