“What the heck are they doing?”
As the 2019 NBA free agency period opened, the Golden State Warriors made a striking series of moves.
Precipitated by Kevin Durant’s departure, Golden State brought in D’Angelo Russell, a talented young guard, but one that doesn’t seem like a natural addition to the preexisting backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Beyond that, it cost the Warriors a first round draft pick to secure the sign and trade rights to Russell.
Following that bombshell sign and trade, news quickly broke that Andre Iguodala was out - sent to
purgatory the Memphis Grizzlies along with a first round draft pick in exchange for nothing but cap room (and a trade exemption that must be used within one year or lost).
In less than a half a day, the Warriors juggernaut had been dismantled. No more Durant or Iguodala - both renowned players with a history of success at the highest level. In their place? A 24-year-old former number two pick, but one who is coming off a career best season where he average 21 points, 4 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. He’s good, but it’s unclear how much his addition improves the Warriors fate because he’s not Durant or Iguodala.
Taken as a whole, the moves were a little head-scratching — to say the least. Compounding the confusion, we shortly learned that the sign and trade deal for Russell triggered the NBA’s hard cap, a little known provision that severely hamstrung the Warriors flexibility by instituting a not-to-exceed amount on team salary for the 2019-2020 season. This move looked like it was going to cost us Kevon Looney, DeMarcus Cousins, as well as any hope of bringing in more talent via one of the NBA’s mid level exceptions. In other words, capped out with an incomplete roster and ill-fitting pieces - and getting there cost us one of our foundational pieces in Iguodala.
It felt like the Warriors were reeling, scooping up whatever asset they could and then fumbling around frantically trying to make it work. And there was Durant, a roommate moving out before the rent’s paid, and taking the last beer out of the fridge without a backwards glance. It felt bad... dynasty-ending level of bad.
Slowly, a plan emerges
But what I’ve come to realize is that the Warriors don’t have a plan; rather, they have multiple plans. A series of contingencies and “if yes, then...” logic gates designed around their careful consideration of every reasonable scenario.
Turns out, Iguodala had already been advised that if Durant left, he should expect to also be moved. You see, Durant leaving wasn’t unexpected, and Myers and Lacob began playing the long game right away.
Andre Iguodala was informed by Warriors early last week that he could be traded to unload salary in event Kevin Durant moved on, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Today’s trade to Memphis wasn’t a shock.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) July 1, 2019
Also turns out, Russell was an opportunity, but one that the Warriors had considered. After all, there are only so many ways to recoup that lost talent when your team is as capped out as the Warriors.
The options were to let Durant walk for nothing and hope to use the middling tools available (internal player development, mid-level contract) and stay as relevant as possible. But that wouldn’t do anything for 2019, and just punts the problems down a year when the Warriors would have to make a decision on Draymond Green’s big contract and still be bereft of ways to add significant talent.
Or, do what they did. Gamble to acquire top end talent, and continue working around the edges with the goal of reloading with a healthy Thompson and some assets. Sure, the team lost a couple of draft picks (both due when the Warriors are going to be sorely due for an influx of talent), and some peripheral pieces, but they at least found an avenue out. Look at the San Francisco Giants right now: a team crippled by overpriced players on the decline and nothing in the development pipeline. That is the worst case scenario and one that Joe Lacob and Bob Myers are loath to run into.
So we lost Durant. Not ideal, but not the end. After all, a team with Curry, Thompson and Green is what we started with here. I (and most Warriors fans) would ride with that trio into battle, no questions asked. Without Russell, the Warriors would have only a taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.3 million) and a veteran’s minimum deal - not enough to come close to replacing Durant.
The Warriors clearly felt the same, or they wouldn’t have let Iguodala walk. No, there’s a plan here, and that plan does not involve playing it safe, or loading up for a short-handed run at another title in 2019.
I can promise you, furthermore, that the Warriors have internally mused about a run at Giannis — however futile it may prove to be — in the event they can’t convince Kevin Durant to re-sign this summer.
Trying to sign the most attractive free agent available is on the first page of the Golden State owner Joe Lacob’s playbook.
You thought it about. You know you did. If you’re a Warriors fan and watched the All-Star Game, you couldn’t help but imagine it.— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) February 19, 2019
Giannis to Warriors in 2021?
It’s possible. Here is how.https://t.co/KRRjamJ6HU pic.twitter.com/4YIishN8QE
So what will the 2019-2020 season look like?
Depending on where you come down in the spectrum of Warriors fan, this upcoming season will either be a fun (albeit painful) change of pace, or a brutal grind of mediocre basketball.
The primary driver here is going to be the hard cap. Unlike the normal salary cap, by entering into the sign and trade for Russell, the Warriors entered a relatively obscure provision that puts a firm limit on what the team can spend. For an extremely detailed breakdown, be sure to check out Patrick Murray’s excellent summary of the salary issues facing the Warriors now.
If the Warriors do sign both Paschall and Smailagic to rookie contracts they’ll be at $133,674,733 with 11 players on the roster. That leaves just $5,253,267 left to split between three veteran minimum players. The total of three veteran minimum contracts is $4,861,692. For the whole of the season, the Warriors will have just $391,575 to spend and just 14 players on the roster, one of whom in Thompson will likely be out for much of the year if not all of it.
We are deep enough into the process now to safely see what the roster should (sort of) look like. After yesterday’s signing of Willie Cauley-Stein, and the smart re-signing of Kevon Looney, the Warriors are down to about three spots to fill - all minimum contracts.
Golden State was $7M below the tax apron with five roster spots to fill. Before the signing, if GSW filled out the team with 3 minimums and both second round picks, the team would have been $392K below the apron. https://t.co/896MSp44EE— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) July 2, 2019
The only other shoe to drop yet is Shaun Livingston’s salary. He’s guaranteed $2 million of his $7.7 million contract. He and the Warriors pushed back the actuation date to July 10th. The Warriors will have until then to trade his contract, or (worst case scenario) use the stretch provision to defray the cost out across the next few years.
But whatever happens, you can rest assured that Lacob and Myers have a plan for it.