Golden State Warriors ownership reportedly considered offering Stephen Curry below the max, and there’s only one reason for it.
After eight NBA seasons, Stephen Curry earned the five-year, $201 million supermax contract that he signed earlier this summer. Before Russell Westbrook signed an extension for $205 million, his deal was the richest in NBA history. Last Thursday, however, reports surfaced. Marcus Thompson of The Athletic said there were allegations that Warriors’ owner Joe Lacob was contemplating offering his superstar franchise cornerstone less than the max before Bob Myers convinced him otherwise.
Thompson wrote that Myers “kept Lacob from bringing a reduced offer to the negotiating table.” You can now pick your jaw up off of the floor.
If you’re shocked by what you just read, you’re not alone. I too could hardly comprehend that. In the current NBA landscape, six guys are more than worthy of a $200 million payday: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Curry. Golden State has built their growing dynasty around Curry, and the 29-year-old has since evolved into a global icon who’s on the same level as LeBron when it comes to marketability. Last season, despite the addition of Durant, Curry averaged 25.3 points and 6.6 assists in 79 games. He made his fourth-straight All-Star appearance and accompanied Isaiah Thomas on the All-NBA second team.
A relatively late-bloomer, Steph has spent all but the last three years as an underdog. There were questions about his size, athleticism and his ankles, and the combination of that made him one of the NBA’s best bargains. To date, according to Basketball Reference, Curry has earned $56.7 million from his contracts. This year, he’ll make $34.6 million before taxes. When you look at the production and impact on the game, it’s almost unfathomable that someone would think low-balling him is fine.
For the first four (even five) seasons of his career, Steph lacked the national recognition that his peers got. His style of play was the leading culprit. The aerial assault that he unleashed night in and night out is the building block for everything else, and Curry’s always been a deadeye shooter. However, anytime he was mentioned with the top-tier guards, he was just that a marksman and the stereotype was that his lack of size or explosiveness prevented him from making an impact any other way. Even now there are more than a few people who bear that opinion. After 2015, however, that stigma changed.
Steph didn’t get any taller or more athletic, but he brought home the NBA MVP award after being the best player on a team that won 67 games. Curry averaged 23.8 points and 7.7 assists during the regular season. He also set the record for most made threes in a season with 286, a record that he had broken just two years earlier (272). The Warriors met the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals for the first time, and Steph averaged 26.0 points, 6.3 dimes and 5.2 rebounds. Andre Iguodala won the Finals MVP award. During the postseason as a whole, Curry eclipsed 28 points a night (28.3) while handing out 6.4 assists and shot 42.2 percent from three. If you still thought his play was a fluke, the following campaign would change all of that.
Stephen Curry’s 2015-16 season belongs in a class of its own. We never saw anything like it. We won’t see anything like it for a long time, if ever. He obliterated the record he had just set the season prior by burying 402 triples, a rate of 5.1 a night. Curry added 30.1 points (led the league), 6.7 assists and 2.1 steals (led the league) and became a member of the 50/40/90 club. The numbers by themselves are remarkable. There are, however, few words to describe how he played. Curry made shots from all over the floor, consistently swishing 30-foot triples like he was playing 2K with the sliders turned all the way up. Despite his physicals, he was indefensible. He emerged as arguably the league’s best ball handler and knifed through the league’s elite defenses with surgical precision. (Kyrie Irving is the only other player in the debate as the NBA’s best ball handler. The gap between the two isn’t sizeable.)
Seeing a player of his size dominate was remarkable, and that’s what helped turn him into a global icon. There’s an averageness about Steph that appeals to casual fans. He stands 6-3 and weighs around 190 pounds. By NBA standards, he’s small. He built his game on a skill; anyone can become a great shooter if they put in the work. Curry differs from LeBron or Kevin Durant for that reason. Their greatness isn’t reliant on their size, but it helps. Those two have put in the countless hours of work, but you can’t replicate being 6-8 and 260 with hyper-athleticism; you can’t replicate being roughly 7-0 feet with arms so long that defenders need a broomstick to contest your shot. Curry’s skills are invaluable to the Warriors, and his brand is lucrative for business.
Under Armour signed Steph in 2013 and boasted revenues of $2.3 billion, according to their annual report from that year. In 2014, they surpassed $3 billion and finished at $3.08 billion for the year. Under Armour continued to increase revenue in 2015 and 2016, concluding their fiscal years at $3.96 and $4.83 billion, respectively, and their annual report from 2016 noted that 21 percent of their sales came from footwear, the highest since Curry joined the company. I don’t want to pin all of UA’s success on Steph, but he and his signature sneakers have been a driving force. On a roster that includes Tom Brady, Cam Newton and Michael Phelps, Curry is the most recognizable because of the globalization of basketball, and Kevin Plank is going to treat him differently.
Back in 2016, Jay Sole, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, noted that UA’s basketball shoe sales were up 350 percent at the time of his writing. He also said that Curry’s value to his endorser could be worth up to $14 billion in market cap — $14 billion. That’s double UA’s current cap of $7.1 billion. The two parties are tied together through 2024, and that extension gave Curry a stake in Under Armour.
It was big news this summer when Kevin Durant re-signed with Golden State for significantly less than the max. He’s able to do that because of his endorsement deals. I don’t know if Lacob saw that and maybe thought he could get away with Steph because he’s in the same situation. Curry’s endorsers are also throwing money at him at, and Forbes estimated that he’s going to make $35 million away from the basketball court this year.
As the owner of the Warriors, it’s Lacob’s job to build a team that will win championships. Having four All-NBA caliber players isn’t cheap. According to Spotrac, Golden State has $137.4 million in total cap allocations, and that’s including Curry’s contract. Basketball is a business. Joe Lacob is a businessperson. His net worth is estimated to be somewhere in the $1.5 billion range after various investments. As much as he wants to win championships, he wants to increase revenues and widen his profit margins. That’s the only reason I see him wanting to offer Stephen Curry below the max.
Lacob wants to keep his costs as low as possible because he pays the luxury tax out of pocket and he won’t be able to do that forever. If Curry signed for less than the max, it would bring the luxury tax down, albeit not by that much because, realistically, how far down could you go before Steph thinks it’s a slap in the face? After all, he’s the NBA’s only unanimous MVP who has been the driving force behind the three-point revolution. On top of that, his willingness to stay with the organization has never wavered. Fortunately, Bob Myers saved the day.
Also Read: How Nike Lost Steph Curry
We don’t know how badly that would’ve backfired against the organization. There is, however, a part of me that wanted it to happen just to see the outcome. Would Curry abandon the franchise where he’s built his career? After being underpaid for it, there’s the chance he could’ve.
In a vacuum, there’s almost no reason for Curry to have gotten less than the max deal. He’s got the accolades and the awards. He’s also got the individual and team success. More importantly, he’s had an impact on the game that only a few have had. When you take all of that into consideration, Lacob’s reason to lowball Steph isn’t basketball related.
Joe Lacob sees the Warriors as a business because he’s a businessman. With any company, the owner’s goal is to make a profit, and that means bringing in as much money as possible while keeping your costs low. Giving Curry a smaller contract would’ve lowered his expenses. Is that the wrong reason? I believe so, especially for a player of Curry’s caliber. Regardless, Bob Myers talked him out of it. But Lacob’s decision, on the surface, appeared to be strictly business.
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