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Warriors have major financial incentive to get below tax line - but who to trade?

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Golden State can trade D’Angelo Russell starting this weekend, but should they?

New York Knicks v Golden State Warriors

John Hollinger just wrote a sort of trade season “what to expect” article, and he brought up the Golden State Warriors as an example of a team that may stir the waters in what could otherwise be a slow and unremarkable NBA trade season this year.

Given the byzantine rules of league salary machinations, many acquired players (D’Angelo Russell, for example) become eligible to trade starting on December 15th (the trade season concludes at the deadline on February 7th).

For Golden State, the roster is mostly in flux. With a few key pieces locked up (one of whom has yet to step foot on the Chase Arena court) the Warriors have a lot of non-critical pieces that they could potentially move. Generally, the consensus is that they’ll stand pat, waiting out this season with an eye towards reloading for a fresh run next season.

In the near term, the team may want to create a permanent spot for dynamic guard Ky Bowman who is about two-thirds of the way through his 45 day limit in the NBA. But other than waiving Marquesse Chriss (an ill-advised move considering his potential) there isn’t a clear path. Other teams are unlikely to be interested in someone like Willie Cauley-Stein, and Bowman is free to re-join the Warriors once the G League season wraps up in March.

But as Hollinger writes, there may be a significant financial incentive pushing the Warriors towards making a move:

If subject to the repeater tax again in 2020-21, the Warriors’ tax hit could be monstrous. If they use the Iguodala exception and their taxpayer mid-level exception, and add a first-round pick near the top of the draft, Golden State’s payroll next season could reach $175 million or more, which would trigger a gigantic $108 million luxury tax bill. The repeater would add $34 million on top of that.

None of that is news - at least for those who followed the offseason even a little bit. The Warriors are going to be dealing with this repeater tax issue as a perpetual concern; probably until Curry and/or Thompson downgrades to a cheaper contract on the tail end of their careers.

But if the Warriors get out of the tax this season, they will save themselves $10 million or so this season, plus the $34 million in repeater money a year from now. (The Warriors would not be considered a repeater next year if they don’t pay tax in 2019-20, because they also fell below the tax line in 2016-17. In 2021-22, however, they would qualify as repeaters.)

Hollinger raises an important issue here. While the team is certainly eyeing contention next season, they’d be foolish to not at least explore some trade possibilities now. According to Hollinger, the Warriors are “only” $6 million away from the tax line - but getting there is problematic.

So, who could the team trade?

As it has been since they acquired him, D’Angelo Russell leads off the discussion of potential trade assets. Young, talented, and not a perfect fit for the existing roster, there are a lot of factors pointing towards the wisdom of moving him.

When Russell was acquired, GM Bob Myers said that the team “didn’t sign him with the intention of just trading him.” This sentiment was reinforced by recent reporting that the Warriors aren’t actively trying to drum up trade interest.

But sure, if a trade that they like falls into their laps, I’m sure the Warriors would listen to intriguing offers.

So this brings us to the peripheral pieces: Glenn Robinson III, Alec Burks, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Marquesse Chriss’ non-guaranteed contract. None of these players hold significant trade value though - and as I pointed out above, waiving a potential rotation player on an improving development curve like Chriss has been lately just doesn’t seem like a good move.

Hollinger also throws a curve ball in by recommending a Kevon Looney trade:

That takes us to Kevon Looney. A productive big who makes $4.4 million, Looney likely has positive trade value and could be flipped for a second-round pick to a team with a small trade exception. That wouldn’t get Golden State below the tax on its own, but the 2022 second and whatever the Warriors get for Looney could likely get them the rest of the way there, especially if they waive Marquese Chriss before the guarantee date in January and find a home for Willie Cauley-Stein’s value contract (just $2.1 million).

Golden State could also demand a Looney recipient to take on an unwanted small contract (hello, Jacob Evans) to ease its burden.

The entire premise that the team would dump Looney for financial considerations is silly - he’s clearly a long term piece here - but the pressure to dip below the cap is tempting enough to at least add an incentive to move Russell if the right offer is there.