We’ve been hearing it since the team first signed DeMarcus Cousins - this past season’s roster isn’t going to be re-assembled. Between aging, expensive bench players like Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala, and the looming free agency decisions of Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant the Warriors are faced with a series of incredibly important decisions over the next few months.
This is an old familiar feeling for Warriors fans, most of whom have spent the bulk of their fandom dreaming up three team trades and marginal free agents that could be lured here to save the franchise from itself. This time around though, it’s not about building a juggernaut, but about holding the pieces together.
Big names first: What are Thompson and Durant going to do
Klay Thompson, a founding member of the Splash Brothers fraternity is almost certainly coming back. He’s mentioned his desire to return, his father has talked about it, and there have been too many “if they pay him the max, he’ll be back for sure” leaked whispers.
Prospective: Almost certainly coming back. Post All Star break-ish after injury rehab
Kevin Durant is a more uncertain commodity. After cherishing his freedom by signing short deals while sacrificing some money, Durant now controls his own destiny completely as an unrestricted free agent.
After suffering a major achilles injury, the Warriors have already indicated that if Durant comes back, he’ll sit out for the entire 2019-2020 season. For such a major roster point of influence, this is something of a non-issue for the upcoming season (at least directly, but more on that later).
Now, here’s where the salary stuff gets interesting. If Durant opts in to his current contract, and the Warriors rule him out for the season, the team’s insurance would cover 80 percent (or approximately $25 million of Durant’s salary). Doesn’t do anything for the salary cap, but this cost savings is doubtless intriguing to Warriors brass. Note that this scenario only applies if Durant opts in. Under a new contract, the Warriors can still get some salary relief from the league, as per friend of the blog, Patrick Murray:
On the one hand they may be able to utilize the Disabled Player Exception, which will be around $9.2 million, if either Durant or Thompson is on the roster but not expected to play until June 15, 2020.
Prospective: Ask your Ouija board. I’m leaning towards a return on a maximum contract, but I’m a serial optimist. The truth is no one really knows what Durant will decide.
The men in the middle: DeMarcus Cousins, Kevon Looney
Both of these players are incredibly important to what the roster will look like next season. But unlike Durant and Thompson, both of these guys are a tier (or so) below the top, so their decisions will likely come after all the major players settle in.
For Cousins, the Warriors are only able to offer a modest raise on his Mid Level deal. They will do so, and Cousins, for what it’s worth definitively left the door open to such a scenario. Still, if another team wants to make a big offer for Cousins, the Warriors will be unable to match it — so we are at the mercy of the market on this one.
Prospective: Unknown. Neither staying nor leaving would be especially surprising.
Kevon Looney, on the other hand, is someone that the Warriors could salary match on, due to retaining his so-called Bird rights. The #30 pick from the 2015 draft has panned out, something the Warriors have been sorely needing out of their rare, low-seeded, draft options. Looney played through a painful injury, and emerged as a team favorite during last season’s run. He ticks a lot of the boxes for what the Warriors need and want, so my sense is that they’ll match any relatively reasonable offers on Looney.
Now, if Durant opts out, the team may be more willing to overpay to retain Looney. Regardless though, he’s a player that is probably going to take a while for the free agency market to get to - so don’t expect any news right away.
Prospective: Warriors need him and want him, so unless another team storms in with a large offer, expect Looney to come back.
The wily (and expensive) veterans
Here is where the battle between wallet and heart will be the most pronounced. Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala are both at the very tail ends of both their careers and their contracts; The culmination of both will be at the center of whatever happens here.
Shaun Livingston had a down year. He played just 867 minutes, the lowest by far of any year with Golden State. Averaging just 9 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists per 36 minutes, he was clearly struggling while dealing with lingering knee issues — leading to open discussion of his retirement as far back as a few months ago:
Like this year, I’ve struggled with injuries more than any other year I’ve been on the Warriors. It’s more just for my knee. Rehab. Just showing up to the game and my knee is, like, softball(-sized) swollen.
On top of all that, only $2 million of Livingston’s $8 million next season is guaranteed - and because of salary rules, that $8 million contract would actually cost the team many times that much. Meaning the Warriors and Livingston have until June 30th to decide if they’ll give this another go or not
Prospective: He gone. A less than ideal end to a hugely successful career, the man has earned his retirement.
Iguodala is a more interesting case. He is also openly discussing retirement, even going so far as to say “I’m going to be done soon,” but it still looks like he has at least another good year in him — if he so chooses.
After a decent season, and excellent playoff run (despite battling a calf injury), the team would certainly eagerly welcome Iguodala back. Complicating matters tremendously, his $17 million contract for the year. Again, with the Warriors’ salary cap situation, that cost is wildly multiplied though the extent of which is unknown — which brings up the strategic importance of Iguodala’s status.
Retire, and it frees up a ton of salary burden from the team’s overburdened but fecund wallet. That’s probably the least likely scenario. Given the uncertain nature of the roster right now, the Warriors front office will almost certainly do some due diligence and make some calls to asses his trade value. The playoffs exposed the Warriors dire need of shooting. Not that any one player is to blame, but none of the best guys off the bench (Iguodala, Looney, Livingston) can spread the floor. Assuming the Warriors will play the bulk of the season without Thompson, a shooter is pretty much a “need” this offseason. Iguodala is still good enough to allow the Warriors to be selective in any exchange of assets, so keep an eye on this.
Prospective: I’ll call it 75% chance of return, 15% trade, 10% retirement.