Let me first qualify the title of this post. The Golden State Warriors shouldn’t give Stephen Curry a big contract extension yet. If he wants to agree to a deal well below market rate (somewhere in the range of four years and $30 million), great! Sign him up. But if he’s looking for anything approaching max money (something like five years for $45 million), forget it.
There are two fatal mistakes teams make when signing—or in this case, extending—players. The first is paying for past performance. Baseball teams err on this front all the time. Take the LA Angels, for example. They gave Albert Pujols a quarter-billion dollars because of what he did in his first 11 seasons. Unfortunately, he didn’t do those things for the Angels, and he certainly won’t do them when he’s making $30 million dollars at age 41.
So, as far as the Warriors are concerned, this potential mistake is less applicable than it might otherwise be. After all, Curry’s career has been marked by some impressive play, but it’s also notable for a large number of games missed due to injury. If they paid him for his past performance, he wouldn’t be worth max money. Projecting his future worth is tricky, too, because his health is such a wild card.
The second fatal mistake teams make when doling out contracts is one Warrior fans are uncomfortably familiar with. You simply cannot pay rotation players like superstars. The Warriors made this mistake with Andris Biedrins, Monta Ellis, David Lee, Antawn Jamison and a number of other good-but-not-great players over the years. Look at what the San Antonio Spurs do: they pay three guys big money to lead the team. Then they toss pennies at replaceable components who fill in around them. That’s the model to follow.
The trick with Curry is that he’s somewhere on the high end of the “rotation player” list. He probably can’t be the best player on a championship team, but he can be a big contributor on a playoff contender. He’s not worth a max deal, but he might be close enough to get one from another team. That’s a risk the Warriors should take.
If Curry stays healthy this season and improves, he’ll be worth a lot of money. But extending him on a max deal now is just too risky. He hasn’t been good enough to justify it based on past performance and he probably won’t ever be good enough to really earn it.
Summation: sign Curry if he’ll take a below market deal. Otherwise, let him prove he can stay healthy and re-address the situation at the end of the year. It’ll hurt if he leaves for a better offer, but not as much as it will if he signs a big deal now and never stays healthy.
it’s just too soon to know how Curry will perform in the future. It’s certainly possible that he’ll warrant a max deal if he stays healthy (a colossal if) and continues to improve. But it’s also possible that he’ll never be healthy and won’t warrant anywhere near a max deal. The unique unpredictability of Curry’s future and the fatal mistake of paying for past performance are tied together.