This was always going to be a big offseason for the Golden State Warriors. At the very least Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney were all ticketed for free agency — that all three ended up some level of injured in the NBA Finals only threw things into further disarray.
Given their complicated injury situation, the picture of next year has become even hazier. That’s why we’ll do what we can to sort through the coming machinations.
This is particularly important for a Warriors team that will almost certainly be over the salary cap. As a result, the only money they’ll be able to use to add players from outside the organization is the $5.7 million taxpayer’s mid-level exception.
Starting with the obvious — Stephen Curry is mid-super max and utterly entrenched. Draymond Green is entering the final year of what amounts to a bargain contract, earning $18.5 million, and though his long-term future with the Warriors is very much in question he is all but certain to be here throughout next season.
Almost equally likely to be on the roster are Damian Jones in the final year of his rookie deal at $2.3 million, Jacob Evans in year two of his rookie deal and Alfonzo McKinnie is likely as good a bargain as they’ll find on his bargain basement team option.
Andre Iguodala’s situation is marginally more complicated, but in the final year of a deal that will pay him $17.2 million for his efforts it’s hard to see him going anywhere. The Warriors have not forgotten that Iguodala’s arrival was a turning point for the organization and his interest in playing elsewhere is probably limited.
The definite goners — Jonas Jerebko, coming off of a pretty miserable season, and Australia-bound Andrew Bogut. Sad to say the list also includes Shaun Livingston, whose legs no longer appear capable of holding up through an NBA season. If he doesn’t retire, the Warriors can buy him out for a mere $2 million.
There are two restricted free agents in play, meaning the team can issue a small qualifying offer that would allow them to match any deal presented to the player on the open market. In Quinn Cook’s case it seems likely that the Warriors would do just that, provided a reasonable price.
The other is Jordan Bell, whose on- and off-court contributions make him far less of a sure thing. If he actually gets a decent contract offer, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Warriors let him walk.
Curry’s brother-in-law Damion Lee, a two-way player, is technically a free agent. Unless he gets a significant offer elsewhere, he should get a minimum deal to stay in the family.
Klay Thompson is, as we know, a free agent, which means he is free to do whatever he wants, to go wherever he wants. I simply refuse tho entertain the possibility that he will leave, so I’m counting him as part of the future (if not the first few months of next season, considering his injury).
Everything Thompson and his more talkative father have said suggests he will be here, and it is difficult to see his incentive for leaving based on what we know about him. Moreover, he is one of this columnist’s personal favorites and sometimes we are allowed to have nice things.
That said, he’s likely out for much of next year. So what’s left? A roster starring Curry and Green, with Iguodala at small forward, Jones in the middle and— oh my, is that Quinn Cook starting at shooting guard? That would leave Evans (who the Warriors hope will be a combo guard, but may not be anything) and McKinnie on the bench.
Local Free Agents …
The key point to remember is that re-signing any of these players is essentially free for the Warriors from a basketball perspective. It will cost Warrior co-owner Joe Lacob a boatload of luxury tax dollars, but the team can retain any of their own free agents despite their strapped cap situation and without using their mid-level exception.
DeMarcus Cousins comes with the greatest restriction — sparing you the details, the most the Warriors can really offer him is $6.4 million. It is highly likely that some other team will offer him more, and nobody could blame him for taking it.
The only chance he will stay is if he doesn’t get quite what he feels he deserves elsewhere, and believes another year of rehabbing his body and game in the Bay would get him a bigger payday. Given the team’s injury situation, he would likely be the team’s second leading scorer.
Signing Cousins would be a tremendous boon if the Warriors hope to actually contend in 2019-20.
Kevon Looney should be retained, full stop. The 23-year-old Looney once again proved to be one of the most versatile and impactful bigs in the playoffs and there is simply no way for the Warriors to acquire another player of his caliber.
What Looney is worth on the open market is a source of much debate, but I don’t think the Warriors would hesitate to offer him something in the neighborhood of $30 million over three seasons. The only obstacle is Lacob’s luxury tax bill, and it’s hard to imagine him crying poor now after repeatedly promising to pay whatever it took to keep this team together.
With Thompson already re-signed in our hearts and minds, that leaves us with the big kahuna, Kevin Durant. I honestly can’t predict how the events of the last month play into his decision.
It’s possible that the way his injuries played out soured Durant on the team’s medical staff, which would seem like an insurmountable obstacle with a major rehab ahead. On the other hand, that might be an utter non-issue and his sacrifice might have bonded him even more deeply with teammates and fans.
In the space of a few weeks, KD was declared the best player in the league, embraced more than ever by the local fan base, slightly injured, accused of not coming back fast enough, injured worse, embraced even more, and accused of coming back too fast. It’s not a bad microcosm for the maelstrom of absurdity that swirled around him all season.
The bizarre thing is that I’m not sure any of this impacts what the Warriors do this summer all that much. Regardless of Durant’s decision, the only money they can spend on outside free agents is that mid-level exception; regardless of Durant’s decision, they need to fill his spot on the wing for the 2019-20 season.
How, you ask?
Outside Free Agents …
Regardless of what happens with their injured free agents, wing scoring and defense looks to be a huge priority for the Warriors in free agency. The good news is that there are actually a handful of guys who can do that and will be available.
The bad news is that the Warriors are no longer prohibitive championship favorites, so the take-less-money-to-win-a-title pitch may not work. That could be a significant problem for many of the names that would be most appealing, since their market value could be quite a bit more than $6 million.
One of the first names that comes up is Austin Rivers, who looked good in the playoffs and was notably complimentary about the Warriors after their series — a decent-sized combo guard who plays defense and has shot the ball reasonably well at times in his career. His last contract, though, paid him nearly $36 million over three seasons.
Guys like DeMarre Carroll, Rudy Gay and Trevor Ariza would also likely have to sacrifice earning potential to play here. They’re also all older players and with the possible exception of Gay would have trouble being a secondary or even tertiary scorer alongside Curry — as, admittedly, almost anyone available to the Warriors would.
Thinking slightly further outside the box, both Derrick Rose and Isaiah Thomas are free agents, and both are definitely capable of getting some buckets when healthy. Neither plays much defense, but if they’d take the mid-level they could be intriguing scoring options.
It has also been popular to suggest Seth Curry come and play with his big brother, but Seth looked pretty happy to me stealing the ball from his brother in the playoffs. It’s hard to imagine he’s desperate for a payday, but he’d probably like to see his success rewarded with more than what the W’s can offer.
Ultimately Golden State will likely have to hold their mid-level exception money until the dust settles a little bit, and see which scoring wing options are left without better options. Two names jump out as players who might slip into that category and provide some upside: Jeremy Lamb and Rodney Hood.
Both guys have lived NBA lives of relative disappointment, but both have talent and have shown the ability to score and defend at various points of their careers. They’re both just 26 years old, but have been inconsistent enough that they might not get better offers than the Warriors’ mid-level and the open looks available next to Curry.
Ideally they can also add a later-stage veteran on a minimum deal to the mix — Jamal Crawford would be very appealing, maybe a return home for Jeremy Lin or a goodbye tour for Vince Carter.
If they can manage to add two playable wings that can chip in to the scoring, they may at least have a team that can hold the line in playoff contention until Klay Thompson returns.
The REAL Bottom Line…
The long-term future is largely in the hands of Durant. If he re-signs, the Warriors can treat 2019-20 as a holding pattern, perhaps even apply for an injury exception (which could give them about $9 million to add another rotation player) if he is indeed declared out for the whole season.
In that scenario, 2020-21 looks a lot like this year did — if healthy, the Warriors trot out as talented a starting lineup as any in basketball, and would be incredibly difficult to beat. If they can add some help on the margins in the meantime, it will only buffer them further against more untimely injuries.
Once the Durant domino falls, the Warriors can begin building the roster they’ll take to their new building in October.
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, 3p-7p every weekday evening alongside Damon Bruce and Ray Ratto. You can listen to his podcast, The Toy Department. Find him on Twitter @thekolsky