After a third title in four years, the Golden State Warriors will have considerable work to do this offseason to maintain their prohibitive-favorite status. In a summer where LeBron James will draw much of the national focus, what Golden State gets done may just be as interesting a storyline, not to mention just as influential in determining where the Larry O’Brien trophy spends its next few years.
Given the importance of the next few months, it’s time to take a snapshot of the 2018 NBA Champions and sort out what they need to bring home the three-peat…
The Big Guns
Kevin Durant: He’s technically a free agent now, but is as good as guaranteed to be a Warrior next season. If he wants to be here for the long term, which he has consistently said he does, he essentially has three options.
One, he could sign a two-year deal with a 2019-20 player option, in which he would earn $30 million next year, and $31.5 million in the option year. With the salary cap expected to jump from $101 million to $108 million, Durant could opt out after 2018-19 and sign a five-year, $219 million contract. That 2019 luxury tax bill for the Warriors, though, would be sky-high.
Two, he could sign a four-year max contract (given his early Bird status) for around $158 million.
Three, he could sign a three-year deal with a player option after the second season. His salary in the option year would be $41 million. The salary cap in 2020-21 is expected to be $112 million. Durant could also opt out and sign a five-year, $228 million contract with the starting salary of $39.4 million, and be eligible for a no-trade clause.
It boils down to whether he wants to sign his actual long-term deal in this offseason, the next one or the one after. Waiting longer (which would involve signing a shorter deal and opting out, much as he did heading into this offseason) postpones the security of an extended contract but also increases the overall monetary value. The more Durant ends up getting, the bigger Joe Lacob’s luxury tax bill becomes over time.
Klay Thompson: He could accept an extension this summer or wait until next year when he is a free agent. The common line is that this would probably cost him more than $80 million — because the Warriors can only offer about $100 million now, a number that would rise to nearly $190 million in 2019. That’s misleading, because the most Thompson could get from a team other than Golden State is closer to $140 million. That said, he would still be doing what amounts to a $35 million favor for the organization and even Klay might not be that laid back.
There is a very, very small chance that negotiations turn ugly this summer and the Warriors feel compelled to put Thompson on the trade market to avoid losing him for nothing in a year. That said, it’s much easier to imagine him accepting whatever the team offers — after all, $100 million buys a lot of chew toys for Rocco.
Draymond Green: He’s essentially a year behind Thompson on a similar contractual track, and his extension negotiations project to be a little less smooth — both because of his significantly less chill personality and the team’s growing tax bill. Joe Lacob’s stated willingness to pay whatever is necessary to retain his championship roster will truly be put to the test.
Much more so than with Thompson this summer, it will be fascinating to see how much Green values winning and the comfort of the only NBA home he’s ever known versus the lure of big money elsewhere.
Crystal Ball View: Stephen Curry is the only one of Golden State’s four All-Stars under contract beyond 2020, and all four will be on the roster next season, but what happens after that will speak volumes about the difficulty of maintaining championship priorities in the face of complicating financial factors — not only for players, but for the organization.
The Young Guns
The Warriors have been vocal about wanting to get younger and develop players who can grow into bigger roles as their key veterans age into smaller ones. The current crop of youth has had its ups and downs, and they can’t keep all of them.
Damian Jones & Jordan Bell: This duo has played precisely one season of NBA basketball combined, and are the only real bigs guaranteed to be on the roster next year, both still on rookie deals.
Quinn Cook: His spot on the roster is assured after he signed a two-year deal this season. His scoring ability and valuable contributions in Curry’s absence this season make him an interesting developmental prospect who should fight for time in the guard rotation.
Kevon Looney: The Warriors declined his option before the season, and he went on to play a critical role in their title run. That decision will now likely cost them, as they are prohibited from offering Looney more than his $2.2 million cap hold. Given his postseason performance and his potential as a relatively raw 22-year-old, there’s a good chance someone offers him significantly more than that.
Patrick McCaw: He is also just 22, and was seen as an important bench piece coming into the year but was derailed by early poor play followed by a series of injuries. He’s a restricted free agent, which means the Warriors can match any offer he gets — and he probably won’t get offered much, potentially nothing more than the Warriors’ one-year tender of $1.7 million (which would make him an unrestricted free agent after next season).
Crystal Ball View: Cook, Bell, Jones and McCaw are back; Looney continues his progress elsewhere.
The Old Guns
The key reserves have been the same for several years now, and that is not going to change.
Andre Iguodala: He will make approximately $33 million over the next two years, which would make it almost impossible for the Warriors to trade him, even if they wanted to, which they assuredly don’t. He is virtually irreplaceable as a defender and adult-in-the-room, and he’s far more valuable to the Warriors than to anyone else.
Shaun Livingston: Much more affordable at just over $8 million next year, with only a partial guarantee for the following season. He also brings more value to the Warriors than he would to almost anyone else. His veteran presence and consistency are nearly as indispensable as Iguodala’s talents.
David West: Both Steve Kerr and Bob Myers said that the team wants to get younger next year, and that may start with the retirement of West. During exit meetings on Sunday, West, 37, indicated to both men that he wants to take some time to decide whether or not to continue playing.
Crystal Ball View: Iguodala and Livingston are both coming back.
The Hired Guns
Based on our crystal ball, the Warriors are bringing back ten guys, leaving at least three roster spots to fill. One of those is earmarked for their draft pick, who both Myers and Kerr said would have to be able to play right away.
The Warriors will attempt to use the remaining two spots and their limited available finances (specifically the mid-level exception of about $5.4 million and a veteran minimum contract) to fill their two most obvious needs: an experienced big man to mix in with their youth, and a veteran wing to provide the scoring and defense that they could never get from Omri Casspi or Nick Young.
The good news? Players are willing to accept less than market value to play with a title-bound team. A market flooded with free agents and short on cap space should play in their favor.
The Likely Candidates
Trevor Ariza is the name that has been bandied about most, and it makes a lot of sense. He’s a seasoned veteran who can afford to accept a contract that might be slightly under market value, and he’s a great fit skill-wise: he can defend multiple positions and is capable of knocking down open shots.
Other affordable, veteran wings: Marco Belinelli, Ersan Ilyasova, maybe Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Ed Davis strikes me as a wildly intriguing option as a big man who will likely fit the Warriors’ price range. He’s a good defender and one of the best per-minute rebounders in the league. He seems like he’d be a good mentor for the two athletic young bigs on the roster.
Other affordable, veteran bigs: Jerami Grant, Dewayne Dedmon, maybe Brook Lopez.
JJ Redick is the top wing pipe dream. He’s an obviously great fit who brings shooting, capable defense and veteran presence. Would he be willing to accept somewhere around one-third of his likely market value? Perhaps, after a big single-season payday in Philadelphia last year.
Other likely unaffordable wings: Avery Bradley, Will Barton, Tyreke Evans.
DeAndre Jordan’s appeal is obvious — a lob-slamming defensive stalwart who is basically the supercharged version of JaVale McGee. The problem is also obvious — Jordan has a player option for $24 million to stay with the Clippers, and turning that down for the mid-level exception would be downright insane. The Warriors certainly hope he’s insane, but can’t be expecting it.
Other likely unaffordable bigs: Clint Capela, Thaddeus Young, Derrick Favors.
Thinking Outside the Box
Mario Hezonja: Warriors fans may not know this name — most NBA fans probably don’t— but the young Orlando draftee is intriguing. The 23-year-old Croatian was the fifth pick in 2015 because of his length, scoring ability and brash confidence. He was a wild disappointment right up to the end of this season, when he started getting more playing time and flashing his potential. The Magic declined his option, so they can’t offer him any more than the Warriors can. Hezonja would come with significant risk, and it’s impossible to predict the market for him, but he’d have more upside than almost anyone else available if they can afford him.
Rodney Hood: A restricted free agent who should be priced out of the Warriors’ range, but his struggles in Cleveland might have depressed his value.
Wilson Chandler: Has a player option for nearly $13 million with the Nuggets but reportedly hates Denver.
Nerlens Noel: Has spent most of his year-and-a-half in Dallas sleeping in Rick Carlisle’s doghouse, which might just have scared folks off enough to make him a viable Warriors target.
Jeff Green: Has been a disappointment in virtually every one of his six NBA stops, but has the length and skill set to potentially fit in.
Wayne Ellington, Joe Harris, Ian Clark, Glenn Robinson III, Luc Mbah a Moute, Trevor Booker and Kyle Anderson should all be available and affordable, and all provide at least some of what the Warriors want. Ideally one of them would be willing to play on a minimum contract, which would allow the team to sign him along with one of the more intriguing names above.
This offseason means a lot to the Warriors franchise, especially with the class of challengers rising up around the league. The Celtics look formidable, the Sixers are on the rise, the Rockets nearly toppled the champs already and LeBron is a worthy adversary wherever he ends up.
What happens next determines the future of the NBA.
Matt Kolsky is a sports media professional (or something like that) and lives with an aging Shih Tzu/Schnauser mix in Berkeley. You can hear him on the Bay Area sports radio station 95.7 the Game, usually on weekends. You can listen to his podcast, The Toy Department, on iTunes or wherever else fine podcasts are free. You can find him on Twitter @thekolsky to share your personal feelings about this article or any other topic, he will respond to most tweets that do not contain racial slurs.