Nine times out of 10, when you see a news story about a professional athlete’s salary, you hear about the ever-increasing deals. But what you hear often are salary cuts.
Some players, like James Harden, have taken a pay cut to continue playing for a team they believe in. But sometimes, salary cuts follow a decline in an athlete’s performance over time. Here are the biggest declines that occurred last year.
Which NBA players saw the biggest salary cuts in 2021-22?
NBA players get amazing salaries. As a result, even their lower salaries outnumber what many working Americans earn in their lifetime. For example, the player with the fifth largest salary cut (as a percentage of salary), Mike Conley of the Utah Jazz loses $1,3502,132. Although not as large as Harden’s $14.3 million dollar salary cut, Conley lost 39.13% of his salary, which is significant.
Fortunately for Conley, he still withdraws $21 million annually. Per Fadeaway World, Conley was overpaid during his initial multi-year deal. While his performance doesn’t hold back, the Jazz also have other players to compensate for building a championship-caliber roster.
A 40% pay cut is one thing. But these next four players saw their salaries drop by more than 75%. Gorgui Dieng of the Atlanta Hawks lost a whopping $13,587,688 due to underperformance, bringing his salary down to just $4,000,000. This is not a peanut, but it most likely led to some adjustments in the standard of living.
Similarly, injuries led to showers Victor Oladipo, with a rate of 88.62%. His salary dropped from $21,000,000 to just $2,389,641, which requires serious financial planning to manage.
The second biggest drop belongs to Otto Porter of the Golden State Warriors. He saw his salary shrink to $2,389,641. This is the minimum salary for a veteran, given to him due to injuries over the past two seasons. But considering he was earning just over Oladipo to start — $26,099,598 to be exact — his salary cut came to 91.61%.
However, by a meager 0.04% margin, the biggest salary cut is due to Andre Drummond of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Why did Andre Drummond take such a big cut in wages?
Going from $28,751,774 to $2,401,537 should be a hard-to-swallow pill. Veterans’ bottom line stems from inconsistent performance, especially when doing free throws and floor spacing. But he made an impact during a brief season in Philadelphia, where he supported Joel Embiid.
Drummond’s path in the NBA was complicated. He was purchased from the Cleveland Cavaliers contract by the Lakers in part during 2020-21, but saw his playing time dwindle to nothing. Then he signed a one-year deal with the 76ers Warriors minimum wage. Drummond ended up trading with the Brooklyn Nets as part of a deal that saw James Harden move to the 76ers for Ben Simmons.
At 6’10” and still healthy, the 28-year-old can still make an impact, especially with rebounding. Drummond has also averaged a double for eight straight seasons, which shouldn’t be overlooked.
But it remains to be seen how much playing time he will have at the Chicago Bulls during his first full season ahead. He signed a $6.6 million two-year contract with The Bulls following his unrestricted free agency.
Did Drummond get the NBA’s biggest ever pay cut?
Despite a pay cut of more than 91%, Drummond’s pay cut isn’t the biggest ever by an NBA basketball player. Many believe that record belongs to retired basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal, whose known height and ubiquitous reach during his heyday may have made regular fans wonder why anyone would dare pay less for Shaq.
Shaq’s pay cut is no bigger than Drummond’s cut in percentage pay. But it’s bigger in terms of absolute dollars. As told by The Sports Rush, to recruit Shaq to the Los Angeles Lakers and join Kobe Bryant to improve the franchise’s chances of winning championships, Jerry West persuaded Lakers coach Jerry West to secure a $120 million contract. That’s less than the $150 million Shaq was looking for and you’ll likely get it elsewhere.
That’s a loss of $30 million – and it’s not the only time he’s lost this size. After his stint with the Lakers, he signed a three-year, $90 million deal with the Heat, not the five-year $100 million deal he had sought. By doing that and paying him $20 million annually, instead of $30 million annually, he earned $30 million in salary to cut those first three years of his contract.
We’ll never know if Shaq negotiated his way to a five-year contract worth $30 million a year. But his combined $30 million salary cuts still don’t hold the dubious distinction of being the biggest ever.
According to Forbes, that honor goes to Dirk Nowitzki, who left contracts with a maximum of $97 million on the table to continue playing with the Dallas Mavericks for $25 million. This is a massive $72 million loss but it shows how much some players value loyalty.
Related: How Shaquille O’Neal spent his entire LA Lakers salary in two days