There surely was cheering among those at the top of NBA franchises this week when Warriors CEO Joe Lacob was smacked with a $500,000 fine for sharing his opinion about the league’s luxury tax penalties.
He thinks they are unfair, which they are. But the luxury tax concept was created through collective bargaining, which makes it holy writ. Lacob’s legitimate sin was publicly blaspheming the league’s bible.
His subjective sin is being Joe and not giving a whit if his fellow team governors like him or view his paucity of humility as gluttony in triumph.
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Few things thrill bottom-line sports ownership more than witnessing the punishment of those who, in naked pursuit of success, are overtly loose with their checkbooks. This fine is a measure of due comeuppance for a relatively new ownership that barged in and accomplished its goal of rearranging the NBA order.
Under the guidance of co-owner Peter Guber and Lacob, the Warriors have sprinted from the irrelevance of a dozen years ago to swaggering four-time champions. They are the league’s most attractive visiting team. They have the league’s highest local TV ratings. They have in Stephen Curry, conceivably the most appealing active American athlete.
Lacob loves every bit of this. He called his shot upon taking over the Warriors in 2010, promising a bright future for a franchise generally associated with dysfunction and ineptitude. In the Bay, where thousands were afflicted with battered-fan syndrome, there was apprehension.
The early suspicion is gone, vaporized by celebratory parades and championship banners. Dub Nation is a thing. The Warriors have achieved A-list status in the NBA and beyond.
Golden State Warriors
Lacob intends to keep it that way. He has prioritized winning over mounting profits. Make no mistake: he studies the financials. But he fixates mostly on postseason results. If sacrificing a portion of the profit margin is the cost of competitive prosperity, he’s on board.
The Warriors’ payroll last season was roughly $184 million, plus about $170 million in repeater luxury taxes, according to the dedicated trackers at Spotrac. It’s the tax spanking that chaps Lacob's rump.
That much was clear in his comments last week as a guest on the “Point Forward” podcast hosted by former and perhaps future Warriors forward Andre Iguodala and former NBA guard Evan Turner.
"The hardest thing of all is navigating this luxury tax, unfortunately," Lacob said. "I went back to New York this week for labor meetings. I'm on the committee. And you know, obviously, the league wants everyone to have a chance, and right now there's a certain element out there that believes we 'checkbook win,' because we have the most salaries on our team. But the truth is, we're only $40 million more than the luxury tax.
"Now, it's not small but it's not a massive number. We're $200 million over in total, though, because most of that is this incredibly penal luxury tax. And what I consider to be very unfair, and I'm going to say it on this podcast, and I hope it gets back to whoever is listening. And, obviously, it's self-serving for me to say this, but I think it's a very unfair system because our team is built by . . . all top eight players are all drafted by this team.”
Lacob’s numbers are slightly off; Andrew Wiggins was acquired in trade. But of the players projected to be in the rotation next season, eight – Draymond Green, Jonathan Kuminga, Kevon Looney, Moses Moody, Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson, James Wiseman and Curry – were drafted by Golden State.
"We have guys that were undrafted, and we found and developed in Santa Cruz,” Lacob said of the 2022 championship team.
“We had not one free agent that isn't a minimum. Not one. All minimums, the guys we brought in this year.
“The only guy you could make a case for us outspending the competition, not being fair, is that we turned (Kevin) Durant leaving into one guy (D’Angelo Russell) that turned into Wiggins, and that worked out great. But they all criticized us for doing it, said he was overpaid and that we did a bad deal. So, you can't have it both ways."
Lacob's point is that he’s paying a steep price for hiring staffs capable of cultivating homegrown talent – and for keeping the top end of that talent.
“I would not be here without the Warriors organization,” Thompson said Wednesday night, after winning the “Best Comeback Athlete” award at the ESPY’s. “I mean, who pays a guy after tearing his ACL? That’s unheard of.”
Klay tore his ACL on June 13, 2019. Four weeks later, before starting post-surgery rehab, he signed a five-year, $190,000 max contract authorized by Lacob.
Any reservations Lacob might have had at the time were superseded by the hit his reputation would have taken with a low-ball offer. Klay had earned the max, and he got it. Image and credibility matter greatly in the NBA.
When Iguodala grabbed the mic Wednesday night at the ESPY’s and joked – “We just got Joe Lacob fined $500,000. I’m sorry, Joe.” – about the comments expressed on the podcast, Lacob probably laughed.
Understand, Lacob longs not only to be the CEO of the best team in the NBA. He wants to run the league’s No. 1 franchise. He wants the franchise to expand beyond basketball. He wants a reputation for ultra-high expectations and a willingness to invest in meeting them.
Many among his NBA brethren feel his soaring ambition and, realizing it could impact their checkbooks, don’t like the repercussions. Tough. Lacob does not, at least for now, allow that to slow his roll.
His relentless competitive drive is an asset to anyone in such a position. It’s an attitude Warriors fans, particularly those with a sense of the franchise’s ignoble history, can appreciate.