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Posted: Wednesday January 6, 2010 3:32PM; Updated: Wednesday January 6, 2010 3:41PM
Paul Forrester
Paul Forrester>INSIDE THE NBA

Best, worst bangs for the buck

Story Highlights

Jason Williams led Magic to 13-4 record in replacing injured Jameer Nelson

Knicks' Eddy Curry, Larry Hughes among least productive players for salaries

More topics: Spurs' easy schedule, optimism in Sacramento, Arenas fallout

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peja.jpg
Forward Peja Stojakovic's once-gaudy scoring average is on the decline for the fourth consecutive season.
Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

Balancing payroll with productivity is a never-ending struggle for NBA front offices. For every bargain found off the waiver wire, there is an overpaid free agent signed in hopes of playoff success.

What players this season are making their general managers look smart and which ones are not? Let's take a look at the best and worst bangs for the buck. Keep in mind that the list is based solely on each player's 2009-10 salary and that we have disqualified anyone dealing with significant injury (that'd be you, Tracy McGrady) or playing under a rookie contract that didn't require an overseas buyout.

Best bang for the buck

PG: Jason Williams (Orlando Magic), $825,497: Signed out of retirement as a backup for Jameer Nelson, Williams earned his keep in leading the Magic to a 13-4 record as a fill-in starter while Nelson was out with a knee injury. In those 17 games, Williams averaged 5.1 assists and only 1.3 turnovers. Also, for the season, the 11-year veteran is shooting a career-high 42.3 percent from three-point range.

SG: Wesley Matthews (Utah Jazz), $457,588: Since earning a roster spot after injuries sidelined Kyle Korver and C.J. Miles in training camp, the undrafted rookie has become a staple of Jerry Sloan's rotation. In 19 games as Deron Williams' starting backcourt partner, the Marquette product has averaged 9.5 point on 46.4 percent shooting. Overall, he is one of three rookies (along with Denver's Ty Lawson and Oklahoma City's James Harden) playing at least 20 minutes a game for a winning team.

SF: Anthony Morrow (Golden State Warriors), $736,420: Few coaches have a better eye for swingmen than Don Nelson. Undrafted out of Georgia Tech, Morrow signed with the Warriors as a free agent last season and led the NBA in three-point shooting accuracy at 46.7 percent. This season Morrow has remained a dangerous long-range threat, converting 43.9 percent, while averaging 12.0 points.

PF: Luis Scola (Houston Rockets), $3.3 million: Scola is turning in the best numbers of his three-year career, which is understandable considering the boost in shot opportunities without Yao Ming, but also impressive considering the additional defensive attention he has received. His averages of 14.5 points and 8.8 rebounds have played a big part in keeping Houston in the playoff chase.

Sixth Man: Marc Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies), $3.3 million: Maybe dealing Pau Gasol for his younger, and cheaper, brother may turn out to be not nearly as bad a deal as many around the league thought. After dropping 15 pounds in the offseason, the 24-year-old Marc is averaging a double-double (15.3 points, 10.0 rebounds) and connecting on 62.1 percent of his shot attempts. He also leads the team in plus-minus, making the Grizzlies 66 points better than their opponents overall when he's on the floor.

Least bang for the buck

PG: T.J. Ford (Indiana Pacers), $8.5 million: Indiana's decision to keep Ford while letting Jarrett Jack walk as a free agent isn't looking too hot now, is it? While Jack has been the equal of starter Jose Calderon in Toronto, Ford has been demoted from starter to third string by Pacers coach Jim O'Brien, who clearly had tired of watching his offense sputter under the guidance of a veteran floor leader averaging 3.7 assists and 1.9 turnovers. Those numbers don't help boost your playing time when you are 1-of-28 on three-point attempts.

SG: Larry Hughes (New York Knicks), $13.7 million: This isn't a contract the Knicks can be blamed for (Cleveland signed Hughes to a five-year, $70 million deal in 2005), but it is one for which they took responsibility in dealing for the 12-year veteran last season. This also isn't a performance entirely of Hughes' making, as coach Mike D'Antoni has rightly been more interested in developing youngsters Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari. But in shooting a career-low 36.8 percent and falling into the abyss of a regular string of DNP-CDs, it's clear the man once signed to be LeBron James' Robin has become, well, not the Joker, but little more than the Riddler.

SF: Peja Stojakovic (New Orleans Hornets), $13.4 million: When you're paid a princely sum to shoot, shouldn't you be able to, y'know, shoot? Sorry, but connecting on 38.6 percent while averaging 11.2 points isn't our idea of shooting, and it's not much help to a team that ranks only 19th in scoring.

PF: Andrei Kirilenko (Utah Jazz), $16.4 million: He once anchored the Jazz's defense along with regularly providing 15 points a game. After four years of sinking play, it's clear that guy isn't coming back. But Utah is paying the Kirilenko of 2009-10 as if he was the performer of 2005-06. That version was a big-minutes starter; this year's version is the league's highest-paid bench player working for a team that can't afford the luxury-tax hit his salary has helped generate.

C: Eddy Curry (New York Knicks), $10.5 million: He's been unable to play himself into shape, logging only 62 minutes. That has left New York with a 300-pound anchor who hasn't attracted a single suitor for his contract, which the Knicks are desperate to unload because it includes an $11.3 million player option for next season.

Sixth Man: Kirk Hinrich (Chicago Bulls), $9.5 million: Remember when Hinrich was considered a rising star at point guard, a player who led the Bulls to a sweep of then-defending NBA champion Miami in the 2007 playoffs? We can't either. Hinrich, who recently moved into the starting lineup alongside Derrick Rose after coming off the bench the first two months of the season, is posting career lows of 9.0 points and 36.7 percent shooting.

What's hot

The Sandwich Hunter. No man can live on training-table food alone. Perhaps that's why Spurs forward Matt Bonner has taken to chronicling his quest for the perfect sandwich in a semi-regular blog on the Spurs' Web site. (Tip of the cap to the Plain Dealer's Brian Windhorst for spotting this.)

Omri Casspi: It's becoming clear that the Kings' rebuilding could take a lot less time than last season's 17-win debacle suggests. Already enjoying the fruits of Tyreke Evans, Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes, Sacramento has seemingly found another piece to its puzzle in the rookie from Israel, who, in 10 games as a starter, has averaged 17.7 points and 5.7 rebounds and shot 48.8 percent from three-point range.

The front-office phones in Salt Lake City and Washington, D.C.: With the Jazz desperate to pare salary and the Wizards' season going up in flames, both teams have put out the "For Sale" signs. With big contracts weighing on both teams, deals may not come easily. But with several contenders willing to dive deep into the luxury-tax pool, something is sure to get done.

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