The Golden State Warriors have now ransacked three playoff teams from last year to start the season by an average of 25 points over four games, with the annihilation of the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night proving to be the most gruesome of the carnage.
It goes without saying that this Warriors team is special, a dynasty in the making that could be on track to get the 70 wins this season that Klay Thompson spoke about recently. Warriors fans would love to see this team remain together forever, which is why it was a little painful to see both Festus Ezeli and Harrison Barnes decline contract extensions this Fall. But this is the direction that the league appears to be headed, as other marque players such as Andre Drummond and Bradley Beal, and their agents, see the big money rolling in and believe they have greater leverage to get a larger piece of the pie.
Whether it's attributable to sports agents or a growing business savvy among players, players are doing away with the notion that they need to make financial sacrifices to win championships. LeBron James is signing max contracts that allow him to opt out every year, for example, to put pressure on Dan Gilbert to fork over a fortune in player salaries and corresponding luxury tax. Many expect Kevin Durant to sign a similar contract next summer. And it appears that owners are caving to the pressure, as we saw the Cavs agree to an $82 million deal for Tristan Thompson to come off of the bench and the Thunder match a max contract offer for Enes Kanter. It's no wonder that Barnes and Ezeli aren't signing extensions below the max when they see these contracts.
As players like Kanter, who we don't consider among the top tier of NBA players, receive max contracts with greater regularity, it increases the chances of a lockout when the existing bargaining agreement expires. The owners can't enjoy the direction in which contract negotiations are heading and will likely call a timeout to seek a correction. But don't expect National Basketball Player Association Executive Director Michelle Roberts to back down to the owners.
The other trend that will inevitably come from rising contract amounts for the good to great crowd is that less money will be available for reserves who cannot command the max salaries. This concerns me as a Warriors fan because I think Shaun Livingston, Maurice Speights, and several other reserves are critical to the team's success. If the Warriors end up matching ludicrous offers for Barnes and Ezeli in July, what will that mean for Livingston and Speights? The team has an option of $5.7 million for Livingston next season and Mo Buckets will be a free agent. At what point would contracts for Ezeli and Barnes squeeze Livingston and Speights out of the equation? Can the Warriors celebrate three-pointers with the Three Shotgun without those guys? It'd just be weird...
Perhaps it's unrealistic to dream that the Warriors could keep this team together for another five years, and maybe they don't need to do that in order to remain championship contenders. After all, they are absolutely crushing fools right now. The Dubs will remain competitors for the title as long as the core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green is in place. It just seems to be a shame that a group of guys who love playing together and have the potential to be a lasting dynasty might go their separate ways as a result of the financial success that they helped bring to the league.
Other news and notes
- Festivus is canceled: Festus Ezeli opted to become a restricted free agent next summer rather than sign an extension to his rookie contract. It may be the best long-term strategy for Ezeli, assuming that he remains healthy and continues to throw block parties on defense like he did during Monday's thrashing of the Grizzlies. He's looking out for the financial interests of his family, but Ezeli noted that he loves the Warriors and would prefer to stay in the Bay. Let's hope that he gets his wish.
- Player of the Week: In one of the easiest decisions in the history of the award, Stephen Curry earned Western Conference Player of the Week honors after averaging 39.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists, and 2.3 steals in the first three games of the season, made all the more impressive by the fact that he only played 33 minutes per game. Writers everywhere can't stop saying that Curry is in real life cheat mode and the poor Pelicans are wondering what they did to upset whoever assembles the NBA schedule. Curry is now the sixth Warrior to have earned the award at least 3 times in his career and could very well double that total by season's end to overtake Tim Hardaway at the top of the franchise's list. Speculation remains that James Harden feels slighted after shooting 22% while leading the Rockets to three losses on the week.
- Inside the Barnes Talks: Let's Go Warriors assembled a collection of quotes and analysis about the mutual agreement to end contract negotiations between the Warriors and Harrison Barnes. Tim Kawakami says that Barnes gains more control in the event that the Warriors seek to trade him, say, to the Thunder. Meanwhile, Dieter Kurtenbach opines that the Warriors maintained control of the negotiations from start to finish, standing their ground based on their assessment of the situation. Together they paint a picture in which the Warriors would be glad to bring Barnes back, but they aren't willing to overpay in doing so. Barnes is a great fit with the Warriors identity in that he shoots the three-pointer well and can play the power forward position when the Dubs go small, but Bob Myers did well to stand his ground during negotiations.
Tweet Tweet: Twitter is abuzz about Stephen Curry and the Dubs after the monster 50-point victory on Monday night, mentioning Curry's current PER (over 50), a new NBA record for outscoring a team's first four opponents (100 points), and joking that Steve Kerr should be fired for underachieving last year. Every mention of the word "luck" in relation to the Warriors is now done so with irony. Life is good in the Bay.