03-29-2007, 05:51 PM
Updated: March 29, 2007
The 25 best contracts in the NBA
By John Hollinger
On Wednesday I took a look at the NBA's worst contracts, so it's only fair that today I look at the other side of the coin: The league's most valuable contracts.
But wait … there's a catch. You see, because of the rookie salary scale specified in the league's collective bargaining agreement, picking out the most valuable contracts is like shooting fish in a barrel. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony … all these guys are making a fraction of their true market value because of the distortions brought about by the rookie salary scale.
Thus, a list of the most valuable contracts quickly degenerates into a list of the league's youngest players. So instead, let's make this a bit more challenging (not to mention more informative) by taking a look at the best non-rookie contracts in the NBA right now. As you'll see, finding a decent player for less than the midlevel exception is a relative rarity, and in the salary-cap era those teams that do it are way ahead of the game.
In fact, you'll notice that most of these contracts belong to the NBA's best and most admired organizations. There are a few exceptions -- the list includes two Bucks, two Bobcats, a Grizzly and a Hawk -- but by and large those who shop wisely have reaped the rewards in the standings.
And in an odd twist, this list changes at a much faster rate than the list of bad contracts. Because most low-dollar contracts tend to be short-term arrangements, the majority of these players will be hitting free agency this summer and looking to get a salary that's more commensurate with their production.
But for now, they're the league's most underpaid players. Here's a look at the guys providing the most bang for the buck this year (figures rounded where necessary):
1. Chauncey Billups, Pistons ($6.4 million)
This was, quite simply, the greatest midlevel exception signing of all time. Billups has made two All-Star teams and won a Finals MVP while becoming the key crunch-time shot-maker on one of the league's most successful teams.
Not bad for a vagabond who had been a backup in Minnesota the year before he came to Detroit. But the gravy train is about to end for the Pistons -- Billups will be this summer's most coveted free agent.
2. Alonzo Mourning, Heat ($2.5 million)
Gotta love those hometown discounts. Mourning knowingly signed for well below his market value this past summer so he could stay with the Heat, providing Miami with one of the league's best defensive players as well as its best backup center.
In a market where even mediocre centers earn four times as much, he's provided the Heat with a tremendous advantage in their title defense.
3. Jose Calderon, Raptors ($2.3 million)
Man, where did that come from? On a per-minute basis, Calderon has been one of the best point guards in all of basketball this season, averaging 16.9 points and 9.4 assists per 40 minutes while shooting 53.4 percent from the floor.
He's a big reason behind the Raps' surprising run to the Atlantic Division crown and, unlike a lot of players on this list, he's still under contract for another season.
4. Chris Webber, Pistons ($407K)
After appearing on Wednesday's bad contracts list, it's time for C-Webb to take a spin on the good side. Going to Detroit for the veteran's minimum propelled the Pistons' second-half surge that has them sitting atop the Eastern Conference and, perhaps, poised for their third trip to the Finals in four years.
Helping matters greatly is C-Webb's uncharacteristically accurate shooting -- he's at 52.1 percent after hitting 39.1 percent, 43.4 percent and 38.7 percent in parts of three seasons as a Sixer. Like Billups, he's due for a big raise this summer.
5. Mo Williams, Bucks ($1.9 million)
An enlightened free-agent pickup three years ago when the Bucks plucked him off Utah's roster, Williams has emerged as one of the league's top young point guards with averages of 17.5 points, 6.3 assists and 4.9 rebounds.
His continued improvement has been a bright spot in an otherwise lackluster Milwaukee campaign, but as with Billups it's time to pay the piper -- he's a free agent after the season and, at worst, will triple his income.
6. Manu Ginobili, Spurs ($8.2 million)
When Ginobili signed his six-year, $52 million deal two years ago, some wondered whether the Spurs overpaid. Not anymore, as the Argentine star is currently having his best season. He's averaging a career-high in points while playing just 27.6 minutes per game, shooting 41.9 percent on 3-pointers, and ranks ninth in the entire league in Player Efficiency Rating -- ahead of Gilbert Arenas, Steve Nash and Tracy McGrady, among others.
He's likely to win the Sixth Man award, and best of all he's under contract for three more years.
7. Steve Nash, Suns ($10.5 million)
Here's all you need to know -- the league's two-time MVP doesn't make the max. Far from it. In retrospect, I don't know what's more amazing -- that Phoenix was able to nab him at this price, or that Dallas thought the offer too rich to match. Either way, his bargain deal is the reason Phoenix has been able to pay its other stars and skirt the luxury tax ... at least for now.
Nash is having his best season yet (47.3 percent on 3-pointers? With almost all of them coming off the dribble? Are you kidding me?) and is under contract for three more years, though the last one is an option year for the Suns. Hmmm … think they'll pick it up?
8. Mikki Moore, Nets ($1.1 million)
One nice thing about the league's recent rule changes is that it's allowed guys like Moore -- inside players who lack muscle -- to have a career. The slender seven-footer cost New Jersey only a second-round pick in 2009 after he was squeezed out of Seattle's frontcourt picture a year ago. Think the Sonics regret that one?
All Moore has done is shoot 60.1 percent to help keep the Nets' playoff hopes afloat after Nenad Krstic was lost for the season.
9. Gerald Wallace, Bobcats ($5.5 million)
He's the Marcus Camby of small forwards -- he comes out of nowhere to block shots, fills up the stat sheet in every category, and misses 10-20 games a year with injuries. Nonetheless, Wallace is the league's most underappreciated star. Though he's the Bobcats' highest-paid player, that's not saying much -- he's way undervalued in the larger market and should remedy that situation by opting out of his deal this summer.
10. Ime Udoka, Trail Blazers ($745K)
Look what we found. Invited to the Blazers' training camp partly because, hey, he lives in Portland so why not, Udoka made the team, won a starting job, and established himself as the team's defensive stopper. Best of all, he's showed he can play some offense too, hitting 41.1 percent on 3-pointers. Not bad for a 29-year-old guy with 12 previous NBA games under his belt. He should get rewarded for it this summer.
11. DeShawn Stevenson, Wizards ($932K)
Stevenson took a financial hit when he opted out of the final year of his contract with Orlando, but his pain was the Wizards' gain. Washington picked him up on the cheap to replace Jared Jeffries, and got a defensive stopper with more scoring ability.
Stevenson has surprised with his long-range shooting (41.5 percent from 3) and should get a lot more attention when he tests the free-agent market again this summer, especially since he doesn't turn 26 'til next week.
12. Caron Butler, Wizards ($7.4 million)
The contract extension Butler signed a year ago already seems looking like a bargain for Washington, as Butler blossomed into one of the game's top small forwards this year and made his first All-Star Game.
While a recent battle with knee problems has slowed him down a bit, his production is undeniable -- 19.1 points, 7.5 boards and 2.1 steals -- and he's done it while shooting a career-best 46.3 percent. Moreover, he's under contract for four more years.
13. Tony Parker, Spurs ($9.5 million)
As with Butler, Parker's contract extension is quickly turning into a bargain. His six-year, $66 million deal is great value for a "1" with his productivity -- he ranks sixth among point guards in PER, is one of the better defenders at his position, and at 24 should offer several more years of production at this level.
He's also en route to a second straight season of shooting over 50 percent (he's at 51.9 percent right now), a remarkable feat for any guard who isn't a Canadian guy named Steve.
14. Matt Carroll, Bobcats ($1.2 million)
Carroll is one of the league's most quietly productive scorers. Note that I didn't say shooter -- I said scorer. In his past three seasons he has averaged 20.8, 18.6 and 19.1 points per 40 minutes. Yes, he can stroke it from outside (43.0 percent on 3s), but it's his knack for getting to the stripe -- where he shoots 90.6 percent -- that separates him from the other catch-and-shoot guys.
At $1.2 million, he's been a bargain for the Bobcats, but he'll get paid this summer.
15. Zaza Pachulia, Hawks ($4 million)
The Hawks have given their critics plenty of ammo in recent years, but they got this one right. While the Chris Kamans and Sam Dalemberts of the world make more than twice as much dough, Pachulia has been vastly more productive with his workmanlike game. This year he's upped his numbers to 17.3 points and 9.9 boards per 40 minutes thanks to an improved mid-range J, and his 46.9 percent shooting is a career-high.
Plus, his deal runs two more seasons at the same price.
16. Charlie Bell, Bucks ($755K)
Nobody showed much interest in Bell coming out of Michigan State because they thought at 6-3 he was too small to play shooting guard. Guess not. Pressed into service as a starter and defensive stopper this season, he's put together a second straight solid campaign and figures to reap the rewards in a couple more months.
Interesting side note: Despite the Bucks' struggles, Milwaukee's backcourt of Bell and Williams is easily the league's most underpaid.
17. Eddie Jones, Heat ($337K)
As with Webber, Jones has one bad contract and one good one. The good one is the deal he signed to join Miami after Memphis waived him, shoring up Miami's wing rotation just as Dwyane Wade checked out with a shoulder injury and allowing the Heat to go on a season-saving winning streak in March.
Since coming to Miami, he's shot better, too. In fact, his 47.2-percent mark from the floor is far better than he fared in any of his other five seasons in a Heat uniform.
18. Jason Kapono, Heat ($1.2 million)
It took a while, but Mr. Kaponovich has established himself as one of the league's most potent perimeter threats. A bystander a year ago while the Heat were winning a title, he won a starting job this season by shooting a blistering 51.3 percent from downtown.
He also won the 3-Point Shootout in Vegas and has posted career highs from both the field (49.6 percent) and the line (88.7 percent). Like most of the other guys on this list, he'll get a big raise this summer,
19. Matt Barnes, Warriors ($788K)
Though Barnes' playing time has greatly diminished of late, he still makes the bargain list thanks to the spark he gave Golden State early in the season. Making the league minimum, Barnes showed a completely unexpected 3-point touch (37.3 percent) and has more than doubled his previous career-best in scoring.
The 27-year-old journeyman should get his first multi-year deal after the season, so maybe he can unpack that suitcase.
20. Chucky Atkins, Grizzlies ($3 million)
A non-story because of the Grizzlies' miserable season, Atkins' performance nonetheless has been remarkable. A 32-year-old, 5-11 guard isn't supposed to have a career year, but Atkins has been fantastic -- 19.3 points and 6.5 assists per 40 minutes, a 57.4 true shooting percentage and, most surprisingly, a career-high 4.1 free-throw attempts per game.
He's on a one-year deal and might have trouble getting paid based on his performance because it's so out of line with his career totals. But it sure as heck doesn't hurt his cause.
21. Rashard Lewis, Sonics ($9.4 million)
The Sonics have been getting near-All-Star performance at below-market rates for the last three years from Lewis, which might explain why he's so itchy to opt out of his deal after the season. Despite an extended injury absence due to torn tendon sheath in his hand, the 6-10 forward is averaging a career-high 22.2 points per game; nearly all his Hollinger stats are career-bests, too.
At 27 years old, he'll be one of the summer's most coveted prizes.
22. Andres Nocioni, Bulls ($4.0 million)
Red Bull is one of the game's better two-way forwards, making the three-year deal he signed with Chicago one of GM John Paxson's best moves. His offensive potency has been a major surprise, getting 21.5 points per 40 minutes this year and hitting 37.9 percent from downtown.
Unfortunately, a severe bout of plantar fasciitis has his season on hold at the moment, and if he can't come back it could negatively impact his free-agent riches this summer.
23. Trevor Ariza, Magic ($3.1 million)
Orlando's second-unit energizer slipped through the cracks in free agency, allowing the Magic to retain him cheaply. Though he missed several weeks with a knee injury, he's been a godsend when healthy.
Ariza is shooting 53.3 percent, rebounding like a power forward and providing wing defense that Orlando's other 2s and 3s simply can't. At only 21 years old, he figures to get a whole lot better, too.
24. Dikembe Mutombo, Rockets ($2.2 million)
It turns out the Rockets weren't just keeping Mutombo around for the unintentional Cookie Monster impersonations. At age 40 (and don't even think about questioning that figure), he's proved to have way more left in the tank than anyone expected.
Taking over for an injured Yao Ming, he helped the Rockets survive by rebounding like crazy -- his 21.8 Rebound Rate is second in the NBA -- and playing his usual finger-wagging defense. No, there hasn't been much offense to go with it, but find me another center this productive for such a low price.
25. Corey Maggette, Clippers ($7 million)
This just in: Corey Maggette is a scoring machine. The Clippers have forgotten this at various times over the past two seasons, but with L.A.'s season in dire straits they seem to have remembered just in time. He's a free-throw generating machine who hits 82.0 percent once he gets there, plus he's a consistent jump shooter and an underrated rebounder.
With 40-minute numbers of 21.7 points and 7.6 boards, one wonders what took the Clips so long to get him in the starting lineup. He comes just as cheaply next season, too.
John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.
03-30-2007, 06:34 AM
You are great man for posting all these articles which you paid money to read.
At the same token, every fricken article seems to be insider only these days. But yes, much appreciation. Jet is only guaranteed 50 of the 57 mil right? Either way, thats still better than Parker's 66 and Terry is 10 times more clutch. Esp this year, where I believe Terry is outplaying Tony P the "Music Man."
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