NBA players are underpaid. That sounds counter-intuitive, since they’re professional athletes, and even the least of the pros make more than the national poverty line. But it’s true: Even if the basketball league doesn’t have a hard salary cap, like football, teams are still limited in what they can pay their players to suit up for them. That’s why there’s so much talk about “max deals” when it comes to free agency, since there’s an upper limit on what these guys can earn from NBA teams (and a lower limit, or a salary floor, too).
But what would happen if the salary cap pulled a vanishing act and teams could throw however much money at players as they wanted? How would you even begin to figure out how much to pay them? How would the idea of ‘overpaid’ function? Would Mikhail Prokhorov pass out in excitement? The fine folks over at Deadspin decided to tackle this exact problem, and we think their conclusions are definitely worth paying attention to.
While basketball doesn’t have a single catch all metric the same way that baseball does — the entire reason ESPN uses PER in that fashion is that it was invented by John Hollinger, who worked for the network during their shift into advanced stats — approximations can be made, and similarly to how baseball players can be broken down into their true worth by virtue of the WAR, or Wins Above Replacement, the basketball equivalent (brought in on the heels of one of the nicer single number stats, ESPN‘s real Plus/Minus) can be used to determine the price of 1 WAR. From there, you can extrapolate out how much players “should” be getting paid. Here are the five biggest hypothetical earners.