Stephen Curry signed the richest contract in the history of American professional sports early Saturday morning when he re-upped with the Golden State Warriors for five years and $201 million.
It’s a colossal amount of money, blowing away the $153 million deal that Mike Conley signed with the Memphis Grizzlies last summer to become the biggest in NBA history. A new provision in the NBA’s most recent collective bargaining agreement allowed All-NBA honorees and MVPs to sign “super-max” contracts with their incumbent teams, and Steph took full advantage.
So how does LeBron James, the best basketball player in the world and (for the moment) the third-highest-paid player in the NBA in terms of average annual salary, feel about Curry’s new deal?
James took to Twitter on Saturday to point out that, actually, Curry is underpaid:
— LeBron James (@KingJames) July 1, 2017
And he’s right. He’s 100 percent right.
Curry’s salary is limited in two key ways. It is held down by the league’s salary cap — a “soft cap” of $99 million, with various convoluted exceptions, for each team’s entire roster — but also by the NBA’s cap on individual contracts. A player’s potential earnings are assigned a maximum value based on their years of service and various other factors.
If not for the salary cap, the Warriors — a franchise that is now worth $2.6 billion, according to Forbes’ most recent valuations — would be willing to pay Curry waaaaaay more than $40 million per year. His exact worth would be based on dozens of factors, but over a five-year span, it probably would at least approach LeBron’s suggested figure of $400 million, or $80 million per year.
Even if we accept the salary cap as necessary for league parity — and the continued aggregation of superstars in several markets would suggest that it isn’t doing a great job of that — Curry is worth more than 40 percent of the cap. In fact, if the NBA did away with the max and allowed superstars to get paid their true market value within the confines of the salary cap, that would help league parity. James would be worth upward of $50 million per year, and it would be more difficult to build a super-team around him.
It’s worth noting that there have been plenty of attempts over the years to identify just how much a singular superstar like James, Curry or Russell Westbrook is truly worth to a franchise and a market, on and off the court, with results typically far exceeding even the highest-percentage NBA max. National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts has gone so far as to call the max “incredibly un-American” for its artificial suppression of player earnings, but it continues to be part of the CBA and the league’s financial structure (perhaps in part because owners like the Dallas Mavericks’ Mark Cuban have suggested that the only way they’d assent to eliminating the max is if the players agree to give way on guaranteed contracts).
LeBron ended the tweet with #JMTs — “just my thoughts.” Maybe, someday, after his playing days, when LeBron is likely to wield significant power as an NBA owner or team executive, his opinion on capping a player’s earnings will manifest itself in more ways than just thoughts, or a tweet that got fans talking for a couple hours on a Saturday afternoon.
More NBA free agency from Yahoo Sports:
• Dan Wetzel: Confusion and disbelief over the Paul George trade
• Steph Curry’s salary now the highest in U.S. sports
• Grading every Day 1 move, including the Griffin signing
• Why the Pelicans gave Jrue Holiday such a lucrative deal
• Free agency tracker: Follow every move live