Ethan Strauss and Nate Duncan recently previewed the Warriors season with the longest podcast in the history of mankind, covering a healthy variety of topics that included the contract situations of Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli. As Strauss and Duncan discuss, the Warriors are two games into the preseason without either player exemplifying great strides from last season to help justify lucrative contract extensions anticipated over the next three weeks. What are the repercussions for Barnes and Ezeli if they fail to make a stronger impression by the end of the month?
Harrison Barnes appears to have the least to lose in terms of an extension offer. The Warriors reportedly offered Barnes a 4-year deal for $64 million, which HB rejected prior to firing his agent. Could the Dubs offer less than that three weeks from now without alienating Barnes? Likely not. Once an offer is out in the open, it's hard to take it away. The lower limit of an extension offer has been established.
However, it seems unlikely that the Warriors would offer much more than $16 million per season if HB doesn't make a bigger impact on the court soon. It's hard to imagine the Warriors agreeing to make Barnes their highest paid player, with Klay Thompson scheduled to earn $16.7 million next season, suggesting that there is little room for negotiating beyond what the team already offered. Barnes may have to decide whether to accept the $64 million deal, perhaps convincing his new agent to take less than the customary four percent cut that Barnes allegedly didn't want to pay his old agent, or to gamble on free agency next summer.
But while Barnes has little to lose in negotiating an extension this month, he has the most to lose in turning down an extension. Anything from a serious injury to a step backward out of the starting lineup this season could jeopardize his prospects with other teams during a restricted free agency next summer. If this year goes poorly for any reason, Barnes could lose out on as much as $64 million! This is the thinking that led Klay Thompson to sign an extension last year for less than he likely would have signed for as a free agent this summer - playing it safe for the certainty of a large payday instead of accepting a degree of risk for an even larger payday. Barnes must expect a significantly higher offer in free agency if he is willing to accept the risk of losing $64 million, and if that's the case then the Warriors may have to call his bluff and allow him to test the free agent waters. Word of advice to Mr. Barnes - avoid motor scooters this year.
Meanwhile, Festus Ezeli has a lot to play for over the next few weeks if he intends to boost the amount of any extension prior to November 2. After seeing Bogut struggle in the Finals last season, many of us expected Festus to compete for the starting center position during camp this year. So far, there's little evidence that Ezeli is ready. First of all, Bogut appears to be in better shape having lost 20 pounds during the offseason and remains a better passer and screener than Ezeli will ever be. Second, Ezeli hasn't shown that he can fit into the Warriors offense yet. For all of his athleticism, he can't/won't pass the basketball and remains a one-on-one offensive player. He can run the floor better the Bogut and plays solid defense, but Ezeli needs to show a better understanding of the offense before he contends for a starting role. Ezeli's negotiations for an extension still rely heavily on his potential and could benefit from a strong performance in games this month to indicate that he is realizing that potential.
That said, the longer the negotiations stretch out for Ezeli's extension, the larger the expectations have become among NBA analysts. While there was debate as to whether Ezeli's extension could reach $10 million at the beginning of the summer, now $12 million is a figure floating in the conversation. The John Hensons and Tristan Thompsons of the world are pushing Ezeli's next contract higher, especially since Ezeli could start at center for many teams. With a healthy season and strong performance, Ezeli stands to gain a great deal by proving himself on the court before signing another deal. With the huge pot of money available to teams this summer, the odds are in Ezeli's favor that he could find a dance partner next summer willing to offer at least what the Warriors would offer this month. Of course, he'll need to stay healthy and be willing to leave a championship team...
For the Warriors, the challenge will be holding on to Ezeli as the league takes greater notice of his talent, so the Dubs hope to lock him up soon. Are the Warriors prepared to make their backup center the third or fourth highest paid player on the team next season? I understand that the league's salary cap is exploding, but that's hard to swallow, even as someone who thinks Ezeli can fill Bogut's role down the line. But if it's the difference between keeping and losing Festus for the long haul, the Warriors should pay the man today and prepare to eat the luxury tax while defending championships.
In sum, Barnes could squeeze a little bit more out of extension talks (what's a few hundred thousand dollars among friends?) with a strong couple of weeks in camp but really ought to play it safe and sign an extension, as Pro Basketball Talk predicts. It would take something phenomenal from Barnes for the remainder of the month to justify making him the team's highest paid player. On the other hand, a breakout game or two for Ezeli this month could make a more significant difference in short-term negotiations for an extension, but there's a larger financial upside to waiting until free agency while teams are swimming in cap space. Hopefully the Warriors can find a way to get both deals done with the lure of keeping the champs together for years to come.
Kerr Update: On Sunday, Steve Kerr spoke to the media for the first time since initiating a leave of absence, clarifying that the second of two back surgeries this summer addressed leaking spinal fluid caused by an unintentional nick to the dura surrounding his spinal cord during the first surgery. The leak was thought to be the source of Kerr's ongoing headaches and, according to the trustworthy doctors of the internet, is associated with other symptoms like neck pain, dizziness, and nausea. Kerr expressed confidence that he would heal completely, but couldn't estimate a timeline for his return. He's obviously disappointed to be away from the team and complained of boredom while unable to attend team activities.
Trash Talk Never Ends: In case you missed the latest whining from Doc Rivers about the role of luck in the Warriors championship run last season, it recently became a source of discussion among the Warriors. Luke Walton and Draymond Green dismissed it, while Klay Thompson called it out as ridiculous. Andrew Bogut always has an interesting perspective on these matters, pointing out that he had his championship ring sized for his middle finger for them to kiss. The champs defended their turf effectively, as Doc recently clarified his earlier statements, acknowledging that the Warriors earned the title. Thanks, Glenn...
It Ain't Easy Being a Spur: As it turns out, team chemistry isn't so simple. LaMarcus Aldridge suggested that his transition to the Spurs isn't going as smoothly as NBA analysts may have presumed, stating that he has difficulty with change. Perhaps his words will grab the attention of those in Vegas who consider the Spurs to have better odds at winning the 2015-16 championship than do the Warriors. Everyone's doubting the Dubs!
Steph and the Prez: President Obama and Stephen Curry were reunited again as several Warriors attended a Democratic National Convention event in San Francisco where the President addressed the crowd. Will the President and Curry spend so much time together that Steph will earn a code name from the Secret Service? What should that name be?