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June gloom mailbag

The latest Warriors questions.

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Steph Curry, Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole, Kevon Looney, and Donte DiVincenzo walking off the court Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

We’re officially in the doldrums of the offseason, at a point of the season where Golden State Warriors fans are used to celebrating. So let’s do a mailbag!

Thanks everyone for the great questions, and congrats to the Denver Nuggets on their first championship!

I would assume that Jordan Poole’s value — to the Warriors that is, not on the market — is based more on his fantastic 2021-22 season than his disappointing 2022-23 follow-up. Part of that is because a down year was somewhat explainable: being punched by a teammate clearly impacted him, the entire Warriors team had a funky year, and young players having a brief blip as the league adjusts to them is pretty normal.

But part of it is because the Warriors are evaluating Poole on a lot more than just the games he’s played in over the last two years.

It’s worth noting that Mike Dunleavy Jr. — widely expected to take over as general manager — was a strong advocate for Poole leading up to the 2019 NBA Draft (something The Athletic’s Anthony Slater detailed a bit recently). Dunleavy and Kirk Lacob, who are the two front office top dogs right now, were both important voices in the decision to offer Poole such a large extension.

That was based somewhat on his spectacular third season, to be sure, but it extended beyond that. Even after a disastrous rookie year, the Warriors were high on Poole, both internally and publicly. That was still the case after his second year, where he bridged the gap between his awful rookie season and his breakout third year. And even in a tough fourth season, his minutes never wavered very much.

Does the latest season influence opinions of Poole? Sure, probably a little bit. How could it not? But there’s zero indication that the front office or coaching staff views him as anything less that a supremely talented, vital member of the team’s core. And even though there were a lot of signs that the Warriors might have been annoyed with him this year, it’s still abundantly clear that the veteran leaders also view him as one of the core players on the team.

So I’d say his valuation extends far beyond this year, and far beyond what happens when the games are being played, and I’d say that valuation is still quite strong, and that the team is not actively shopping him.

Well, let me say something that will anger a lot of people. The answer to “who are we hoping signs Chris Paul” should be extremely obvious: the Warriors.

I should note that this almost surely will not happen. For starters, it looks more likely that Paul will stay in Phoenix or be traded than that he’ll actually be waived and sign elsewhere. And even if he did, I would certainly assume it would be for quite a bit more than the minimum that the Warriors can offer.

But if his value isn’t what I think it is — or if he decides that the time has come to sign a ring-chasing deal — yeah, bring it on, Warriors.

Here’s the thing: Paul being “walking bad luck” is for himself, not for teams. He’s had horribly bad luck staying healthy in the playoffs. But if you get chance to sign an All-Star level talent for the minimum, you take it. The Warriors can survive if he gets injured. And his role would be minimized enough that his chances of injury would lessen significantly.

I am fascinated by the thought exercise. What would Paul’s role be? Would he come off the bench in a Poole-esque role, playing near-starters minutes as a creator? Would he be a glorified Andre Iguodala, playing 15 minutes a night as a quarterback and trying to stay fresh for the playoffs? Would the Warriors go super small and start him alongside Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, and Draymond Green? Would they start him and trade Wiggins?

I dunno. It’s interesting though, even if it won’t happen.

Anyway, that serious answer wasn’t what you wanted, so I’ll play the game because it was a good and funny question: it’s absolutely the Los Angeles Clippers. I’d still put the Clippers (if healthy, and that’s a massive “if”) as the second-most dangerous threat to the Warriors in the West, behind the newly-minted champions. Them adding Paul as the missing piece for a second time and failing miserably for a second time would be absolutely hysterical.

I’m not sure it impacts free agency too much. Despite the minor grumblings the Warriors have had over the years, from Jonathan Kuminga to Omri Casspi, having too few minutes to dole out for all your talent is the kind of problem that every GM and coach wants to have. Especially with the Warriors losing the mid-level exception, they’ll be forced to jump on every quality veteran minimum they can land.

That said, I don’t think they’ll feel desperate. I think Moses Moody’s playoff minutes — coupled with Steve Kerr’s comments about him — mean the team is ready to commit to giving him a regular role in the rotation. And while they might not be ready to commit to that with Kuminga, I think they’re optimistic that he’ll grab the backup four spot by the time opening night rolls around.

One other note on the minutes thing: I think we should probably expect the Warriors to load manage pretty heavily next year. I would expect something like 10 games of load management built in for Curry, Green, and Thompson, with five more for Wiggins and Kevon Looney. That may not sound like much, but that right there is about as many minutes as Kuminga played all of last year. Add injuries on top of that, and it’s a reminder as to why depth is important. Even if you can go 12 deep on paper, you’re probably only going 10 deep on any given night.

I’d probably put it around 25%. I don’t expect it to happen, and I don’t think the Warriors are actively shopping him. Prior to — and during — this season, it seemed like the most likely reason to trade Poole would be to shed salary and tax penalties, as the Warriors are currently on pace to blow past the $400 million mark that Joe Lacob said he wouldn’t touch.

But now that seems a little bit less likely. Lacob seems to want to prove to the league and the world that the CBA’s attempts to shut off the Warriors through massive tax penalties and the elimination of key roster-building tools will be futile, and with a lot of salary coming off the books next offseason, looks increasingly willing to pay whatever is necessary to keep the championship contention rolling. In that same Slater article I referenced earlier, he reports that, “Sources indicate that there is no plan for a salary dump trade this summer that’s purely about cutting the bill.”

What does that mean exactly, though? We really don’t know. Will the Warriors dump Poole’s salary if they can find a middle ground where they save some money and still get a good player? Will they just treat Poole like any other player and only be receptive to a trade if it makes the roster better in the immediate future? Will they wait to see what happens with Green, and if he leaves, will they trade Poole, reset some finances, and try to find a new way forward in 2024?

I don’t know. But a lot of things have to happen for Poole to be traded, so I’m still putting it in the “probably doesn’t happen” bucket.

It’s Draymond Green. And I know a lot of Warriors fans will disagree with this, but it’s always been Draymond Green. He was the second-best Warrior on the first championship team and the 73-win team. He was much closer in value to Curry and Kevin Durant for the 2017 and 2018 championships than people give him credit for. He was the second-best player on the team that won a championship in 2022, even if Wiggins had the better Finals. And he was the second-best player this year.

Green is still one of the best defensive players on the planet, a skill that’s doubly important when you consider how much quarterbacking he does. The Warriors defense absolutely falls apart when he doesn’t play — including during the championship season in 2021-22, when the Warriors dropped from an all-world defensive team to a highly mediocre one during Green’s two-month injury absence, despite a fully healthy Wiggins and Looney.

This isn’t hating on Thompson, who’s probably my favorite player in NBA history. But the value that Green has to the Warriors defense, his chemistry with Curry on offense, the way he takes pressure and stress off of Curry by being a playmaker, and the way his brash leadership style (usually) works as a (usually) perfect complement to Curry’s quiet, lead-by-example approach is absolutely irreplaceable. You can add another shooter who can give you 80% of what Klay does. But you can’t find another player who gives you 50% of what Green does.

Kerr said after the season that the Warriors can’t win a championship next year without Draymond. I’m not sure they can even get to the playoffs.

You know ... this doesn’t answer the question, but somewhere deep in my closet I have an old MacBook that’s decrepit and tumorous, as happens when you use computers for way too long. On it I have a screenshot I took while I was illegally streaming a Warriors vs. Lakers preseason game in 2009 or 2010. The Warriors jumped out to an 18-2 lead, or something like that. I took a grainy screenshot to post in the comment section on, you guessed it, Golden State of Mind, as a joke to implore fans to savor the only time we’d ever get to see the Warriors kicking the Lakers’ ass.

Since then the Warriors have gone on to win four championships, stringing together one of the best dynasties in NBA history and one of the best decades in NBA history, with a few of the best teams in NBA history, and one of the best players in NBA history.

It’s shocking how easy it is to adopt arrogance as a fanbase, and it’s equally shocking how quickly that arrogance can cosplay as delusion.

Absolutely. Without a shadow of doubt. I don’t think there’s any question.

That’s not to say they will — every year features multiple teams in each conference that are capable of winning, and go home feeling a letdown — but they absolutely can.

The first piece of evidence is that we’re still only a year removed from them doing exactly that ... and adding a championship, as well. And while the 2024 NBA Finals will take place when Curry, Klay, and Dray are two years older than when they last won one, much of that should be offset by the fact that they’ll enter the 2023-24 season with substantially more rest than they had for 2022-23. And, you know, presumably fewer preseason punches.

The second piece of evidence is how the Warriors closed the season. Yes, I know they left a sour taste in our mouth when they lost in the second round. But over the second half of the season — not post All-Star break, but the final 41 games — the Warriors had the best garbage time adjusted net rating in the Western Conference by a sizable margin. They outscored their opponents by 1.5 more points per 100 possessions than the team that just raised a banner. And they did it all with Wiggins playing just 13 of those 41 games (and Gary Payton II playing just seven).

The Warriors have issues they need to address. They need to regain their joy and chemistry, and can’t assume that a punchless season will fully restore order. They need to figure out what the hell was happening on the road last year. And they need to figure out their bench rotations.

But if the question is “is their core still capable of making the Finals?” then the answer is an unequivocal “yes.” We just saw it. Don’t mistake a lack of a happy ending for a lack of capability.

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