Among the top 10 highest paid players in the NBA this season, we find three from the Miami Heat (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh), two from the Los Angeles Lakers (Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol), two from the New York Knicks (Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire), another one from the five boroughs (Joe Johnson), a Dallas Maverick (Dirk Nowitzki) and another Texas-based player in Dwight Howard.
One of the interesting things about the current crop of the league’s best-paid players is how so few of them are actually in their prime, as probably only James, Howard and Anthony fall into that category.
Number 10 – Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat), $18,673,000
Entering his 11th NBA season, Wade is entering a very big year for him. Not just the chance of winning a three-peat with the Miami Heat, but also proving he’s still an elite NBA player, and not someone going through a steep decline due to his known knee injuries. He has a player option for $41 million over the next two years, which he will obviously pick up, because no one in the league will give him a max contract anymore.
Number 9 – Chris Bosh (Miami Heat), $19,067,500
The lesser angle of the big three triangle is also someone with the same two-year player options left on his deal, only making slightly more money than Wade. Bosh, like Wade, isn’t going to get a deal like this on his second decade in the league, although on a different team his numbers would have probably been much better.
Number 8 – LeBron James (Miami Heat), $19,067,500
Out of the big three for the Heat, the only one no one is sure where he’ll sign next season. James is a two-time Finals MVP who wants to become the greatest player ever. Agree with it or not, the way to win over those who make that decision is by winning NBA championships, so if the Miami Heat don’t look like a title-winning team for him when this season is over, expect him to opt out of his current deal, which gives him $42.6 million over the next two years.
Number 7 – Pau Gasol (Los Angeles Lakers), $19,285,850
Into the final year of his deal, the Gasol of the last two seasons hasn’t been worth the money. He’s averaging only 14.6 points with 10.4 rebounds while shooting 40.9% from the field early this year, with no indication of things looking better. The Lakers must be slightly regretting not trading him earlier, but they are getting him off the books at the end of the season. How much will he be worth at 34 to the Lakers and any other team? Not a max deal, but a good season might mean still getting plenty of money in a league that loves to compensate big men.
Number 6 – Dwight Howard (Houston Rockets), $20,513,178
On the first year of a four-year deal with the Rockets, paying him just under $88 million. Playing next to another center in the lineup early this season, Howard is averaging 17.4 points and 14.6 rebounds per game, and for now seems quite pleased to be waiting for James Harden to pass him the ball compared to how he looked when he waited for Kobe Bryant to do the same thing.
Number 5 – Joe Johnson (Brooklyn Nets), $21,466,718
The amazing thing about Johnson’s deal? He has two more years after this one, worth a total of $48 million. Yes, the Hawks were wise to give him that much money, right? He’s averaging 11.5 points per game early this season for the Nets (16.3 last year), but it seems that the Nets’ owner doesn’t really care overpaying players, not to mention the luxury tax that comes with it, as long as his team is named among those who can dethrone the Heat in the East.
Number 4 – Amar’e Stoudemire (New York Knicks), $21,679,893
Stoudemire was quite useful last season when the Knicks actually played him, shooting 57.7% from the field and scoring 21.8 points per game per 36 minutes, but his huge cap hit does seem like one big waste when his knee problems won’t allow him to play more than 11 minutes a night, and things don’t seem like they’re going to get much better anytime soon.
Number 3 – Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks), $22,407,474
The highest paid Knicks player is worth the money, but the problem is that he’s not good enough, apparently, to be a leading man on a championship-caliber team, or at least these Knicks and him aren’t a good enough combination to get past the conference semifinals. Anthony can have all the 30 points while taking 25-30 shots a night games he wants, but unless things get drastically better around him, the scoring title is the only one he has a shot at getting. If the Knicks actually look as bad as they’ve started this season, the talk of him looking sideways at the Lakers won’t sound so far fetched anymore.
Number 2 – Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks), $22,721,381
On the final year of his deal, Dirk Nowitzki hasn’t been lucky enough to get a championship team built around him one more time, as Cuban’s decision to start blowing up the squad after winning the title in 2011 hasn’t been rectified with good enough signings over the last couple of seasons. At least Nowitzki has a proven and mostly reliable scorer next to him right in Monta Ellis, making the Mavs one of the more fun to watch teams in the league.
Number 1 – Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers), $30,453,805
Just when Bryant becomes the second player in NBA history to make over $30 million in one season (Michael Jordan is the other), he has to sit out, waiting for his Achilles Tendon injury to heal up completely so he can help the sad-looking Lakers look a bit more respectable. It’ll be the final year of his current deal, making Bryant a free agent at the end of the season. Will he sign with the Lakers? Will he be looking for another big contract? Will he be willing to sacrifice money and ego in order to still be on a title-bound team? One of the more interesting story lines to follow the moment this season is over.