The biggest question marks this year are around the supporting cast. Before the playoffs I mused that the Warriors’ summer would be influenced by what happened over the subsequent months. After a long slog of a regular season where some of the supporting cast frankly weren’t up to the job, there remained a lot of uncertainty.
After a successful defense of their title, the Warriors can reflect on a job well done, where most of their supporting players did what was needed. Indeed, it was their ‘Strength in Numbers’ that helped them outlast the Houston Rockets.
But there will still be changes afoot. Numerous voices from the Warriors, including coach Steve Kerr, general manager Bob Myers, and owner Joe Lacob, have alluded to a desire to get younger. And the Houston series exposed a dearth of productive options on the wing amid a roster overloaded with limited big men.
So let’s delve into the choices before them.
The veteran leaders
The value of Andre Iguodala was proven when he went down in Game Three of the Western Conference Semi-Finals and the Warriors promptly lost their poise, dropping two consecutive games and staring into the abyss of social media mockery.
Fortunately the Warriors were able to get back on course, progress to the Finals, and demolish a woefully undermatched Cleveland Cavaliers team. Iguodala returned halfway through that short series, but the point was made.
These Warriors still need Iguodala.
Fortunately he’s under contract for two more years so is highly unlikely to go anywhere this year. Next year may be a different story, as his $17m contract (at age 35) has significant tax implications. So as this year potentially becomes somewhat a changing of the guard, expect to see Iguodala preserved even more for the playoffs for a final hurrah.
In Iguodala’s absence, one player who stepped up was Shaun Livingston. Up to the playoffs he hadn’t had his best season and was maybe looking a little less crisp. However he impressed in the Finals, going 13-14 from the floor over the first three games and providing much needed veteran calm and poise at key moments.
Next season is likely Livingston’s final year with the Warriors as he only has a small guaranteed amount for the 2019-20 season. There was some chatter amongst fans as to whether he might be moved to reduce the tax bills this year. But he has been one of the most important locker room leaders on this team for several years now and is an under-appreciated part of this dynasty.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate how far he’s come.
This was Shaun Livingston in 2008. He was recovering from perhaps the worst basketball injury ever. People thought he’d never play again. He was talking about where he’d be in 10 years.— Thomas Duffy (@TJDhoops) June 9, 2018
It’s been 10 years.
He’s a 3x NBA champion. pic.twitter.com/vu6kpZuHt0
Another important veteran piece has been David West. He is a free agent and will mull retirement over the summer. West had a great year up until he missed time with some sort of cyst in his arm. After that point his rhythm was a little off.
However he still managed to make some important contributions in the early rounds, before Houston proved a tricky matchup.
Smart money says they will move on from West, but if he does want to play one more year it may be worth bringing him back for his toughness and physical presence on the floor, and veteran leadership off it.
Ah the bigs. So many bigs. The last couple of years the Warriors have cobbled together some kind of Frankenstein’s monster in the middle to compensate for the lack of one single starting caliber player.
But in the playoffs it was Kevon Looney, and in the later rounds, Jordan Bell who excelled. With Damian Jones patiently waiting in the wings, this is where the youth movement is best poised to take a step forwards.
Looney, Looney, Looney
However, Looney’s situation complicates matters significantly. As widely discussed, the Warriors declined his rookie option earlier in the year before he took off. Now they are limited to what that option would have been - around $2.2m - while other teams can offer him whatever they like.
There’s no knowing what his market will be, but all it takes is one team to offer him a multi-year deal, perhaps at the taxpayer mid level (starting around $5m per year), and he should absolutely take that.
One thing in the Warriors’ favor is the very tight market for free agents this summer. There’s not a lot of money out there. But you’ve got to think realistically that someone will snap up a young big who has proven that with his length and switching ability he can deliver on the highest stage.
The young bigs
Where does that leave the Warriors? Well they still have Jordan Bell and Damian Jones under contract, as well as Chris Boucher on the second year of his two-way contract.
Bell was particularly impressive in the final games of the Houston series and again in the NBA Finals. He looks ready for the next step, and a summer ironing out some of those rookie mistakes — once he’s recovered from his Hennessey hangover — could see him starting caliber material.
The question mark will be can Jones replicate McGee’s role? McGee also delivered in the Finals, partly due to Cleveland’s lax defense, but that stretchy lob target is something that is extremely valuable (and popular with the Warriors’ stars).
Some body parts may return
Even if the Warriors somehow manage to voodoo Looney back into the fold and hand the keys over to the young guys, they will likely need a veteran or two to help man the middle.
The element potentially lacking is that toughness and physicality inside. That’s why I’ve suggested West as the one who may return, but it may well be that it’s one of the others or another unnamed veteran who guides the young core to their future.
They could also look to use their taxpayer midlevel exception on a big man, possibly Brook Lopez, or even their draft pick, but given what we saw in the Houston series, it’s much more likely that goes to a wing.
Which brings me nicely to the final, and most important part of the Warriors’ summer. Last year the Warriors brought in what looked like two crucial depth pieces to bolster their shooting.
However Nick Young and Omri Casspi did not impress. Casspi refused to shoot to such a degree that he was replaced by Quinn Cook, who remains on the roster next year and will help that shift from creaking veterans to spring chickens.
Nick Young survived to the end, and his reward is to go shirtless for an entire summer until some other team gets to experience the joy of Swaggy P.
But not us. Not again.
The Western Conference Finals exposed that the Warriors desperately needed some options that could hit enough shots to keep the defense honest and play competent, switching, defense on the other end.
The great hope entering the season was Patrick McCaw, who was so promising as a rookie. However he did not have a great year and suffered a truly terrifying injury late on. Fortunately he was able to return towards the end of the playoffs.
McCaw enters the summer a restricted free agent. While last year there were (half-)jokes galore about the ‘Gilbert Arenas max’, this year it’ll be a different picture. The Warriors retain the ability to match whatever gets thrown at him, but given the tight market and his lacklustre season it won’t be much.
The ideal situation for the Warriors is he gets something at, or more likely under, the taxpayer mid level exception, they bring him back on a value contract, and he turns into the player we all hoped he could be.
They could, of course, move on from McCaw, or sign him to his qualifying offer for one year. But given his youth it seems worth it to keep him around for a few years at a reasonable number and hope he bounces back.
The Warriors’ tools
The Warriors possess a couple of tools to improve the roster - the taxpayer mid level and the 28th pick in the draft. Charlie Stanton is doing a great job outlining who might be available in the draft with the ‘Golden Choice’ series.
As for the taxpayer mid level, the Warriors have tended to use this for one year deals only due to their cap situation. They could opt not to use it this summer as their cap situation worsens.
There are a lot of names flying around. Most intriguing is Trevor Ariza, put out there by ESPN’s Chris Haynes. He’d have to take a discount and leave a potential contender, so it’ll be tricky to pull off. Especially since he’s apparently after a $50-60m contract!
No doubt the Warriors will be very aggressive in trying to land someone who can actually contribute when the chips are down. We will have to wait and see who, if anyone, that turns out to be.
Overall it’ll be a busy few weeks coming up. The Warriors certainly appear hell-bent on getting younger and shifting the balance on their roster between bigs and wings to better compete with the changing NBA that they helped create.
How successful they are could determine their chances next year.
In the final installment of this series I will look at where the Warriors’ salary cap might sit following this summer.