The Golden State Warriors haven't played any basketball games yet—those won't start until October 31—but according to Stephen Curry, he and the Dubs are already engaged in a very complicated strategic battle. The stakes: Curry's future as a Warrior.
You're playing chess with it. If they were to take that approach to wait and I've had a great season, hopefully it would spark some interest across the league for the future and the price would drive up. If I were the Warriors, I'd offer a reasonable amount and sign me up now.
Curry's half-right in his analogy. He and the Warriors are kind of playing a game—only it's a lot more like The Price is Right than chess. Bob Barker's long gone, but the basics of the Showcase Showdown remain the same: the Warriors have a finite amount of money and have been presented with a product in Curry. They've got to figure out how much to bid on him. If their bid is close to his actual value, they'll win the prize package. But if they overbid, they could lose everything.
Here's the skinny:
Curry will be under contract with the Warriors this season (barring a trade), no matter what happens, and the Warriors have until October 31 of this year to sign Curry to an extension. If the Warriors don't offer Curry an extension, or Curry rejects their offer, he'll become a restricted free agent after this season. At that point, the Warriors can make Curry a qualifying offer, which will be for a little over $5 million.
From there, three things can happen.
Curry might not get any offers from other clubs, which is what happened to Brandon Rush this past offseason. If Curry receives no offers as a restricted-free agent, he'd have to take the Warriors' qualifying offer and play out the year on a one-season deal or negotiate another contract with Golden State. If he just takes the qualifying offer and doesn't sign long-term, he'd become an unrestricted free agent, allowing him to sign with any team.
The second possibility is that Curry signs an offer sheet with another team and the Warriors match the offer, thereby retaining Curry's services for whatever price the other team offered.
Option three is probably the most uncomfortable for Warriors' fans, but it's distinctly possible: some other team (the Charlotte Bobcats, anyone?) comes to Curry with a max offer of four years for $60 million and Curry signs the offer sheet. The Warriors could decide that Curry's not worth that much, let him walk and get nothing in return.
The risks, value assessments and variables are enough to make your head spin. Curry's uncertain health and potential upside make it extremely difficult to calculate his worth.
So, should the Warriors still offer Curry a long-term deal right now to avoid the potential fiasco after this season? The answer is "yes." But there's a qualifier.
Offering Curry a max deal, like the ones the Brooklyn Nets gave Brook Lopez and the New Orleans Hornets gave Eric Gordon, makes no sense at this point. The Warriors know the most they could possibly pay Curry on a long-term deal is four years and $60 million under the new collective bargaining agreement. They can wait the situation out, and if Curry's play this year justifies that kind of money, the Warriors should be happy to pay it.
But they'd be crazy to max him out now.
There's just too much risk and zero upside. Curry's collapsible ankle might continue to be cranky, costing him games and eventually depleting his already-limited supply of athleticism. He might break a wrist or strain a knee. Maybe he'll get hit by a bus. Who knows?
If any of those things happen (especially any ankle or bus-related injuries), Curry's suitors will be more cautious, and the Warriors could either let their damaged goods hobble away or sign him at a bargain-basement price.
So, giving Curry max money now, before he's proved he can stay healthy, isn't the way to go. But that doesn't mean a long-term contract is a bad idea.
The smartest play would be to heed Curry's advice and lock him up now at a discount. If Curry's willing to sacrifice a few million bucks down the road for the stability that would come with a "reasonable offer," the Warriors should jump at the chance.
But what, exactly, is a "reasonable offer" in Curry's mind?
The Oklahoma City Thunder recently agreed with forward Serge Ibaka on a four-year, $48 million contract. He's playing fourth fiddle on a championship caliber team and hasn't been injured as often as Curry, but a healthy Curry is probably a superior player. So, Ibaka's not the best guy to use as a measuring stick.
Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley is making $40 million on a five-year deal. But offering Curry a mere $8 million per year, when he could make nearly twice that if things break right for him, might feel like a low-ball offer.
But what about DeAndre Jordan? The Warriors offered the Clippers' restricted free agent four years and $43 million last year, so maybe Curry's gunning for something in that range. And like Curry, Jordan carried a little risk. Granted, he was risky because nobody knew whether his skills would catch up with his NBA body (they didn't). But that risk didn't scare off the Warriors, who moved pieces around and even amnestied Charlie Bell to make Jordan an offer.
Curry, obviously, is risky, too. But maybe Jordan's proposed deal should represent a "reasonable" basement for what the Warriors are willing to offer Curry.
If the Warriors presented Curry with something around four years and a few million more than what they tendered Jordan, say, $45 million, he'd have to think about that pretty seriously. It's only $15 million less than he'd make as a max player, but he wouldn't have to worry about blowing out an ankle and costing himself much more.
From the Warriors' perspective, they could potentially be buying a max player for 25 percent off. When you consider that both Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins, who make a combined salary of more than $20 million per year, will be off the books by 2014, the Warriors wouldn't be financially crippled if Curry doesn't stay fully healthy.
It's not a sexy proposition, but to maximize value and minimize risk, the Warriors should sign Curry to a long-term deal now.
If the price is right.