It took an insane buzzer-beater from Kawhi Leonard that bounced off of the rim four times before finally sinking through the basket for the Toronto Raptors to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of their second-round series last year. With Leonard now playing out West for the Los Angeles Clippers, the 76ers believe that they are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference this season. And with the addition of Al Horford this offseason, they now have two of the top five highest-paid centers in the NBA in 2019-20.
1. Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic: $28,000,000 in 2019-20
Nikola Vucevic enjoyed a career year with the Magic in 2018-19, setting new career highs in games played with 80, points with 20.8 per game, and 12 rebounds per game. While he was already an effective big man before last season, his performance last year in leading the Magic to their first playoff berth since 2012 has moved Vucevic firmly into the top 10 centers in the NBA.
As such, he was set to become one of the most coveted free agents of the 2019 crop before Orlando locked him up to a four-year, $100 million deal. The 29-year-old will be under team control through the end of the 2022-23 season.
1. Al Horford, Philadelphia 76ers: $28,000,000 in 2019-20
While Vucevic was retained by his former team, the Boston Celtics did not re-sign Al Horford, making one of the leagues best centers available in free agency. The 76ers pounced on the opportunity to add the veteran big man, signing him to a four-year, $109 million deal. He will play power forward in Philadelphia and serve as a back-up center to Joel Embiid.
Horford’s statistics don’t jump off of the page, but his value on the court is clear. The 33-year-old is an elite defender that can do a bit of everything, including shooting well from distance and facilitating his teammates on offense.
3. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers: $27,504,630 in 2019-20
Joel Embiid is entering his fourth season in the NBA in 2019-20 looking to take another step forward in his development. When on the court, he is one of the most dominant centers in the NBA; his production has improved every season he’s been in the league, capped off by an impressive 27.5 points and 13.6 rebounds per game.
The 25-year-old has struggled with injuries and inconsistency over the course of his young career. The presence of Al Horford on the 76ers will not only give the team depth behind Embiid in the case of any injuries, but could also help in his continued development as the veteran Horford takes on a mentorship role. Embiid is in the second year of a five-year, $147.7 million deal he signed before the 2018-19 season.
3. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets: $27,504,630 in 2019-20
Originally drafted by the Nuggets with the 41st overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, Nikola Jokic has developed into one of the premier centers in the NBA. The 7-foot tall center has steadily improved through his first four seasons in the league and racked up 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game last season. After making only $4.1 million in his first three seasons in Denver on his rookie contract, Jokic received a much-deserved five-year, $147.7 million extension before the 2018-19 season.
5. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves: $27,285,000 in 2019-20
With early-season controversy swirling around Jimmy Butler and an eventual 36-46 finish that left the Minnesota Timberwolves out of the playoff picture, it might have been easy for the basketball world to overlook another great season from Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns had 24.4 points and 12.4 rebounds per game in 2019-20 while also chipping in with a career-high 3.4 assists per game.
At just 23 years old, Karl-Anthony Towns has a bright future ahead of him in the NBA, but he’s going to need some help with his supporting cast if the Timberwolves hope to be competitive. Towns signed a five-year, $158.2 million super-max extension last year.