In a perfect world, you get paid what you earn. But in the NBA, contract values can be distorted by egos, market factors and other variables. That's why you'll find some odd placements among the NBA's highest-paid players for the 2014-15. The reigning MVP doesn't make the top 10, a non-All-Star lands in the top five, and the widely regarded best player of the game? Well, he's much lower than you'd think. Take a gander at the top 20 earners for this season.
2014-15 Highest Paid NBA Players
1. KOBE BRYANT: $23,500,000
Who said past-your-prime players should come at a discount? Well, a lot of people, but don't tell that to Bryant. He leads the NBA in annual salary for yet another year despite playing in only 35 games this season -- a rotator cuff injury cut his season short. Even better? Kobe's set to lead the league in earnings next year, too.
2. AMAR'E STOUDEMIRE: $23,410,988
Stoudemire has been injury-plagued for so long, it's easy to forget that his contract was more than defensible when he signed with the Knicks back in 2010. But after averaging more than 25 points in his first season, Stoudemire's health declined. He's averaging just 12 points this season while raking in a cool $23 million.
3. JOE JOHNSON: $23,180,790
Fun fact: When taxes are deducted, Johnson actually brings home the most pay in the NBA. While he's been a strong producer for much of his contract, Johnson is 33 and averaging less than 16 points for a team that might not make the playoffs.
4. CARMELO ANTHONY: $22,458,401
Anthony famously turned down the built-to-win Chicago Bulls for the rebuilding New York Knicks this offseason. There was plenty of financial incentive, too: The total value of his Bulls contract would have constituted a $40 million discount. Now, though, Anthony is toiling away for the league's second-worst team, by record. At least his bank account is happy.
5. DWIGHT HOWARD: $21,436,271
Criticized as he is, Howard is still a big difference-maker as a defensive force in the paint. Unlike most of the players ahead of him on this list, the perennial All-NBA defense candidate has done plenty to validate his high income.
6. CHRIS BOSH: $20,644,400
Miami wanted to make Bosh the team's alpha dog after LeBron James left, and it gave him a contract to back it up. His 21.3 points-per-game average is slightly above his career mark, and he's shooting better than 37 percent from the three-point line.
7. LEBRON JAMES: $20,644,400
Only the seventh-highest paid player in the league, James has a contract with an interesting twist: He signed just a two-year deal with Cleveland that includes an opt-out clause for this season. The reason is obvious: James wants total control of his future.
8. CHRIS PAUL: $20,068,563
The media spotlight on the Clippers may have dimmed of late, but their high-octane offense starts with Paul, one of the best assist men in the game. Despite knee troubles early in his career, Paul has managed to become a stabilizing force for a team with sneaky title potential.
9. DERON WILLIAMS: $19,754,465
Needless to say, Williams' reputation -- and his production -- have dropped markedly since he signed this contract. Once the superstar Brooklyn expected to lead them to title contention, Williams has become a disappointing veteran with an albatross contract. The Nets are willing to move him, but they haven't found any takers yet.
10. RUDY GAY: $19,317,326
Widely viewed as a sabermetrics nightmare, and passed from Memphis to Toronto and finally to Sacramento, Gay has become a welcome contributor for the resurgent Kings. He's on the last year of his contract, but even if he does get a smaller deal this summer, his employment will be highly sought by multiple teams.
11. KEVIN DURANT: $18,995,624
Durant's probably looking at the 10 guys ahead of him on this list and thinking, "What? I'm the reigning MVP." But the NBA is far from a meritocracy, Kevin. And even if some injuries slowed his start this year, there's no question he'd be worth whatever amount the Thunder paid him.
12. DERRICK ROSE: $18,862,876
After he missed most of the past two seasons, Rose's contract has gone from well-deserved to a liability. Some Bulls fans have wondered if the team should try to trade him for spare parts. But the fact of the matter is, until his health situation is resolved, no one's going to give up assets for the former MVP.
13. BLAKE GRIFFIN: $17,674,613
Forget what you've heard about Griffin being a wimpy defender, or being all flash and no substance. The forward from Oklahoma is both high-flying and high-performing, inserting himself into last year's MVP conversation. He's earned his salary, and maybe a little more.
14. ZACH RANDOLPH: $16,500,000
Randolph is a quiet talker and a quiet player, but he's been a critical part of the Grizzlies' sustained success. Averaging more than 17 points and 12 rebounds, Randolph remains a bruising low-post stud.
15. LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE: $16,006,000
Last season, Aldridge was a dark horse MVP candidate while putting on one of the best-shooting seasons ever for a power forward. This year, he's put off ligament surgery to steward the Trail Blazers through a tough regular season with their sights set on a deep playoff run. That type of heroism isn't in his job description, which makes it all the more impressive.
16. PAUL GEORGE: $15,937,290
George's gruesome leg injury during a Team USA exhibition game has kept him out of the NBA so far this season, but he's still a superstar-caliber talent. His stat line last year: 22.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists. Solid, indeed.
17. MARC GASOL: $15,829,688
Not as well-known as his older brother Pau, but Marc Gasol is adored among close NBA followers as an excellent passer and defender. He's set to remain among the league's top earners when he becomes a free agent after this season.
18. KEVIN LOVE: $15,719,063
A big question no one knows the answer to: What's Kevin Love worth? Before this year, he seemed like a sure-fire max contract player. But alongside LeBron and fellow Cav Kyrie Irving, Love has struggled this season. The low point: A five-point outing earlier this week. Right now, he isn't earning his money.
19. RUSSELL WESTBROOK: $15,719,062
Few players play like lightning in a bottle the way Westbrook does. That's good and bad: He's averaging a strong 24.9 points this season, but his three-point stroke isn't there, as he's hitting at an ugly 26 percent clip.
20. BROOK LOPEZ: $15,719,062
That makes three Brooklyn Nets in the top 20 highest-paid players, but Lopez's contract is the most defensible. The big man is still in his playing prime and scoring 17.8 per game on 51 percent shooting. Even so, the Nets are reported to be shopping him.