Sometime between now and Halloween, the Golden State Warriors will exercise their fourth-year options for their pair of 2021 lottery picks, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody. And with that, the two promising youngsters will stay in the Bay Area through the 2024-25 season (barring a trade), with the former collecting $7.6 million and the latter $5.8 million. And then they’ll both enter restricted free agency.
In an ideal world, both Kuminga and Moody would be on the Warriors for the 2025-26 campaign, their fifth seasons in the pros. Because if they’re on the Warriors then, that means that A) they’re good enough that the Dubs want to retain them and B) they retained them. I’m here for both of those things.
But history says that’s not the likeliest scenario. Many lottery picks end up outside of the organization that drafted them by the time Year 5 rolls around. There are many reasons for this: some players get traded; some don’t play well and get cut before their four-year rookie scale contract is up; some are out of the team’s plans by the time they reach free agency; and some play themselves out of the team’s plans by earning the type of contract from an outside suitor that their own team is unwilling to match.
As an example, this is the fifth year for players drafted in 2019. Of the 14 lottery picks, eight are still under contract with the team that drafted them (Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, RJ Barrett, De’Andre Hunter, Coby White, Darius Garland, PJ Washington, and Tyler Herro). Four were traded before their rookie contracts expired (Rui Hachimura, Cameron Johnson, Romeo Langford, and Cam Reddish), one signed with a different team this year in free agency (Jaxson Hayes), and one is out of the league presently (Jarrett Culver). The year before? Also eight players.
So odds say that the Warriors will probably only have one of Kuminga or Moody under contract after their rookie deal expires, even if having both (or none!) remain options. I’ll keep hoping for retaining both, but let’s examine who is most likely to play their fifth NBA season at Chase Center.
The case for Kuminga
There is a central theme that runs through the 16 players from the 2018 and 2019 drafts that stuck around for a fifth year. 2019 had Williamson, Morant, and Garland, who are All-Stars, not to mention Barrett, Hunter, and Herro, who received the type of contracts you give to players you expect to become All-Stars. It’s the same for 2018, which features players like Luka Dončić, Trae Young, Michael Porter Jr., Jaren Jackson Jr., and Deandre Ayton.
Stars usually stick around, and you can bet that if Kuminga or Moody turns into an All-Star caliber player, the Dubs will most likely find a way to keep them, even it means a few years of a large contract overlapping with their current hyper-expensive core (Jordan Poole, however, is a reminder that this isn’t always the case).
I don’t think being an All-Star is the most likely outcome for Kuminga, but I do think it’s well within his spectrum of plausible outcomes, which I’m not sure we can say for Moody. Kuminga has all the pieces of a star in the NBA: he’s ultra athletic and very long; he’s tall enough and strong enough to guard bigs but quick enough and agile enough to defend guards; he’s a monster in transition; he has good court vision; he has a smooth jump shot; he has handles and passing ability; and he’s shown the ability to be a terror on the glass.
Will it all come together? We’ll see. For most players it doesn’t. Kuminga will need to improve his decision-making and dedication to defense and rebounding, and polish some skills.
That skillset also makes Kuminga a little less replaceable than Moody. He can do things that few NBA players can, even if he hasn’t figured out the total package yet. That could become increasingly important as Draymond Green gets older, and needs more load management. He’s a harder mold of player to find on a veteran minimum in free agency.
I anticipate that Kuminga will benefit massively from Chris Paul’s arrival this year, and the result could be a player the Dubs are simply unwilling to envision a future without.
The case for Moody
While Kuminga certainly has the higher ceiling, Moody has the higher floor. He’s the better player right now, he ended the season in the rotation — which Kuminga did not — and he fairly clearly fits the system better at the moment.
There are still two years before free agency, during which time we’ll see if Kuminga’s ceiling becomes more realistic, or if Moody’s floor rises even higher, and that will tell us a lot. But I’m guessing the Dubs are more optimistic about Moody being a contributor for the organization, and that means a whole bunch.
There’s also the element of even making it to free agency. It seems far more likely that Kuminga is traded in the next two years than that Moody is. He’s owed more money, he’s more likely to get a nice return from a team banking on his upside, and he’s already teased the idea of outright asking for a trade.
And while Moody may emerge as an excellent player by the time his free agency approaches, it will probably be an excellent player that’s reasonably-priced, as the top end of the three-and-D market usually settles into the $12-18 million/year range.
Two players with a lot of similarities, and a lot of differences. It will be fascinating to see how it plays out.
Who is more likely to be on the Warriors in 2025-26?
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