Sometime between now and July, every Warriors fan will come to the same realization: Golden State’s Draymond Green is a max contract player. And that’s a very good thing, indeed.
In 2015, picking up Green’s paltry $1.15M qualifying offer guarantees the Warriors the right to match any contract Green receives on the open market. And while doing so may sound like a shrewd business decision, it will not protect the Warriors from the inevitable: someone is going to pay Draymond Green a lot of money this off season.
But how would the Warriors keep a maxed-out Draymond Green?
If Draymond were to receive a max contract from the Warriors, his cap hit would jump up over $16 million per season. To Warriors fans listening to telecast debates over Draymond’s status (pundits often quip that he’s worth somewhere between $8 and $10 million), this may seem like a ridiculous figure.
But the NBA’s salary cap does not exist in a vacuum, and any discussion of it requires a healthy serving of context. The cap is set to explode in 2016: the CBA stipulates that players receive 51.5% of NBA basketball-related income, and with the league’s new television deal, that means the cap is going to start shooting way, way up.
This year, the Warriors are right up against the luxury tax line with more than $73 million committed against the cap. And next year, with $78 million committed thanks to Klay Thompson’s new contract, retaining Draymond Green almost certainly means becoming a tax payer in 2015.
But then things get hazy. That big salary cap boost could put the Dubs right back under the luxury tax line in 2016—if not the lesser salary soft cap. If the cap shoots up to $90 million in 2016 as some insiders sleepily speculate, Draymond Green’s $16 million becomes a lot less imposing. And with David Lee set to come off the books that year, general manager Bob Meyers will have plenty of options to tinker with his contender, despite a big-money extension for Money Green.
But is he worth it?
You bet your pancakes. We can’t just say $16 million per year is too much—as a four year contract, we have to consider the entire deal’s value, as well as the dramatically different context for the latter three years of the deal. In 2015, paying Draymond Green 20% of the salary cap sounds very bad. But if you can keep this entire roster together through 2017 (and contend and possibly improve each of those years), paying a premium at one position suddenly becomes a small price to pay.
More importantly, giving Day-Day a raise doesn’t mean Curry and Klay no longer have to honor their contracts. The Warriors will still enjoy their then-drastically below market rate deals. The shrewd savings on Curry, as well as the suddenly reasonable Thompson extension are the cushion that allow the Warriors to resign a third elite player in Draymond Green. Doing good business is its own reward, after all.
And then we have to acknowledge the big, African American power forward in the room. Draymond Green might not just be "hot" right now. He might not be overpaid slightly in 2015. He might really be this good. As in: all-star, defensive player of the year good. A hyper-versatile Lebron James and Charles Oakley love-child with the heart of a champion.
As a regular starter this year, Green leads the entire NBA in defensive efficiency at 93.7 points per 100 possessions (per stats.nba.com). And with his very respectable 111.8 offensive efficiency, he’s got a net efficiency of plus-18.1 points per 100 possessions, second in the NBA behind none other than Stephen Curry (minimum 30 games played, 20 minutes per game).
There's more! Despite being a power forward, opponents are shooting just 31% from three-point range against him, a top-10 rate in the NBA. His WAR (wins above replacement) ranks 11th in the NBA at 4.94. His overall Real Plus-Minus of 4.89 is 12th in the NBA. Even more impressive, his 4.4 Defensive Box plus-minus also leads the entire league. By rights, Draymond Green is a first team all-defensive player, today. More importantly, the numbers say he’s one of the most valuable players in the NBA, period.
The eye test just confirms it: he’s dishing assists and grabbing rebounds like a man possessed. It won’t happen this year, but it’s the honest truth: Draymond Green is deserving of every penny of that maximum contract. Also, he's more deserving of the all star berth most Warriors fans are pushing Klay Thompson for. Unless his play falls off a cliff, the question shouldn’t be, "Can the Warriors afford to keep Draymond Green?" It should be, "How much of a bargain will Draymond be in 2016?"
Regardless of his salary, with the way he’s playing, I’d say a big one.