Although Stephen Curry (R) and LeBron James battled in the last two NBA Finals, their team contracts are on different playing fields. Two-time reigning MVP Curry is criminally shortchanged -- by NBA standards -- at $12.1 million this season, while LeBron lords over the list of top earners in the world's highest paying league. While James' position is expected, there are some eye-popping inclusions on this list. (Source: basketball-reference.com)
No. 20: Harrison Barnes, $22.12 million – Barnes became excess luggage at Golden State once Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors. The free agent -- who endured a poor NBA Finals and was essentially the 12th man on the Team USA roster in Rio -- signed a four-year $94.4 million deal with Dallas. The Mavericks are depending on the 6-foot 8-inch 24-year-old to take the scoring load off veteran Dirk Nowitzki. (Note: No's 20 -15 will all earn $22.12 million this season, the maximum under the current salary cap for players with up to six years of experience).
No. 19: Andre Drummond, $22.12 million – Drummond led the NBA in both offensive and defensive rebounds last year, averaging a total of 14.8 per game. He also made the All-NBA Third Team, confirming his status as a top-15 player in the league. The 6-foot 11-inch center was rewarded with a five-year max deal from the Pistons, worth over $127 million.
No.17: Hassan Whiteside, $22.12 million – Whiteside (#21) is the ultimate American redemption story. The seven-footer was drafted out of lowly Marshall University, and was cut by the Sacramento Kings, Memphis Grizzlies and even Al Mouttahed Tripoli of the Lebanese league before catching on with Miami in 2014. In a league run by "small ball," Whiteside excels as a throwback center, averaging 3.68 blocks per game in 2016 -- the highest mark since 2000. He also recorded three triple-doubles -- tying LeBron James and James Harden -- earning him a four-year $98 million deal with the Heat in July.
No. 16: Anthony Davis, $22.12 million – Last season was supposed to be Davis' breakout campaign, but he sat out the last 14 games with knee and shoulder injuries as the Pelicans missed out on the playoffs. Davis has yet to endure a full NBA season and said he has been troubled by left shoulder pain since his rookie campaign. When healthy, however, he is the most dominant big man in the game, which is why New Orleans signed a five-year, $127 million extension to his deal in 2015.
No. 15: Bradley Beal, $22.12 million – Beal averaged 17.4 points per game on 39% three-point shooting with Washington last season, playing second fiddle to John Wall. Although Beal suffered a variety of niggling injuries which kept him on the bench for large chunks of the season, Washington rewarded him with a head-scratching five-year $127 million deal.
No. 14 Chris Paul, $22.89 million – Paul is arguably the greatest Clipper of all time. Ever since the diminutive point guard took over LA's forgotten team five seasons ago, the Clippers have become a perennial playoff power -- a stark contrast to the four post-season appearances in the franchises' previous 27 years in the city. Thirty-one-year-old Paul has the option to terminate next season's salary of $24.3 million and test free agency, but has sustained two major injuries in the last three seasons.
No. 13 Dwight Howard, $23.18 million – Once a franchise player, Howard endured three lackluster years in Houston feeding off of James Harden's scraps. Though he will be entering his 13th NBA season, Howard is still only 30 and will look to rejuvenate his career in Atlanta. Plagued by injuries, the 6-foot 11-inch center's scoring sunk to 13.7 points per game last season, though he is still a rebounding force at 11.8 per game.
No. 12: Dwayne Wade; $23.2 million – Entering his 14th year, the 34-year-old Wade is following a campaign where he notched 74 regular season games for the first time since 2011. But he also recorded a career-low in minutes (30.5 per game) and three-point shooting (a dismal 16%). Seeking star power, the Chicago Bulls signed the three-time champion to a two-year $47 million deal.
No. 11: Chris Bosh, $23.74 million – Although Bosh's status as an NBA player is in doubt because of reoccurring blot clots in his lungs, he is on a guaranteed three-year deal with the Miami Heat for $75.8 million. Bosh and the Heat have severed ties, though the team will not release him before February 9 (a year after his last game) to claim salary cap relief. If Bosh plays another 25 games in the league -- and he is determined to make a comeback -- the Heat will be on the hook again.
No. 10: Damian Lillard, $24.33 million – Two-time NBA All-Star Lillard is set to be a perennial fixture in the event -- no small feat coming out of the point-guard heavy Western Conference. Lillard's scoring jumped to 25.1 points per game during the regular season, but he really shined during the Blazers' 11 playoff games, averaging 26.5 points, 6.1 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 91% free throw shooting. If he keeps improving, the 26-year-old will be up for MVP consideration -- which is why Portland committed $120 million of guaranteed money to keep him around until 2021.
No. 9: Carmelo Anthony, $24.6 million – Since joining the Knicks in 2011 -- and signing two deals guaranteeing $138 million -- 'Melo has won just one playoff series. Anthony, however, is coming off a third consecutive Olympic gold medal performance and will work around a re-tooled team featuring Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and last year's rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis.
No. 8: Dirk Nowitski, $25 million – Thirty-eight-year-old Dirk Nowitzki is entering his 19th season as a Dallas Maverick and is surely the team's greatest player of all time. The future first-ballot Hall-Of-Famer and former league MVP already racked up $220 million in career earnings before signing a two-year deal last summer for $50 million. Call it a goodbye gift from Mavs owner Mark Cuban.
No. 7: Al Horford, $26.54 million – After nine solid seasons in Atlanta, Horford decided he needed a change of scenery and moved north for greener pastures -- both in uniform and compensation. Horford signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston, which will take his total career earnings to more than $190 million by the time he hangs up his high-tops -- not bad for a 30-year-old with career highs of 18.6 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.
(Note: No's 2 -- seven will all earn $26,540,100 this season, the maximum under the current salary cap for players with seven to nine years of experience).
No. 6 Kevin Durant, $26.54 million – Only days after the Golden State Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals, the team was injected with a huge dose of goodwill. Durant opted to bolt Oklahoma City -- who happened to be the Warrior's biggest Western Conference threat -- for the Bay Area. The 6-foot 9-inch sharp shooter signed a two-year $54.3 million deal, but can leave Golden State in the off-season if things go awry.
No. 5: James Harden, $26.54 million – Harden -- who signed a four-year $118 million deal with the Houston Rockets in the off-season -- is the best one-on-one scorer in the NBA not named Steph Curry. The bearded gunner, who averaged a career-high 29-points-per-game last season, has been accused of selfish play and lackadaisical defense as his number have risen. But that didn't deter team owner Leslie Alexander. "I don't think people appreciate how great he is, but we certainly do," he said at the signing.
No. 4: Mike Conley, $26.54 million – Memphis Grizzlies point guard Conley signed the most lucrative deal in NBA history during the off-season at five years and $153 million. Conley is a serviceable point guard, but hasn't made an All-Star team in nine NBA seasons. The deal is more a function of timing, as the NBA salary cap is about to lift off in the 2017-2018 season, when a new collective bargaining agreement is set to kick in.
No. 3: Russell Westbrook; $26.54 million – One could argue that Westbrook finally got what he wanted this summer: Full reign over a young, athletic team where every possession will start and end with his decision-making. The Thunder feared the worst when Kevin Durant skipped town, but Westbrook showed character by opting to stay in small market Oklahoma City -- not that the reported three-year, $85.7 million hurt. Westbrook has been a triple-double machine without Durant in the lineup, and -- barring injury -- he'll be in top MVP consideration this season.
No 2: DeMar DeRozan, $26.54 million – DeRozan (#10) is a spectacular scorer for Toronto, but featured only a bit role on Team USA's gold medal team this summer. No matter, the Raptors, who have a history of losing draft talent to free agency -- from Chris Bosh to Tracy McGrady to Vince Carter -- locked up the 27-year-old shooting guard to a five-year $137.5 million deal, the second-highest in NBA history.
No. 1: LeBron James, $30.96 million – A Cleveland economist valued James' return to the city at $500 million -- and that was before he delivered a championship. It's possible that no one player has ever been worth more to his team than LeBron James is to the Cavaliers. Still, the NBA operates under a salary cap, and within those parameters James commanded the maximum this summer: Three years at $100 million. Look for 'Bron to opt-out of year three and reset his deal in 2018.