One by one, trickle by trickle, the startling developments late Tuesday night reflected the mesmerizing, TV-billions-fueled prosperity of the new NBA. First it was Anthony Davis, still a babe at 22, signing the most lucrative deal in league history, a five-year, $145 million extension that clocks in at $29 million per. “One of those special players who comes along once every 25 or 30 years,” said his coach in New Orleans, Alvin Gentry, who left the Warriors for a reason, wouldn’t you say?
Next came Kawhi Leonard, who accepted less money than necessary — $90 million over five years — to stay with the Spurs, the team that will most concern the Warriors next season … and beyond. So much for the baloney spewed by Gregg Popovich, who had said of free agency, “I’m not calling anyone at midnight. I’ll be in bed. And if that’s the difference in someone coming or not coming, then I don’t want them.” Not only was Popovich awake when Leonard signed, he’ll be pacing today when the Spurs try to sign LaMarcus Aldridge.
So could anyone blame Draymond Green on this crazy night in Los Angeles, aka NBA Money Central, if he thanked the Warriors, walked out the door and embarked on a Draymond Demands Dap conquering tour? Remembering his wee-hours speech after he became a champion, knowing how an astronomically expanding salary cap allows him more financial creativity as a restricted free agent, why not fly to Detroit, Atlanta, Houston, Boston and any other address that values his unique skills as a defender, energizer and selfless pick-setter for an MVP shooter who, BTW, still hasn’t thanked him with the desired Rolex?
“A lot of people said I could never play in this league,” he said, memorably. “They said, ‘Too slow, too small, can’t shoot well enough, can’t defend nobody. What does he do well? He doesn’t have a skill.’ But I’ve got heart, and that’s what stands out. They told me I couldn’t do it. I could not play in this league. I read something after my rookie year like, ‘OK, Draymond’s pretty good on the defensive end, but if he don’t shore up his offense, he’ll be out of the league next year.’ And now I’m sitting here, NBA champion. I mean, they can never take this away from me.”
Why not milk his freedom, then, and let everyone kiss his ass? And when the offers pour in, take the one he likes best to Warriors owner Joe Lacob, who has no choice but to match it as he has vowed all along — lest the applause that greeted the once-loathed owner at the championship rally return to boos.
“Draymond wants to enjoy every minute of free agency,” said Warriors forward Marreese Speights.
Every free agent should enjoy every minute, from Green to LeBron James, who, by opting out as a seeming formality, will make $22 million next season in Cleveland — $7 million less than Davis’ average when it kicks in before the 2016-17 season. As another reference point, consider that Kobe Bryant, in presumably his final season, will own the league’s highest salary at $25 million. James and Bryant have won seven championships between them; Davis has yet to win a playoff game, his Pelicans having been swept by the Warriors, whose league MVP, Stephen Curry, is entering the third year of a four-year, $44 million extension, signed in October 2012 when he was concerned that his problem ankles would prematurely end his career.
All of which, of course, is headed toward a massive correction process as the NBA enters a financial boom fueled by media-rights contracts with ESPN and Turner Sports worth $24 billion over nine years. The salary cap, now at $67 million, will increase to $90 million in 2016-17 and $108 million the following summer. Soon enough, the extensions of Davis and Leonard actually will look fairly reasonable when James and Curry are setting in at well over $200 million.
There would be plenty of incentive for Green, if he wishes to gamble on staying healthy, not to sign a five-year deal with the Warriors. He could seek the deal he wants from another team — which has to be at least three seasons in length — and expedite the process for becoming a free agent a second time. Just the same, this was a player drafted 35th three years ago, meaning he has been working cheap by NBA standards and hasn’t banked a lot of money. Last season, in an all-time bargain relative to his contributions, he made $915,242. Perhaps he wants the $15 million a year now.
Thing is, he can have it … and still do his ego-pumping tour over basketball America. The Warriors have said repeatedly — Lacob, general manager Bob Myers, coach Steve Kerr — that they’re matching Green’s offer no matter the enormity. “We’re bringing him back. Don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t worry,” Myers said at the championship celebration, which would be three lies if the Warriors didn’t match an offer.
So let him have his fun. Lacob knows he’s going to have to pay out the ying-yang for Green and Curry and, if the cap somehow allows at some point, Kevin Durant. The fascinating element at play, here in the summer when Green gets rich, is how the man who will pay him also grew up poor. A stereotypical mind would assume Lacob to be a polar opposite, but just as Green was raised in his formative years by a single (and now famous) mother who made $15,000 a year as a middle-school security guard in Saginaw, Mich., Lacob grew up with limited means and paid for every penny of his college education.
He is having too much fun as a champion, thumbing his nose at the world, to not pay the mandated tax and support a massive payroll for years. When Myers said recently that Lacob “cares about money but more about winning,” there is no evidence to the contrary Green raised eyebrows this week when he spoke to a Yahoo Sports reporter and referred to the Warriors in past tense. Don’t worry about it. He’ll be back at some point, today or next week or later this month.
“It was fun. I built relationships that will last a lifetime,” Green said. “They’re a first-class organization. I had a great experience, but that probably won’t change.”
What won’t change is the uniform. What will change is the portfolio, beyond his wildest Saginaw fantasies.