LeBron James and Stephen Curry's next contracts should make them $200 Million Men

Ball Don't Lie
LeBron James and <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/4612/" data-ylk="slk:Stephen Curry">Stephen Curry</a> could meet in their third straight Finals this summer. (Getty Images)
LeBron James and Stephen Curry could meet in their third straight Finals this summer. (Getty Images)

The NBA’s players – unofficially for now, but close enough – have collectively bargained themselves into a financial windfall. True, it’s not nearly the best financial windfall they could have secured for themselves, history might have us at one point wondering why these players didn’t strike in anticipation of new collective bargaining agreement terms considering their value to the production, but the fact remains that if you’re wearing a certain type of glasses the NBA’s new CBA will be a boon for many of its players.

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And, as one would expect from a union run by some of the biggest names in the game, the new CBA will do quite well for the league’s super, seriously-superstars.

Cleveland’s LeBron James and Golden State’s Stephen Curry rank as the league’s top two stars in this and any instance, and both will be set to take in an ungodly amount of cash as a result of a cheeks-hurt-from-grinning confluence of events including the NBA’s new’ish TV deal, the new CBA, and the ongoing growth of the league itself. All of which will be snuck in, with James and Curry in their primes, before the realities of a cord-cutting culture pins the NBA’s ear back in a number of years.

(To say nothing of whatever other ailments could befall our culture and society at large in the interim years prior to something as relatively unimportant as a new television deal for a basketball league to work with.)

Both James and Curry currently work with two of the league’s bargain contracts, because of two very different sets of circumstances.

Had Stephen Curry stayed healthy throughout his first few seasons and earned enough league-wide plaudits (the league adds to the breadth of his second contracts after players earn various superstar nods during the course of an initial, rookie, deal) to take in the sort of five-year, $95 million deal that fellow 2009 draftee Blake Griffin grabbed in 2012, his current deal would still rank as one of the great bargains in the history of the sport – even at a maximum rate. Because the man is a league-altering talent with production to match.

Because Curry was felled by seemingly chronic ankle woes in his first three seasons and because he averaged just 14.7 points while missing 40 of 66 games during the 2011-12 lockout season, though, the Warriors guard inked a four-year, $44 million contract extension in 2012 that will see the two-time reigning MVP playing for just over $12.1 million this season.

This makes him the fourth-highest paid player on the Warriors roster, he would rank as the sixth-highest paid player on the Cavaliers, and he’ll run in 2016-17 as the 75th-highest paid player in the NBA.

This is how life works for Curry, as he signed his second NBA contract at low ebb – even with the Warriors coming off of a 2011-12 season that saw them win just 35 percent of their games, hardly acting as a destination point in the face of 17 out of 18 postseason-less campaigns.

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Bully for Golden State fans, though, as the team has made the playoffs in each of the seasons following 2011-12, including a title and two Finals appearances, and Curry’s relatively slim-sized deal helped the team sign free agent Kevin Durant last offseason while committing eight-figure yearly deals to swingman Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson, and do-it-all forward Draymond Green.

Curry is a free agent this summer at age 29, and just in time. Under the new CBA rules, he’ll be allowed to sign for up to 35 percent of his team’s salary cap (as this is just his third contract), regardless of whether or not the Warriors will be over the cap this summer (and they will be). As such, Curry can triple this year’s salary in 2017-18, in the first year of a five-year deal that could make him the NBA’s first $200 million player. The NBA’s current contract record was set last summer by Mike Conley’s five-year, $153 million deal.

Better yet, in yet another move to try and dissuade players from moving to squad to squad as they see fit as professionals, the odds will be stacked in Golden State’s favor should Curry even consider fleeing to another team. From Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst at ESPN:

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.

This is what the players, led by a group of stars (in Chris Paul and LeBron James) that have no interest in leaving their current teams, bargained for in the new CBA.

The “decision” won’t hurt too much for Curry, who only recently gave his free agent options some polite lip service, but the terms difference will force stars on lacking teams (think DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, John Wall or Anthony Davis) to consider playing for half as much in order to work for a winner (read: new team) following a free agent turn.

Outsider critics should roll eyes prior to pulling out a violin for NBA stars that want that cake and all the rights to eat it throughout a 60-win season, but there is a strong possibility that we’ll see star after star commit to a lifetime or professional team-based mediocrity through no fault of his own. Save for the part about being unable to turn down tens of millions of dollars and an extra guaranteed year of salary, to re-join a team that has failed him repeatedly in years prior to his free agent turn.

For now, the focus is on Curry – who probably can’t be bothered to fret about DeMarcus Cousins’ relationship with Sacramento’s ownership group – in a season that will see Stephen making less than Evan Turner, and less than half as much as Mike Conley.

If Stephen Curry falters a bit while playing for what ESPN reports as $47 million in 2021-22 at age 33, so it goes. Michael Jordan currently holds the record for most money made in an NBA season at over $33 million in 1997-98, and few cared that he gave (in the words of Chicago Bulls assistant coach Tex Winter) “a lick and a promise” to defense that season at age 35.

It was payback for making $3.85 million in his championship, 72-wins season in 1995-96. Or for making $2.5 million in Chicago’s first championship season.

In comparison, LeBron James was already on his third contract by the time he won his first title in 2012, and the Cavaliers star was working on his fifth deal when the Cavs won it all in 2015-16.

LeBron James and Stephen Curry and a joke about not taking it lying down. (Getty Images)
LeBron James and Stephen Curry and a joke about not taking it lying down. (Getty Images)

James has made no less than the maximum amount (if not maximum length of a deal) afforded to him in each of his agreements, and throughout his career (dating back to taking a three-year extension in 2006) the star has played the market as he sees fit in order to establish flexibility and the sustain the ability to move on to greener pastures. As he has twice in his career – moving from a poorly-conceived Cavaliers team to Miami in 2010 and then back to Cleveland in 2014, once the Heat had run its particular course.

LeBron, to the surprise of some, seemed to curtail that line of thinking somewhat during the last offseason, when he signed a three-year, $100 million deal with a player option for 2018-19 instead of yet another two-year deal with a player option after the first season.

Once that player option hits in 2018, though, James could truly break the bank at age 33. From Jason Lloyd at the Akron Beacon Journal:

James remains under team control through next season. He will be eligible in the summer of 2018 to sign a five-year deal worth about $209 million, according to one source with knowledge of the new CBA. The exact dollar figure won’t be known until the cap for the 2018-19 season is set, but each side already has a working idea of what the numbers will look like.

The new CBA includes a “designated veteran player exception” that allows teams to offer a six-year extension to certain players. James, however, does not qualify. Neither will Kevin Love because Love has already signed two long-term contracts. The new exception is designed for players entering their eighth or ninth seasons in the league and signing their second max extension. That means Kyrie Irving will be the only one of the Cavs’ Big Three who qualifies.

Even with those slight limitations, James will still be able to ink a five-year deal in 2018 at age 33 due to a recent rule change in the new CBA. One that allows for teams to hand full-length deals to veterans that will eclipse age 38 during the contract’s run. The previous cut-off age was 36, as bargained for by bad owners (the ranks of which count as a majority in the NBA) to save themselves from themselves.

For all the hand-wringing about James’ move to limit his activities during the course of a hundred-game season, LeBron (set to turn 32 just before 2017 begins) has showed no loss of potency in what is yet another MVP-level season. With the aforementioned Love and Irving on board the Cavs should remain a championship contender long enough that even considering denying James a “full boat” deal in 2018 would rank as a heel move.

Then again … NBA owners. Don’t put anything past these titans.

LeBron’s five-year deal would rank alongside Curry’s and vault past the $200 million mark, terms mostly undecided until the NBA comes out with its final salary cap projections for each particular season.

This is what the stars have earned, though, in a league that works in concert with its players union to cap the salaries of stars so that the league’s minimum-salaried workers aren’t relegated to the realm of the unmentionables in comparison to their All-Star teammates. While ensuring player and franchise flexibility, the chance for teams to design a winner without regard to common rule or slavish devotion to the trends of the day, all while sustaining a healthy and happy middle class.

As usual, it turns out, we have quite a lot to learn from the NBA when it comes to how things should work.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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