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Postmortem mailbag, Part 2

Answering all your Warriors questions.

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Jonathan Kuminga standing during a game Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

A few days ago I took your great questions on the Golden State Warriors, now that the season is over. There were so many that I had to split it into two parts. Now it’s time for Part 2!

Thanks for the great questions, everyone.

If this question looks familiar, it’s because I included it in the first mailbag, and had a long response about Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, and how they won’t be traded.

But someone kindly pointed out that I forgot to answer the final question!

So here it is: no, the Warriors didn’t get anything from their protest of the Gary Payton II trade. The Warriors rescinded the protest in March, right as Payton was preparing to return. If Payton had not played this year I’m guessing the Warriors would have continued with the protest, if for no other reason than optics.

We’ll learn a lot about whether or not Jonathan Kuminga has a future with the Warriors in the coming two months or so. The day the season ended, The Athletic’s Anthony Slater and Shams Charania reported this:

The Warriors and Kuminga’s representatives are expected to discuss his future this offseason, league sources say. Golden State will need to decide whether Kuminga will receive a full-time role moving forward, and, if not, league sources say the No. 7 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft will want to be somewhere he can play more.

It’s worth noting that Kuminga doesn’t have a lot of leverage here. While there will be plenty of teams excited to trade for him, he’s an unproven raw prospect, and he’s under contract for the next two years. And after those two years, he’ll be a restricted free agent. In other words, Kuminga’s only way off the Warriors — if they don’t trade him — is to play two more years, and then hope that someone signs him to such a massive offer sheet that the Warriors don’t match it.

So while they can request a trade, they sure as heck can’t force one. It’s not like when Anthony Davis and Paul George forced trades because they were approaching free agency and had the leverage of not re-signing.

That detour aside, I do think Kuminga still has a future with this team, and I think he has a very bright one, too. I think his ceiling is as a multiple-time All-Star. That doesn’t mean he or the coaching staff will have failed if he doesn’t get there, but I do think it’s well within the range of plausible outcomes.

Over the weekend, Steve Kerr laid out the path for Kuminga to improve and grow into a staple of the rotation. Kerr noted that “the minutes are there for him to take at the backup four next year,” adding that he needs to rebound more and get out in transition more. Those would seem to be things he’s capable of.

Long-term, his future is kind of simple: keep getting better at everything. He has all the tools. He has the size, speed, strength, length, athleticism, and talent to be a dynamic defender, both off-ball and 1-4 on-ball. He can be an elite cutter and transition scorer, and has the touch to keep shooting well.

He needs the game to slow down still, as he often gets tunnel vision, which is a death sentence in the Warriors offense. He still relies on his athleticism way too much.

But those are expected bumps in the road. For some Kuminga perspective: there were 44 NBA players last year aged 20 or younger. Kuminga finished 13th among those players in minutes played this year, and only one of the 12 players with more minutes than he had played for a playoff team. That player, the Atlanta Hawks AJ Griffin (who didn’t play in the playoffs either), only played more minutes than Kuminga due to the injuries that JK sustained.

Even more encouraging, only one of the 12 players with more minutes than Kuminga ranked more highly than he did, per EPM (Alperen Şengün).

Kuminga is not an impact player just yet, but he’s close enough that it could click at any point. Maybe a hard-working offseason gets him there. Maybe training camp does. Maybe some in-season practices do, as Kerr pointed out was the case with Moses Moody. Either way, I’d guess he has a pretty sizable role next year. He knows what he needs to work on to get there, and it’s stuff he can do.

Maybe the Warriors don’t think he’ll have a big role, and trade him out of respect, honoring his desires. Maybe the Warriors aren’t very high on him, and trade him to shed salary. But he has all the tools, and a cursory glance at social media suggests he’s very popular with his teammates.

So yes. I think he has a future with the Warriors, and I think it will likely be fairly bright.

But one really never knows in the wild wild west that is the NBA.

If I had the answer to that I’d be cashing big checks as a Warriors assistant coach instead of writing about them!

Jokes aside, there are a lot of reasons. Occam’s razor tells us to start with chemistry. Kerr and Draymond Green both pointed to the training camp incident where Green punched Jordan Poole. Not surprisingly, that altered the chemistry and trust on the team and, as Green noted, meant he had to hit the pause button on his usual leadership role.

It explains a lot of their issues. A lack of cohesion and chemistry is a lot harder to overcome on the road, when you’re disrupted from your rhythm, spending more time with each other, getting less sleep, and don’t have a home crowd to rally you. A lack of trust leads to a lot of blown leads, as players start trying to win games themselves, instead of as a team. And so and so forth.

The beat reporters covering the team have pointed to a bit of a disconnect between the young players and the veterans, and the Dubs didn’t have the bridge between those generations this year. Last year they had Gary Payton II and Juan Toscano-Anderson, players who were old and disciplined enough to be beloved and trusted by the vets, but young and inexperienced enough to be close with the youngsters. Andre Iguodala, who is seemingly the best friend of every veteran and the older brother of every young player, barely played this year, which made his role and voice smaller.

They also lacked the established veteran glue guys that they had last year, like Otto Porter Jr., Nemanja Bjelica, Damion Lee, and Payton. Those guys helped stabilize the games when things went wrong, but they also stabilized the locker room, and made the rotations more consistent.

So yeah. A lot of things. Many of which seem fixable.

Let’s start with the obvious: adding OG Anunoby would be huge (and also not very easy at all to do given the fiscal machinations required). There’s a reason the Warriors were reportedly trying very hard to add him at the deadline, and why many analysts suggested they do whatever was necessary to land him.

The starting lineup does become an issue. I think the smoothest way to deal with it is to put either Anunoby or Andrew Wiggins in a sixth man role, and just play them starter minutes.

I don’t think they’d be too small with Dray at the five, because they almost always do well at exploiting larger lineups. But I also don’t think Kerr has any interest in regularly starting Green at center in the regular season, as it’s a good way to wear him down. And Kevon Looney’s excellent play has made it easier to make that decision.

Some fans will call for Klay Thompson to be benched but I don’t think that’s a good idea (also one that Kerr has already shut down). The Warriors were much better defensively in the playoffs than offensively. Kerr recently noted that the team needs to improve its offense more than it needs to improve its defense, and he’s not wrong. Removing their second-best shooter — don’t let the bad playoffs make you forget that Klay shot 41.2% from deep this year — is not the way to address that.

Another possibility: if the Warriors somehow got Anunoby, then maybe they consider trading Wiggins. It’s one way for the Warriors to try and split the difference between running it back and saving some money ... Anunoby is owed nearly $6 million less than Wiggins next year, which is tens and tens of millions of dollars in tax penalties. He also profiles as a very similar player to Wiggins. He can’t initiate the offense quite as much (so Poole would need a bounce back season), but he’s a much better defensive player.

As for fitting in playing time for Kuminga ... there are minutes there. If he can prove to be disciplined and rebound reliably, he’ll play.

Oh yeah. Klay has always been a streaky shooter. I looked at his second year in the pros, just to see what it looked like, and check out his three-point shooting percentage by month:

November: 29.3%
December: 44.8%
January: 40.2%
February: 32.1%
March: 44.4%
April: 47.5%

I’ll say something bold: if he’s on the team in 2023-24, I think Poole wins Sixth Man of the Year.

I could also see Kuminga winning it the next year if he takes a leap. He could be the type of do-everything player that plays 30 minutes a night but doesn’t start, like a younger Iguodala.

Yes, I think it is sensible to keep Dray and JP together.

Time may not heal all wounds, but it gets close. There was a noticeable difference in their relationship by the time the season ended. It’s unrealistic to expect it to ever get to what it was pre-punch, when Poole would refer to Green as a big brother, but there was a notable shift. Their chemistry was better on the court, their interactions were more frequent on the bench, and they were more willing to openly talk about the subject.

By the time they meet for training camp next year, a year will have passed. Draymond taking accountability publicly will have helped. Poole having an offseason to relax and clear his head will have helped. The contract situations presumably not lingering over their heads will help. Being united in a collective goal to return to glory instead of riding the high of a championship — which, let’s face it, breeds entitlement — helps. Whatever sort of team-building and bonding activities Curry initiates in the late offseason will help.

I expect that by next year it will be a small enough thing that it shouldn’t be a factor at all when considering roster construction.

As for a landing spot for Poole, you can line up the 10 or so lottery teams that have ample cap space and throw a dart. Most of them will want him should the Dubs make him available.

Both, I think. I don’t think the Warriors would consider trading Poole if it were for anything other than a salary dump. The entire reason to trade Poole is to get to a manageable tax bill.

The organization is still really high on him — the front office, coaching staff, and his teammates. If they decide they can’t foot the bill, they’ll trade him, but I think that’s the only reason they would.

So they won’t be looking to get back a star player, because that won’t save money. But I still think they can get some interesting pieces, either young players on rookie contracts, veterans on low-cost deals, or draft picks.

If this were a year ago, maybe. I could see Naz Reid signing for the mid-level exception. But with the new CBA starting, the Warriors no longer have that vital tool for roster building. Instead, they’re limited to veteran minimum contracts, and I think Reid has firmly played himself out of that tax bracket.

First, some transparency: I don’t have sources like a beat reporter. I occasionally talk off the record with people who know things, but most of what I know comes from reading the excellent work of the Warriors beat reporters, and having been around them (and in the industry) long enough that I can decode some of what they’re saying and reporting.

I think the Warriors are pretty high on Patrick Baldwin Jr. long-term, as am I. He has the tools they covet, and seems to have a selfless attitude, a lot of hustle, a good work ethic, and an eye for the game.

The question is how soon he can get there, and how patient the Warriors can be. It’s clear after this last season that they want to get older and more experienced. Maybe that just comes from natural growth by Kuminga, Moody, and Poole. Maybe it means parting with some young players like Baldwin who might not yet be ready to contribute.

Either way, I think both the Warriors and myself view Baldwin as a quality player down the road. Can next year be down the road? I don’t think the Warriors are banking on that, but I don’t think they’d be surprised by it, either.

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