In the NBA, the stars make the majority of the headlines. Even casual fans have heard of guys like LeBron James and Steph Curry. These superstars are deservedly well-paid for their skills and the attention they bring to the league. Yet as this offseason has shown, being a good locker room guy can pay pretty good dividends, too.
This year's prime example: Bruce Brown. Just minutes into free agency, Brown signed a two-year, $45 million deal with the Indiana Pacers. He'll make $22 million next season, which is more than he's made throughout his entire five-year career. The second year of the deal is a team option; if the Pacers pick it up, this contract will have more than tripled Brown's career earnings to this point.
Last year as a member of the Denver Nuggets, Brown was tied for 180th in terms of total salary. This upcoming season, Brown will be the highest-paid player on the Pacers.
Though Brown had a career-high 11.5 points for the Nuggets last season, his career averages won't blow anyone away. He's started about 61% of his teams' possible games, averaging 8.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game.
However, Brown is a welcome presence on any roster because he's such a good teammate. He can play multiple positions and consistently set up his fellow Nuggets for success on the court. In the locker room, he's a steady presence, bringing a calm and enjoyable demeanor to the team.
In short, he's the ideal support player. There are guys like this all over the NBA, and with the rising salary cap, they're starting to get major paydays, especially compared to glue guys from decades ago.
Compare Brown to Scottie Pippen, for example. He had proven to be a strong counterpart to Michael Jordan, and the Chicago Bulls valued his well-rounded support. In 1991, the first year of the Bulls' championship run, the team offered Pippen a seven-year, $18 million — a deal that even Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf admitted wasn't probably an unfair offer.
Pippen took the deal because he wanted to support his family members. But it's wild to see his entire seven-year contract paid less money than what Brown will make this season. If we adjust for inflation, Pippen's deal is worth $38.68 million in today's dollars, though that's still less than several players will make during the 2023-24 campaign.
We've also seen long-term rewards for good locker room guys. Udonis Haslem, who turned 43 during the NBA Finals, hasn't been a consistent contributor to the Miami Heat for nearly a decade. Since the start of the 2015-16 season, he played in a combined 102 games out of a possible 649, never averaging more than 11 minutes in any season.
Haslem finally announced his retirement this year. The Heat kept him around because he was a good veteran presence on the bench and during practices. He could still fight for rebounds and teach the team's younger players a few things. And the Heat rewarded him accordingly, paying him about $20.45 million during those seasons. Haslem announced his retirement this season, and he'll have a nice bankroll during his post-playing career.
Brown may never be the biggest star on his team. Yet he very well could be the most valuable — and that will make him millions of dollars.