Who is the highest-paid player in Celtics history?


An NBA-record 37 Basketball Hall of Famers have played for the Boston Celtics. Legendary figures like Bill Russell, Larry Bird and Tommy Heinsohn are among the most decorated in team -- and league -- history. But none of those players are near the list of the highest-paid Celtics players ever.

With the rapidly rising salary cap in the NBA during the 21st century, many of the Celtics’ greatest players made a fraction of what their rotation players make today.

Here are the top five players who have earned the most total cash for the Celtics through the 2020-21 season (per Spotrac):

5. Kemba Walker -- $65,064,725

The current Celtics point guard still has $73,669,500 owed to him over the next two seasons, so he’ll rise up this list in the near future. Walker was the prized addition in free agency for Boston two summers ago when he signed a four-year, $140.8 million deal after Kyrie Irving skipped town.

Walker’s first two seasons in Boston have been up and down. His tenure started off strong, earning a starter nod in the 2020 NBA All-Star Game before a knee injury derailed the rest of his regular season. When the COVID-19 pandemic halted the season in March, Walker had missed nine of the Celtics’ last 17 games. His return in the NBA bubble wasn’t much better, and he was clearly limited in the playoffs. Year 2 wasn’t any better -- Walker played 43 of 72 regular season games, and the Celtics bowed out unceremoniously in the first round against the Nets.

4. Al Horford -- $83,203,214

Horford’s salary was often a hot topic in Boston during his tenure from 2016 to 2019. While his average salary of over $27 million per year seemed like a lot for a player who averaged 13.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.6 assists in three years, it was mostly justifiable.

The Celtics weren’t a legitimate free agent destination until Horford came to town. He was the first All-Star to buy in with Brad Stevens, and he was a steadying force for two teams that made the Eastern Conference finals. When Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward went down in 2017-18, Horford was the leading veteran on a team filled with young stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The Celtics ultimately came up short of the NBA Finals by one game that season, and he did end up bolting for the rival Sixers in 2019, but Horford was a nice piece for Boston over the life of his deal.

3. Gordon Hayward -- $91,599,092

Hayward’s Boston career seemed doomed from the moment he suited up for the Celtics. The former All-Star signed a massive four-year, $128 million deal in 2017 to join Isaiah Thomas, Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum. Thomas was traded for Kyrie Irving a few months later, and Hayward suffered a gruesome leg injury in the opening minutes of the Celtics’ season-opener.

Hayward returned the following season in a bench role, averaging just 11.5 points as he failed to regain his pre-injury form. In his third and final season with the Celtics, Hayward started to look like the player he once was. He averaged 17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 52 regular season games. An ankle injury suffered in the Celtics’ first playoff game derailed his season as the Celtics lost in the Eastern Conference finals. Following the season, he opted out of the final year of his Celtics contract and signed a four-year, $120 million deal with the Hornets.

2. Kevin Garnett -- $104,002,671

Over six seasons in Boston, Garnett was the catalyst for the Celtics seemingly every night. He transformed the franchise’s culture when he was acquired via trade in 2007, winning Defensive Player of the Year that season while leading Boston to its first title since 1986. When the Minnesota Timberwolves traded Garnett in July 2007, he had two years left on his previous deal and signed a three-year, $60 million extension with Boston that kicked in after the 2008-09 season.

The Celtics seemed poised to repeat as champions during Garnett’s second season in Boston before he was injured in a February game against the Jazz. The Big Ticket briefly returned to the lineup before being shut down for the rest of the season. The Celtics returned to the Finals the following season, losing to the Lakers in seven games. KG was eventually traded to the Nets in 2013, just one year after signing a three-year, $34 million deal. In six years as a Celtic, the future Hall of Famer averaged 15.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists.

1. Paul Pierce -- $166,493,698

The No. 10 overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft, Pierce spent 15 seasons with the Celtics and has earned far more money in green than any other player. Pierce’s four-year rookie deal paid him just a total of $4.98 million. After that, The Truth cashed in. He never earned over $20 million in a season, but he never earned fewer than $10 million in a season after that rookie deal.

Pierce’s career as a Celtic is among the best for a franchise full of legends. He ranks top 10 in franchise history in points (second), rebounds (seventh), assists (fifth), steals (first), blocks (fourth) and 3-pointers made (first). The Celtics didn’t win a title until his 10th season in Boston, but that only made it sweeter. Pierce will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame with the 2021 class, his first year on the ballot.

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