SAN FRANCISCO — After Game 5 of the NBA Finals, a Warriors win that put them one game away from a fourth title in eight years, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst went on SportsCenter and decided to embarrass himself.
“They have a $340 million payroll when you consider taxes,” Windhorst said of Golden State. “You don’t just have to beat the Warriors on the court, you have to beat their checkbook. Nothing away from Andrew Wiggins tonight but this was a checkbook win for the Warriors.”
A “checkbook win.”
No matter what spin happens in the days to come, that was not meant as a compliment.
No, it was meant to undercut the Warriors’ success this season.
And that’s fine. Unbecoming, but fine. Heaven knows I can deliver a good pot-shot, too.
But what actually bothers me about this take is that it’s carrying water for the NBA’s cheap owners, who would rather complain about a rich team than actually invest in theirs.
That’s the embarrassing part.
There are plenty of “rumblings” around the NBA that owners don’t like Golden State’s spending. The Warriors have the highest payroll in the league at $178.9 million per USA Today, and with their luxury tax payments, they are, indeed, close to that $340 million mark for this season.
But how is that anything but a good thing?
Not just for the Bay and Warriors fans and Steph Curry’s great-great-great-grandchildren, but for the league on the whole?
It’s not like that luxury tax just disappears, after all.
And shouldn’t it be the ideal for a team to actually spend money on their own players in an effort to have the best team possible?
The Warriors haven’t broken any rules, nor are they pushing any boundaries — they are playing within the confines of the NBA rules and are penalized, heavily, for simply not being cheap.
They pay luxury tax — which increases the more you spend — because they want to win.
Apparently, that’s not a universal desire in the NBA.
The Warriors aren’t the basketball equivalent of the Steinbrenner Yankees going out and using the Oakland A’s as a farm team. It’s not a Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain sports washing situation, either.
No, the Warriors spending on their own players with money they have brought in through investments in their basketball product.
To even put a pejorative tone on such an enterprise is preposterous.
On top of Windhorst’s SportsCenter hit, I listened to his “Hoop Collective” podcast after Game 5. I’m actually a long-time subscriber to the show — it’s oftentimes an enjoyable and informative listen.
But there was the “checkbook win” argument again. And with a bit more time to expand, the subtext was clear that Windhorst thought Wiggins — who had 26 points and 13 rebounds in Game 5 — was a luxury item that other teams couldn’t afford.
We’re beyond embarrassing now. This has to be some sort of practical joke.
When the Warriors traded for Wiggins, the consensus belief was that he had the worst contract in the NBA.
The Warriors only traded for him because they had determined in-house that, no, there was actually a worse contract — it was the one they had just given D’Angelo Russell in a sign-and-trade with the Brooklyn Nets for Kevin Durant.
Wiggins was perceived as such an overpaid disappointment that the Timberwolves tossed a first-round pick into the deal to make it happen.
And now Wiggins is a luxury?
Revisionist history is laughable.
The Warriors do, indeed, have four players with “max” salaries — Wiggins, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Steph Curry, the NBA’s highest-paid player.
They drafted three of those players and have rewarded them for their three championships and now-six NBA Finals trips with commensurate contracts.
The other “max” contract — Wiggins – is only on the team because the NBA and players’ union refused to smooth over the league’s salary cap in the summer of 2016, creating a roughly $20 million spike in the cap for every team.
The Warriors could have used that money to re-sign wing Harrison Barnes to a large deal, but instead, they convinced Durant to come to the Bay.
When Durant left, instead of letting that salary slot disappear, the Warriors instead chose to fill it with Russell, working out a deal with the Nets and the player — and even tossing in a draft pick, too — to maintain their four max spots in the post-Durant era. They had grand plans for the final spot, but ended up with Wiggins, who has become into an impact, two-way player.
Every one of the Warriors’ max players is, in essence, a home-grown product. Wiggins wasn’t drafted by the Dubs, but he didn’t play anything like this when he first showed up in San Francisco.
The Warriors’ success wasn’t bought, it was built.
And building is expensive in San Francisco.
The Warriors know, because they finance this payroll spending through the money they make at Chase Center, the arena the Warriors’ ownership group built — with their own money — in the City.
The Warriors now make money hand over fist in Chase Center and this playoff success has likely brought in more than nine figures.
If the Warriors are operating in the red, it’s only because they are investing in other things to expand their empire. Otherwise, this is a self-sustaining hoops enterprise — so long as the Dubs win. And the profits go onto the court.
Nothing is stopping other teams from doing the exact same thing.
I understand that not every NBA owner is making money, but that’s not the Warriors’ problem.
Nor is it the Warriors’ problem if other owners don’t want to spend what it might take to win.
The Celtics, for instance, made a few trades this past February in an effort to avoid the luxury tax. Boston wanted to improve its team this winter, yes but it seemed as if the organization’s top priority was to keep costs down.
There’s no virtue in being cheap. There’s even less in making the rich the villain. There are no victims amongst NBA ownership.
If you can’t keep up, cash out.
That said, the notion that the Warriors are simply paying for wins is comical as well.
Yes, on Monday, Golden State started four “max” players, but they also had a player on a minimum-value contract in the starting lineup, Otto Porter. (NBA rules allow teams to add as many players on such deals as they want, regardless of their cap situation.)
They closed Game 5 with Kevon Looney — a center they have signed twice to cheaper-than-expected deals because large markets never developed for him — and Gary Payton II, who was cut at the end of training camp and available for anyone else in the league to sign. He is also on a minimum deal.
The Warriors have four minimum-value players in their 10-man rotation, as Nemanja Bjelica and Andre Iguodala are also making the league minimum.
Are those players a luxury, too?
What is the most you can spend on a team for a title to be fully legitimate, Brian?
It’s all so ridiculous because not long ago, the Warriors were, unquestionably, the laughingstock of the NBA.
Twelve years ago tomorrow, Lacob and company bought the Dubs for a then-record $450 million. An overspend? At the time, yes.
But the new owners got lucky — they inherited Curry, then in his second year.
A little more than a decade later, the franchise is worth an estimated $6 billion.
Now was that valuation increase an accident or a byproduct of skill?
Next season, the Warriors’ payroll could well exceed that original $450 million investment.
After all, they have some very good players on their team that deserve raises.
All while the other owners embarrassingly plead poverty and ESPN reporters try to undermine the Warriors’ they actually put their money where their mouths were.
Contributed by local news sources