Getting a massive contract in the NBA isn’t just about your output on the court. It’s a status symbol — a confirmation that the franchise sees this player as a cornerstone who will lead them to a brighter future with their exceptional talent. The market dictates that most of these NBA players deserve the money they get. But when you look at the top 10 salaries in the NBA, some of these deals have aged much better than others.
10. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: $39,344,900/$176.26 million through 2024-25
Damian Lillard has always carried the weight of the Portland Trail Blazers on his shoulders. But the last couple of seasons suggest that the strain is beginning to wear him down. After another quick exit from the playoffs last year, Lillard began to make noises about leaving the franchise he’s led with such pride for the first time.
Ultimately, the trade request never officially happened. Lillard stayed and had the worst year of his career. An abdominal injury that ended his season prematurely was blamed for his lack of efficiency, which brings up different questions about the point guard’s future. Small point guards tend to struggle the most as they age in a game of giants. Is this the first sign of decline in a six-time All-Star? And if so, has he missed his window as a star player on a championship contender?
9. Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers: $39,344,900/$127.47 million through 2024-25
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George arrived in LA in the summer of 2019. At the time, the prevailing sentiment was that the two of them would run the league and lead the Clippers to a title sooner than later. Injuries (and an all-time postseason collapse) have stopped this from happening.
Leonard’s physical issues have been apparent since his last year in San Antonio. But that knowledge doesn’t make the absence any easier. He’s still spectacular when he plays, but he’s only played 109 games since joining the Clippers, missing the entirety of this season recovering from an ACL injury.
8. Paul George, LA Clippers: $39,344,970/$127.47 million through 2024-25
He still has work to do in order to fully exercise the “Playoff P” nickname, but Paul George has excelled in his role as one of the Clippers’ costars. He’s expanded his playmaking to the point where he’s a complete offensive player, averaging 24 points, seven rebounds, and six assists this season. And on defense, he remains an impactful player on the perimeter.
George’s problem is availability. He only played 31 games this year and 133 games overall since joining the team. The Clippers have held up impressively despite the bad health of their best players, and have a terrific roster going into next season. But their hopes of playoff success begin and end with Leonard and George staying on the floor when they’re needed the most.
7. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks: $39,344,970/$176.26 million through 2025-26
Despite Giannis Antetokounmpo coming off a playoff run that ended with a 50-piece in the clinching game in the Finals, it feels like the two-time MVP doesn’t get enough credit as one of the NBA’s superstars. He had a great regular season, averaging 30 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists while playing more minutes at center than ever due to Brook Lopez’s back injury. He made real strides as a playmaker and developed a reliable mid-range game.
Yet Antetokounmpo was an afterthought in the MVP discussion, even though his early displays in the playoffs show that no player can dominate the game on both ends as he can. Some may argue that he’s not the best player in the league. But there’s no one on this list who inspires more confidence that he’ll live up to this contract than Giannis.
6. Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets: $40.91 million/$229.99 million through 2025-26
No longer the bus rider, Kevin Durant has led a Brooklyn Nets franchise that has lived through one of the strangest periods a franchise could have. Durant recovered from his torn Achilles without missing a beat. If he played more games in the regular season (something that can’t be counted on given his age), he’d have a real case for MVP. But multiple attempts to create his own superteam in New York have misfired. Last year was bad luck. Kyrie Irving and James Harden got injured in a series they still almost won against the Milwaukee Bucks.
This year’s struggles were much more self-imposed. Durant’s decision to link his career to the NBA’s loudest anti-vaxxer looks worse by the day. Then, the team was comfortably swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round. Durant has a ton of power in the organization. Can he form a winning culture that can sustain itself through a whole season? Time will tell.
5. LeBron James, LA Lakers: $41.18 million/$85.65 million through 2022-23
LeBron James has been the king of the NBA for over a decade. But his reign as the most important player in the league is officially on the downswing. The stats for James’ season look great. However, anyone who watched the Lakers knows how awful it was to view this team for any amount of time. There’s plenty of blame to go around for how they’ve ended up in this position two years after winning a title, but James is complicit in the downfall.
His defense and leadership were nonexistent, and his attempts to divorce himself from the roster decisions that led to this mess were unbecoming but predictable. James looked like a man in his late thirties attempting to hold onto power as a player and personality. He’s too smart and skilled to not put up numbers. But he needs more help than ever to challenge for another championship.
4. James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers: $43.848 million/$46.87 player option
How much longer will Harden remain on a list like this? He could opt out of his deal for a long-term contract this summer. But every playoff game where he scores 16 points and struggles to take anyone off the dribble makes the idea of paying him $50 million a year seem like a terrible idea.
But the sunk cost fallacy may work out in his favor. Sixers head honcho Daryl Morey is his biggest fan. Philly doesn’t have a ton of ways to acquire talent if they let him go. But outside of the first few games against bad teams, Harden hasn’t shown any reason to pay him like an All-Star.
3. Russell Westbrook, LA Lakers: $44.21 million/$47.06 player option
Oof. Oooooofffff. Plenty of people could see Russell Westbrook was a bad fit for the Lakers when the trade occurred. But no one saw it going this badly. He couldn’t make shots, he couldn’t guard anybody, and his public comments suggest that he believes his failures were the result of other people letting him down. It’s best for Westbrook and the Lakers that he isn’t on the team next season. But given his massive contract, they seem to be stuck with each other.
2. John Wall, Houston Rockets: $44.31 million/$47.36 million player option
Is it worse to play horribly and actively make your team worse on a nightly basis or to just never play at all? John Wall has had the worst contract in the league since he signed it. But it’s mostly bad luck that he’s ended up in this position.
His body began to fail him as soon as the ink dried on his current contract. Wall has played 40 games in the last three years. Dirk Nowitzki, who retired in 2019, has played more games (128) than the point guard (113) in the last five years. Who knows when or if we’ll see him on the court again any time soon.
1. Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors: $45.78 million/$261.13 million through 2025-26
It was fair to wonder if the Golden State Warriors had enough left in the tank for another title fun as their stars hit their mid-thirties. They’ve firmly answered every question asked of them this season. And all of their success is built around the irrepressible Steph Curry.
Even in a down year, he continues to show that he’s a generational offensive hub capable of being the best player on a championship contender and improving on defense. Curry will be 38 when his current contract expires, but shooting ages better than any other skill.
Salary data courtesy of Basketball-Reference.