My annual review of money and how it has been spent finds a total of approximately $2.03 billion was obligated to the players, which, by my count, amounts to a reduction of $82.3 million in player salaries since last season.
As you read on, please note that forecasts of total victories were based on winning percentages as of Thursday morning. Luxury-tax fees are not included in these numbers. This list is compiled from the view of management, and which teams did the best with their resources. The players, of course, will have a different view of how wisely the money has been allocated.
1. Chicago Bulls, $910,000 per win. The Bulls are benefiting from a couple of tremendous drafts, as presumptive MVP Derrick Rose (paid $5.5 million this season) and Joakim Noah ($3.1m) are still earning their original contracts. Their payroll won't be quite so attractive in the future -- Noah's salary jumps to $12.0 million next season, and Rose will eventually be a max player -- but the skeleton of an eventual championship team has been assembled. Luol Deng makes an expensive $11.3 million, but he has played in every game and the Bulls could not have finished No. 1 in the East without him. Carlos Boozer is their biggest earner at $14.4 million, while Kurt Thomas ($1.8m), Keith Bogans ($1.6m) and Taj Gibson ($1.1m) provide an excellent return. Each of the Bulls' 11 most expensive players contributed to the team's terrific season.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder, $1.05 million per win. Year after year, this payroll is the envy of all small-market teams. Nick Collison is the biggest earner this season at $13.3m, but his salary drops next season to $3.3m, befitting his important front-court role off the bench. Next is midseason pickup Nazr Mohammed, whose $6.9m comes off the books this summer; in the meantime he'll provide backup size in the playoffs to another February pickup, starting center Kendrick Perkins, who benefited from OKC's cap space to earn an instant raise to $6.7m (enabling him to hop up to $7.1m next season when his newly-signed deal kicks in). We still haven't mentioned Kevin Durant at $6.1m, James Harden at $4.3m, Russell Westbrook at $4.0m and Serge Ibaka at $1.2m. Durant's new contract will vault him to $13.6m next season, and the others will have to be paid eventually -- albeit under a new collective bargaining agreement that is expected to rein in costs for the owners.
3. San Antonio Spurs, $1.13 million per win. The Spurs are under the luxury tax despite the $18.8m salary of Tim Duncan, along with the $13.5m that goes to Tony Parker and the $11.9m to Manu Ginobili. Almost two-thirds of their payroll goes to those three stars, which is how it should be. Richard Jefferson's revised $8.4m (he opted out of a deal that would have paid him $15.0m, which gave him long-term security and enabled the Spurs to drop under the tax threshold this season) and the $4.9m to Antonio McDyess also makes sense for San Antonio management, as does virtually every salary on this payroll. Note that contributors DeJuan Blair ($918,000), George Hill ($854,389) and Gary Neal ($565,000) are all making less than $1m, which goes with the Spurs' long-successful model: Rotate inexpensive role players around the big three.
4. Miami Heat, $1.17 million per win. Surprised? This payroll works, even though it was pulled together on short notice last summer. LeBron James ($14.5m), Chris Bosh ($14.5m) and Dwyane Wade ($14.2m) each took less than the max to play together, and the most expensive player thereafter is Mike Miller at $5m. If Udonis Haslem had been healthy, he would have been an enormous blue-collar bargain at $3.5m. Starting center Erick Dampier is on the books for $713,666, and Mike Bibby signed for $216,110. We must wait for the rules of the next collective bargaining agreement to understand how Miami can add players in the future, but the money last summer was well spent.
5. Boston Celtics, $1.35 million per win. The Celtics are the lone luxury-tax payer among the five most efficient franchises. The only regrettable salary is the $5.8m to free agent Jermaine O'Neal, who has been injured for most of the regular season, though he may yet play an indispensable role during the playoffs. Their four All-Stars -- Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo -- make a combined $52.3m this year, which is more than the entire payroll of the Sacramento Kings ($45.3m). But it makes sense for the Celtics, thanks to the contributions of Glen Davis at $3m and Delonte West at $854,389. But the big question involves their biggest of all bargains: Will Shaquille O'Neal ($1.4m) be healthy for the postseason?
1. Toronto Raptors, $3.15 million per win. Note that the two least efficient payrolls were the two teams abandoned last summer by Bosh and James. Much like the Cavaliers with James, the Raptors had invested in trying to build a winner around Bosh, only to see the building collapse when its foundation was removed. They don't have a player making $10m, and Andrea Bargnani is worth his $8.5m, but the contributions of Jose Calderon ($9.0m) and Leandro Barbosa ($7.1m) are hard to justify on a losing team.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers, $3.11 million per win. Baron Davis ($14.0m) was acquired for the Clippers' draft pick that was included in the package, but he turned out to be a positive contributor. Antawn Jamison ($13.4m) also tried to set a good example, even though he had been brought in to help win a championship one year ago. The long-term piece here is Anderson Varejao ($7.3m) as an agile defender in the paint. Otherwise, most of this roster -- assembled to facilitate LeBron -- will ultimately be refitted.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves, $3.02 million per win. Apart from Eddy Curry ($11.6m), who was released following his midseason acquisition, no one is making more than $5m on this intriguing roster that includes Kevin Love, Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson (with Ricky Rubio possibly on the way next season). Much criticism came with the signing of Darko Milicic, but how can he not be worth his $4.3m salary? With a couple of wise moves this team could move onto a promising track.
4. Washington Wizards, $2.60 million per win. The Wizards are actually far more efficient -- they received $6 million in cash payments this season, and while that money doesn't show up on the payroll figures, it brings their actual player costs down to $51.2m (or $2.32m per win). Rashard Lewis is making his $19.6m, but the Wizards are happy to be out from under an even larger commitment to Gilbert Arenas, who was moved to Orlando for Lewis. Lewis, Andray Blatche and No. 1 pick John Wall are the only long-term commitments making more than $5m next season, though the Wizards will have to make decisions on free agents Nick Young and Josh Howard.
5. New Jersey Nets, $2.37 million per win. Their ranking here is irrelevant, thanks to their midseason coup of trading for Deron Williams (who is well worth his $14.9m). The long-term commitment to Travis Outlaw may be regrettable (he makes $7m this and every season through 2014-15), but everything else is reasonable. The Nets are set up to build around Williams and center Brook Lopez ($2.4m as part of his continuing rookie deal).
The questions are fabricated, my answers are for real.
"Is John Calipari going to be running my team next season? I skipped college to turn pro, and now a decade later, am I going to be working with a college coach?"-- A.S., New York
Amar'e Stoudemire, the speculation -- reported Friday by the New York Post's Peter Vecsey -- of Calipari's move to New York makes sense, and not only because he is represented by CAA, which also represents Carmelo Anthony and Knicks exec Mark Warkentien. It's also because Calipari is a terrific recruiter who could have helped the Knicks last summer, when they failed in their pursuit of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
But there are also reasons to question whether the Knicks would consummate the relationship. Calipari's credentials as a bench coach will be questioned: Even though he has experience as a head coach for the Nets, he has failed to win an NCAA championship with Memphis or Kentucky. Coaching in the NBA is far more difficult than in college, and anyone who wants to shoot down the speculation can make the case that Calipari would represent a bench downgrade from Mike D'Antoni.
Will the next collective bargaining agreement maintain free-agency in its current form? How important will recruiting be in future?
This story is going to generate a lot of discussion, but it's hard to imagine the Knicks taking such a risk unless they're absolutely convinced Calipari's presence will deliver a third star to New York.
"People say I'm too nice, and the referees say I'm too mean. Which is it?-- D.H., Orlando
Dwight Howard, you know you have to earn fewer technical fouls -- you've received No. 18, forcing you to sit out Sunday's game against the Bulls. More important is your continuing development as the most intimidating physical presence in the paint since Shaquille O'Neal. You are developing your on-court personality, and the way you behave now, at 25, is different from how you'll be at 28. There has to be a way for you to channel your emotions against opponents without creating friction with the referees. Seeing how much you've improved your low-post game offensively, you ought to be able to do something to fix this irritating issue with the officials.
"Why do you and others continue to believe we can't win the NBA Finals this season?"-- D.R., Chicago
Derrick Rose, you could not have been more impressive while scoring 30 points in your 97-81 beating of the visiting Celtics on Thursday. However, when Kevin Garnett spoke of developing "some more fight" in the playoffs, you can take him at his word. The Celtics have the ability to raise their level in the playoffs, as they've shown repeatedly in recent years. We know what they can do in the postseason, but we don't yet know what you and your teammates will be able to do. Can you win it all? Yes. Will you? Probably not this year.
Via Bobcats' forward Boris Diaw of France. Friends back home ask Diaw how the NBA can appear to be succeeding at such a high level of popularity and yet be accelerating toward a destructive lockout. "I just explain to them that because of our profession, we don't have regular work laws and so that's why we created a union, so that we can find laws that are pretty much custom-fitted to whatever we are doing," he said. "It's not the sports aspect of it; it's the business part of it -- that's where people have a disagreement."
They're asking the right person. Last summer, Diaw bought majority ownership of his former club in France, JSA Bordeaux, at close to $100,000. He views it as a wise purchase. "It's the same team where I played when I was growing up," he said. "So it's going back to my hometown and trying to help the team, because they needed some help."
Bordeaux (24-4) is currently No. 1 in the French third division (Martin Diaw, Boris' brother, plays for the team). Diaw's ultimate goal is to elevate the team through the second division and up to the French Pro A. "When I was a kid, I always dreamt of my hometown playing in the first division," he said. "Bordeaux is the fourth biggest city in France. We should have enough to be able to go to first division, but it's tough."
Sponsorship is the most consuming issue. "We have averaged about 1,000 people for the games, and the tickets are like 8 Euros (approximately $11.50), so that's not bad," he said. "With the sponsoring, it's not like here where we are on TV every week -- for us it's very local, so you try to find some national companies that are based locally and are trying to help the team locally."
Diaw wonders how NBA teams would manage if the worst one or two of them faced relegation. "If the worst team in the NBA will go down to the NBDL?" he said, smiling. "Then people would get angry quicker and they would try to change things around quicker, instead of saying, 'Oh, it's all right, it will be better next year. I don't know if it could work, but it would be interesting."
Diaw became a minority owner two years ago. Fellow countryman Ronny Turiaf of the Knicks is a minority owner in Bordeaux, and the Spurs' Tony Parker owns a piece of the first-division club in Lyon. But neither is as vested as Diaw, who is on the phone or email every day as the owner of a small business. "It's always something," he said.
If there is an extended NBA lockout next season, he is certain his business back home will improve. That's because he'll plan to return home: The owner of Bordeaux will instantly become his team's best player.
Payrolls. There are currently seven teams that will be paying a luxury tax this season, which means they'll have to send to the league office a check -- dollar for dollar -- for the amount they spent above the tax threshold of $70,307,000.
Does outspending the rest of the league pay off? Teams with records of .500 or better (as of Friday) are in boldface, and potential tax payers are noted by *asterisk.
Team Payrolls (in millions)
*Los Angeles Lakers -- $90.4*Orlando Magic -- $89.9*Dallas Mavericks -- $86.6*Boston Celtics -- $76.7*Utah Jazz -- $75.3*Portland Trail Blazers -- $74.8*Houston Rockets -- $70.8San Antonio Spurs -- $70.1Atlanta Hawks -- $70.1Memphis Grizzlies -- $70.1Toronto Raptors -- $69.2Golden State Warriors -- $69.0Milwaukee Bucks -- $68.9Philadelphia Sixers -- $68.4New Orleans Hornets -- $68.3Denver Nuggets -- $67.5New York Knicks -- $67.1Phoenix Suns -- $66.8Miami Heat -- $66.7Charlotte Bobcats -- $66.0Indiana Pacers -- $65.1Detroit Pistons -- $65.0New Jersey Nets -- $59.3Oklahoma City Thunder -- $58.0Washington Wizards -- $57.2Cleveland Cavaliers -- $55.9Chicago Bulls -- $55.6Minnesota Timberwolves -- $54.3Los Angeles Clippers -- $52.7Sacramento Kings -- $45.3