The Warrior paranoia seems silly already.
Golden State is certainly excellent, but 7-2 with a pair of 20-point losses is hardly transformational. Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson have not ruined the NBA’s competitive integrity.
But owners and players negotiated the Collective Bargaining Agreement while the super-team threat was as scary as they could imagine, which is to say far more fearsome than reality. The last CBA took steps to break up or at least limit the LeBron James–Dwyane Wade–Chris Bosh Heat – and it might have worked.
Could the next CBA unravel the Warriors?
I called it unlikely. I still find it unlikely.
But so much of what we learn about the new labor agreement spells potential trouble for Golden State.
Durant and Curry can become unrestricted free agents next summer. So will Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and Zaza Pachulia, but they’re lesser concerns. Durant and Curry are the obvious priorities.
In the likely event he opts out of his 1+1 contract, Durant would be a Non-Bird free agent. The Warriors could exceed the cap to re-sign him for up to $31,848,120. However, based on the latest salary-cap projection, his max salary would project to be about $33.9 million. I doubt he’s leaving a couple million on the table next season, so Golden State will need cap space to re-sign him.
How much cap space will the Warriors have? That’s where the new CBA could cause problems.
Free agents count against the cap until signed or renounced. How much they count against the cap depends on their previous contract, but the amount is defined by the CBA. For example, under the current CBA, Curry – who will be a Bird free agent, made more than the estimated average salary and is not coming off a rookie-scale contract – would count at 150% of his previous salary. Golden State could hold him at that amount ($18,168,539), spend its cap space and then use his Bird Rights to re-sign him to a max salary (projected to be about $29 million based on the current system).
Under the new CBA?
The Vertical has learned that there’s potentially could be a rule placed that is called the Drummond Rule. So basically, all these players who sign with low cap holds, teams use cap space, kind of circle back, use the room and then sign their player – that is going to go away. We’re going to see some of these cap holds take a significant increase, go from 150 percent to possibly 300 percent.
So, how that plays out is going to be a big question. We could see an impact next summer on Golden State. Steph Curry, Kevin Durant: free agents. Does the Curry cap hold double? And that might mean a dramatic effect as far as what you have with Durant, Livingston, Iguodala.
The only question will be how the NBA uses these rules. Do you grandfather them in? Do you have a grace period? There’s still a lot of questions to be hammered, but there could be certainly a domino effect right now.
First of all, it’s silly to name this rule after Andre Drummond, who forwent an extension with the Pistons last year so they could take advantage of his low cap hold this year before re-signing him to a max contract. The Spurs did the same with Kawhi Leonard. The Wizards, though perhaps with less approval from the player, did the same with Bradley Beal. Too much scrutiny has been placed on Detroit and Drummond for a fairly common strategy.
Anyway, back to the Warriors.
The example Marks provides directly applies to Curry. He’ll be the type of free agent who counts 150%. Now he could count 300%? That’d double his cap hold to $36,337,077 – but another rule limits Golden State’s exposure.
A cap hold can’t exceed a player’s maximum salary based on years of service. Based on the current system, the max for a player with nine years of experience, like Curry will have next summer, projects to be about $29 million.
So, holding Curry at $29 million rather than $18,168,539 isn’t ideal for the Warriors. But it beats $36,337,077.
The CBA might not stick with the same max tiers, which currently split players into three groups:
- 0-6 years experience: 25% of an adjusted salary-cap figure
- 7-9 years experience: 30% of an adjusted salary-cap figure
- 10+ years experience: 35% of an adjusted salary-cap figure
You need to be a 10-year veteran to get the 35 percent. Well, they’re going to change the numbers on that. They’re going to change the service years.
I don’t know what the numbers are. I don’t know if it’s going to come down to nine years. I don’t know if it’s going to go down to eight years. I don’t know whether it’s going to be a graduated scale.
Windhorst added that players with less experience will have a chance to earn more. It will not go the other way.
So, Curry would wind up with a higher max – which would increase his cap hold. It sounds as if he’ll be experienced enough to get the 35% max, which would match the $33.9 million projection for Durant’s max.
This is becoming less and less workable for the Warriors, and we’re not done.
NBA teams are currently required to carry 13 players (which can also include free agents who are still on the books and unsigned first-round picks, who also count toward the cap). If a team has fewer than 13 players, it’s assessed a roster charge – equal to the rookie minimum, which the current CBA pegs as $562,493 for next offseason – for each open slot.
Golden State has just five players under contract for next season: Green, Thompson, Kevon Looney, Damian Jones and Patrick McCaw. Even with as many held free agents as they can keep, the Warriors will be dealing with roster charges.
The minimum salaries are going way up. The new minimum is going to be in the 800-to-900-thousand-dollar range. Also, you won’t have a 13-person roster limit anymore. You will have a mandatory 15-man roster. So, your roster charges aren’t just going up to 13. They’re going up to 15.
So, that’s even less cap space for Golden State. Not only do the Warriors have to absorb more roster charges than under the current CBA, each charge will cost more.
Based on the $103 million cap projection and these reported rule changes, Golden State could be looking at before signing Durant:
- Stephen Curry: $33,900,000
- Klay Thompson: $17,826,150
- Draymond Green: $16,400,000
- Kevon Looney: $1,233,840
- Damian Jones: $1,224,240
- Pat McCaw: $905,249
- Eight cap holds: $6,800,000
- Cap space: $23,765,395
Again, Durant’s max projects to be about $33.9 million – $10 million more than the Warriors would have room for in this scenario.
If the offseason appeared headed in this direction, he could always opt in for $27,734,405. That’d allow the Warriors to easily re-sign Curry, Iguodala and Livingston through Bird Rights.
But Durant would still be taking about $6 million less than he could get elsewhere. There’s a reason he signed a short-term contract despite his injury history, and I don’t think it’s to take a $6 million discount.
If Durant opts out in this scenario, carving out the extra $10 million necessary to max him out would be difficult.
Dumping Looney, Jones and/or McCaw wouldn’t do much, because every additional roster vacancy would add a roster charge that’s nearly as costly as their salaries. Curry could take a discount, but how inclined is he to do that after playing so long on one of the NBA’s most team-friendly contracts. The CBA prevents Thompson and Green from taking pay cuts.
There is a good source of hope, though.
One wrinkle in the current proposed deal, according to sources familiar with it: Cap holds attached to free agents coming off rookie contracts could jump to 250 and 300 percent of their prior salaries, up from 200 and 250 percent
As of now, cap holds attached to players with more experience would stay the same, per league sources. That could change, of course.
This contradicts Marks’ description of the cap-hold changes. Because Curry is not coming off a rookie-scale contract, his cap hold would remain 150% of his previous salary. With Curry held at $18,168,539 rather than $33.9 million, the Warriors would easily have enough room to max out Durant. Then, they could use Curry’s Bird Rights to max him out, too. Iguodala might get squeezed out, but Golden State would at least avoid the doomsday scenario of losing Durant or Curry.
As Lowe notes, this is fluid.
We don’t know precisely how the CBA will treat cap holds. Even if veteran holds are raised, the change might not be implemented in 2017 to give teams a chance to prepare.
We don’t know what the salary cap will be. That’s always undetermined until July, and this year brings the additional possibility of the formula changing.
We don’t know what max salaries will be. Not only are they tied to the salary cap in the current framework, the new system could carry significantly different rules.
Other changes to the system could nuke the framework this analysis relies on.
But a picture is starting to emerge, and it should concern the Warriors. They have little roster stability. Twenty-nine other teams want to beat them, and some owners surely resent Golden State’s dominance. Likewise, players around the league might seek provisions that encourage competitiveness.
I find it hard to believe owners and players would be so punitive to any one team. I believe they’ll mostly respect the idea that they wouldn’t want to be targeted if they happened to have the hegemonic team when the CBA expired.
But none of these rules necessarily target the Warriors directly. That just might be the effect in aggregate, and it’s possible they’ll have to live with it.
It’s not nearly time for panic in Golden State, but if I were the Warriors, I’d like to be reassured that the new CBA doesn’t present as many roadblocks as it appears it might.