Good luck with that

To de­throne the War­riors, you have to build a wor­thy ros­ter — and do it at their price

Sunday Sports - - SPORTS - SCOTT STINSON sstin­son@post­media.com @scot­t_stin­son

CLEVE­LAND — Adam Sil­ver said some­thing be­fore the NBA Fi­nals that came back to mind as the Golden State War­riors were sitting on the chest of the Cleve­land Cava­liers and mak­ing them punch them­selves with their fists.

“We have a soft cap sys­tem,” the com­mis­sioner said. And the ef­fect of that was un­fold­ing on the court at Quicken Loans Arena, after Le­Bron James and the Cavs had put up a bit of a fight through 18 min­utes or so of bas­ket­ball in Game 4, be­fore the War­riors got back to busi­ness.

There was Steph Curry bomb­ing a three-pointer from 10 feet be­yond the line, here was Kevin Du­rant hit­ting a fade­away mid-range jumper that could only be de­fended by some­one with the power of flight. All around them were Dray­mond Green and An­dre Iguo­dala and a suc­ces­sion of War­riors who ran around and ha­rassed Cleve­land’s shoot­ers enough to make life dif­fi­cult.

It is a for­mula for ut­ter dom­i­nance, and the only drama in the se­cond half of the 108-85 win to com­plete the sweep came when James checked out with four min­utes to go, and one won­dered if the Cleve­land crowd would cry out in an­guish or just go straight to the jersey-burn­ing. There were an aw­ful lot of Le­Bron jer­seys in the arena; it would have been quite the con­fla­gra­tion.

But back the soft cap. Sil­ver noted that the Cavs and War­riors are the two high­est­pay­rolled teams in the league, once lux­ury tax penal­ties are in­cluded in the fi­nal bill. And they have just met in the Fi­nals for the fourth straight year, the first time that has hap­pened in any of the four ma­jor North Amer­i­can leagues. What a re­mark­able co­in­ci­dence, that.

Sil­ver did not go as far as say­ing he wants to fun­da­men­tally change the way the NBA does busi­ness, with a hard cap in the spirit of the rules in the NFL and NHL that force teams to jet­ti­son play­ers once they be­come too ex­pen­sive. The com­mis­sioner would just al­low that a more re­stric­tive sys­tem is “some­thing we’ll con­tinue to look at.”

But the thing about the War­riors is, they haven’t just blown up the sys­tem the NBA has now, they could be just as much of a prob­lem in a new sys­tem that aims to de­press salaries.

The key to Golden State’s enor­mous lux­ury of tal­ent is that the play­ers have agreed to take less money to make them­selves some­thing close to un­stop­pable. Du­rant, for ex­am­ple, was paid $25-mil­lion US this sea­son. He has al­ready said he in­tends to re-sign with Golden State, and he didn’t in­clude any of the usual qual­i­fiers about “if we can work some­thing out.” Now, $25-mil­lion is a lot of money. Du­rant is not mak­ing a crip­pling sac­ri­fice. But he is a nine-time all-star, has been on seven All-NBA teams, won an MVP and two Fi­nals MVPs. An­drew Wig­gins, to pick just one com­par­i­son, re­cently signed a five-year, $150-mil­lion con­tract ex­ten­sion. He has not yet made an all-star team.

At the other end of the scale, Le­Bron James made more than $33-mil­lion this sea­son. James Har­den will make $30 mil­lion next sea­son and then has a con­tract ex­ten­sion that will pay him $169-mil­lion over four sea­sons. Not a typo: That’s an av­er­age of $42-mil­lion per year.

Golden State could yet see their care­fully con­structed salary pic­ture fall apart, es­pe­cially if the NBA moves away from a soft cap, but for now it seems as though this guys are will­ing to leave great piles of money on the ta­ble in or­der to keep the team whole.

They sound very al­tru­is­tic when they ex­plain it.

“We all want some­thing that’s big­ger than our­selves,” Du­rant said after the win on Fri­day night. “I think we love to see each other suc­ceed. We love to come to­gether and fig­ure stuff out on the bas­ket­ball court.”

“We’ve got a bunch of guys in the locker room that don’t care about any­thing but just be­ing bet­ter bas­ket­ball play­ers ev­ery day and win­ning. It makes the en­vi­ron­ment great.”

That may be true, but NBA salaries, bol­stered by a huge in­flux of tele­vi­sion money that is spread out over a small ros­ter, have risen to the point where it’s easy for a player to forego lit­eral mil­lions of dol­lars. The War­riors may be leav­ing great piles of money on the ta­ble, but they still get even greater piles of money. The fran­chise will also move from Oak­land to San Fran­cisco after next sea­son, into a sparkling new down­town arena. One can see why the stars might want to stick around.

This is the chal­lenge, then, for the rest of the league. While ev­ery­one is imag­in­ing a Har­den-Le­Bron-Chris Paul su­perteam in Hous­ton, are the lat­ter two go­ing to take dra­mat­i­cally less than the money al­ready com­mit­ted to the for­mer one?

If any­one is go­ing to chal­lenge the War­riors, the task is two-fold. You don’t just have to as­sem­ble a ros­ter that can chal­lenge Golden State, but you have to do it at close to their price.

It will, if noth­ing else, make for a busy sum­mer for the num­ber crunch­ers.

The War­riors’ Stephen Curry cel­e­brates with the Larry O’Brien Tro­phy after de­feat­ing the Cava­liers on Fri­day night.

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