Exactly one week after the champagne bottles were popped, the Dubs were back at it, selecting three players in the 2022 NBA Draft. And exactly one week after that, this coming Thursday, the Warriors, like the NBA’s other 29 teams, will open their doors (and checkbooks) and begin free agency.
Thus begins the quest to construct yet another championship roster.
And I’m left with one big question. One that every other team would love to have: should the Dubs just run it back?
Of the 15 players that the Warriors had on the roster last year (not counting two-way contracts Chris Chiozza and Quinndary Weatherspoon), eight remain under contract for 2022-23: Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, and James Wiseman.
That means seven players are free agents. Let’s list them all in a row, for dramatic impact:
- Nemanja Bjelica
- Andre Iguodala
- Damion Lee
- Kevon Looney
- Gary Payton II
- Otto Porter Jr.
- Juan Toscano-Anderson
Unlike in some years, the Warriors might be able to afford each player individually. Iguodala, Lee, and JTA will get the minimum, and Bjelica likely will, too. The Warriors have Looney’s Bird Rights, and will likely pay whatever he commands to keep him around. They have GPII’s Early Bird Rights, which should be enough to retain him. Porter will be the hardest, but between having the taxpayer mid-level exception, and Porter having recurring injury issues this season, a reunion is feasible.
But even though the Warriors could potentially retain all seven from a financial standpoint, they can’t from a roster standpoint. The addition of some rookies means the team needs to clear space.
Patrick Baldwin Jr. will be joining the roster, but you can easily make room for him by assuming that Iguodala retires (not a sure thing, but it certainly seems to be trending in that direction ... so let’s run with it for the purpose of this article). The Warriors only have one other rookie who will be on the team this year (Gui Santos will be a draft-and-stash player) — Ryan Rollins, the No. 44 pick.
The Dubs could solve some roster issues by signing Rollins to a two-way contract, but Bob Myers said on draft day that the plan was to have him on the 15-man roster. If so, that means a second player from the list of seven needs to be dumped, barring a trade.
But if they did sign Rollins to a two-way, and if Iguodala did retire, the Warriors could simply run back the same roster as they had last year, substituting Baldwin for Iguodala, and welcoming a healthy Wiseman with open arms.
Is it a good plan?
Well, yeah. It sure as hell is.
There’s no denying that Porter, Payton, and Looney are plus players who played a huge role in the championship, and that the Warriors will prioritize bringing back.
JTA and Lee drew some ire from the occasionally-entitled fanbase this season, so I’m here to let you know this: you’re not gonna do better than these two for your 12th and 13th men on the bench. A back-of-the-bench player who is selfless enough to accept their role, talented enough to step in when there’s an injury and play smart basketball, and beloved by their teammates and coaching staff is a very rare and valuable thing indeed.
If those two were being brought back to be the sixth and seventh men, that would be problematic. But they’re not. So they’re a great option to fill out the back of the roster with.
Which leaves just one name: Bjelica. He’s a slightly tricky case. He looked like the find of the century for the first few weeks of the season, then fell out of favor on the roster for a few months, only to have some essential moments in the playoffs, notably when playing shockingly good defense against Jayson Tatum in the NBA Finals.
Perhaps he’d prefer a situation where he gets more consistent playing time, but I’m guessing the Warriors would love to have him back in the role he nestled into at the end of the year: as one of the first players off the bench in certain matchups, and a back-of-the-bench role in others.
The Dubs know Bjelica can play that role, and that goes a long way. We’ve seen many times over the last decade how many players are unwilling to remain committed to the team and the system when their minutes become unreliable.
So yeah. If the Dubs can run it back, they should. ‘Tis the season for dreaming of free agents, but for a team with minimal financial flexibility, and an offensive system that has proven to not be for everyone, I can think of no better option than running it right back.
They just might be champions once more.