March 9, 2021

We Built an Entire Starting Lineup Using Russell Westbrook's 2021 Salary

So much of the modern NBA is dealing with a hard salary cap imposed by the league. It makes having one massive salary a huge burden to deal with, and it’s one of the reasons why a lot of teams lack quality depth.

Looking at the highest-paid players in the NBA, some players make sense — LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, to name a few — while others look to be completely overpaid. 

One member of the overpaid club is Russell Westbrook, who will pocket a whopping $41.4 million this season. 

What could an NBA team do with more than $41 million in cap space? We decided to find out and build our own starting lineup — including a sixth man with our spare change — using Westbrook's 2021 salary. 

Before we dive in, let’s discuss some ground rules. We decided to allow just two rookie-scale players to make the starting lineup. It’s a nice balance to avoid a team of role players or a team stacked with the best young players whose next contracts simply haven’t kicked in yet.

Guard: Luka Doncic ($8M)

We would be crazy if we didn’t use one of our two rookie contract slots on Luka Legend.

In his second season, Luka Doncic was the leader behind one of the most efficient offenses in NBA history. In his third campaign, he’s carrying the entire Mavericks offense, averaging 28 points, eight rebounds and nine assists. 

The Mavericks completely collapse offensively when Doncic rests, going from scoring 115 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the court to only 102 points per 100 when he’s resting. He’s a lethal pick-and-roll facilitator and has mastered the difficult cross-court pass. His step-back 3-pointer has already beaten teams at the buzzer, while his floater is the perfect counter to when teams load up on his lob partner.

Guard: Donovan Mitchell ($5.2M)

Donovan Mitchell has developed into a star from an unlikely draft spot late in the 2017 lottery. Now in his fourth season in the league, he’s helped lead the Jazz to the best record in the NBA. While he certainly has excellent teammates, Mitchell is who the Jazz turn to when they desperately need a bucket. 

Mitchell is averaging a healthy 24 points, 4.6 rebounds and 5.3 assists while converting almost 39% of his 3-pointers. His off-the-dribble verve is relentless, whether it results in rim-shattering dunks or kick out to open teammates on the perimeter. He shot 50% in clutch situations last playoffs and has proven he’s ready for the bright lights.

With our backcourt complete, we have $28.2 milliion to play with and no more rookie-scale slots available. This is where it'll get tricky. 

Guard: Seth Curry ($7.8M)

Yes, we are going with a three-guard lineup. It’s 2021, and barely anyone plays defense anyway.

Seth Curry is secretly one of the best 3-point shooters in the history of the league. While his stats don’t jump off the page, his value reaches far beyond that. He’s converting 47% of his 3-pointers this season on a healthy volume. 

Even when Curry doesn’t have the ball in his hands, his gravitational pull creates more space for a 76ers offense that could use some, considering Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons love working in the paint.

His floor-spacing abilities come in handy for any team, and they make this imaginary squad an offensive juggernaut.

With two spots left, we have slightly more than $20 million left. 

Forward: Joe Ingles ($10.4M)

Joe Ingles gets to unite with his Jazz teammate Donovan on this team! He's a perfect fit because he’s the ideal role player since he doesn’t possess a weakness.

Ingles is a wizard in the pick-and-roll, using his magician’s bag of tricks to fake opponents out of their pants. He’s got the whole package, between head fakes, pass fakes, wrap-around and crisp bounce passes. It’s not surprising to see he’s generating 1.06 points per possession in pick-and-rolls, good for the 87% percentile league-wide. 

Ingles is also a great 3-point shooter, pesky defender and willing cutter. He’s going to have to play up a position on this squad, but it’s nothing he can’t manage.

Who would've thought Ingles would be our highest-paid player? 

Center: Chris Boucher ($6.5M)

Chris Boucher is on one of the best value contracts in the league. He’s got a similar build to a younger Kristaps Porzingis, but he’s learned to use his ridiculously long wingspan to become one of the best shot blockers in the league.

The Raptors have become very reliant on him, considering they outscore opponents by eight points per 100 possessions when he’s on the court, but are beaten by three points per 100 when Boucher takes a seat.

On a team with Doncic and Mitchell, Boucher doesn’t have to focus as much on his offense. But it doesn’t hurt that he can splash 3s with the best of them. He’s draining a crazy 46% of his attempts this season, although it’s a small sample size.

If Boucher continues his defensive dominance and tries his best to rebound, this imaginary team has a chance to win it all.

With our starting five complete, we still have $3.5 million to blow. Let's add a sixth man to the rotation. 

Sixth man: Alex Caruso ($2.8M)

Alex Caruso is the ideal NBA role player.

The Bald Mamba plays his ass off, spaces the floor, injects infectious energy when he’s on the court, can throw down dunks and play staunch defense. He obviously can’t carry an offense, but he doesn’t need to do that since he’s playing with brilliant offense talents.

The Lakers outscore opponents by nine points per 100 possessions when Caruso is out there. He’s a selfless teammate who never complains about lack of minutes or touches, and is happy to put his head down and just help his team grind out wins. He’s going to get a healthy raise this offseason, but for now, we’re happy to have him on the squad.

Well, there you have it. We have our starting five plus a sixth man for less than what Westbrook makes in 2021. That also leaves us with $700K to work the buyout market

Photo: Getty Images/Lines Illustration