With the NBA Trade Deadline having occurred this past Thursday, there might not be a better time than the present to examine the NBA payrolls of the 2013-14 season as teams are stuck with all guaranteed contracts at hand for the remaining two months of the regular season. Taking a look at the payrolls of the 30 NBA franchises, a majority are over the salary cap of $58.7 million (24) with seven of those teams over the $71.7 million luxury tax line, meaning they’ll be forking over some additional cash. The way the luxury tax works in the NBA is that a team that is over the luxury tax line by $4.99 million or less is taxed $1.50 for every dollar over the limit. That rate increases to $1.75 for teams between $5 million and $9.99 million over, and then goes up to $2.50 for teams between $10 million and $14.99 million over. Teams between $15 million and $19.99 million over the line are charged a rate of $3.25 per dollar spent and from there teams are taxed a rate that goes up $0.50 for every additional $5 million spent.
Large payrolls don’t necessarily equal more wins for a franchise. Just look at the top three teams in the Western Conference standings all having payrolls outside the top 10 in the NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder (1st in the Western Conference; 12th in payroll), San Antonio Spurs (2nd in the Western Conference; 19th in payroll) and the Houston Rockets (3rd in the Western Conference; 25th in payroll). Additionally, the Indiana Pacers are leading the Eastern Conference with a 42-13 despite ranking 15th out of 30 NBA teams in payroll. However, having big money to spend doesn’t hurt much either, as four of the five teams with the lowest payrolls for the 2013-14 season–the Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz–are all well out of playoff contention with bottom-five records and are bound for the lottery. The bottom line is that having a top-10 payroll doesn’t mean a team will be competing for an NBA title, let alone guarantee a playoff spot as can be seen from this list.
10. Boston Celtics – 2013-14 Payroll: $70,747,100
The Boston Celtics currently have the fourth worst record in the NBA at 19-38, yet have the 10th highest payroll to show for it. It doesn’t help that the team’s two biggest contracts of Kris Humphries and Rajon Rondo, who each are making $12 million this season, have not produced up to their given value. Humphries is averaging just 7.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, while Rondo is averaging 10.2 points and 7.7 assists per game. Granted, Rondo is coming off an ACL injury and has only competed in 12 games so far this season, still one has to wonder if the four-time All-Star will return to his previous form. Luckily for the Celtics and new head coach Brad Stevens, more than $24 million is coming off the books this offseason, allowing them to make progress in their current rebuilding state.
9. Toronto Raptors – 2013-14 Payroll: $71,429,136
Having not been to the playoffs for six years, last appearing in 2008, the Toronto Raptors are primed to make the playoffs this April and likely with one of the top-half seeds in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors have compiled a 30-25 record to this point in the year, which puts them in third position in the East. Toronto sure doesn’t seem like it would have one of the top payrolls in the NBA and not just because of the franchise’s usual futility. More so, it’s surprising to see when you consider that its highest-paid player, All-Star DeMar DeRozan, is only making $9.5 million this season, a relatively low price for the team’s best player. What eats at the Raptors inflated payroll though is the amount of players they are writing checks for. There are 18 players on Toronto’s payroll with 16 of those making at least $1.26 million. Five players other than DeRozan are banking more than $5.2 million this season with eight others making more than $2 million, but less than $5 million.
8. Memphis Grizzlies – 2013-14 Payroll: $71,581,636
A couple years removed from the Western Conference Finals, the Memphis Grizzlies are currently out of the playoff picture as they have a 31-24 record, good enough for ninth place in the West. The contracts of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are where most of the Grizzlies money is spent with “Z-Bo” making $17.8 million this year, while Gasol is profiting $14.86 million. Memphis very well might have the blues with amount of money the organization is spending without a playoff appearance, but for the owner’s sake, at least they will avoid paying any luxury tax. Next year the Grizzlies are in a similar situation as $64.17 million is committed in contracts, but financial flexibility will come in 2015-16 when only $23.73 million is committed.
7. Golden State Warriors – 2013-14 Payroll: $72,321,813
The first victim on this list of the dreaded luxury tax is the Golden State Warriors, who being a little more than one-half million over the luxury tax line won’t cost “The Dubs” that much extra money. Golden State was considered by many at the beginning of the year as a legitimate contender to win the Western Conference, but so far this season the focus seems to have shifted on first securing a playoff bid. With a 34-22 record the Warriors are seventh place in the West and only 2.5 games ahead of ninth-place Memphis. Golden State actually ranked outside the top-10 for payrolls just a few days ago, but jumped into the conversation when they acquired veteran guard Steve Blake in a trade with the Los Angeles Lakers.
6. Los Angeles Clippers – 2013-14 Payroll: $72,342,322
Edging out the Golden State Warriors for the sixth spot by a mere $20,000 is another California team, the Los Angeles Clippers. Sitting in fourth place out West with a record of 38-20, the Clippers have done a fairly nice job of positioning themselves for a title run without breaking the bank. A lot of Los Angeles’ money is going to its two stars Chris Paul ($18.66 million) and Blake Griffin ($16.4 million) with center DeAndre Jordon earning a good chunk of change as well ($10.98 million). Besides those three players, the Clippers have some nice additional pieces on their roster with players like J.J. Reddick, Jamal Crawford, Jared Dudley, Matt Barnes and Darren Collison each making between $1.9 million and $6.5 million this year.
5. Chicago Bulls – 2013-14 Payroll: $73,102,229
Considering Derrick Rose has the highest salary on the Chicago Bulls roster, making $17.63 million this year in an injury-lost season, the Bulls should be fairly pleased that they are still a playoff bound team as they currently sit in fourth place in the East with a 29-25 record. With a healthy Rose, Chicago very well could be right there with Miami and Indiana competing for the Eastern Conference Championship, but instead the Bulls are just another middling Eastern Conference team who likely won’t make it past the second round of the playoffs. Rose’s contract could be quite the burden if he never returns to full health, as he still has three years left on his deal with each season seeing more than a million-dollar increase. Luckily, in two years the Bulls will have some nice flexibility when Carlos Boozer’s contract expires as only $42.79 million are accounted for in salaries.
4. Los Angeles Lakers – 2013-14 Payroll: $77,363,178
Tied for the fifth-worst record in the NBA and worst in the Western Conference with the Sacramento Kings and Utah Jazz at 19-36, the Los Angeles Lakers are experiencing one of their bleakest seasons in recent memory. The Lakers bloated payroll and awful record revolves primarily around Kobe Bryant‘s $30.45 million salary and his injury-lost season. Throw in Pau Gasol‘s inflated $19.28 million salary and 40-year-old Steve Nash‘s $9.3 million salary and that rounds out the meagre situation in Los Angeles even more. Fortunately for the Lakers, only $35.34 million is committed in salaries for 2014-15 and Bryant is the only player signed for 2015-16 at $25 million, meaning a free agent shopping spree will occur over this summer and possibly the next.
3. Miami Heat – 2013-14 Payroll: $80,512,021
Looking to win a third consecutive title, the Miami Heat have as good a shot as any of the NBA contenders to win in 2014 with a 39-14 record good enough to currently be second in the Eastern Conference and three games back of Indiana. With the “Big Three”–Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade–accounting for nearly three-quarters worth of the team payroll, it will be interesting to see what transpires this summer after Miami’s playoff run. Bosh, James and Wade each can opt out of their contracts at the end of this year leaving more than $40 million apiece on table for the final two years of their contracts if they were to do so. Will another title satisfy the three and see them go their separate ways? Or will a title motivate them even more to win a fourth, maybe even fifth straight championship? With two years worth of player options, Heat fans and NBA competition will be eager to see what happens.
2. New York Knicks – 2013-14 Payroll: $87,604,049
The biggest market in the league can obviously afford a high payroll, but being nearly $16 million over the luxury tax line and currently out of the playoff picture has to be disheartening to fans and management alike. The New York Knicks are currently at 21-35 and 11th in the East with an outside shot at still making the playoffs, but it looks doubtful. The Knicks have fallen significantly from the 2012-13 season when they had the second best record in the East, even with much of the same roster they had a year ago. New York is paying NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony a pretty fair market value at $21.49 million this year, but what really hampers the Knicks is the contract of Amar’e Stoudemire who is making $21.67 million in 2013-14. The situation doesn’t get any better for New York in 2014-15 as $91.21 million is committed in contracts assuming Anthony and Metta World Peace exercise their player options (Anthony can opt-in for $23.53 million and World Peace can opt-in for $1.66 million). The good news for the Knicks is only $12.67 million is committed in salaries in 2015-16, meaning a revamped roster could be put into place in the summer of 2015.
1. Brooklyn Nets – 2013-14 Payroll: $102,032,548
For being more than $30 million over the luxury tax line and having spent nearly $15 million more than its closest competitor, one would expect a lot more out of the Brooklyn Nets. But whatever might be the case, the Nets are currently barely in the playoff picture with the eighth best record in the Eastern Conference at 25-28. The spendthrift ways of Nets billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov prove that money can’t always buy a championship and an astute front office is just as important in putting the right pieces together. Brooklyn has five players making $11.5 million or more this season–Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett –with Johnson making the most at $21.46 million. The outlook for the Nets doesn’t improve much over the next couple seasons as $89.96 million are committed in contracts in 2014-15, while $62.71 million is accounted for in 2015-16, which is a higher mark than nine NBA teams’ current 2013-14 payrolls.
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