The Golden State Warriors are 29-7, thoroughly exceeding the expectations for this season. While Steph Curry is having an MVP season and Draymond Green has been the best defensive player in the league, the Dubs wouldn’t have the NBA’s best record without contributions from 1-13 on their roster (apologies to Chris Chiozza, but it’s not 1-14). It’s combination of smart minimum veteran signings (Otto Porter Junior, Nemanja Bjelica), patient development of G League players (Juan Toscano-Anderson, Damion Lee), and longtime Warriors having a career year (the ground-bound mound of rebound, Kevon Looney). But with seven important players hitting free agency next year, let’s celebrate the bench - and try to determine who still might be a part of it in 2021-22.
Kevon Looney: Looney is the only member of the starting lineup entering free agency this year. He’s in his seventh season with Golden State, yet he’s still not turning 26 until next month. Despite a history of injuries, Looney is the only Warriors to start every game this year. He’s averaging a career-high in minutes, his defensive stats are excellent, and he’s dunking every game, without squatting down like Toad in Super Mario Brothers 2 before he jumps. Looney is finishing a three-year deal for $14.4 million, a definite bargain, and it seems clear the Warriors would like him back, despite the presence of James Wiseman. Most of the teams with cap space this summer are loaded at center, so it makes a lot of sense to see if Looney would sign another similar deal - maybe with a 20% raise?
Otto Porter Jr: Porter has been a revelation for Golden State this year, both with his three-point shooting and surprisingly solid defense. He’s also a smart player who is a perfect complement to Steph Curry with his decision-making, he’s shooting 40% from deep, and he has the team’s third-best defensive rating, behind Draymond and GP2. Oh, and he’s on a minimum contract. Porter signed the deal in part to rebuild his value after some injury-plagued seasons, and so far he has succeeded wildly. The Warriors’ only option to keep him is the taxpayer mid-level exception at around $6 million per year. Porter has made a lot of money in his career so far, so it’s possible he’d stick around for that amount, but at age 28, he probably wants to get one more long-term deal - and probably for more than the Warriors can pay him.
Gary Payton II: Payton has been a demon off the bench defensively, easily the biggest Warriors’ surprise of the season. He’s also making outside shots, dunking on 20% of his field goal attempts, and averaging almost 4 steals per 48 minutes - basically emulating his dad and Shawn Kemp in his minutes. The Warriors have Early Bird rights on Young Glove, meaning they can offer him up to 105% of the league’s average salary. This year, that was just over $10 million. So, the team will definitely have room to keep Payton - it only requires them to stomach the extra luxury tax. You’d think he’d be back, but teams have gotten cheap about outstanding defensive guards before (see: Lakers; Alex Caruso).
Damion Lee and Juan Toscano-Anderson: Lee and JTA are both products of the Warriors’ development system, though Lee played briefly for the Atlanta Hawks before landing a two-way with the Dubs. They’re both really useful players to have, despite not being a lock to play in any given game when the team is at full strength. Both can shoot decently from outside, and mainly, they both know how to play in the Warriors system. The Warriors can keep JTA with a small qualifying offer, since he’s restricted, but Lee can go anywhere he wants. Their success also helps the Warriors recruit for the Santa Cruz team:
These guys have worked their way up from obscurity through non-guaranteed deals to get where they are, and if a team offers a multi-year deal they should 100% take it. But if the offers aren’t there, keep in mind that winning the NBA title means a very big playoff bonus. Maybe even enough to cover Bay Area rents! Not to mention all the money Lee saves if he does a nanny share with his brother-in-law. The guess here is they stay for minimum deals, but if they get paid elsewhere, godspeed.
Nemanja Bjelica: Bjelica is 33, and he’s definitely reached the one-year minimum deal phase of his career. He seems like a great fit with this team, even with Wiseman and Jonathan Kuminga emerging to take frontcourt minutes. Bjelica doesn’t have the athleticism of the young guys, but he can hit 40% of his threes in his sleep. (As long as he’s a step behind the line - why is he more accurate shooting from further away?) Honestly, would losing minutes even bother him? Kicking back and playing ten minutes a game sounds like it would be right up Belly’s alley. Earlier this year he said, “I enjoy every single day, because finally I found a spot where I feel comfortable and very happy.” He’s coming back.
Andre Iguodala: It hardly matters that Iguodala doesn’t play back-to-backs anymore, or even games with only one day off. He’s incredibly valuable to the team with their developing young players even when he doesn’t play a single minute. Oh, and he’s still the de facto backup point guard and closing lineup member when he is on the court. They should have a standing offer to renew his contract every single year, aka The Udonis Haslem. We’re sure proximity to the tech industry, IPOs, and weird cryptocurrency scams would make it up to him, not to mention golf outings with Steph Curry - but he’s probably going to retire.
We’re leaving out two-way players Chris Chiozza and Quinndary Weatherspoon, because there’s no guarantee either one finishes this season on the team. But if Weatherspoon is impressive - and not so impressive he lands a regular roster spot - he is still eligible for a two-way contract next year, while Chiozza will have too much NBA experience to qualify.