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Almost immediately after the Golden State Warriors won the 2022 NBA Finals, the criticisms started. Their fourth title in eight years was called a “checkbook win”. There’s also been reporting that Joe Lacob’s fellow NBA governors are upset about the Warriors lavish spending.

To be fair, Golden State has outspent the rest of the NBA by a wide margin over the last half-decade or so. That’s a fact.

Last season, the Warriors were over $39 million over the luxury tax line. That amount, combined with the subsequent penalties for being so far over the tax, plus being a luxury tax repeater team, hit Golden State with a total tax bill of over $170 million.

The second-most expensive team in terms of total tax bill? The Brooklyn Nets at roughly $97.7 million. Third on the list were the LA Clippers at $83 million.

That’s $72 million to $87 million more than the next two most expensive teams in the NBA last season. Even more staggering? The Warriors paid far more in luxury taxes than the other four tax teams did combined. The Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz and Philadelphia 76ers combined to pay approximately $131.7 million in tax payments last season. That’s more than $38 million less than the Warriors.

The other 23 teams? No tax payments at all. They all got a check from the tax teams that totaled about $11 million per non-taxpaying team.

Even if you consider the Nets and Clippers to be within range of the Warriors, that still leaves 27 teams fighting to catch the champs in terms of spending. Thus, the bellyaching that Golden State is operating in a realm the rest of the NBA can’t hope to play in.

Boo hoo. Grab a tissue and wipe your tears while the world’s smallest violin plays a somber tune for your melancholy.

Yes, small market teams probably can’t spend what the Warriors are spending. That is true. The TV and metro markets of teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies are a fraction of that of Golden State’s market. They’d have struggles keeping up that level of spending over a period of a few years, never mind over the bulk of a decade.

But the Milwaukee Bucks and Utah Jazz are in markets as small as the teams listed above and both were luxury tax teams last season. The “small market” Portland Trail Blazers have regularly been tax payers too.

Market size clearly doesn’t, and shouldn’t, dictate ownership’s willingness to pay the tax. When you have the right team, you pay for it. Compete for titles, and you get expensive. That’s just how it works in the NBA. Even the small-market-example-of-excellence Spurs regularly paid the tax when they were competing to win the Finals.

And that’s the real crux of this argument. Have the Golden State Warriors bought championships, à la the accusation often leveled at the George Steinbrenner-era New York Yankees?

No. Or, at least, not exactly.

Since the Warriors won their first title in 2016, they’ve paid the tax in five of eight seasons. In their four championship seasons, Golden State has only actually paid the tax in two of those years.

Now, this year’s tax bill got a bit out of control. But that’s come from years of spending starting to add up, as opposed to a one-year, or series of one-year, spending sprees. That’s one place where the comparisons to the Yankees fall apart.

The other place the Yankees comp comes up short? The Warriors aren’t building the bulk of their roster through free agent signings and trading for players other teams can no longer afford.

Here’s the Warriors roster from last season and how they acquired each player:

  • Nemanja Bjelica – 2021 Minimum Exception
  • Stephen Curry – 2009 Draft
  • Draymond Green – 2012 Draft
  • Andre Iguodala – 2021 Minimum Exception
  • Jonathan Kuminga – 2021 Draft
  • Damion Lee – 2018 Minimum Exception
  • Kevon Looney – 2015 Draft
  • Moses Moody – 2021 Draft
  • Gary Payton II – 2021 Minimum Exception
  • Jordan Poole – 2019 Draft
  • Otto Porter Jr. – 2021 Minimum Exception
  • Klay Thompson – 2011 Draft
  • Juan Toscano-Anderson – 2020 Minimum Exception
  • Andrew Wiggins – 2020 Trade
  • James Wiseman 2020 Draft
  • Chris Chiozza – 2021 Two-Way
  • Quinndary Weatherspoon – 2021 Two-Way

Here’s how those acquisitions break down:

  • Draft – 8 players
  • Minimum Exception – 6 players
  • Two-Way – 2 players
  • Trade – 1 player

Outside of Andrew Wiggins, every player on the roster was acquirable by a means available to every other team. With eight players acquired via the draft, the Warriors are one of the more homegrown teams in the NBA. Funnily enough, the highest-drafted of those eight players, James Wiseman, didn’t even appear in a game last season.

Now, that homegrown talent has largely blossomed and they’ve signed very lucrative contract extensions, followed by second and third extensions by some of the players. That’s largely what pushes Golden State’s salary plus tax commitment into the stratosphere.

Yes, they acquired Wiggins through a chain of transactions that relates back to signing Kevin Durant as a free agent. But even that original Durant acquisition wasn’t about just overpaying and “buying” a title. That 2016 signing was aided by a cap spike and the vastly under-market deal of Stephen Curry at the time.

After his initial 1+1 deal, Durant opted out. He did the same thing one more time. In total, Durant signed three different deals with the Warriors to keep pushing his salary higher. But when Durant wanted to leave, Golden State didn’t just let him walk. They kept that salary slot alive by working a double sign-and-trade to acquire D’Angelo Russell.

About seven months later, Russell was flipped for Wiggins, and his then-seen-as toxic contract. Two-and-a-half seasons and a title later, opinions on Wiggins’ deal have softened or flipped entirely.

In total, the Warriors made one chained-together set of deals that turned Durant into Russell into Wiggins that was even remotely enabled by their ability to spend.

Beyond that Durant-Russell-Wiggins salary slot, of which you can find a similarly exorbitant deal on the books of almost every team in the NBA over the last decade, all the Warriors have done is paid to keep their own players, while largely filling out their roster with minimum signings.

Which begs the questions: Was Golden State supposed to let their own players leave? Are the Warriors to be faulted for drafting and developing, and then paying, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson? How about Jordan Poole when he’s next to sign a big new deal?

If the answer is no, then what’s the crying about? The name of the game, for all 30 NBA teams, is always “draft and develop” first. The Warriors have simply been better at that than most for a decade.

The next logical question becomes: Can, or could, any other team have continued to up their salary plus tax commitment over a long period to keep a title team together?

This one is a little more complicated. But outside of the situation where James Harden was traded from Oklahoma City to Houston, what title contender has ever failed to pay to keep an All-Star around? To go a bit further: what team, in general, has lost an All-Star in the last 20 years because of salary concerns?

Yes, that was answering a question with more questions. But the answer to number of All-Stars leaving because their teams wouldn’t pay them is exactly zero. 0. None. Nada. Nil. Zilch. When All-Stars have left teams, it’s been to try to win somewhere else, often at the cost of giving up salary by leaving.

In an era where there are often complaints about super teams and players jumping from team to team seemingly on a whim, Golden State Warriors has built a team of mostly homegrown players and they’ve won more than anyone else over the past decade.

Instead of complaining about the Warriors largesse and skyrocketing tax bills, maybe the fingers should be pointed in the other direction. Why aren’t more teams drafting and developing better? And then, if they do, why aren’t they able to keep those teams together?

The answers to those questions probably aren’t money-based. Those teams didn’t stay together because of other reasons, often driven by failures of the teams or the players on those teams to win enough to keep everyone happy and home.

In a league where every team is owned by billionaires, it’s true that the Golden State Warriors have outspent everyone else. Not because they are the only ones who can, but because they’re the only ones who have. And it’s because they’ve outplayed everyone else during that same period and kept their team together in an era where that rarely happens. That’s a combination that should be applauded and respected instead of abhorred and reviled.