Nothing says “sore loser” or “talking head” like groaning about a team doing what is allowed by the rules. If you don’t like what the Golden State Warriors are spending, fine — but don’t be mad when they win by investing in their own.
The Golden State Warriors are currently over $71 million over the salary cap and over $39 million over the luxury tax threshold. As a repeat taxpayer, their estimated luxury tax bill this coming offseason will be a little bit over $170 million, according to Spotrac. That’s almost the same amount as the $175 million they are paying their roster, meaning that Golden State is on the hook for roughly $346 million for this season’s team.
The Warriors are a win away from a championship, in part, because of that willingness to spend. But some are spreading sour grapes regarding the investment of Golden State.
Brian Windhorst of ESPN is the most recent example, but ESPN’s Zach Lowe has also written about owners around the NBA have been “grumbling” about the spending advantage the Warriors have in a market where they have become among the most valuable franchises in the NBA. The view appears, from the outside looking in, to be one of a team that is “buying” championships. Windhorst himself called the Golden State Game 5 victory a “checkbook win”.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Golden State has built a title-contending team, and they’ve done exactly what teams should be attempting to do to maintain that level of competitiveness.
The Warriors have made tough choices
In Lowe’s ESPN piece he details the circumstances that surrounded the 2019 NBA offseason, and the decision that Warriors General Manager Bob Myers made to deal Andre Iguodala and his large contract to the Memphis Grizzlies — along with a 2024 first-round pick, top-four protected, to make it worth the while of Memphis. Steve Kerr is quoted as saying the following –
“That [Iguodala] trade was a great example of why the coach should not be the general manager,” Kerr says. “If I had been in charge, I wouldn’t have done the deal, and we wouldn’t be sitting here with Andrew Wiggins and [Jonathan] Kuminga.”
Of course, before Wiggins and Kuminga could become Warriors, Golden State had to make another deal or two — first with making the D’Angelo Russell trade in what became a double sign and trade with the Brooklyn Nets involving the departing Kevin Durant, and then the move to bring Wiggins — then seen as a failed No. 1 overall selection by impact standards — and the pick that eventually became Kuminga (and a second-rounder for Jacob Evans and Omari Spellman to help the Warriors get under the tax).
Jordan Poole was the No. 28 pick in that 2019 draft for the Warriors, and as Lowe points out was not part of the dealings in 2020 for Wiggins. He was struggling to get playing time on a bad team back then — how things can change in just a few years.
The Warriors had to make some difficult calls to move on from key players earlier on in their dynasty’s rise, and they needed stars like Steph Curry to understand and not rock the boat as those moves occurred. The additions and shrewd roster management decisions have them on the precipice of history more than what they can spend.
The same can be said for what they do once they have them in the fold.
The Warriors develop, and pay, their own
Golden State has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in their own players. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green are all former Warriors draft picks, but the level of commitment to their style of play and who they’ve brought in to develop it is remarkable. Of the almost $176 million the Warriors are on the hook for this season, roughly $135 million of that is in players that Golden State actually drafted or have spent a vast majority of their careers with (201 of Damion Lee’s 2016 games in his career have been played with the Warriors).
That is almost 77 percent of the team’s payroll being spent in a way that, at least in theory, the NBA should be in favor of — on homegrown talent that the Warriors front office sees as worthy of investment.
Andrew Wiggins, then, gets the finger pointed at him as the reason that Monday’s victory reflects on the spending power of Golden State more than anything. He is, after all, the end result (along with Kuminga) of what the Summer of 2016’s drastic cap increase did for Golden State as they signed Kevin Durant.
Durant of course helped make the Warriors dynasty, but once KD decided he was gone, the double sign-and-trade with Russell led Golden State to Wiggins. He would not have been able to have a career night for the Warriors in Game 5 against the Boston Celtics if Durant had not agreed to such a deal — one that Brooklyn did not need to do, but decided to as they got draft pick compensation in return for their trouble.
Revisit the trade for Wiggins — Golden State was given a first-round pick that eventually became Jonathan Kuminga at No. 7 overall in ADDITION to Wiggins. Andrew Wiggins was not seen as some superstar talent helping extend the championship window. He was seen as a bigger wing, who could defend potentially, and either be a good third- or fourth-option or another big contract that Myers and the Warriors could ship out alongside a pick or two to get a “real” star.
Wiggins shined brightly on Monday night, helping the Warriors win a game where Stephen Curry did not make a 3 for the first time in 233 games. 26 points, 13 rebounds, 43 minutes logged in a crucial Game 5 win in San Francisco … that’s a stat line that would’ve been seen as legendary for Kevin Durant at his Warriors peak.
But no, it was Wiggins — the player Minnesota did not want and was willing to part with a draft asset to move on from to bring in D’Angelo Russell — that made the major difference.
Russell is polarizing for the Timberwolves and is rumored to be on the trade market. Wiggins is, if not for the brilliance of Steph Curry, the Finals MVP if Golden State is able to win this series thanks to his ability to use his size to score and defend Boston’s best offensive weapons.
That has to do with the Warriors’ culture of developing talent. Not just players that they have drafted or signed, but those that come to them with baggage and become something more. Wiggins is the strongest example of that yet, and the team’s willingness to be steadfast in their own trade discussions and true to their understanding of what Wiggins could be in their system is paying dividends now.
Money well spent — no matter the cost.
Follow the example
Joe Lacob, the managing owner of the Golden State Warriors, is worth approximately $1.2 billion. That places him 24th among current NBA ownership. His 25 percent state in the Warriors as he leads his investment group is worth approximately $1 billion now, making Lacob’s roughly $115 million investment back in 2010 grow almost 10 times in 12 years.
Having generational talent will help with that growth, but Lacob and company have also consistently been willing to spend whatever it takes to keep a competitive product on the floor when the team has been able to be competitive. And GM Bob Myers has done a masterful job getting the Warriors under the luxury tax during their recent downward trend due to injuries to Klay Thompson and back up over it when the time was right to reengage with their dynastic destiny.
Lacob is not even close to the wealthiest controlling owner in the NBA. Instead of complaining about how he and Golden State have done this work, owners should study how they got here and do their best to model their franchises in a similar manner. Again, easier said than done — it starts with acquiring talent in the NBA Draft, which can be a crap shoot if not fully bought in to a scheme/system and type of player to execute said system.
But the only “key” Warriors player that was a former No. 1 selection was Andrew Wiggins, who is seen as at best the third-most important player to Golden State. Up and down various draft boards you will find how the Warriors scouted talent and developed it, nurtured it, and then when the time came invested in it. That has resulted in a probable return to the top of the NBA mountain for a franchise that some thought would never get back there.
There are squads positioned already with elite talent and youthful energy to be the “next” Golden State. The Pelicans and Grizzlies owners are both wealthier than Lacob individually, and the Celtics owner is in possession of a team that is both historically significant in the NBA and currently among the league’s best, as they try to keep Golden State away from their storybook ending.
Whether it is one of those three or someone else, there is a possibility for this type of success to be had. The focus then should not be on how much it should cost to get there.
It should be on how much you’re willing to invest in the process to not just arrive but stay, at the top.
Game 6 of the 2022 NBA Finals is Thursday, June 16th at 8 PM ET in Boston, Massachusetts.