The stars of the NBA are some of the best paid athletes in the world. Teams are desperate to lock up their stars for the foreseeable future in hopes of becoming more successful, selling jerseys and and filling their stadiums come game night. The best way to do this is to shell out the big bucks to retain the services of the superstar, and this has resulted in some truly jaw dropping contracts over the years. In some cases, these players have proven to be worth their lucrative deal, but in other cases, they have not.
10. Shaquille O’Neal – $120 million, 7 years (1996–2003)
After being the first pick in the 1992 draft, Shaq took no time proving his incredible dominance. But during his time playing for the Orlando Magic, some signs of friction developed. Then he signed with the Lakers on a staggering seven-year, $120 million contract (particularly large at the time). In typical Shaq fashion, he stated that he did not join for the money and that he was “tired of hearing about money, money, money, money. I just want to play the game, drink Pepsi, wear Reebok.” Shaq continued his ascendancy as one of the most dominant players in the game, and was then paired with superstar teenager Kobe Bryant. Phil Jackson was then brought in as coach, and using the legendary triangle offense, the Lakers won three straight NBA titles with O’Neal picking up the finals MVP each time. This was Shaq in his prime, and although things were tense between him and Kobe, together they wrote history.
9. Tim Duncan – $122 million, 7 years (2003–2010)
If ever there was a player worthy one of an enormous NBA contract, it was Tim Duncan. Perhaps the greatest power forward ever, he is amazingly fundamentally sound and has a brilliantly high basketball IQ. Although the Spurs are very much a team, Duncan is the key to their success and he is still going strong today. In the early stages of his career he was guided by David Robinson, but Duncan quickly became one of the best in the game. He stepped into the role as leader in 2003 with a seven-year $122 million contract after winning finals MVP, and would guide the Spurs to both the 2005 NBA title (plus his third finals MVP) and the 2007 title whilst remaining remarkably dominant and consistent. Proving what a great team player he is, Duncan has twice taken a huge pay cut to keep the Spurs a title contender.
8. Chris Webber – $122.7 million, 7 years (2001–2008)
One of the best passing Big Men in the history of the NBA, Chris Webber was also the star of a very exciting Sacramento Kings team. He was traded to the Kings in 1998, and he was joined by Vlade Divac, Jason Williams and Peja Stojakovic. They turned the Kings from a perennially losing team to an entertaining playoff team, and Webber was quickly establishing himself as a premier power forward. For this, Webber was given a huge $122.7 million seven-year deal in 2001, and that season he guided them to a franchise best 61-21 record. They then reached the Western finals against their archrivals, the Lakers, in what is now an infamous and controversial series where the Kings lost in seven games. After another MVP candidate season, Webber suffered a career threatening knee injury in 2003. He was never quite the same, and the once promising squad was dismantled.
7. Joe Johnson – $123.7 million, 6 years (2010–2016)
After gaining a reputation as a clutch shooter in Phoenix, Joe Johnson joined the Atlanta Hawks in the summer of 2005. It was here that he broke out, leding the team in points (20.2), assists (6.5), steals (1.6) and three-point FG’s (128). He continued to develop, and he soon became an All-Star and an elite scorer who helped the Hawks to their first playoff appearance in nine years. In 2010, Johnson re-signed on a six-year $123.7 million deal, which made him the highest paid player in the league. Despite improvements, the Hawks were unable to advance past the second round. They went all-in during the 2011 season, adding Tracy McGrady, Jerry Stackhouse, Jason Collins and other veterans. They finished with the fourth best record in the East, but were knocked out in the first round against the Celtics. Change was then afoot, and Johnson was traded to the Nets.
6. Carmelo Anthony – $124.1 million, 5 years (2014–2019)
The Knicks are a franchise that have been struggling for a long time (although they have improved this season), and since 2011 they have relied heavily on Carmelo Anthony for scoring. In this respect, he has not disappointed, as the eight-time All-Star has averaged as high as 28.7 PPG (winning the scoring title) during his time in the Big Apple. Despite his impressive statistics, the Knicks have struggled in the playoffs, although he did power them to their first series win since the 2000 playoffs in 2013. The 2013/14 season was another impressive one for Carmelo, but the Knicks would miss the playoffs that year, making it the first time he would not appear in the post-season. He told the Knicks he would opt-out, but then resigned on a mammoth $124.1 million deal over five years. With changes in personnel, Knicks fans are praying that things are about to change for the team.
5. Rashard Lewis – $126 million, 6 years (2007–2013)
Although not an elite player like the other entries, there was a time where Rashard Lewis was a premier scorer in the NBA. He impressed during his first nine seasons with the Supersonics, where he became an All-Star and the franchise leader for three-pointers made. During the 2006/07 season, Lewis averaged 22.4 PPG and he became a coveted free agent. He was snapped up by the Orlando Magic for a whopping $126 million in a six-year deal, and he joined a talented but struggling squad. They reached the second round of the playoffs in his first year, and the following season he was the leading scorer and earned his second All-Star appearance. In the post-season, Lewis hit the game-winner in the Conference Finals and helped his team to the Finals where they lost to the Lakers in five games. It was all downhill from here, however, and Lewis was traded to the Wizards in 2010.
4. Kevin Garnett – $126 million, 6 years (1995–2001)
Selected straight out of high school in the 1995 draft (the first since 1975), it quickly became obvious that Kevin Garnett was a unique talent and a franchise player. With the acquisition of Stephon Marbury for the 1996/97 season, Garnett flourished and became an All-Star (the youngest ever) whilst powering his team to their first ever playoff appearance. Seeing his incredible potential, the Timberwolves offered Garnett an astronomical $126 million six-year deal, the biggest ever at the time. As a small market team, this was deemed a risky strategy as it made it hard for the Timberwolves to retain or attract players. Ignoring this, Garnett emerged as an unstoppable force, making him the heart and soul of the team. Although the Timberwolves still struggled, Garnett led them to eight straight playoff appearances, and as far as the Conference Finals in 2004 (when he also won the MVP award).
3. Jermaine O’Neal – $126.6 million, 7 years (2003–2010)
Many will scoff, but Jermaine O’Neal was once considered one of the most promising players in the NBA. This is difficult to remember, but he was voted the Most Improved Player in the 2001/02 season, during which he averaged 19 PPG and 10.5 RPG. He joined the Pacers in 2000 and quickly settled in, leading the league in blocks and the East Conference in double-doubles. He then had his breakout year in 2001/02, where he was an All-Star and led the team in scoring and rebounding. After another impressive individual season, he was offered a gigantic $126.6 million seven-year contract. He continued to improve as the Pacers had a league best 61-21 record, and they made it as far as the Conference Finals. But the infamous “Malice in the Palace” incident shortly followed, and this, along with a few injuries, cause many to see this as one of the worst contracts in sports history.
2. Kobe Bryant – $136.4 million, 7 years (2004–2011)
Although over the last few years it has been painful to see Kobe battle against his body, nobody will forget just how astonishing he was, and he will forever be included in the greatest of all-time conversation. Once Shaq headed for the exit following their finals loss in 2004, the Lakers became Kobe’s team. He signed an enormous $136.4 million contract over seven years, and during this time he emerged as one of the greatest players to ever grace the hardwood. He scored 81 points in one game in 2006, shattered many other scoring records, and won MVP in 2008. Most impressive, however, was the following two seasons where he powered the Lakers to two titles and earned two Finals MVP awards. This gave him five titles, and he finally proved that he could win without Shaq. Although he has faced plenty of criticism, Kobe deserves an enormous amount of respect and will be sorely missed when he retires at the end of this season.
1. Anthony Davis – $145 million, 5 years (2016–2021)
Anybody with the slightest interest in the NBA will be aware of the scary potential that Anthony Davis has. Standing 6’10” with an eye popping wing-span of 7’6″, Davis is also exceptionally skilled in almost every area of the game and is constantly developing. Since joining the league in 2012 as first pick, he has shown glimpses of his potential with the struggling New Orleans Pelicans, and frequently registers triple-doubles and has even flirted with a quadruple-double. With a new NBA TV deal to take effect next year, the salary cap is set to soar, and earlier this year Davis was given a record breaking $145 million deal over five years, the maximum amount New Orleans could offer. The franchise is the smallest market, but they are more than aware of Davis’ potential and they will only become more popular and successful with him as the face of the Pelicans, and potentially the NBA.