When free agency first started approaching, the general report around the Golden State Warriors camp was that they would try to re-sign just about all of their free agents. They had the roster space to sign six of their seven impending free agents, and with Andre Iguodala expected to retire, it seemed likely that the Dubs would try and retain everyone else, and run it back next year.
It was obvious that the team would want to retain Kevon Looney, Otto Porter Jr., and Gary Payton II. But it was not as obvious that they desired a reunion with Damion Lee and Juan Toscano-Anderson. But apparently they did.
It made sense. JTA and Lee are respected and loved in the locker room. They understand and know how to play in the system. They proved this year that they have the attitude to handle the sporadic minutes that come with being a back-of-the-bench player on a team that doesn’t hand out minutes to everyone.
And then free agency started, and the first domino that fell was Toscano-Anderson signing with the Los Angeles Lakers. And after Porter and Payton left for more lucrative pastures, Lee followed suit, and signed with the Phoenix Suns.
So what gives?
There are a few possible reasons.
It could be that the Warriors forfeited their interest once they realized that Payton and Porter would not be returning. JTA and Lee are fairly perfect back-of-the-bench players, but they lose some of their shine when forced into a front or middle-of-the-bench role. After losing two bench superstars in Payton and Porter, the Warriors perhaps wanted to shift their attention to higher-level bench players.
Of course, they still need to fill out the back of the bench, even if they add another high-quality role player (or two). But it’s always easier to roster build from the top down, rather than the other way around. It helps you keep your options open for the best possible players.
It also could be that Lee and Toscano-Anderson wanted to leave. Both seemed to love their time in the Bay — JTA grew up in Oakland, and Lee spent four years with the Dubs, and is related to Steph Curry — but it’s not hard to find reasons they might want to play elsewhere.
Assuming they didn’t get more financially delightful contracts than the minimum, JTA and Lee might have felt there were more minutes waiting for them on other teams. Both received a healthy dose of DNPs this season and, despite being healthy the bulk of the year, Toscano-Anderson was just 11th on the team in minutes played.
Neither the Lakers nor the Suns are lacking in talent, but both could use depth at JTA and Lee’s positions, and perhaps there are more minutes waiting there.
And finally, it could have just been timing. Lee and JTA are pretty clearly NBA-caliber players, but there are still some of those that go unsigned each year. They got guaranteed contracts from competitive and high-profile teams, and those are hard to say no to. Perhaps the Warriors wanted more time to assess the free agency market, and that Lee and Toscano-Anderson didn’t want to wait and get stuck signing with lottery-bound teams, or worse yet, on the outside of the league looking in. Sometimes things just don’t quite work out.
Whatever the reason, JTA and Lee are gone. The former heads to a star-studded (but somewhat dysfunctional) organization, and a fanbase that will adore him. The latter heads to a championship contender that just led the league in wins.
Are the Warriors fine with that, or did they lose two players they genuinely wanted to bring back? We may never know.