Coach: Rick Carlisle
Starting five: PG Jamaal Tinsley, SG Stephen Jackson, SF Danny Granger, PF Al Harrington, C Jermaine ONeal
Off the bench: PG Sarunas Jasikevicius, SG Marquis Daniels, C Jeff Foster
Most underpaid: For a team that finished 41-41, the Pacers had remarkably few players who outperformed their contracts last season. They traded their most undervalued player, guard Anthony Johnson, to Dallas for three bench players. That leaves second-year forward Danny Granger in this spot. Granger averaged 7.5 points and 4.9 rebounds as a rookie, above par for a No. 17 pick. He should have every chance to flourish starting alongside Jermaine ONeal and Al Harrington this season. Granger was a $2.14 million player who made $1.3 million last season.
Most overpaid: Only a day after Indiana acquired Peja Stojakovic and ridded itself of Ron Artest, Jermaine ONeal went down with a groin tear. The Pacers season might as well have gone with him. ONeal played in only 51 games as a result (the Pacers went 26-25) and has missed 69 games combined the last two seasons. He still has $82 million and four years left on his contract, but the Pacers could shop him if the team continues to stagnate. Entering his 11th season, ONeal needs to stay healthy and produce at a level that justifies making maximum dollars in the NBA. He was a $7.52 million player who made $16.4 million last season.
Outlook: The Pacers backed off making a $60-plus million commitment to Stojakovic, using a trade exception to bring back Harrington for almost half that amount. Unless ONeal and Jamaal Tinsley combine to play 93 games again this season, Indiana has to improve in a weak conference.
Coach: Pat Riley
Starting five: PG Jason Williams, SG Gary Payton, SF Antoine Walker, PF Udonis Haslem, C Shaquille ONeal
Off the bench: PG Gary Payton, SG Dorrell Wright, SF James Posey, C Alonzo Mourning
Most underpaid: Would you have guessed Dwyane Wade? He left no doubt about being Miamis most valuable player in averaging nearly 35 points a game in the NBA Finals, leading the Heat to its first championship. He also became the first star player from the vaunted 2003 draft class to get a ring. For a player with limited range on his shot, Wade succeeds by attacking the basket; he shot 49.5 percent last season. The only concern for Heat fans is that Wade has played 112 games in the past 12 months, both for Pat Riley and USA Basketball. He was a $23.64 million player who made $3 million on his rookie contract.
Most overpaid: Would you have guessed Shaquille ONeal? To justify making $20 million a year, you need to play more than 59 games and average better than 30.4 minutes. The extent of ONeals diminished skills was evident in the Finals, where he missed 34 of 48 free throws and was less of a difference maker at times than Alonzo Mourning. The Heat will pay ONeal another $80 million for the championship he helped deliver last season. He was a $12.12 million player last season and will turn 35 in March.
Outlook: Even if they still have the most mismatched set of players in the league – – Antoine Walker? Jason Williams? – – the Heat has to be considered the favorite to come out of the East again this season.