The Golden State Warriors are failing and falling, and they’re failing and falling hard. Their 17-20 record is disappointing, but it belies the reality of how bad things really are. They just wrapped up a seven-game home stand in which they won just two games by a combined 10 points. One of those wins was a nail-biter against the worst team in the NBA. Four of their five losses were by double digits. They suffered what was, at the time, their worst loss of the season on Sunday, after which Steve Kerr said they wouldn’t get embarrassed like that again; they got embarrassed even worse their next time out.
Chris Paul is injured. Gary Payton II is injured. Draymond Green has yet to return to the court. Nothing seems to work.
The breaking point appeared Wednesday, after a humiliating 141-105 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. The outcome — and the second-straight game featuring Chase Center boo birds — was bad enough. But Steph Curry’s postgame comments were what really guaranteed that things are going to change at 1 Warriors Way in the coming weeks.
Curry, not generally one to publicly criticize the team or show displeasure, all but begged his new boss Mike Dunleavy Jr. to slam a few Red Bulls and go crazy ahead of the February 8 trade deadline.
"We have a standard that's pretty evident that if things stay the same, that's the definition of insanity, right? Keep doing the same thing expecting a different result."— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) January 11, 2024
Steph on major decisions the front office might make witht the trade deadline looming pic.twitter.com/XfK6Q7vkoP
The Warriors are not a quick fix team. There is no one adjustment in scheme or playing time that will magically solve things. No one player growing on the job will make them good. No single feasible trade will save the season.
They cannot go to Valvoline, scroll Instagram on their phone for 15 minutes while their oil is changed, ask for the tires to be rotated for good measure, and drive away ready for a championship run. They need to drop the keys off at the mechanic on a Monday, take an Uber home, and familiarize themselves with the public transit system for a few weeks while many alterations and maintenance tasks are performed.
But the most obvious of those tasks is addition by subtraction: trading Andrew Wiggins.
It’s a bit crazy that we’re here. We’re less than two years removed from Wiggins, still just 28 years old, being named an All-Star Starter. We’re only a year-and-a-half removed from Wiggins playing historically great defense on Jayson Tatum in the NBA Finals, operating as the team’s second-best player for a six-game series that brought another trophy to the Bay Area.
Even I — someone frequently castigated by my readers for being much lower on Wiggins than the average bear — is utterly shocked and at a loss for any sort of explanation.
But the numbers paint a picture of a player who, while certainly not single-handedly sinking the Warriors, would make them instantly better simply by the removal of his presence. The basic numbers are not good, but not terribly far off his career averages: per 36 minutes, Wiggins is averaging 16.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks, and 2.1 turnovers.
The shooting percentages tell an even worse story: Wiggins is shooting 46.8% on two-pointers, the third-lowest mark of his career. He’s shooting 29.8% on threes, which is the worst he’s ever shot. Tally those numbers up with his shot selection and timidity drawing fouls, and Wiggins sits at a 49.4% true-shooting percentage; among 199 players with enough minutes to qualify, that mark is 194th, ahead of only two rookies, two second-year players, and a 22-year old fourth-year player.
If you prefer advanced statistics, it’s just as ugly: per EPM, viewed by many as the best catch-all statistic in the NBA, Wiggins ranks 403rd out of 441 players this season. He sits in the 22nd percentile offensively, and just the sixth percentile defensively.
All of that, however, pales in comparison to the clear negative impact he has for the Warriors when on the court. You don’t need numbers to show that, but I’ve got the receipts just in case.
When Wiggins has been on the court this year, the Warriors have been outscored by 179 points. The next-lowest number? Kevon Looney’s -67. Wiggins has a worse plus/minus this year than the next three Warriors combined.
That number is doubly troublesome when you account for the hottest topic in Warriorsland these days: the unplayable combination of Wiggins and Jonathan Kuminga. It’s difficult to properly state just how bad that pairing has been this year. Their net rating of -23.7 is nearly twice as bad as the worst team in the NBA, the Detroit Pistons. They’ve shared the court for 149 minutes and been outscored 412-326. The only two-player pairing on the team that’s played at least 30 minutes and been worse is the combo of Wiggins and Cory Joseph, who have been outscored by a laughable and humiliating 115-72 margin in just 36 minutes of action.
The Wiggins and Kuminga pairing has been so bad that even Steve Kerr has publicly denounced it, calling the two “redundant.” Personally, that feels like a bit of a copout (I support copouts from coaches though, if it means not trashing their players to the media). With the exception of centers and deeply flawed players, redundancy is only a bad thing on the basketball court if the players aren’t good. Kuminga has removed stagnancy from his offensive game, and turned into a dynamic and versatile defender; no one should be negatively redundant with JK’s skillset. Kuminga’s inefficient three-point shot this year keeps him from being a dynamic pairing with fellow players who aren’t weapons from deep, but the Warriors have done just fine when the youngster is paired with a limited outside weapon in Payton, or non-shooters in Kevon Looney and Trayce Jackson-Davis, the latter of which has been one of their best two-man lineups this year.
So when Kerr calls the pairing “redundant,” it really seems to be a quiet admission that Wiggins is simply not playing well ... and that looks even worse when sharing the court with someone showing all the signs of taking his job.
If the Warriors believe that Wiggins and Kuminga cannot share the court, then one of them needs to be traded. Kuminga’s recent play and potential warrant 30-plus minutes a night; so too, does Wiggins’ contract.
Which brings us to the question at hand: does Wiggins have enough trade value that the Warriors can actually get rid of his contract?
He’s in the first year of a four-year, $109 million deal. Given everything I’ve written over the last 1,000 words, it’s safe to say that the league views his contract as a liability, not an asset.
Of course, bad contracts are always tradable, presuming another bad contract is going the other way. Wiggins was viewed as having one of the worst contracts in the league when the Warriors acquired him (plus, ironically, the pick that became Kuminga) in exchange for a bad contract of their own, D’Angelo Russell. For a while, the past-their-prime max-contract triumvirate of Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, and John Wall were all deemed untradable, until the former was traded, at separate times, for each of the latter ... and later for Russell, just for good measure (so to come full circle, the Warriors should trade Wiggins for Westbrook, right?).
But would the Warriors want another contract that’s viewed as a liability? It admittedly worked well for them when they swapped Russell for Wiggins (and, despite how this season has gone, I still think trading Jordan Poole for Paul was a good move), but is getting off of Wiggins’ contract actually worth adding four-and-a-half years of Jerami Grant, or one-and-a-half of Ben Simmons?
The most likely scenario is that the Warriors would need to attach an appealing young player to Wiggins — and maybe a future first-round pick as well — to sweeten the pot. Ironically, the young player with the most trade value, far and away, is ... you guessed it ... Kuminga.
If a team is to take a chance on Wiggins’ contract, it would likely be a low or mid-market team that is unlikely to be able to entice an All-Star caliber player in free agency. On Thursday’s episode of the Yahoo Sports NBA: Ball Don’t Lie podcast, Jake Fischer stated that the Indiana Pacers have shown interest in both Wiggins and, less surprisingly, Kuminga. Were Wiggins playing even moderately better, you could see the Toronto Raptors wanting to bring him back to his home country as part of a package to give the Warriors Pascal Siakam, who will be a free agent this summer; but that feels like a pipe dream now.
It’s worth wondering how the league actually views Wiggins. When he excelled for the Dubs during their championship run, the general sentiment was that playing for a good, functional, and stable team was all that was needed to unlock the skills that made him a No. 1 overall pick.
We all know what has happened since then. Setting aside the not-entirely-disclosed personal reasons that kept Wiggins off the court for a few months last year, he’s seen the Warriors lose almost all of their chemistry and roughly half of their games. He’s watched as Poole — the teammate that Wiggins seemingly had the closest relationship to — was punched in the face by a teammate, while the organization barely reprimanded said teammate, and then shipped Poole off for his troubles.
Is that an excuse for Wiggins’ unwatchable play this year? Not at all. But if a team whose locker room has a sunnier disposition believes that’s the explanation for why Wiggins has faded from an All-Star to one of the worst players in the league, you could see why they’d be interested in acquiring him.
As much as we know that Curry and Kerr want to keep veterans together, it’s pretty apparent that the team is looking to trade Wiggins. He’s playing few enough minutes to suggest the team is moving on from any hopes that he’ll rekindle his 2022 skills, but playing enough minutes to make one thing he’s auditioning for other teams. The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami, who is usually fairly well connected on these matters, wrote on Thursday that it would “probably be an upset” if Wiggins remained on the team beyond the trade deadline.
The question then becomes, will the Warriors look to improve their roster with the return from a Wiggins trade? Or will they simply look to subtract his contract, and worry about making improvements elsewhere? They could, at some level, do both if they’re able to make a trade package appealing enough that they get a good player on an expiring contract, which would give them a chance to try and compete this year, while giving them the fiscal flexibility of getting off of that massive contract space when the offseason rolls around.
Golden State can almost surely trade Wiggins. It will just be a matter of what kind of trade they want to make. And given how many things are wrong with the team right now, it’s hard to imagine they have much confidence that any one move will fix what ails them.