Ranking the Top Five Best Contracts in the NBA
Ranking the Top Five Best Contracts in the NBA
When it comes to NBA contracts, I tend to agree with what Kevin Huerter recently said. He told The Athletic in October “The NBA does a good job of making $100 million seem like not a lot of money. To the rest of the world, my friends, my peers, my family, even $1 million is a lot of money.”
Huerter recently signed a four-year, $65 million contract extension that looks like a relative bargain compared to the atmospheric contracts we have seen handed out in recent years. For a player like Huerter who can shoot, stretch the floor, and play multiple positions, a player at his age making less than $20 million per season is a goldmine.
Which teams are holding on to the best contracts in the NBA? Who is getting the most value out of their players per dollar spent? In thinking about the best contracts in the NBA, I only gave myself two rules:
- No rookie contracts. These would clearly fill a top-20 list compared to the extensions and free agent deals signed right now, so they need to be considered separately.
- No one-year deals. A one-year deal in the NBA is like a “take the car for a week and see if you like it deal” down at my local Honda dealership. There are no long-term commitments and you can’t sink or sustain your franchise on those types of deals.
With those rules in mind, here are the top five contracts in the NBA:
Top Five Contracts in the NBA
Kemba Walker (age 31), PG, New York Knicks
Contract: 2 years, $17,894,491
Walker had a lot to prove coming into this season, having missed large portions of the past two seasons with injury and seeing his points per game and shooting percentages drop in his two years in Boston.
I don’t whether it’s the Madison Square Garden magic or the role he is asked to play alongside Derrick Rose, but Walker is shooting the ball at an elite level this year – 50% from the floor and 58% from distance – and averages 3.2 assists and 1.7 steals in just 27.7 minutes per night.
But perhaps more importantly, Walker and Rose have stabilized the point guard positions for the Knicks which was featuring the traveling circus of Elfrid Payton and Dennis Smith in years past. New York is currently tied for the best record in the Eastern Conference and their starting point guard currently makes $30 million less than John Wall per year. The Knicks also have Walker locked up next season for just $9 million, assuring a bargain at the position while at the same time not leveraging their future on a 31-year old who can be an injury risk.
Cameron Payne (age 27), PG, Phoenix Suns
Contract: 3 years, $19,000,000
Let’s just face some facts here. Chris Paul is phenomenal, but he will be 37 before the end of the season and is in his 17th NBA season. Paul has played almost 38,000 minutes just in the regular season and the Suns know they need a plan in place post-Paul so as not to waste the primes of Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton.
Enter Cameron Payne. The Suns locked up their dual-threat backup points guard to ensure he sticks with them for just $6.5 million per year, and the salary expires before Payne turns 30. Payne’s per-36 numbers are truly elite, checking in at 15.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 7.6 assists this season. So if he ever has an opportunity to play more than the 16-20 minutes he averages per game, he will lock up his status as one of the best values in the NBA.
For now, he remains one of the most valuable backups in the league and valuable insurance in case something happen to Paul.
Kelly Olynyk (age 30), C, Detroit Pistons
Contract: 3 years, $37,195,122
Over the past two seasons, Olynyk has become one of the most valuable and underrated big men in the new style of NBA play. He fits the mold perfectly of a frontcourt player who can bang inside but also is a dead-eye shooter from deep.
He was a bit of a slow starter when he came out of Gonzaga and couldn’t crack 20 minutes per game with the Boston Celtics. But since the move to Miami, Houston, and now Detroit, Kelly-O is showing he is worth well more than the $12 million per year deal he signed in the offseason.
Olynyk has been above a 30% three point shooter his entire career, and also averages 16.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per-36 minutes on the floor. Part of a three-headed monster frontcourt with Jerami Grant and Isaiah Stewart in Detroit now, he is the primary backup for both which should ensure 25 minutes per night for the next three seasons.
Dejounte Murrary (age 25), PG, San Antonio Spurs
Contract: 4 years, $64,000,000
If Murray could go back in time and give himself the Gray’s Sports Almanac with his statistics from the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 seasons, he likely would have made his agent fight for a deal worth twice as much as the one he signed before last season began. By the time the deal ends, Murray will only be making $17,000,000 in the final season.
Murray just turned 25 in September and has become the key piece of a rebuilding Spurs team. Murray was stellar last year with averages of 15.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.5 steals in 2020-2021. But he is even better this year with 17.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 8.8 assists and 2.2 steals per night in the early going.
Murray will still only be 27 when his current contract expires, and he is trending towards becoming a max extension player at this rate.
Richaun Holmes (age 28), C, Sacramento Kings
Contract: 4 years, $46,522,560
Holmes is likely everything the Sacramento Kings hoped that Marvin Bagley would be, and probably even more. The Kings sunk a second round pick and four years, $36 million into Bagley, the Michigan State big man, when they had the elite version fall into their laps the very next year.
While Bagley is relegated to the end of the bench this year and the Kings are forced to wait out his expiring contract, Holmes is excelling. He has put up 16.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in just 27.7 minutes per night. His per-36 numbers are jaw-dropping: 21.3 points, 13.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 blocks.
Holmes just turned 28 two weeks ago, so he will only be 30 when his fourth-year player option of $12,876,780 kicks in during the 2024-2025 season. That is the only potential downside to the deal, as Holmes will surely be worth double that when the time comes to consider the next contract.
Proudest husband and dad you will ever find. When I'm not with my wife and two kids I split my time working in higher ed, grinding DFS and season-long, collecting silver age comics, studying behavioral economics, and drinking coffee. I once played Pat Connaughton in an actual NBA DFS lineup for money. Astros, Rockets, and Texans for life.