With the salary cap in the NBA ready to make an immense jump, players that may have signed large contracts in previous off-seasons are becoming to look like steals. General managers around the league are constantly looking for ways to maximize the amount of cap space available to them and the value of each contract, and these players are the definition of maximization.
Honorable Mention: Paul George
This past season, Indiana Pacers small forward, Paul George, made a hefty $17 million and is scheduled to make a little more than $18 million next season. He has a player option for the 2019-20 season worth almost $21 million, so you may be asking how the NBA 2K17 cover athlete’s contract is a steal.
Well, for starters, his $54.9 million guaranteed is less than what Kris Middleton, DeMarre Carroll, and Tobias Harris are guaranteed—although they all have one more year on their contract than George. This past season, he set career highs in points per game (23.1), assists per game (4.1), and steals per game (1.9) while also averaging 7 rebounds per game and shooting .371 from behind the arc. With the cap on the rise, Paul George could be worth a lot more than $17 million in the near future.
5. DeMarcus Cousins
This past season, Boogie Cousins made almost $15 million in Sacramento and is scheduled to make almost $16 million and $17 million in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons respectively before hitting free agency. His $47 million guaranteed is less than Marcin Gortat, Robin Lopez, and Brook Lopez.
Cousins is arguably the best center in the NBA, so at $15 million, Boogie is definitely a steal. Last season, he averaged 26.9 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 1.6 SPG, and 1.4 BPG, while also developing his three-point shot (shot .333 on 210 attempts). One of the few dominant big men left who can take over games with his post scoring, Cousins definitely has a team friendly contract considering the drastic increases to the cap in the future.
4. James Harden
This past season, Harden made almost $16 million in a season many Rockets fans would like to forget. However, Harden had a tremendous individual season, averaging 29 PPG, 6.1 RPG, and 7.5 APG, all of which were career highs. Although his defense is regularly questioned—and rightfully so— Harden has shown the ability to not only score at a high rate, but also set his teammates up as well as pull down boards.
With $41 million guaranteed through the 2017-18 season, Harden is scheduled to make less guaranteed money than Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Wilson Chandler, and Wesley Matthews (although Harden has one less year in his contract than the three of them). Harden was second in MVP voting two seasons ago and continues to stuff stat sheets all at a bargain.
3. Kyle Lowry
This past season season, Lowry made $12 million, and is scheduled to make $12 million again next season with a player option of $12 million for the 2017-18 season before hitting the open market. After starting for the East in the All-Star Game in Toronto this season, Lowry helped the Raptors reach the conference finals where they fell to the Cavs.
The $12 million Lowry reeled in this season was less than Ricky Rubio and Ty Lawson, and neither of them made the All-star team let alone started in the 65th annual game. The twenty-nine year old averaged 21.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 6.4 APG, and 2.1 SPG. His average salary last season was only 11th among point guards, which is the definition of a steal.
2. Stephen Curry
This past season, Stephen Curry made $11.4 million, which to any of us is an unthinkable amount of money. However, Curry is a back-to-back NBA MVP who is going to get paid next summer.
Curry led the league in scoring, averaging 30.1 PPG, and added 5.4 RPG, 6.7 APG, and 2.1 SPG, although his defense is often questioned (Russell Westbrook laughing at a question about his defense at a press conference during the conference finals is exhibit A). If the Warriors defeat the Cavs in the NBA Finals, that would be back-to-back NBA championships for Curry and Company. Regardless of the result of this year’s finals, no one can understate his excellence these last two seasons, not even the $11.4 million that he earned last season.
1. Isaiah Thomas
This past season, Eastern Conference All-Star, Isaiah Thomas, earned $6.9 million. To put this into perspective, Thomas’ cap hit was 26th highest among NBA point guards, making his earnings on-par with other guards such as Greivis Vasquez, Rodney Stuckey, and Jose Calderon. With all due respect to Vasquez, Stuckey, and Calderon, Thomas is on a much, much higher level than them and deserves to be paid much, much more.
Last season, Thomas averaged 22.2 PPG and 6.2 APG, all while leading the Boston Celtics to the fifth seed in the East. At only 5-9, after being drafted with the last pick in the 2011 draft, no one expected Thomas to break out like he did. Now, however, one would be foolish to refuse to call Isaiah Thomas a star, and his contract is looking a little insulting. The good news for Thomas is that in two years when his contract is up and the cap has risen to unprecedented heights, Thomas will be in for an extraordinary pay-day.