The NBA season has arrived.
Not only are the best players in the league looking to deliver a championship to their franchise, but they're also trying to maximize their revenue while in the prime of their careers.
The top stars in the league are set to make an outrageous amount of money, with six players set to earn north of $40 million in 2020-21.
Who are the highest-paid NBA players in 2021? These 10 players are cashing in.
9 (tie). Klay Thompson: $35.4 million
Unfortunately for the Dubs, Thompson will not be delivering a return on investment this season. He will miss the season after suffering a torn Achilles prior to the season. This hurts the Warriors in terms of their on-court production, while also limiting the team’s ability to bring in reinforcements to make up for his inability to play this year.
If there is a silver lining to this for the Warriors, it can be found in the team’s first game against the Brooklyn Nets. Nets star Kevin Durant missed all of last season due to the same injury and looked great in the season opener against Golden State.
If Thompson can enjoy a similar recovery and comeback, the Warriors will be fine with his expensive price tag in the future.
Thompson is set to pocket nearly $38 million next season.
9 (tie). Paul George: $35.4 million
Paul George has had a wild few months with the Los Angeles Clippers. Playoff P reared his ugly head as he couldn’t find his shooting touch in an upset loss in the second round to the Denver Nuggets. After that, George was named as a key reason that the Clippers’ culture fell apart last season, leading to the firing of Doc Rivers. But George still got paid this offseason, and he will continue to command one of the highest salaries in the league for years to come.
The question for George, now that he has secured his bag, is whether or not he can be more productive in the playoffs. The days of his Indiana Pacers being a pesky, yet ultimately inadequate challenger to LeBron James’ Miami Heat are long gone. Since then, George has suffered embarrassing playoff defeats as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder and now the Clippers.
For more than $35 million, George will need to buck that trend in the playoffs and soon.
George is under contract with the Clippers through the 2024-25 season.
8. Blake Griffin: $36.8 million
Blake Griffin is another player whose production on the court might not match his salary any longer. Injuries kept him off the floor for much of last season, but the checks continued to roll in as a part of his five-year, $171 million deal. This season, nobody is quite sure what the Pistons will bring to the table, in part because they are not sure how much Griffin will be able to contribute.
The scary thing for Detroit is that they will owe him even more money next season. Griffin is slated to make over $38 million for the 2021-22 season. If he can’t physically keep going the way he used to, the Pistons will be on the hook for a lot of money that will not translate to a lot of the production they expected from him when they signed him.
7. LeBron James: $39.2 million
One player whose salary may never match his contributions on the court is LeBron James.
After signing a two-year, $85 million extension with the Lakers, the King is set to make just over $39 million this year, which is a drop in his financial bucket given every other venture he is involved in off the court. But given his ability to impact games in every conceivable way, even after a decade and a half in the league, his salary will always feel like a bargain.
This year, the Lakers come into the season as convincing favorites to win the NBA Finals for a second straight season. James will likely follow the same plan he has for the last couple of seasons, conserving energy wherever possible so that he can deliver in the playoffs. If there was no salary cap, there is no telling how high his annual salary would be.
6. Kevin Durant: $40.1 million
Coming back from a major injury like an Achilles has not worked out well for NBA players historically. But Kevin Durant looked great in the preseason and he's carried that over into the regular season as he looks to already be back in his MVP form.
For just over $40 million this season, the Nets will have to hope that Durant can continue to remain healthy on the court, or they may end up back where they were a season ago.
Durant and Kyrie Irving have the Nets as one of the favorites to win the Eastern Conference this season, right there with the Milwaukee Bucks. But with Irving and Durant having recent injury histories, and Giannis Antetokounmpo not suffering from the same, the question for the Nets is whether they can outlast the other contenders in their conference.
Durant's salary jumps to $42 million next year.
4 (tie). James Harden: $41.3 million
When he is on the floor, James Harden is worth every penny of the $41.3 million he is scheduled to rake in this season. But Harden is not a guarantee to be on the floor early on this year, as his relationship with the Houston Rockets seems to be deteriorating.
A desire to be traded has led Harden to miss practices, show up out of shape, and missed multiple games to start the season due to violating the league's COVID-19 protocol.
Even when he has been at the team’s facility, building animosity at practices has led to him throwing a ball at a teammate and not appearing thrilled to still be in Houston. If the Rockets are to have any chance to be better than they were last season, Harden needs to be at his best. Early indications suggest that might not happen this year.
No matter what the Rockets decide to do, Harden still has another year — at least — left on his contract.
4 (tie). John Wall: $41.3 million
A new member of the Houston Rockets, John Wall is making the same amount this season as James Harden. And while Harden is a cause for concern for the Rockets due to his attitude and desire to be traded, Wall’s health is a huge concern for Houston as well. The former No. 1 overall pick has missed the better part of the last two years for the Wizards because of injuries. For Houston to succeed this season, he will need to be on the floor regularly.
Wall was the best return that the Rockets could get in a trade that sent away Russell Westbrook after he also indicated that he wanted to leave Houston.
When healthy, Wall is one of the most dynamic point guards in the league. But Wall’s health has been less than a 50/50 proposition recently, and there is a fear that his output will not match his price tag as has been the case in recent seasons.
Wall is just in the second season of a four-year, $171.3 million contract.
2 (tie). Chris Paul: $41.4 million
A veteran presence surrounded by a ton of young talent like Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton, Paul’s impact on this team is going to be about way more than what he puts into the box score. The Suns are expected to make a leap into the playoffs this year.
If Paul can bring some veteran wisdom to the young talent on the Suns, he will be worth every penny he collects.
2 (tie). Russell Westbrook: $41.4 million
The Washington Wizards’ newest acquisition is also one of the three most expensive players in the NBA this year. Russell Westbrook is set to make the same amount as Chris Paul this season, an eye-popping $41.4 million.
Washington now has a very interesting pairing at the top of their roster. Bradley Beal has turned into a superstar with Wall’s consistent absence in the Wizards lineup. How he and Westbrook will coexist remains to be seen, as Westbrook has had a history of struggling to share the ball with other star players.
Either way, expect Washington to make a charge at the playoffs this year.
1. Stephen Curry: $43 million
The most expensive player in the NBA this season is Steph Curry. After what was mostly a gap year for the Warriors, Curry is going to have a lot on his plate as he looks to lead Golden State to a playoff berth. He will again be without Thompson this season, and Draymond Green is still out. That means that Curry is going to have to earn every cent of his massive $43 million salary.
Curry is currently in the fourth year of a five-year, $201.2 million supermax extension with the Warriors. In the final year of his pact, he'll make $45.8 million.
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