The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami recently caused a stir with his report that the Warriors next big target is Anthony Davis. In Joe Lacob’s interview before Christmas he hinted that the Warriors will remain aggressive in the pursuit of titles.
There’s nothing imminent here. Kawakami is clear he’s planting a flag a bit like he did with an article about their chase for Kevin Durant a couple of years before that move. And ‘Light Years’ Lacob is always confident to the point of sometimes being brash.
Just because the Warriors may circle a big target a few years off doesn’t mean they get them either. The other big targets Kawakami said have been on past Warriors lists included Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, and Dwight Howard.
But the Warriors certainly know how to work the angles. The final of those targets turned out pretty well as the Warriors dodged a massive bullet and ended up landing Andre Iguodala thanks to some stunning Bob Myers salary cap wizardry and another of those scary Curry hugs.
There will be many who think keeping together the core of a budding dynasty is a better option than prematurely breaking it up. When the legendary Chicago Bulls broke up in 1998 bitter recriminations followed and it took them many years to even sniff semi-contention.
We’ve got a great team to sit back and enjoy, and we should absolutely enjoy that instead of indulging in lengthy hypotheticals.
Now here’s some lengthy hypotheticals. Warning - some of these options are downright offensive.
Option 1: Free agency (aka the scorched earth scenario)
Davis has an early termination option in the 2020 off-season. As it stands now it seems probable he will opt out. There is forecast to be a slight jump in the cap in 2019.
In order to pull this off they would have to clear the books entirely, renouncing Green and trading away every other player on the books earning more than the minimum.
In Thompson’s case that leaves several options, all of them pretty unpalatable. They could:
- Not re-sign him in 2019
- Sign-and-trade him for future picks to another team in 2019 (which requires Thompson’s agreement to join the team he’d be sent to)
- Sign him to a one year deal in 2019 (which again Thompson would have to agree to) and then renounce his rights in 2020
- Trade him for draft picks and no incoming salary in the 2020 off-season
Of course the first two Thompson scenarios mean getting rid of a major piece a year before Davis comes on the market, with no guarantee of signing anyone. That would be plain crazy.
Despite selling off all the family silver, they may not have enough space to sign Davis to a full max deal outright as Curry and Durant between them could be earning around $80m before even considering the cap-holds for empty roster spots.
Even if they could convince Davis to sign for a smaller contract all they would be left with Curry, Durant, Davis, a bunch of minimum players and whatever future draft picks they managed to finagle for Thompson.
Plus how pissed off would Green be coming back to the Chase Center with Detroit or someone else? He might burn down their shiny new building. No-one wants to see that.
Overall, this is not a particularly attractive outcome to say the least.
Option 2: Sign-and-trade
A variant on this would be to try to engineer a sign-and-trade for Davis. This could perhaps include Thompson again or possibly Green, though a double sign-and-trade is even trickier to pull off.
However the rules for sign-and-trades stipulate that you have to be under the so-called ‘luxury tax apron’ (which is $5m over the luxury tax line) at the conclusion of any trade. So the Warriors would likely still have to shed some salary if they also wanted to retain either Thompson or Green.
Alternatively they could try to sign-and-trade Thompson in 2019 to the New Orleans Pelicans for Davis, but that would rely on Thompson being willing to play in New Orleans, which doesn’t seem that likely, though perhaps he would enjoy Mardi Gras.
Option 3: Mid-season trade
That leaves a trade as the most likely option but a lot of things have to fall into place.
Firstly Davis must want out (likely), and be actively agitating for a trade (definitely possible). He’s already fired a warning shot across the Pelicans bow that they need to start winning big in the next couple of years.
Secondly the Warriors would have to beat out the competition with a bold offer.
That almost certainly would include a major player such as Thompson or Green to match Davis salary of around $27m (more likely to be be Thompson’s contract that does the trick).
They’d also have to beat other teams, including the oft-rumoured Boston Celtics who are laden with assets. So the Warriors might need to chuck in extra draft picks or young prospects, or engage a third team to up the ante.
Thirdly the timing would have to be right. One option would be at the trade deadline in the 19-20 season. Davis would be an expiring contract, Thompson would be at the beginning of a new contract, and the Pelicans would be worried about losing Davis for nothing in the summer.
However asking the Warriors to break up their core mid-season when they could well be on the way to contending for another title, is a massive ask.
Option 4: The Chris Paul solution
Perhaps the best option of any of these is the way the Los Angeles Clippers traded Chris Paul this summer to the Houston Rockets. God, that’s some pretty obnoxious components in that transaction.
If there’s any hope they can convince him to stay, the Pelicans will want to retain Davis through the 19-20 season. Generational talents like him don’t come along every day.
But at the end of the year if he was clear he wanted to leave they could engineer a trade where Davis would opt in to his final year, and the Warriors would hand over Klay Thompson after another deep playoff run.
From the Warriors perspective it minimises the disruption during the season, and allows them to bring back Green (which would also be the case with a mid-season trade).
So you’re saying there’s a chance?
So there you have it. There are paths to do it, many of them deeply unattractive and difficult to pull off.
Of course for now the Warriors will focus on carrying on with what they have, hopefully contending for multiple titles, and most likely re-sign Thompson in 2019. (As an aside, if Thompson is going to take a discount on his next contract, he’d be well advised to get a trade kicker included).
Then if a trade for Davis becomes possible either during the 19-20 season, or at the end of it, review whether they really want to pay the price on the basis of how the team looks at the time, and how core players are ageing.
Back to reality
It goes without saying that the wisdom of making any of these moves is questionable. Davis is of course an incredible talent, who is a good deal younger than the core of this team, and would help the Warriors both extend the window into Curry’s later years, and mix up the style of the team.
But it’s a high price to pay, and the post-Jordan Chicago Bulls are a warning sign of what happens when you break up a dynasty potentially prematurely. Don’t forget Steve Kerr had a birds eye view of that.
There is so much that can happen over the next couple of years, not least the development of young players like Jordan Bell who can help extend the window anyway, and of course so many moving parts.
The low minutes the core Warriors tend to play could extend their prime, while a history of niggling injuries already have some dubbing our presumed target Anthony Day-to-Day-vis.
But a couple of things are true. The Warriors like to remain aggressive, and plan to be in contention for the long term.
Somehow coming away with Anthony Davis in 2020 is pretty damn aggressive and would keep them in contention for many years to come.