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Who makes $40 million a year in the NBA?

Being an NBA player is a dream job for many: you get to play the game that you love and get compensated for it very nicely. Over the years, player salaries have grown as the league has grown around the world, and it seems that every offseason there is at least one new contract signed that blows the minds of NBA fans.

Who makes $40 million a year in the NBA? In the 2022/23 NBA season, there are 10 players who are making $40 million or more in salary. These players are Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Klay Thompson. The player with the highest salary is Stephen Curry, who will make slightly over $48 million over the course of the 2022/23 NBA season. There are 3 teams who have 2 players who are making $40+ million this season: the Golden State Warriors (Curry and Thompson), the Los Angeles Lakers (James and Westbrook), and the Los Angeles Clippers (Leonard and George).

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Highest paid NBA Players 2023-23 season

Below is a list of the top 20 highest paid NBA players this season. With the Salary Cap projected to continue to increase for the foreseeable future expect the amount of players earning $40million a year to increase from the current 10 players. Next year in the 2023-24 NBA season Steph Curry will cross the $50million threshold for salary in a single NBA season. Blazers star Damian Lillard already has a $60million year slated on his current contract, which will come into effect for the 2026-27 season.

2022-2023 NBA Player Salaries – Top 20
RankPlayerTeam2022-23 Salary
1Stephen Curry, PGGolden State Warriors$48,070,014
2Russell Westbrook, PGLos Angeles Lakers$47,063,478
3LeBron James, SFLos Angeles Lakers$44,474,988
4Kevin Durant, PFBrooklyn Nets$44,119,845
5Bradley Beal, SGWashington Wizards$43,279,250
6Damian Lillard, PGPortland Trail Blazers$42,492,492
7Giannis Antetokounmpo, PFMilwaukee Bucks$42,492,492
8Kawhi Leonard, SFLA Clippers$42,492,492
9Paul George, SGLA Clippers$42,492,492
10Klay Thompson, SGGolden State Warriors$40,600,080
11Rudy Gobert, CMinnesota Timberwolves$38,172,414
12Anthony Davis, PFLos Angeles Lakers$37,980,720
13Khris Middleton, SFMilwaukee Bucks$37,948,276
14Jimmy Butler, SFMiami Heat$37,653,300
15Tobias Harris, PFPhiladelphia 76ers$37,633,050
16Zach LaVine, SGChicago Bulls$37,096,500
17Luka Doncic, PGDallas Mavericks$37,095,000
18Trae Young, PGAtlanta Hawks$37,095,000
19Kyrie Irving, PGBrooklyn Nets$36,934,550
20Pascal Siakam, PFToronto Raptors$35,448,672

What is the salary cap in the NBA?

Imagine an NBA where teams could pay as much money (or as little money) to their players; there would be a wild competitive imbalance in the league. This is not in the NBA’s best interest, and to keep things relatively fair, the NBA has introduced what is known as a salary cap. Basically, the salary cap refers to the maximum amount of total salary a team can pay its players. The salary cap for the 2022/23 season for example is set at $123,655,000.

The salary cap isn’t just an arbitrary number pulled out of the air. Firstly, the NBA needs to determine what is their projected revenue for the season will be (precisely, their Basketball-Related Income [BRI]). That number is then divided by 44.7% to determine the salary cap for the players. If you’re wondering why such a specific figure such as 44.7%: that’s the agreed upon number in the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the NBA and the NBA Players Association.

But despite the existence of the salary cap, contracts and team salaries across the league look different. That’s because the salary cap isn’t as simple as just a hard limit, but it’s a “soft” cap. That means that through exceptions set in the CBA, teams can legally exceed the salary cap without any repercussions. There is a “hard” limit when it comes to the minimum amount that teams have to pay their players, which is 90% of the salary cap (the hard floor is in place to deter stingy owners and to ensure that players get their dues).

While generally there isn’t really an upper limit to team salaries (there are scenarios that can “hard cap” a team if they make certain signings), the NBA has something called a “luxury tax” threshold. After a certain amount, teams will be penalized via luxury tax payments for every dollar they exceed the threshold by; the penalties increase based on the amount exceeding the threshold as well as if the team is a “repeat offender.” The luxury tax threshold for the 2022/23 NBA season is set at $150,267,000. Teams who are situated above the salary cap but below the luxury tax threshold are not penalized, and any team below the luxury tax threshold gets a share of the luxury tax payments made by luxury tax offenders.

As such, the salary cap plays a pivotal role when it comes to roster construction in the NBA. Teams such as the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers take on big luxury tax bills in an attempt to attract and retain stars that will hopefully lead them to success. Other teams try to be more savvy, by taking advantage of the soft cap but operating just below the luxury tax threshold to get the most out of the salary cap.

What are the NBA teams’ 2022/23 salary cap situation?

Of the 30 NBA teams, only 5 teams are below the salary cap. The Pacers have the lowest payroll in the entire NBA, sitting at just under $98 million, roughly $25 million below the salary cap (note: the Spurs and the Pacers are below the 90% of the salary cap, meaning that they will have to use up that remaining cap space at some point in the season). Of the 25 teams above the salary cap, 9 teams are below the luxury tax threshold and the remaining 16 teams are above the luxury tax threshold. The Golden State Warriors have the largest payroll in the NBA, with just over $193 million in team salary. The Warriors are also paying the largest amount in luxury tax payments, with around $170 million, putting their total salary payments well over $370 million for the 2022/23 NBA season. 

What are the NBA’s future salary cap projections?

As the NBA expands, the salary cap is expected to grow. The salary cap projections, according to RealGM, is $134 million for the 2023/2024 season. By the 2030/31 NBA season, the salary cap could be $188.55 million, and could balloon to $229.19 million by the 2034/2035 season. If the salary cap follows these projections, $40 million salaries for players will become a lot more common, and who knows how high salaries for the top echelon of stars will reach. However, even if these projections come true, the structure of the NBA as well as the CBAs will play a big role in determining what the salaries of the future will look like. 

Imagine playing basketball and getting paid over $40 million a year to do so. That seems like the ultimate dream for every person who likes to play basketball, but the reality is that only the best players in the world take home paydays like that. NBA franchises are willing to pay life-changing amounts of money to players who they believe can be the foundation of their franchises on and off the court; if they are a success on both ends, the franchises take home a lot of money, more than what their players get. Next time you hear about a huge contract for an NBA player, just know that the franchise is generating more than enough revenue to be able to pay that contract.

Sources: NBA.com, ESPN, Spotrac, HoopsHype, AS, RealGM