It took Joe Lacob much longer than necessary — an entire night and most of the next day — to fix his blind spot. But as the best owners do, he figured it out and quickly self-corrected. He realized the NBA’s new free-agent economy is booming to crazy levels during a landmark week. He realized the Cleveland Cavaliers were dedicating $110 million to Kevin Love and surrounding LeBron James with the most expensive supporting cast in league history. He realized he’ll have enough serious rivals on the court next season to make Draymond Green another one.
So he stopped any thought of lowballing the second-most important player on his championship team, came to his senses and gave Green a five-year, $82 million deal Wednesday night, securing him for the long term and locking in two-thirds of the core that has created dreams of multiple titles for the Warriors. Klay Thompson is set for the next four years at $72 million. Stephen Curry, an absurd bargain on a $44 million extension signed when he thought ankle issues might end his career prematurely, could demand more than $200 million in the summer of 2017. But the ring total would have stopped at one if Lacob didn’t re-sign Green and, just as importantly, keep the peace with an irascible man-child.
After a tense day in the Bay Area, Draymond got paid. He didn’t get the max, falling about $2 million a year short, but no one can say he was lowballed. We won’t be hearing the end of it anytime soon on his various social-media outlets.
“Proud to say that I’ll be a Warrior for at least the next five years,” Green said in a video, which was posted to a website called Bleacher Report. “It’s been a long journey to get to this point whether it’s trying to overcome the odds, overcome doubters. To be in this position, signing back long-term with the Warriors is amazing. It’s an organization that I love. Best fans in the NBA, first-class organization. Staying with the Warriors was very important for me … obviously, coming off a championship, we’re thinking we can win a lot of championships.”
Then he used Instagram to show a picture of his mother, Mary Babers-Green, weeping after she learned the news. Wrote her son: “Welp!!! I do it for you!!! Love my mama so much this is what I’ve worked my entire life to see!!! God is amazing! He’s never failed me and continue to bless through it all!!! Thanks Big Fella!!!!”
Oh, and he also took to Yahoo Sports, which broke the news of his signing, to say: “Excited thankful and grateful to be back in the Bay. Thanks to Peter Guber, Joe Lacob, Bob Myers, Rick Welts and the entire Warriors organization. Thanks Coach [Steve] Kerr and staff for helping me become a better player, and thanks to my teammates for being great and accepting. I love the fans. Thanks for being great. Now, let’s chase championships.”
All of which saved Green the indignity — the story of his life — of having to prove himself yet again. After years of being told he was too slow, too short, too heavy and too one-dimensional, Green was faced late Tuesday night in Los Angeles with another slight. He wanted to be paid at or near maximum market value, which, for him, would be $93 million over five years. The Warriors, the franchise that made him a star, said no way.
Green and his agent, B.J. Armstrong, went home and broke off talks.
This was dangerous territory for Lacob and Peter Guber, who were acting like owners who preferred to play a truth-or-dare game rather than acknowledge they had to ante up in a new financial climate. While the Warriors still could have matched any offer received by Green, the fact they were making him test the waters to establish his market value — while leaking remarks publicly that the dramatic overall increase in contract money was “surprising” to them — suggested Lacob was not approaching the Green negotiations as a family matter. It seemed strictly business for the Warriors, who were willing to risk a month-long distraction and let Green visit Detroit, Atlanta, Houston, New York, Boston and other places that valued his unique skills as a defensive force and dirty-work fiend, not to mention his fiery leadership, high basketball I.Q. and heart. The most another team could have offered him was $69.2 million over four years, and Lacob and general manager Bob Myers could have pushed that to a maximum of $72.1 million, but even if the Warriors matched and did the news conference, a much larger issue would have loomed.
Would Green be pissed off and bitter?
And do you really want this combustible fellow being pissed off and bitter?
The Green camp stopped talking. The Warriors stopped talking. Babers-Green, bless her, kept tweeted. Referring to the notifications on her smartphone about free-agency signings, she wrote: “#don’tforgetaboutDRAY.”
She also retweeted a blank check, made out to Green and signed fictitiously by Lacob, with “LACOB SAVINGS AND LOAN” at the top beside the address of the team’s downtown Oakland offices. So you know where that Twitter feed was headed the longer the tale dragged on.
Such concerns were allayed when the bosses compromised with Green and Armstrong, who once played for the Warriors. Few thought Green should be paid on the level of Kawhi Leonard, a two-way machine who signed a five-year, $90-million extension with the Spurs. Or on the level of another two-way star, Jimmy Butler, who agreed to the same deal with Chicago. But when the Warriors first suggested Green should slot in closer to Khris Middleton — also an overachieving second-round draft pick, who signed a five-year, $70 million deal with Milwaukee — they were forgetting two vital points.
Green won a championship.
Green was runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year.
As hours passed and tensions mounted, the big bosses realized it wasn’t fair to compare Green to Middleton or DeMarre Carroll, who inked a four-year, $60 million deal with Toronto. Finally, they relented.
Here is where the best sports owners distinguish themselves. No one thinks Cleveland’s Dan Gilbert is a particularly good owner, yet he’ll be paying mind-blowing salaries and taxes after signing Love to a fat deal to accompany LeBron James’ next contract — assuming he stays next summer — and the sizable deals of Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson. Already, health permitting, the Cavaliers are eyeing a title next summer, with Vegas declaring them as odds-on favorites.
The Spurs, too, look primed to challenge the Warriors in the West. When LaMarcus Aldridge crossed the Lakers off his list Wednesday, unimpressed with their approach to analytics, he whipped open the door for San Antonio to add an All-Star forward to its formidable roster. Most NBA people expect Cleveland and the Spurs to play for the title next June.
Not so fast — now that Green and Lacob are back on the same team again, separated as they were for a few nervous hours.