The 2021-22 Golden State Warriors are a lot of things: absurdly good, one win away from another NBA championship, an extension of a dynasty many thought dead, made possible by Stephen Curry, more than just Stephen Curry, incredibly expensive, etc.
What these Warriors are not, however, is unfair. Nor are they solely the byproduct of a willingness from Joe Lacob, Peter Guber and other team governors to spend and spend and spend.
This apparently needs to be said, if not explicitly spelled out in a slow and exaggerated drawl. Because mere moments after the Warriors dispatched the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, the conversation shifted ever so slightly from the defining performance delivered by Andrew Wiggins, the team’s overall mettle and its implications for Thursday’s Game 6 to, quite literally, dollars and cents.
“Andrew Wiggins…he’s not an underdog,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on SportsCenter. “He makes $32 million. While the Warriors were down these last couple of years, winning no games, they kept spending money because they’ve got it. They re-signed Draymond Green. They re-signed Steph Curry. They re-signed Kevon Looney. They kept Andrew Wiggins. And boy, did it show up tonight.
“Andrew Wiggins, with a supreme moment in his career. He was a throw-in in a trade. Other teams would’ve totally gotten rid of him. They stuck with him. They have a $340 million payroll when you consider taxes. You don’t just have to beat the Warriors on the court. You gotta beat their checkbook. And nothing away from Andrew Wiggins tonight, but this was a checkbook win for the Warriors.”
Twitter is #PrettyPissed about this slant—not just Warriors fans, but the NBA intelligentsia in general. Just peruse the quote tweets. And, well, the outrage is warranted.
Sure, gesturing toward the Warriors’ payroll isn’t necessarily out of line. They are set to pay around $346.2 million for their roster after baking in the repeater tax. That is…a crap ton of money, and it’s around $81 million higher than the league’s second-most expensive cap sheet, belonging to the Brooklyn Nets.
It also isn’t only Windhorst who speaks about the Warriors in these terms. It is a school of thought to which general manager Bob Myers has been asked to respond during these NBA Finals.
“I mean, we drafted a lot of these guys, we developed them,” he said during a recent appearance on 95.7 The Game’s The Morning Roast (h/t Sam Quinn of CBS Sports). “It’s not like we went out and signed all these guys as free agents and built some team that way. Larry Riley’s the guy that drafted [Stephen] Curry, I was here when we drafted Klay [Thompson], we drafted Draymond [Green], we drafted [Jordan] Poole, we traded for Wiggins. Nobody wanted Wiggins, I mean nobody was saying anything then.”
Cue the “BuT wHaT aBoUt KeViN dUrAnT?!?” rebukes. And, look, technically those aren’t out of pocket, either. The Warriors in 2016 added a top-15 player of all time still in his prime to a core that just rattled off an NBA-record 73 victories and already bagged one championship (2015).
How is that fair?