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NBA AM: Steph Curry’s Contract is a Bargain

Stephen Curry’s contract is one of the best bargains in the NBA, as the league MVP is grossly underpaid.

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Stephen Curry’s Contract is a Bargain

Stephen Curry is one of the best players in the NBA, one of the greatest shooters in the history of the league and one of the most electrifying athletes in the universe. The Golden State Warriors point guard was the NBA’s 2014-15 Most Valuable Player and a unanimous selection for the All-NBA First Team. He broke several records this year – making the most threes in a single regular season and in a single postseason – and led the Warriors to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1975. Curry is a household name and a marketable fan favorite who’s one of the faces of the NBA – as evidenced by the fact that he led all players in All-Star votes this season (with 1,513,324).

But, at the same time, Curry is one of the most underpaid players in professional sports. Curry’s contract with the Warriors is one of the best values in the NBA and he’s an incredible bargain for the organization.

Now, let’s make something clear: Curry isn’t hurting by any means, especially when you factor in the additional money he makes from his various endorsement deals. However, there’s no question that he’s paid relatively little when compared to his superstar peers. And it’s not like he’s on his rookie-scale contract either, like Anthony Davis or other young players. He’s on his second contract and still significantly underpaid.

This season, Curry is earning $10,629,213. While this is a lot of money and many of us would switch bank accounts with him in a heartbeat, keep in mind that Curry is severely underpaid by NBA standards. Yes, Curry’s salary is enormous to most people. But, relatively speaking, it’s far less than what he should be making considering how much money he makes for the Warriors and the NBA, and how much his peers are earning while performing at a much lower level.

Consider this: There were 50 NBA players who had a higher salary than Curry during the 2014-15 season. Among those players were Larry Sanders (before he requested to be bought out and walk away from the NBA after failing multiple drug tests), JaVale McGee (who was waived in March and remains unsigned) and Andrea Bargnani (who is one of the biggest draft busts in recent years). These are just a few of the players ahead of Curry, but there are plenty more who have no business being ahead of the league’s MVP.

Curry isn’t even compensated fairly when compared to players who are at the same position as him. There are 11 point guards earning more than Curry this season, including non-All-Stars like Eric Bledsoe and Ty Lawson. Deron Williams made nearly twice as much as Curry this year, and Rajon Rondo earned significantly more money too. Rondo struggled so badly in the playoffs that the Dallas Mavericks deactivated him, made it clear that he wouldn’t be re-signed this summer and refused to give him a playoff share, yet his paychecks were larger than Curry’s.

And next year, Curry will be ranked even lower compared to the rest of the league’s floor generals since the lucrative extensions signed by Kemba Walker and Ricky Rubio will kick in, and free agents such as Goran Dragic, Reggie Jackson and Brandon Knight may sign deals larger than his this summer (especially since teams are preparing to spend ridiculous amounts of money with the salary cap set to rise in 2016).

Taking a look at all guards, Curry is the 19th-highest paid backcourt player. He made less money this season than players like Eric Gordon and Joe Johnson. And, again, he’ll rank even lower next year.

Perhaps the best evidence of Curry being grossly underpaid is the fact that he’s just the fourth-highest paid player on his own team, despite easily being the Warriors’ most important player. Teammates David Lee ($15,012,000), Andrew Bogut ($12,972,973) and Andre Iguodala ($12,289,544) made more than Curry this year. Next season, when Curry is making $11,370,786, he will drop to the sixth-highest paid member of the Warriors since Klay Thompson and Draymond Green will surpass him. Thompson’s contract extension kicks in (paying him $15,501,000) next year and Green seems poised to ink a maximum-level contract this offseason as a restricted free agent.

The craziest thing is that Curry’s contract will just keep looking smaller (and better for the Warriors) over the next couple of years. Curry has two more seasons on his current deal, as he’s set to earn $11,370,786 for the 2015-16 campaign and $12,112,359 for the 2016-17 campaign.

As previously mentioned, with the NBA’s salary cap set to rise significantly next summer due to the league’s new television deal, NBA teams are going to be handing out enormous contracts this summer (since those deals will soon look like bargains) and next offseason (since every team will have a lot of money to spend). According to agents and executives, many middle-tier 2015 free agents will be asking for more than what Curry currently makes. That means Curry’s deal will be even more of a bargain in two years, when even some role players may be making more than him just because of how much the cap spike will affect the business of the league.

So, how did this happen? Why is one of the league’s best players making less than he should?

The issue was that Curry signed his contract extension at the worst possible time. Remember, injuries were a huge problem for Curry early in his career. He missed many games due to ankle injuries, to the point that he was labeled injury prone and some people doubted that he could be a star-level player in the NBA. In his third season, right before he was set to negotiate a contract extension with the Warriors, he missed 40 of 66 games (in the lockout-shortened year) and he’d already had multiple surgeries on his right ankle. He had also dealt with other ailments that were relatively minor, but still kept him sidelined for short periods of time or limited him on the court, which led to additional questions about his durability.

With so much uncertainty about his health hanging over negotiations, Curry and the Warriors agreed to a four-year extension worth $44 million on Oct. 31, 2012. It made sense for Curry at the time given what he had been through. Because of his injuries, the safe approach was to lock in a long-term, guaranteed contract. The last thing he wanted to do was delay his pay day and risk having another serious injury that would hurt his value even more or – in the worst-case scenario – end his career and leave him with nothing.

Looking back, had Curry not signed the extension and hit restricted free agency after the season (betting on himself the way Jimmy Butler did this year), he likely would’ve been able to sign a much larger deal. That’s because the 2012-13 season was his breakout year, when he averaged career-highs in points (22.9) and assists (6.9). But hindsight is 20/20, and Curry made the smart choice that guaranteed him $44 million.

Curry got his long-term security, and the Warriors received somewhat of a discount since he hadn’t been able to play to his full potential yet or stay on the floor as much as they had hoped.

But believe it or not, some analysts felt that Golden State made a big mistake when they gave Curry the four-year, $44 million deal. Even though Curry had played pretty well when healthy, some people believed that the Warriors were taking a huge risk and that they may have been able to extend him for even less because of his ankle issues. The day that the deal was announced, Warriors general manager Bob Myers addressed the media and essentially had to defend his decision – answering questions about why he took the risk and why he felt confident Curry’s injuries were behind him. Some articles warned that the extension could potentially be terrible for the franchise and haunt them for years. It’s easy to forget now, but Curry faced plenty of doubt about his ceiling and his durability.

The move has obviously been amazing for the Warriors, who have become one of the NBA’s best teams. While Curry’s incredible talent is a huge part of that, his bargain contract has played a role in the franchise’s ascent too. Rather than having a ton of money tied up in their top-tier player, Golden State has been able to spend elsewhere because of Curry’s team-friendly deal.

If Curry had a huge contract, re-signing Thompson to such a large deal would have been more difficult. Retaining Green this summer would be a challenge too, since he’ll likely get a max offer sheet. Freeing up the necessary cap space to sign Iguodala two years ago likely wouldn’t have happened. Even improving their depth would’ve been tough since they likely wouldn’t have had the significant cap space they used to add key role players like Shaun Livingston and Marreese Speights in recent summers. Instead, the Warriors likely would have had little flexibility and limited options to improve their roster.

Golden State is a talented and deep team, yet their total payroll is just $72,585,093. That’s the 16th-ranked payroll in the league and they aren’t even in the luxury tax. Their cap situation would be very different if Curry’s contract was on par with his talent and accomplishments.

Fortunately for Curry, he has achieved ridiculous levels of success and will be get a huge contract in the summer of 2017 (when the cap will be much higher). Barring something crazy, his next deal will be the monster contract that he deserves. In the meantime, he’ll just need to keep cashing those endorsement checks from Under Armour, State Farm, Degree, Express, Muscle Milk and JBL among others.

For a complete list of the top 50 highest-paid players in the NBA for the 2014-15 season, click here. To see each team’s salary cap breakdown, click here.

Magic Players Excited About Skiles Hire

The Orlando Magic have hired Scott Skiles to be their new head coach, the team announced on Friday.

Orlando wanted an experienced, defensive-minded head coach and Skiles is exactly that. He has 13 years of coaching experience and has gone 443-433 in the regular season and 18-24 in the postseason throughout his career. The former point guard also had a successful 10-year playing career in the NBA, including five seasons with the Magic.

Basketball Insiders spoke to several Magic players, who were excited about the hire.

“[I’m] happy for our front office,” point guard Elfrid Payton said via text message. “It’ll be great learning from another former point guard.”

“I’m excited about a new beginning,” small forward Moe Harkless said. “I’ve heard a lot about Scott Skiles and am looking forward to meeting and working with him. Everything I’ve heard about him has been good. I’ve heard he’s a hard coach and he expects a lot out of his players, and that’s the kind of coach we need as a young team. We need to be held accountable and he’s the guy that’s going to do that for us. It’s a new opportunity for me to earn some more playing time too. Last year, I feel I didn’t really play a lot so it’s a opportunity to earn some minutes back and just be able to play my game. I’m looking forward to it and looking forward to working with him.

“Also, he’s a defensive-minded head coach, which I think is perfect for me because I love playing defense and practicing hard. I love all that stuff so having him coming in with his mindset to this team is a great opportunity for myself. Coming into the league, my goal was to be on the All-Defensive Team and that’s still one of my goals. With Scott Skiles coming in and his emphasis on defense, I definitely think he can teach me a lot and help develop me to be that guy.”

Last season, the Magic went 25-57, which was the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference. The front office fired Jacque Vaughn in February after the team failed to live up to expectations and he lost much of the locker room. The organization hopes to make a big leap this season and they’re entering the 2015-16 campaign with playoff aspirations.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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