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NBA ROI: Are Andrew Wiggins and LeBron James Living Up to Their Contracts?

From Andrew Wiggins and LeBron James to DeAndre Hunter and Jalen Brunson, Boardroom looks at how the biggest free agents of 2022 are living up to their deals.

Textbooks will tell you that Return on Investment (ROI) means the amount of profit — before tax and after depreciation — from an investment, usually expressed as a percentage of the original total. Talking about ROI in the context of an NBA player can sound dehumanizing, but in the case of professional sports, how much a team pays a player and what said player pays the team back in production can quite literally be expressed as a percentage.

In Volume I of our “NBA ROI” series, Boardroom evaluated the five biggest contracts this offseason, with Nikola Jokic ($270 million) and Bradley Beal ($251 million) becoming the first players in league history to sign deals worth more than a quarter of a billion dollars. In Volume II, we focused on Ja Morant and Zion Williamson’s ascendence as superstars after signing rookie max extensions.

Today, we’ll take a look at the NBA ROI of five more of the best-paid players of the 2022 offseason. The landscape is a bit imbalanced, ranging from De’Andre Hunter to LeBron James. Every year, the market changes based on teams’ needs and priorities, so the idea of someone being underpaid or overpaid is up for interpretation — we’re just here to provide the facts behind these huge deals.

Let’s take a closer look at the hard numbers and see what we find with regard to return on investment in all its forms.

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Warriors SF Andrew Wiggins$109,000,000

  • Type: Extension
  • Years: 4
  • Free agency: 2027
  • Warriors attendance rank: 14th
  • Wiggins win shares: 1.9

Looking back, the Warriors robbed the Timberwolves in their 2020 trade for Wiggins. He wasn’t — and still isn’t — the superstar folks expected him to become, but systems and culture are crucial when developing players in the NBA. The T-Wolves made the postseason just once in Wiggins’ six seasons there, before shipping him, a top-three protected first-round pick and a second-round pick to Golden State for D’Angelo Russell and two bench players.

Now, Wiggins is an All-Star and NBA champ on a Warriors team that slotted him right in with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Jordan Poole, and Draymond Green. After winning their fourth ring in 2022, head coach Steve Kerr said the Wiggins trade “is they key to all this” because of how many wing defenders they lost after the 2018-19 season.

This season, Wiggins is averaging 18 points on a fringe-playoff team that’s playing without Steph Curry. He’s received the fifth-most votes among Western Conference Players for the All-Star Game. Financially, he’s expected to bring in $279,841,256 by the end of the 2026-27 season.

He’s a part in building Golden State’s dynasty and got paid as such. The ROI should check out, depending on how you look at it.

Knicks PG Jalen Brunson: $104,000,000

  • Type: Free agency
  • Years: 4
  • Free agency: 2027
  • Knicks attendance rank: 7th
  • Brunson win shares: 5.0

Knicks fans were upset when they didn’t land Donovan Mitchell this past offseason and lost a future second-round pick for early talks with Brunson. So far, that punishment seems to have been worth it. The 26-year-old has provided the Knicks with a long-sought traditional PG who actually controls the tempo and pace.

Don’t get it wrong, though: Brunson can turn on the jets and get a bucket when the team needs one. He’s averaging 22 points and six assists this season, but in the two weeks R.J. Barrett missed earlier this month, Brunson averaged 33 points. New York is 19-9 in games in which he’s scored 20-plus points and 11-6 in games he’s scored at least 25.

When talking about ROI, the Knicks got quite the bang for their buck. Sure, he isn’t Spida, but wise folks always say appreciate what you have, not what you don’t.

Trail Blazers SG Anfernee Simons: $100,000,000

  • Type: Extension
  • Years: 4
  • Free agency: 2026
  • Blazers attendance rank: 10th
  • Simons win shares: 2.6

The Trail Blazers extended Damian Lillard, traded for Jerami Grant, re-signed Jusuf Nurkic, and brought back the homegrown Simons to replace C.J. McCollum. Amid this reboot, Portland spent $146 million (18th-most in the NBA) to produce the seventh-youngest team (24.4 years old) in the league.

Simons, specifically, has big shoes to fill, but he’s a crucial piece in righting the ship in Portland alongside that core. Lillard and Simons have quickly emerged as one of the most compelling backcourt duos in the West, with the 23-year-old SG averaging a career-high 21.6 points.

In terms of ROI, he’s already highly regarded around the league as a rising star. Portland is investing in its future after a long time fighting to get out of limbo. He’s giving the Blazers bang for their buck while setting a good precedent regarding development and culture.

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Lakers SF LeBron James$97,133,373

  • Type: Extension
  • Years: 2
  • Free agency: 2025
  • Lakers attendance rank: 11th
  • LeBron win shares: 3.9

NOTE: The deal can increase to $111 million if the salary cap in 2023-24 rises to a substantially higher number.

LeBron’s extension might just be a filler until he and the Lakers can sort something out. For a third consecutive season, the Lakers are fighting for a play-in spot. It isn’t on LeBron — LA’s money allocation in constructing a championship roster simply hasn’t been good. Has James been a part of that decision-making? Probably. But that’s not the point. He’s playing at a superstar level in the late stages of his career, where basketball remains one of many priorities for the 38-year-old with a family of rising stars and major business ventures.

But it still bothers him — and it should! He’s a legend and still putting up 29.8 points per game, yet it feels like he’s flaming out in LA.

“I don’t wanna finish my career playing at this level from a team aspect,” he said. “I want to be able to compete for championships because I know what I can still bring to the table for any ball club with the right pieces.”

Want an ROI analysis? There’s a reason why he’s the first active NBA player to become a billionaire. It isn’t a matter of whether he’s retuning enough; it’s a matter of WHO he’ll be returning it to if he and the Lakers decide to go their separate ways. On Friday, he was announced as the second-best selling jersey in the NBA. Soon, he’ll pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most points in NBA history — and he’s still going.

Hawks SF De’Andre Hunter: $95,000,000

  • Type: Extension
  • Years: 4
  • Free agency: 2027
  • Hawks attendance rank: 18th
  • Lillard win shares: 1.5

At 25 years old, De’Andre Hunter is one of those young players we’re just waiting to pop. He’s averaging a career-high 15.5 points per game in his fourth year in the league, but given all the reported uncertainty in Atlanta, he’s hardly reached his potential. Expect him to breach star territory when things settle down and the Hawks get back on track, whether that includes a rebuild or simply a reboot.

ROI? We’ll find out. The Hawks rewarded their homegrown talent with a big rookie extension, and he’s having his best statistical season yet.

What’s the NBA ROI Verdict?

When you consider each of these guys as both individual players and puzzle pieces within the bigger picture of their respective teams, you’re looking at a compelling assortment of talents with demonstrated ability to perform up to or beyond the value of their deals and compete meaningfully in the postseason. There’s several different contexts in play here. LeBron is in a league of his own, Wiggins and Brunson are peaking in their respective primes, and Simons and Hunter are both playing well on rookie extensions.

Thus, this list has created an acceptable ROI over the first half of the season — enough so that none of these teams ought to entertain the idea that they made mistakes. That said, it’ll be interesting to see who remains on their current teams when these lofty contracts are up. The same can be said for virtually anyone on a long-term deal, but it’s particularly interesting when it comes to someone like LeBron. How long can he stand losing? Will anyone want to give up major pieces for someone who’s publicly stated his last goal in the NBA is to play with his son Bronny? Stay tuned.

In the meantime, who around the NBA is due for a big extension next? Click here to take a deeper look.

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