Golden State Warriors star guard Stephen Curry is poised to go from being one of the NBA's most underpaid players to a contract that will pass the $200 million threshold thanks to the NBA's new collective bargaining agreement, according to league sources.
Sources told ESPN that Curry stands to benefit massively from the new designated veteran player provision in the freshly agreed to labor deal, which sets up the two-time reigning MVP to triple his current salary of $12 million to $36 million next season.
Currently playing out the last year on a four-year, $44 million extension that he signed in October 2013 at a time that his long-term durability was still being questioned, Curry will be eligible in July for a new deal that sources say would be worth an estimated $207 million over five years, making it the richest contract in league history and paying out an estimated $47 million in the final season (2021-22).
This new rule enables a narrow selection of superstars who are willing to re-sign with their current team to receive up to 35 percent of the salary cap if certain benchmarks are met. As a two-time MVP who has played for the Warriors his entire career, Curry would meet all the qualifications for the maximum allowable salary. A player with Curry's experience level, under the previous CBA, would have been able to sign for only 30 percent of the cap.
Curry ironically might have new teammate Kevin Durant to thank for his forthcoming windfall. The league's introduction of two designated veteran player exceptions per team in this new CBA, which have been modeled after the designated rookie player exceptions permissible in the current labor deal for one designated player per team still on his rookie-scale contract, appears to be a reaction to Durant's departure from the Oklahoma City Thunder in free agency last summer.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged in recent weeks, before the NBA and the players' association reached a tentative agreement Wednesday night, that both sides were determined to give small-market teams "some advantages" in their efforts to retain star players.
The widespread expectation in league circles is that rival teams had virtually no shot anyway at luring Curry from the Warriors in free agency in July, but now the finances are stacked against his departure even more. If Curry were interested in changing teams this summer, interested suitors could only offer an estimated maximum contract in the $135 million range over four years, giving Golden State unprecedented ability to retain next summer's co-No. 1 free agent alongside Durant.
The Thunder were unable to offer Durant significantly more short-term money than the Warriors last summer, complicating their efforts to keep him. This situation affected many high-profile free agents in the past, from LeBron James and Chris Bosh in 2010 to Dwight Howard in 2013, but the new provision aims to change that.
Teams such as Indiana, Sacramento and Utah -- faced with the respective challenges of trying to keep the likes of Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins and Gordon Hayward-- are among those that could potentially benefit from the new provision if they meet the required qualifications. The new rule might also help the Thunder in their efforts to keep Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City; Westbrook's recent extension only added one guaranteed year to his contract. At present, Westbrook has the right to return to free agency in the summer of 2018.
The new CBA, however, isn't all good news for the Warriors, with Durant also in line to sign a huge contact this summer. As a 10-year veteran, Durant -- like Curry -- can sign a deal starting at $36 million, which could make the two the highest-paid teammates in NBA history. The Warriors will not have the same rights on Durant as Curry; designated player rules do not apply because Durant will have only played one season for them. As a result, Golden State could be squeezed to keep its team together.
Golden State will be required to open salary-cap space to sign Durant, since it doesn't hold his Bird rights, which could make it increasingly difficult to add players to its four-star core.
Fellow All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are already signed to long-term deals, but the Warriors might not have the remaining cap space to make meaningful offers to pending free agents such as Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston if Curry and Durant, as expected, sign for the max. In addition, because teams are limited to two players who receive the designated veteran classification, Golden State might be forced to choose between Thompson and Green for the other slot left after Curry gets his new deal.
There are too many variables, some seven months before free agency, to forecast the full impact of the new deal on the Warriors' summer. Some league insiders, however, are already describing the Warriors as both winners and losers in the first review of the new CBA if they are indeed limited in their ability to assemble a supporting cast for those four stars.
Silver recently told SiriusXM NBA Radio: "One of the things we're talking about ... is coming up with some additional opportunities for the incumbent team to retain the player, some advantages in terms of being able to negotiate earlier to extend the contract. I think if we 'early up' some of those opportunities, at least teams will be in a better position to know, one, whether they can keep that player. And if they can't, there will be more of an opportunity to deal that player and get value for that player if it seems likely that player is going to leave."