Given that the league operates with a salary cap, hoarding talent always presents challenges and comes at a cost. Bargain contracts can significantly boost a franchise’s ability to create a championship roster, so general managers are always pondering early extensions. Their goal is to sign a player to a long-term contract that underrepresents the player’s value, which would mean they made an excellent signing in terms of dollar per value provided. However, the risk is that players either plateau or regress and don’t provide the value that their contract pays them.
With all of that in mind, let’s dive into the top five best contracts throughout the NBA. Factors that went into the rankings included remaining years, remaining salary, immediate talent, potential talent, injury risk, fit with the franchise direction, and how easy the contract is to trade. It doesn’t consider the past, so a player on an expiring bargain contract won’t be given credit for the previous years, just this current one. Essentially, view his contract as starting this season. Also, rookie contracts are ineligible for the rankings.
*top five worst contracts article can be found here
*all contract information via spotrac
5. Wendell Carter Jr | Orlando Magic
At just 23-years-old, Carter Jr is averaging 16.0 PPG, 8.4 RPG, and 3.1 APG on a 52/33/77 shooting split. His ability to create his own shot, space the floor, operate as a secondary playmaker, and rebound deems him an extremely valuable big man in the modern NBA. During the 126 minutes that Franz Wagner, Banchero, Carter Jr, and Bol have shared the court, Orlando owns a sparkling 118.9 Offensive Rating and stingy 105.3 Defensive Rating. In other words, Carter Jr fits perfectly with the Magic’s key pieces.
As for his contract, Carter Jr is owed $14,150,000 this year and a paltry total of $35,850,000 over the next three seasons. The contract actually declines per year, so Orlando will only be paying him $10,850,000 in his final year. Considering Carter Jr still has plenty of room to improve and this contract runs through his age 23-26 seasons, it’s a complete steal.
4. Robert Williams III | Boston Celtics
Williams is a DPOY-caliber center who locks down the paint while surviving against the high pick and roll on the perimeter. On offense, Williams poses a devastating lob threat, and his playmaking is drastically improving. During Boston’s Finals run last season, Williams was a crucial piece on both sides of the ball. When he was on the court against the Warriors, the Celtics had an absurd 154 Offensive Rating and excellent 104 Defensive Rating – it wasn’t a small sample either, as that was over a span of 158 minutes in 6 games.
He is only at $10,937,502 this season and due a total of $38,062,501 over the next three seasons, which is extremely cheap considering his impact on offense and defense. The contract also runs through his age 25-28 seasons, so it coincides with his prime. Boston gambled with an early extension before the start of last season, and it paid immense dividends.
3. Keldon Johnson | San Antonio Spurs
With Dejounte Murray traded over the off-season, Keldon Johnson is the number one option for San Antonio. He has dramatically improved every season, and the 23-year-old forward is currently averaging 21.5 PPG, 4.9 RPG, and 2.8 APG on a 42/35/74 shooting split. In addition, Keldon is a defensive asset who can guard a variety of positions. He’s far from a finished product, yet it’s likely he makes at least one All-Star game over the next few seasons.
So what are the Spurs paying for this immediate and potential talent? He is due $3,873,025 this season and $74,000,000 over the next four seasons – that’s an average annual value of $18,500,000 for the extension. His contract is also frontloaded, so the Spurs will only be paying $17,500,000 for the last two years. It’s extremely wise because they are timing the bulk of his contract with their abundance of rookie contracts. It runs through his age 23-27 seasons, and it will be a complete steal given his skill projection. Even if he fully plateaus for the entirety of the contract, it would still be cheap for the Spurs.
2. Jayson Tatum | Boston Celtics
|2025-26 (Player Option)||$37,096,620|
Robert Williams ranked 4th, Jaylen Brown was an honorable mention, and Marcus Smart could easily have been one too. The Celtics front office is absolutely crushing their talent evaluation! Tatum remains firmly entrenched in the MVP conversation due to averages of 30.8 PPG, 8.1 RPG, and 4.0 APG on a 47/34/85 shooting split. Tatum’s defense is suffocating too, and his clutch ability will propel the Celtics. Boston is coming off a Finals run with Tatum as the main option, and they are the current favorite to claim the title this season.
For an MVP-caliber player and leader of a potentially Finals-bound squad, the Celtics are paying a discount. Tatum is locked in at $67,448,400 over the next two seasons, and he has a player option the following year at $37,096,620. I’m assuming he declines it and therefore didn’t factor that year in, but the Celtics are still paying only around 25% of the cap for this season and the next two years. Considering the recent monster contracts that have cleared 50 million per year, Boston is elated to have Tatum on this deal. It also runs through his age 24-26 seasons, so the Celtics are getting prime Tatum years.
1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander | Oklahoma City Thunder
Thunder bias? Hear me out. Gilgeous-Alexander is a still-improving MVP-candidate with averages of 30.8 PPG, 5.8 APG, and 4.8 RPG on a 49/35/91 shooting split. Shai is arguably the best driver in the entire NBA, and his knack for drawing free throws raises his floor production. Shai thrives in the clutch and has indisputably been the best clutch player this season. On defense, Shai utilizes his length to contest shots and switch seamlessly. He cannot be classified as elite, but Shai is an above average defender The scary part? There are still tangible areas of growth, such as his three-point shot and occasional tunnel vision. I firmly believe there is a plausible future where Shai is the best player in the world.
Considering the rising salary cap and comparable contracts for players of his caliber, the Thunder are paying pennies. Shai is earning $30,913,750 this year, and he’s owed $148,386,000 over the next four seasons (an average annual value of $37,096,500). While that’s still a huge amount of money, it’s cheap for young superstars today and over the next four seasons. The contract runs through his age 24-28 seasons, so the Thunder are receiving fantastic Shai years.
Shai is no stranger to clutch shots.
— NBA (@NBA) December 20, 2022
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