The NBA has exploded in popularity over the last couple of decades worldwide and brought a massive influx of money into the game. Every single NBA franchise is valued at over a billion dollars, and the salaries that players are receiving are increasing rapidly. The cap took a hit when COVID hampered the sport but is expected to increase again based on recent reports from Jake Fischer.
NBA contracts are fixed to certain accomplishments that players have that entitles them to more money. These contracts are known as 'max or supermax contracts', signed by the very best players in the league. Over the last couple of years, many such contracts have been signed. Players' contract values also increase based on their time in the league.
In the 2022-23 season, 4 players will make $187.1 million combined. Stephen Curry leads the pack with $48.1 million from the Warriors, followed by James Harden, who will receive $47.4 million if he opts into the final year of his contract with the Philadelphia 76ers. Two Lakers are 3rd and 4th, as Russell Westbrook will make $47.1 million while LeBron James will make $44.5 million.
Players can be offered more money if they sign extensions on top of their rookie contracts instead of leaving as free agents, incentivizing players to stay with the teams that drafted them. However, they can get traded on those contracts, and the values transfer over to the new team.
Curry, Harden, and Westbrook are still on their original contracts, as they have never left their team via free agency decisions. Curry is the only one of the three to stay with the team that gave him his contract, with Harden and Westbrook both being traded twice since they received their contracts.
LeBron has used free agency to switch teams thrice, which means he isn't eligible for as much money as the other three. He is still among the top earners for having been in the league for 19 seasons. The overall salary cap in the NBA was $43.87 million in 2004-05, nearly $2 million shy of LeBron's contract today.