September 25, 2022

The Golden State Warriors aren’t just the most expensive team in the NBA. It is by far the most expensive team in the history of North American professional sports. The Warriors are paying their players about $176 million, but as repeat luxury tax offenders, they will also owe more than $170 million in tax payments. This represents a total expenditure of $346 million. The Los Angeles Clippers were the second most expensive team in the NBA this season and they grossed around $250 million. Only the Clippers, Nets, Lakers and Bucks have even spent half of what the Warriors have made this season, and the rest of the NBA isn’t thrilled about it.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported earlier this week that “rivals are already complaining about Golden State’s competitive spending advantage,” but as Warriors general manager Bob Myers sees, his team is simply operating in the limits of the rules. “I think on that point you should be allowed to spend on your own players,” Myers said in an interview with 95.7 The Game’s “The Morning Roast.” “I mean, we drafted a lot of these guys, we developed them. It’s not like we signed all these guys as free agents and built a team that way. Larry Riley is the guy who fished [Steph] Curry, I was there when we drafted Klay [Thompson]we drafted Draymond [Green]we wrote [Jordan] Poole, we traded for [Andrew] Wiggins. Nobody wanted Wiggins, I mean, nobody said anything at the time.”

Myers is technically correct. His Warriors are built around three local superstars. They have a fourth major salary slot belonging to Andrew Wiggins which originally came when Kevin Durant joined the team thanks to the 2016 cap spike, but that spike probably would have existed anyway. The Warriors could have kept Harrison Barnes on a max contract as a restricted free agent with full bird rights, and it should be noted that they actually had to take significant salaries away from Andrew Bogut (for Durant) and Andre Iguodala (for D’Angelo Russell, who morphed into Wiggins) for the sake of some additions. The Warriors are not the New York Yankees of the George Steinbrenner era. They can’t and don’t outbid other teams for stars out of sheer financial might. They usually find their own players and just choose to keep re-signing them.

But Joe Lacob’s willingness to pay to do so is rare by NBA standards. Look at these four teams spending at least half of what the Warriors do. The Clippers lost an estimated $30 million in luxury wages and taxes by dealing Serge Ibaka at the deadline. The Nets have made a number of financially motivated decisions in recent years, including bypassing the 2020 taxpayer mid-tier exception and dropping draft picks to trade DeAndre Jordan in 2021. The Lakers left Alex Caruso walk on the money. The Bucks did the same with PJ Tucker.

The Warriors generate a significant amount of revenue from their new arena, the Chase Center, but many teams would simply pocket that revenue as profit. Others make less money on their arena, but make up for it with huge local television deals (the Lakers serving as a notable example here). Golden State may have significant revenue streams, but their willingness to reinvest that money into winning is something that should be praised. Other teams could do it and choose not to.

Things are only going to get more expensive for the Warriors after their NBA Finals clash against the Celtics. Gary Payton II, Otto Porter Jr. and Kevon Looney will all be free agents this offseason. Jordan Poole is eligible for a contract extension. Wiggins expires after next season. ESPN’s Bobby Marks estimates their payroll and taxes could reach $475 million if they keep the whole team together. No other NBA team will come close to that number, but it’s worth nothing that there are no rules that actually prevent the Warriors from doing so. Although some mechanisms may trigger a hard cap, there is no defined upper limit for salary expenditures. By keeping their own players and only adding expensive new ones through trades, the Warriors are essentially free to spend as much as they want as long as they don’t violate any other CBA rules.

And that seems to be the path they’re going down. Myers recently clarified that the Warriors planned to re-sign Poole. Who else they choose to keep is more of a mystery, but Lacob has made it clear he’s willing to pay top dollar for the talent. If other teams don’t want to do the same, well, that’s their problem.