The Golden State Warriors are aiming for a third consecutive Championship. The franchise has been wildly successful by building a team that has evolved each season, but could this be the offseason when it all comes back to bite them?
Every year recently, the Warriors scrape around the edges of the NBA pipe looking for some useful bench players. Results last season were mixed, with Omri Casspi flaming out due to paucity of his three point shot attempts and Nick Young’s questionable on-court value. This season was much better. Jonas Jerebko has been extremely useful, and the Demarcus Cousins experiment appears to be paying off. But like they have done the past few years, the Warriors are going to be heading back to the NBA bargain bin in the offseason, trying to round out their roster.
After declining Kevon Looney’s contract option last season, the Warriors took a needed gamble: the team was able to bring him back at a low price, but at the cost of letting him become an unrestricted Free Agent after the season. Looney has been phenomenal this season, posting career highs in points (6.6), assists (1.8), and rebounds (5.9) in just under 21 minutes per game. As a side effect of all this though, he may be playing himself out of the Warriors price range.
Because of a bunch of involute salary cap rules, the Warriors are limited in how much they can offer - but the thorn in the Warriors’ side right now may be turning into how little they can pay him next season. Danny Leroux wrote an excellent primer on the salary ramifications over at The Athletic:
Are there any limitations on payment structure with full Bird Rights beyond his individual maximum salary?
There are. According to the CBA, multiyear contract can only go up or down by a maximum of 8 percent of the first-year salary in any future season. That means the Warriors cannot structure a contract in which Looney gets the minimum in 2019-20 and sees his salary go up to $5 million or more the next year.
A contract can go up or down each season but no year-to-year swing can be larger than 8 percent of the first-year salary.
For a Warriors team that is tenaciously clinging to their “Strength in Numbers” slogan despite an increasingly top-heavy roster, the ideal scenario would be a somewhat lower value in the upcoming season. The team’s priorities are (rightly) going to focus first on securing Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, two of the biggest names to hit the free agent market in this upcoming offseason.
So the ideal from the Warriors side - some lower offer in this upcoming season, with significant kickers and raises in subsequent seasons - is not going to be allowed. This means that the Warriors are going to have to offer something close to market value (which Leroux estimated as something below the $5.7 million taxpayer mid-level exception but certainly more than the minimum salary).
Looney has been critically important this season. Not only does he play Center in the team’s most used 5-man lineup, but his ability to step into the limelight when Damian Jones got hurt - and then back out of it now that Demarcus Cousins in playing - is the sort of flexibility that the Warriors are going to need moving forward.