It’s usually typical thinking in sports that the teams that spend the most money on players are the ones that win championships. While that is true more often than not, there have been instances where that hasn’t been the case. For example, did you know that the 1990-1991 Chicago Bulls, which was the first of six Michael Jordan-led Bulls teams to win the NBA title, had a payroll of only $10 million and ranked 22nd out of 27 teams? Or that both of the Houston Rockets’ title wins in the ’90s came with payrolls in the bottom half of the league? So it can be done.
It’s just not the norm.
With the 2019-2020 NBA season set to resume on Thursday night, we thought it might be fun to look at the five teams that had the biggest payrolls heading into the season and see what their chances might be of taking home the Larry O’Brien Trophy. It’s certainly interesting to note that the team with the largest payroll heading into this season currently wouldn’t make the playoffs.
What must be remembered here is that all of these numbers were in place before the NBA was shut down in mid-March. Certain salaries have been adjusted due to games being canceled but we’re looking at things here as if everyone received all of their money.
5. LA Clippers: $133,763,833
With Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the roster, it’s certainly not shocking to see the LA Clippers in the top five on the NBA payroll list. George was set to make just over $33 million this season with Leonard coming in at $32.7 million. So that’s nearly half of the players’ payroll right there. Marcus Morris and Patrick Beverley were the only other players making eight-figure salaries.
As far as the Clippers’ chances when the NBA resumes, they’re certainly one of the favorites in the bubble. They’ll begin the restart 5.5 games behind the Lakers for the top spot in the Western Conference but will have plenty of competition for that No. 2 spot as four teams are within four games of them.
4. OKC Thunder: $133,820,365
Chris Paul is obviously the biggest reason why the Oklahoma City Thunder have one of the biggest payrolls in the league. The 10-time NBA All-Star was owed just over $38.5 million for the 2019-2020 season, one of the highest salaries in the game. Center Steven Adams was second in salary for the Thunder, earning just over $25.8 million for the year, and Danilo Gallinari, who’s having an underrated season for OKC, is third at $22.61 million.
The Thunder certainly surprised a lot of people before the NBA shut down. After losing Russell Westbrook, many didn’t think that OKC would contend in the West but they’ve proved everyone wrong and are right in the thick of things. They’ll resume their season with a big matchup against the Utah Jazz on Saturday.
3. Miami Heat: $134,341,791
While Jimmy Butler is the only member on the Miami Heat roster earning more than $20 million, the team had six players with eight-figure salaries on the books for the 2019-2020 NBA season. Butler led the way at $32.74 million with Goran Dragic in second at $19.21 million. Andre Iguodala, who joined the team in February, Solomon Hill, Kelly Olynyk, and Meyers Leonard are also paid quite well.
The Miami Heat have one of the most difficult schedules in the bubble for the eight seeding games, which doesn’t make a ton of sense as they had the easiest remaining schedule in the NBA when the league shut down. They’re already in the postseason so there’s nothing to worry about there but who they play in the first round could easily change over the next couple of weeks.
2. Milwaukee Bucks: $135,025,925
For anyone not aware, reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was set to make $25.84 million in 2019-2020, is not the highest-paid player for the Milwaukee Bucks. That honor belongs to Khris Middleton, who was on the books for $30.6 million. Eric Bledsoe was set to earn $15.625 million and veteran center Brook Lopez comes in at just over $12 million.
With the best record in the NBA coming into the bubble, the Bucks are clearly one of the big favorites to win the title. Giannis suffered a knee injury just before the shutdown but seems to be back at full strength heading into the restart. They’ll resume their season on Friday night with a possible Eastern Conference Finals preview against Kemba Walker and the Boston Celtics.
1. Portland Trailblazers: $138,929,290
Three contracts over $27 million is a good way to get to the top of the list when it comes to NBA payroll and that’s exactly what the Portland Trailblazers had on the books coming into the season. Damian Lillard led the way at $29.8 million. CJ McCollum was owed $27.55 million and Hassan Whiteside was set to make just over $27 million. Just imagine if Carmelo Anthony had made what he was used to making.
The Blazers will begin the NBA restart without the services of Trevor Ariza, who opted out of the remainder of the season to spend time with his son. While not a huge piece of the puzzle, it certainly doesn’t help a team that is currently 3.5 games out of the playoffs with just eight seeding games to play. Portland will face the very team they’re chasing in the West, the Memphis Grizzlies, in their first game back on Friday afternoon.
*All salaries courtesy of Basketball-Reference