Back in the early ’80s, current Hall-of-Famer and NBA executive Magic Johnson signed a contract considered so valuable that it was unheard of at the time. The deal that the leader of the Showtime era Los Angeles Lakers received? It was set to run for 25 years, was worth $25 million and he even got the promise of an ownership stake in the team for signing it.
Obviously the latter part of the contract is no longer allowed by the NBA, but just think about its financial terms and how absurd the max contracts of today are in comparison. Back then, a deal with an annual average value of $1 million was seen as a lot. For example, Larry Bird’s first contract with the Boston Celtics was for five years and $3.3 million.
These days, player contracts have gotten just a bit more expensive for owners.
To begin with, under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), there are various different types of max contracts.
Some are max extensions coming off rookie scale deals, which are capped at 25 percent of the max (30 percent if the player meets certain prerequisites). There are also max deals for players with just under 10 years of experience known as the Designated Player Exception, where those who qualify can earn 35 percent of the max.
And even besides those two types, there are countless other ways for teams to work out max contracts with free agents.
At the moment, technically, there are 32 players set to earn max money in 2018-19. Here they are, listed by the team who’s paying them that money:
- Stephen Curry, Golden State: $37,457,154
- Chris Paul, Houston: $35,654,150
- LeBron James, LA Lakers: $35,654,150
- Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City: $35,350,000
- Blake Griffin, Detroit: $31,873,932
- Gordon Hayward, Boston: $31,214,295
- Paul George, Oklahoma City: $30,560,700
- Mike Conley, Memphis: $30,521,115
- James Harden, Houston: $30,421,854
- Kevin Durant, Golden State: $30,000,000
- Al Horford, Boston: $28,928,710
- Chris Bosh, Miami: $26,837,720
- Otto Porter, Washington: $26,011,913
- Nikola Jokic, Denver: $25,467,250
- Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota: $25,467,520
- Anthony Davis, New Orleans: $25,434,263
- Bradley Beal, Washington: $25,434,262
- Andre Drummond, Detroit: $25,434,262
- Joel Embiid, Philadelphia: $25,250,000
- Hassan Whiteside, Miami: $24,434,262
- Kevin Love, Cleveland: $24,119,025
- Marc Gasol, Memphis: $24,119,025
- Chandler Parsons, Memphis: $24,107,258
- Harrison Barnes, Dallas: $24,107,258
- Kawhi Leonard, Toronto: $23,114,066
- LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio: $22,347,015
- Kyrie Irving, Boston: $20,099,189
- Jimmy Butler, Minnesota: $19,841,627
- Enes Kanter, New York: $18,622,514
- Wesley Matthews, Dallas: $18,622,513
Bosh, despite not being medically cleared to play basketball for the Heat or any other team, is still being paid his max salary for this upcoming season by Miami thanks to a CBA rule that allowed the Heat to officially get his money off their salary cap (due to an injury that multiple doctors agree is career-ending) while still letting the player get paid.
The most interesting case of a guy just missing the cut to qualify as a max-level player is Damian Lillard’s. In the summer of 2015, Lillard agreed to a massive rookie-scale extension with the Portland Trail Blazers, reportedly worth $140 million over five years. However, as part of the deal, Lillard agreed to take only a 25-percent-of-the-cap extension while also agreeing to not take the 30-percent-the-cap max if he became eligible for it. (Players become eligible for a higher percentage of the salary cap on their max deals a few different ways, including if they win MVP, or make an All-NBA or All-Defensive team.) Lillard wound up making an All-NBA team after the extension, but as part of his agreement with Portland, he currently makes just 27.5 percent of the cap instead of 30. Thus, he doesn’t technically qualify as a max player because he’s not making the absolute maximum he could be.
What’s more, two players from the 2015 draft are still on their rookie-scale deals in 2018-19 but have already signed max extensions that are set to kick in the following season, in 2019-20. They are Karl-Anthony Towns (five-year, $158.1 million extension) and Devin Booker (likewise, a five-year, $158.1 million extension).
There are other players, such as Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who, despite making a pretty penny this upcoming league year, just missed the cut for what qualifies as the max. And there are others from the 2016 rookie class who are just a year away signing max extensions.
As such, the number of players earning max deals will certainly fluctuate over the coming seasons. But for now, it’s just the previously listed 32 who are earning the coveted amount in 2018-19.
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