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Weekly Countdown: Winning now means paying later in the NBA

This being a nation of laws in which contracts cannot be abrogated (or so I hear on the Sunday morning news shows), NBA players continued to rake in huge salaries while the larger economy comes shattering down all around them. This season more than $2,144,283,570 is being paid to 507 players, according to official NBA payroll figures I viewed Wednesday.

That makes for an average salary of $4.2 million, which is far more than the Rockets are paying the tireless Luis Scola (who is making $3.1 million this season) and far less than the Knicks paid the tiresome Stephon Marbury ($18.6 million).

The lowest-paid player was D.J. Strawberry, who was paid $4,185 by the Rockets. The highest-paid player this season is once again Kevin Garnett, who is making$24,751,934 with the Celtics. That equates to $301,853 per regular-season game, whether he played or not.

5. Utah Jazz, $65.8 million payroll, $1.29 million per win ... They're benefiting from the rookie salaries of Deron Williams at $5.1 million this year, Ronnie Brewer at $1.8 million and Paul Millsap at $797,581 as a second-round pick. But all that will change next season when Williams' extension pays him $13.8 million and Millsap either re-signs or leaves as a restricted free agent this summer. Depending on whether or not Carlos Boozer (making $11.6 million), Mehmet Okur ($8.5 million) and Kyle Korver ($5.0 million) exercise their options to become free agents, the Jazz could either have cap space this summer or face a luxury tax with a bloated payroll. In either case this roster is likely to undergo some form of reconstruction.

4. New Orleans Hornets, $66.9 million payroll, $1.29 million per win ...Chris Paul is a huge bargain with his rookie contract paying him $4.6 million, though next year his new deal kicks in at $13.8 million. He's worth all of that, but his raise will create a luxury bill that owner George Shinn can't afford to pay. To shave the necessary $8 million from next year's payroll the Hornets tried to unload Tyson Chandler (making $11.4 million this season and on the books through 2010-11) for expiring money before he failed his physical at Oklahoma City. This summer they can explore moving him elsewhere or try to piece together a number of smaller deals to either get under the projected $69.4 million luxury threshold (or take money in trades to offset the tax penalties they may pay), but there will be an awful lot of rival teams trying to make the same kind of money-saving deals.

With Peja Stojakovic ($12.5 million this season and two more years to go on his deal) untradable because of back problems, and Chandler viewed as damaged goods, will the Hornets be forced to consider offers for David West (making $9.9 million this year, with three more years remaining)? A trying summer is ahead.

3. Denver Nuggets, $69.9 million payroll, $1.29 million per win ... The Nuggets have done what so many teams wish to do: They improved while unloading salary and skirting under the luxury tax threshold. It started last summer with the perplexing decision to unload Marcus Camby's $10 million salary to the Clippers in exchange for nothing but the right to swap second-round picks. Couldn't the Nuggets have at least commanded a first-rounder for a former Defensive Player of the Year? But that move made it possible for them to package Allen Iverson's expiring $20.8 millions salary for Chauncey Billups, who is earning $11.1 million with three more years to go. The Nuggets will need to whittle down next season -- their commitment to nine players leaves them barely underneath the tax threshold -- but they're operating from a position of strength in comparison to many teams.

2. Los Angeles Lakers, $78.3 million payroll, $1.22 million per win ... This payroll makes sense to a team seeking the championship in a lucrative market. They can afford the salaries of Kobe Bryant ($21.3 million), Pau Gasol ($15.1 million) and Lamar Odom ($14.1 million), who happen, by no coincidence, to be their three best players. A luxury tax bill of $7 million awaits Jerry Buss, but he'll still make a fine profit, especially after the gate receipts come in from the home playoff games. Bryant will opt out either of the next two summers to sign an extension before the next collective bargaining agreement is expected to reduce max salaries, annual raises and overall length of contracts. Andrew Bynum's current $2.8 million escalates to $12.5 million next season to launch his new four-year deal, and Odom and Trevor Ariza are free agents this summer with Jordan Farmar to follow in 2010. But as long as Kobe is in town and the tickets are selling, the Lakers should remain in strong shape.

1. Orlando Magic, $70.1 million payroll, $1.13 million per win ... The 2007 signing of Rashard Lewis (making $18 million this season, the second of his five-year deal) doesn't look so bad now that he's an All-Star helping Dwight Howard lead the Magic into contention. This summer, however, the owners will have to decide whether to pay a luxury tax. If Hedo Turkoglu doesn't opt out (he's owed $7.4 million next year) and if they hold onto Rafer Alston at his $5.3 million, the Magic's commitment to 10 players alone will hike them $2 million over the projected tax threshold before they begin paying their draft picks. Results in the upcoming postseason may dictate whether Turkoglu becomes a free agent and whether his price is met by Orlando. Management will want to enter its new building next season with a promising team.

4. Minnesota Timberwolves, $68.8 million payroll, $2.99 million per win ... Thus concludes the expensive transition from the Kevin Garnett era, with the phantom contracts of Juwan Howard ($5.2 million) and Troy Hudson ($5 million) on the books for this final year. Next season current commitments drop to $51 million, and only five players (including AlJefferson and Kevin Love) are signed into 2010-11, when the Timberwolves will have tons of space. Can they apply some of that cash to revive their comatose market? We'll see, but they needed to go through these couple of lost seasons before starting over.

3. Los Angeles Clippers, $61.5 million payroll, 3.08 million per win ... Owner Donald T. Sterling's payroll ranks 29th in the league, but by his long-running standards he surely feels as if he is paying far too much to Zach Randolph ($14.7 million this season, with two years left), Baron Davis ($11.3 million, plus four more years), Marcus Camby ($10 million plus one) and Chris Kaman ($9.5 million plus three). Coach Mike Dunleavy believes this roster could win if healthy, but an unhappy compromise may be to unload Camby and bring the payroll down closer to next season's anticipated $43 million minimum.

2. Washington Wizards, $70.6 million payroll, $3.72 million per win ... All went wrong here: The early firing of coach Eddie Jordan amid the essentially season-long injuries to center Brendan Haywood ($5.5 million) and All-NBA point guard Gilbert Arenas ($14.7 million), who had signed a six-year, $111 million contract last summer. The Wizards are optimistic of a resurgence based on a return to health, the investment in a new coach and a strong result in the draft lottery next month, which may well result in them trading their pick for immediate help. They may also need to leverage the draft in a trade to save $6 million or more in order to sneak under the luxury tax next season.

1. Sacramento Kings, $67.3 million payroll, $3.74 million per win ... No team was more active at the trade deadline, and wisely so: Instead of competing against a horde of other budget-conscious traders in the summer, the Kings unloaded long-term commitments to slash next season's payroll to a current $45 million, enabling them to recruit free agents over the next two summers. But can they afford to do so without a new arena deal? Unlikely.

3. Allo Ian, I appreciate your column and hope you'll be the one to shed some light on a facet of the game that has bothered me forever: NBA players are considered to be most talented in the world, but I don't understand why so much traveling is allowed. Being able to adjust your footwork at full speed when receiving a pass should be part of that talent. I don't understand why referees are so lenient about that particular violation, and why players are so shameless in traveling when they perfectly know the rules of basketball. -- Tchago, Paris

I'm not condoning it, I'm just explaining it. There is one professional basketball league in the world that makes money, and it's the NBA. Making money is the No. 1 goal, and in the interests of the business, certain allowances have been yielded to the bigger stars. Whether this is a natural development or it was dictated by the league bosses years ago, I don't know. But someday when European basketball is being run as a profitable business, you will see the biggest stars in your league dragging their feet and receiving the benefit of the doubt on fouls. These are often judgment calls, and the needs of the business are part of that judgment.

2. George Karl said this week in a radio interview that part of the Nuggets' success was because they traded away Allen Iverson. Now in Detroit, Iverson doesn't seem to fit in again. Why is he so difficult to play with and what would be the best way for a team to use him? Off the bench like Detroit or something different altogether?-- Jimmy, Pittsburgh

He says he won't accept coming off the bench next season, which may severely limit his options this summer. As a microwave scorer off the bench he could help a lot of winning teams while leading the second unit. As a starter he is going to face criticism that he holds onto the ball too long and doesn't defend, and as a small guard who turns 34 this summer he won't be young enough to carry a team any longer.

1. Seeing how successful they've been since Elton Brand went down, will the Sixers look to move him this offseason, and if so, is there a market for him?-- Andy T., Dover, Del.

There is no market for him. Coming off successive surgeries on his Achilles and shoulder, he is the equivalent of a "toxic asset." But I still (stubbornly) believe that Brand can fit into the 76ers' offense as a non-traditional inside scorer who attacks on the move, as opposed to backing his way into the paint. The 76ers can live with Brand as their big man trailing in transition, because center Sam Dalembert is so fast running the floor.

2. All-Too-Much Team: These players remain on teams' books after being waived or negotiating a buyout or being unavailable to play because of injury.

C -- Adonal Foyle, Warriors ... $6.3MF -- Raef LaFrentz, Trail Blazers ... $12.7MF -- Darius Miles, Trail Blazers ... $9.0MG -- Stephon Marbury, Knicks ... $18.6MG -- Steve Francis, Trail Blazers ... $14.5M

1. All-Too-Little Team: These negotiated bargains combined cost less than the value of one mid-level exception.

C -- Chris Andersen, Nuggets ... $0.8M ... 6.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 19.9 minutesF -- Paul Millsap, Jazz ... $0.8M ... 13.9 points and 8.9 rebounds in 30.6 minutesF -- Matt Barnes, Suns ... $0.8M ... 10.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.8 assistsG -- Von Wafer, Rockets ... $0.8M ... 9.5 points in 19.2 minutesG -- Ramon Sessions, Bucks ... $0.7M ... 12.3 points and 5.4 assists in 27.1 minutes

1. The Rich vs The Poor. Last season the five most miserly teams averaged more wins than the most decadent spenders. This year, for the most part, the franchises at the bottom and top are getting what they paid for.

And on the other end of the scale ...

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