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Posted: Friday April 3, 2009 1:22PM; Updated: Sunday April 5, 2009 11:16PM
Ian Thomsen Ian Thomsen >
INSIDE THE NBA

Weekly Countdown: Winning now means paying later in the NBA

Story Highlights

Average salary in NBA is $4.2 million; highest paid is Boston's Kevin Garnett

Hornets may be forced to trade star talent to avoid luxury tax next season

More topics: most wasteful teams, Elton Brand's value, payroll comparisons

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Finishing the final year of his rookie contract, Deron Williams has helped make the Jazz one of the most financially efficient teams.
John W. McDonough/SI
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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 most efficient franchises

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.

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