By agreeing to a new contract with Draymond Green several hours after disagreeing on a deal, Warriors ownership and management did more than lock up a core member of the team. They made a statement about their ambition as a franchise.
Gold standard is not good enough. They want nothing less than platinum.
They want to be the San Antonio Spurs – only with cultural, climatic and geographical attractions the Spurs can’t even dream of having.
Check any listing of America’s top sports franchises and the Spurs are always –always – at or near the top. The ownership is fantastic, the coaching is superb and the players are splendid representatives on and off the court. They draft well. The worst that is said of the Spurs is they are “boring,” which is true only if you’re not intrigued by excellence.
The Warriors, like the Spurs, understand that competing for championships usually requires two or three core players who are as selfless as they are gifted, as highly coachable as they are exceedingly competitive. Those players have to be so committed to the team that they are willing to sacrifice dollars for the sake of it.
San Antonio built a perennial contender around one coach, Gregg Popovich, and three players: Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Only Duncan, with a seven-year, $122 million deal signed in 2003, has received a contract that can be considered the maximum. And because it was seven years, entering his prime, it meant he was “all in.”
The Warriors have identified their core: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Green. The rest of the roster revolves around this trio. Though Green is the soul of the team, Curry is heart and exemplary essence. He is their Duncan.
Thompson and Green have new contracts that are fair but also slightly below the max, which suggests they are thinking no more about their personal wealth as they are about the team’s chances to prosper.
It’s a very Spurs-like concept. Parker and Ginobili have signed deals for less than they could have made elsewhere. And Duncan followed his epic contract with far more sacrificial pacts. He averaged about $13 million over the past five seasons and less than that over the course of his career.
If Tim Duncan, conceivably the best power forward in NBA history, takes less than he could get, who among the Spurs would dare to demand every possible nickel?
The Warriors love their coach, Steve Kerr, who has several influencers but none more than Popovich.
“I learned from a lot of coaches, but I’m probably most like Pop,” Kerr told me before The Finals. “We’re different personalities, but we’re probably more alike than people would think.”
Rarely does Popovich, generally regarded as the best in the business, lead the league’s coaches in salary. He often has been No. 3 or lower. He reportedly was No. 1 in 2014-15, but that was the first of a five-year contract no one expects him to finish.
Kerr’s five-year contract averages almost $5 million per season, similar to that of Knicks coach Derek Fisher and less than the $6 million Billy Donovan will earn in his first season with Oklahoma City.
I’d be shocked if Kerr pulls a Don Nelson and decides he wants to renegotiate, despite achieving an NBA championship, something Nellie never managed to get. Kerr wants to be paid, for sure, but he also doesn’t want his players to sacrifice while he appeals for more.
General manager Bob Myers is shameless in saying the Warriors look to the Spurs as a model franchise. There is talent, yes, but there also is a unity of purpose, an enduring cohesion and a naked pursuit of the extraordinary that runs from top to bottom.
And Kerr is no less shameless about saying he wants his players to emulate the Spurs in nearly every way. He wants high-character individuals, lots of ball movement on offense, plenty of precision and poise at both ends.
“That’s worked pretty well for the Spurs, right?” Kerr said during The Finals.
Because he loves success, Lacob is totally on board with what Kerr is doing. The CEO wants to win at everything he does. Yet he understands the concept of teamwork, the need for a positive work environment – not only for the talent but also for employees throughout the organization.
The goal is to be the best and remain the best, without blemishes. And it’s incredibly difficult to do over a prolonged period.
The New England Patriots are synonymous with success but also with scandal. The New York Yankees, with one World Series in the last 14 seasons, have fallen from baseball’s throne. The San Francisco Giants, with three World Series titles in five seasons, are making a claim for consistent greatness.
The Warriors are not quite there. But they have the blueprint. They stole it from the Spurs and are not afraid to admit it.