NBA Offseason Guide: Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors dynasty was supposed to have finished after their devastating loss to Toronto in the 2019 NBA Finals. Yet, like the villain in a slasher flick, these Dubs just won’t die.
For the fourth time in eight years, the Warriors are NBA champions. This time around, they’ve overcome so much. An ageing and injury prone core; a 15-win 2020 season; a heartbreaking play-in loss in 2021; Kevin Durant’s defection; Klay Thompson’s legs practically falling off.
This is without a doubt the sweetest of their four rings.
Let’s examine what the Warriors can do to stay atop the NBA mountain in 2023.
Golden State’s ownership group, led by the controversial Joe Lacob, has never hidden their ambition of creating a Spurs-esque 20 year run of contention.
To that end, they have managed to balance a veteran laden roster with some intriguing young talent. The consequence of that, though, is a roster that is almost alarmingly top heavy.
Jordan Poole, Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody and the ghost of James Wiseman form the core of the next great Warriors team, or at least it’s hoped. Poole is the eldest of that quartet at just 22. Wiseman aside – though he has serious pedigree coupled with horrible luck – all have shown flashes in their early careers.
Poole in particular has impressed, averaging 18.5 points and four assists a game this season. He’s already an incredible shot maker who is improving his ability to create for others. He’s also one of the worst defensive players in all of basketball. He’s picked up a lot on the offensive end from his mentorship with Stephen Curry. Hopefully he picks up some of Curry’s nouse and resilience on defense, too.
Enough of burying the lede, though. When you think of the Golden State Warriors you instantly think of their veteran core, led by the inimitable Wardell Stephen Curry II.
Steph finally got his Finals MVP with a devastating series performance, averaging 31.2 points per game and, when required, carrying the Warriors to key victories. His performance in game four in Boston was a genuine masterpiece.
It’s telling that one of the first people that Thompson went to after the buzzer sounded to end game six was the physical therapist that had worked so closely with him over the past two years. After suffering a torn ACL and a blown Achilles practically a year apart, missing almost 30 months of basketball as a result, it’s understandable that Klay wasn’t the same player that he was. Now aged 32, Klay still put up 20 points a game, but his shooting efficiency was noticeably down, as was his defensive impact. He’s still pretty good, mind you. How he plays next season will be fascinating.
Draymond Green looked spry all season after effectively going at 50% when the Warriors were in their down years. His defensive performance against Nikola Jokic in their first-round match-up against Denver was spectacular. In these Finals he, frankly, struggled before putting a brilliant display in the close out game.
We’ve talked about the youth; we’ve talked about the veterans. There are a pair of Warriors – one more heralded than the other – that bridge the generation gap and have proven vital in the Warriors resurgence: Andrew Wiggins and Kevon Looney.
Wiggins has finally found his niche as an elite complimentary player after a career miscast as a first option. If you want a case study on how time and space improve you as a shooter, look no further than Wiggins. A 33.2% three-point shooter through his Timberwolves days, he’s a full five percent more accurate – including a career high 39.3% this season – in his time as a Warrior. There was a brief (and ridiculous) clamour for Wiggins to take home the Finals MVP. He was never going to win it, though he was a huge part of this championship.
Looney won’t get the same headlines, though he’s quietly just as vital to Golden State’s success. Looking at a box score will never do Looney justice. He is a tough interior battler with vices for hands and his ability to hang on the perimeter with many quicker guards and wings allows the Dubs to move their weaker defenders out of harm’s way. He’s also willing to do the dirty work to free up his shooters and allow Green to be a roving menace on defense.
Behind those big names are some lovely stories. Wilt Chamberlain’s illegitimate grandson (just kidding…sort of) Otto Porter finally found a home in Golden State. Gary Payton II finally found a place in the NBA after years of toiling in lower leagues. At one stage he applied for a job on the Warriors coaching staff. Now he’s an NBA champ.
Almost by definition a championship winning side doesn’t need a whole lot. That means this will be a fairly short section.
The Warriors veterans are all stars or at the least stars in their roles. The youngsters are all oozing with potential. The guys in their primes are fantastic at what they do.
If there is anything that the team needs it’s probably more veteran depth, though the continued emergence of Golden State’s younger players – and some modicum of health for Wiseman – should help alleviate that concern.
Perhaps the Warriors biggest issues will come through their extensions and who they can and can’t retain.
Which leads us seamlessly into…
The Cap Sheet
The wonderful NBA writer and podcaster Danny Leroux is fond of saying that ownership is the biggest competitive advantage in the NBA. He’s not wrong.
For all of Lacob’s insufferable soundbites, he has proven more than willing to spend whatever is required to field a championship team.
Golden State this season splashed out a record – by a long, long way – $350 million on payroll and taxes. To put that in perspective, it’s more that what Oklahoma City, Orlando and Memphis paid for their rosters, combined. That number is expected to rise beyond $400 million for the 2023 season.
The fact that the Warriors – as things stand, only have six players under contract at $158 million is ludicrous. Both Wiseman and Poole have team options – Wiseman’s a certainty to be picked up – that bring the total to $171 million.
Poole, though, is extension eligible. He exploded this season, averaging over 20 points a game as a starter prior to Thompson’s return. His shooting gets a lot of attention, but he’s actually extremely effective going to the basket where his nimble footwork and ability to change pace creates the tiny openings that he thrives upon. The Warriors could defer his extension to next season knowing that he’ll be a restricted free agent, but the threat of losing him without the ability to replace given their payroll issues probably pushes the Dubs to extend him this offseason. Look for something in the ballpark of $22 million a season for him.
Likewise, Wiggins is extension eligible as he will be in the final year of his deal this season. He won’t get anything like the $33 million he’ll pick up in 2023, though he’ll still get a hefty chunk of cash. Wiggins will likely receive an offer somewhere north of $25 million a year, but well short of the $30 million threshold.
The Warriors also have calls to make on Looney, Payton and Porter.
Payton and Porter could both conceivably sign for a figure close to the taxpayer mid-level exception – something in the $5-7 million range. Looney, though, could get close to $10 million. How the Warriors approach Looney’s extension could give us some clues as to how they’re feeling about Wiseman’s health and development.
Of their other notable players, Nemanja Bjelica and Juan Toscano-Anderson are minimum contract candidates, whilst it’s highly likely that Andre Iguodala hangs up his sneakers.
In addition to a pair of late second rounders, Golden State hold their own first round pick.
At the 28th spot, Wake Forest’s Jake LaRavia makes so much sense. He’s a heady player who can potentially plug in and play right away, though it’s worth noting that rookies often struggle in the Warriors intricate offensive system.
LaRavia is an ace shooter at the power forward spot and has the potential to mix it up on defense. A few seasons spent learning at the feet of Draymond Green will only help his development.
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