What would an unsuccessful post season run mean?
The Golden State Warriors are keeping their options open. It’s a changing league out there, and while the Warriors fledgling dynasty is nowhere near the end of it’s run, what we see at the end will definitely look different. I had always assumed this would be at the fringes, with the Warriors hanging on to the core four ... but what if they went crazy and went even bigger?
Yeah, I know the Warriors are one of the best teams in the league, destined for another deep push into the playoffs, but maybe it’s the fear of the Houston Rockets newfound dominance, or my long-suffering fandom that misses the roster dreams of years past — I just can’t help but wonder about the future.
And based on this recent (and very good) article from Mark Medina of the Bay Area Newsgroup (paywall warning), it seems clear that Joe Lacob is thinking about it too, only once again, he’s light years ahead and already talking about contingency plans. Medina frames the article around the Spurs game, and modeling the Warriors’ longevity of off theirs, but it also provides some great insight into the front office’s thinking.
A looming series of tough decisions
You don’t need to be a certified expert Salary Capologist to understand that the Warriors have an impending roster crunch. We have four All-Stars, any of whom could likely command a max salary on the open market. The problem is that the “max salary” is defined as 25% of the salary cap. In other words, there’s no way to cram all four of these guys into one team if they all take the max and we want to have any chance of fielding a competitive team as the core ages.
“We’ll build around that core until we decide maybe we shouldn’t,” said Lacob.
So, naturally fans start to brainstorm ways to keep everyone. From Lacob’s quote, it’s clear they’ve done the same thing, and arrived at the same conclusion many fans have come to: unless Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are willing to take discounts, someone’s going to probably have to go.
The Warriors will assuredly lock up Kevin Durant to a long-term deal (something Durant’s recently mentioned he’s interested in) to pair him alongside Steph Curry through both of their primes.
But then what?
Assuming that Durant and Curry take up around 50% of the salary cap room (or thereabouts) is it fair to ask Green and Thompson to play for less than their market value? More importantly perhaps: would you build your entire franchise strategy around those two guys taking discounts?
Kerr seems to think we can have it both ways:
“You can’t just expect players to take less money so we can keep this thing going. That’s totally unfair to ask players to do that,” Kerr said. “So you have to work within the confines of the salary cap and the structure. The big thing is we have an ownership group that is 100 percent committed to winning. They are going to spend every dollar we need to keep us competitive, and we have great resources.”
But I’m not so sure. Even with the new stadium complex opening to pour money into the owners’ coffers, there is a limit to how much the team will pay before letting talent go. In the end, this company is running a business and as long as Curry and Durant are around to fill seats at the fancy new arena, they’re going to be considering the financial implications of signing these players to long-term deals, especially the larger ones.
It’s just not about money, it’s about opportunity cost
It’s as much of a roster decision as it is financial one, but no matter how you get there it’s hard not to see that something in this situation will have to give. While Kerr preaches stability and players talk about a willingness to stay, basketball is a much tougher ledger to balance. Yes, there’s the money. But there’s also that starry-eyed pursuit that Lacob has — the same one that landed us Kevin Effin’ Durant:
“These guys are all performing at a great level. We love them as part of our organization. I don’t really see doing anything major. But you never really know. We have to evaluate when the season is over. It’s very hard when you’re in the middle of it all to see it objectively.”
Lacob floated the possibility of the Warriors make a major move that shakes up their roster.
“Maybe we will emphasize continuity. Or maybe we will make a big move,” Lacob said. “We’re looking at different options, given different things playing out in different ways. I think you should always be doing that.”
Ok, well we know that the savvy business owner will do whatever he thinks is best for the franchise, and you really can’t fault the decisions Lacob and his team have made while in charge. But it’s important to understand the timing that we are facing over the next two seasons with the combination of a move to the big city and major contract decisions for some of our most key players; if this team flames out in the playoffs, the already intense pressure may push this roster past the breaking point, one way or another.
Hopefully not, but it’s clear as day that the ownership is already seriously considering when and how to break off the current track and chase better options.