The Golden State Warriors have one hell of a parachute.
After five consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, the Dubs’ 2019-20 season ended in an injury-plagued free fall into the league’s abyss, only to land into the offseason rather smoothly.
In addition to a healthy Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson returning to the lineup and a refreshed and refocused Draymond Green, the Warriors will begin the next NBA season with a castaway 20 points per game ‘bucket’ in Andrew Wiggins. They will also have a top-five lottery pick and a $17.2 million mid-level exemption.
There are worse predicaments to be in after such a disastrous season. You can even argue that the Warriors fell upwards.
However, Warriors GM Bob Meyers still must play it smart in how he re-constructs the roster for next season and the immediate future.
The league shutdown has affected how the Warriors would spend and even how they vet prospects. They were already working with little salary cap space, and now there may be even less of it to go around as the league assesses the financial wreckage caused by the COVID-19 shutdown and subsequent U.S. recession.
Plus, there is still little information about what to expect in those key areas. Not exactly a comfortable way to re-build, but here are ways that the Warriors can control what’s in front of them and thrive in such a challenging, uncertain and pivotal offseason.
Dodging the Luxury Tax (or not)
Golden State managed to avoid luxury tax and repeater penalties this season. They did so by executing a series of roster moves before and after the trading deadline—saving $40 million in the process.
They traded Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks to the Philadelphia 76ers. They traded D’Angelo Russell and Omari Spellman to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Andrew Wiggins. They also released Marquese Chriss, only to re-sign him after clearing waivers.
Here’s the challenge. The NBA Player’s Association and the league determine the salary cap each season based on projected revenue for the next. Recent estimates had the cap as a projected $115 million before the shutdown, dropping between an estimated $4 million to $15 million.
Despite the league resuming play in late July helping to stop the revenue/salary cap bleeding, it could still plummet for the Warriors and other luxury tax teams enough to seriously affect how they spend. Potentially, the Warriors could end up paying $10 to $15 million more in taxes than it would have on the exact same roster.
According to the Athletic’s John Hollinger, the Warriors could actually wind up spending $135 million in luxury tax.
So what could they do? They could try to avoid the high tax bill by trading their draft pick and/or not using the mid-level exception, or simply by acquiring even cheaper players to fill out the roster.
But here’s the thing: Warriors owner Joe Lacob has previously been willing to take the hit if it means putting a contender on the floor. Championships cost, and it’s been a price that he’s willing to pay. It’s also a price that he and the Warriors cannot avoid paying.
The logic here is that paying the luxury tax is inevitable, and the issue here is how far the Warriors are willing to go to win. The reality is the core players are 32 (Curry) and 30 (Thompson, Green), and the team may only have about a four-year window left to win another championship.
So why not gladly take the hit in order to further capitalize on the prime of these core players? Especially when every other team in the league will be dealing with tougher salary cap implications of their own?
Regardless of whatever maneuvering they do, the Warriors will have to pay plenty of luxury tax. We’re really just talking about the degree to which they spend.
So it’s pointless to acquire cheaper players that may or may not work out only to duck paying a few million dollars. In basketball as in life, you get what you pay for. If the Warriors are in ‘win now’ mode, they must use that mid-level exception on one quality player and maneuver the cap only to avoid paying more than their limits.
Draft Pick Options
The Warriors will have a top-five lottery pick for the first time in 18 years. (That feels really good to say on a number of different levels, right Dubs fans?) This pick is pivotal for Golden State since the franchise is surely hungry to bounce back and prove that this season was an outlier.
As this season progressed, the parallels between the Warriors and the pre-dynasty San Antonio Spurs became more and more evident.
During the 1996-97 season, the Spurs languished through an injury-plagued 20-62 campaign. They won the 1997 draft lottery and selected Wake Forest’s Tim Duncan with the No. 1 pick. Two years later, they won their first of five titles.
But Golden State’s challenge is that there are no transcendent players like Duncan in this draft, and there are (as of now) no in-person workouts and draft showcases because of the shutdown.
The Warriors have already begun interviewing players via conference calls. Highlight mixtapes and reels have replaced the workouts. Luckily the team has time to develop a plan for the draft since it will now be held on October 15th.
Given their circumstances, the Warriors also have the option of using their pick or trading it for a more established player that can come in and immediately contribute. The draft position will dictate the option.
If the Dubs win the lottery and get the No. 1 pick (or even land among the top three), they should draft the best player available regardless of need. According to sources, if the Warriors get the first pick, they will select Georgia’s combo-guard Anthony Edwards.
A player like that could help as a secondary scorer who is able to inject life into the core’s remaining years. Or, he could be trade bait to land interesting veteran options.
If the Warriors end up with the fourth or fifth pick, they may be better off trading it away for someone who can contribute immediately. They should also try to acquire back a lower pick and look for a sleeper in later rounds.
Due to being hard capped season and the newly deflated numbers due in part to the league shut down, the Warriors are still strapped for cash. However, they do have $17.2 million in a trade exception as a result of the Andre Iguodala deal with the Memphis Grizzlies.
The traded player exemption allows the Warriors to attach draft picks to make a deal more attractive. According to San Francisco Chronicle’s Connor Letorneau, hypothetically, Golden State could use the exemption as trade bait for teams eager to move up.
If the Warriors land fourth or fifth (as discussed above), and depending on who’s available, they should trade the pick and hunt for a solid player such as Kelly Oubre or the Magic’s Jonathan Isaac. Both wings that can complement the Warriors’ system really well.
Oubre averaged 18.7 points for the Suns during his first full season and shot 35 percent from three. He would get consistent open looks as defenses focus on Curry and Thompson.
Also, Oubre is an additional playmaker who can facilitate and take some pressure off of Green in that aspect. Defensively, you can never have too much length and he brings plenty of it.
Isaac may even be a better fit than Oubre since the Warriors already have Andrew Wiggins (more on him in a bit), and the probability of Oubre coming off the bench is unlikely. Isaac is a versatile wing that can defend multiple positions. In a defense that switches frequently like the Warriors do, having a defender who can consistently defend and rebound is key.
However, both Isaac (especially) and Oubre seem to be key pieces in their respective team’s own rebuilds. Either franchise would have to really value the Warriors’ pick and exception to part with these valuable players.
Golden State can also use the exemption and attach the pick to add a solid backup guard that can provide scoring off the bench since they have sacrificed bench depth and scoring for the past three seasons.
The Dubs’ also have the option of trading the exemption without using any picks.
If they end up in the top three, the Warriors could select Edwards, USC’s Onyeka Oknogwyu or Tyrese Haliburton, then trade the exemption to acquire a quality role player. If the pick is fourth or fifth, they probably would have to use the pick and attach it to the exemption.
“Fixing” Andrew Wiggins
One of the Warriors’ MO’s during their run has been their reclamation projects: actively acquiring players from other teams that failed to live up to promise and developing them to fit into the system. Shaun Livingston was a prime example. So was JaVale McGee. Recently, the aforementioned Chriss and Spellman were given similar opportunities.
Andrew Wiggins’ resurrection will likely determine how successful the Warriors can be in the near future.
Wiggins has always had potential. He just failed to realize it in Minnesota. Now as a Warrior, he has a chance and opportunity to improve his game and live up to the upside that made him the first pick in the 2014 draft and the 2015 Rookie of the Year.
Warriors assistant Ron Adams is particularly excited to have Wiggins in the Bay. Adams was a recent guest on the TK podcast with the Athletic’s Tim Kawakami, and he complimented Wiggins’ performance in the small window of games that he played for the Warriors. Adams especially praised Wiggins’ on-ball defense.
The issue with Wiggins on both sides of the ball has been his consistency. He can score 20 when he walks on the floor, but doing it consistently and defending well has been another story.
If they are permitted to have an offseason training camp, Adams could start working with Wiggins and getting him acclimated with a fully loaded Warriors system (rather than the skeleton crew the Dubs were trotting out most of this past year).
Adams should immediately start working with Wiggins on the defensive end.
While Adams said on Kawami’s podcast that he was impressed with Wiggins’ on-ball defense on the perimeter, he can fine-tune Wiggins’ instincts since offenses would look to draw a big away from the paint. Adams can also work with Wiggins on rebound positioning since Adams addressed it as a weakness.
Offensively, Adams or even Bruce “Q” Frazier must get Wiggins connected with Curry. The Warriors’ offense is predicated on ball movement and Curry stretching the defense. As a wing, Wiggins would more than likely be involved in post-split action.
For instance, Curry would enter the ball into the post, and Wiggins (or Green) would set a flair screen to get him (or Thompson) an open look.
In the first sequence, Curry passes the ball to Durant. Then, Durant passes it to Draymond Green into the post and sets a screen for Curry for an open three.
Wiggins would facilitate and screen or even become part of the action if he’s in position for a better shot. If the Warriors cannot score in the post-split, don’t be surprised if Wiggins is left open for a three or a drive down the lane.
For example, let’s say the defense takes the post-split away by occupying the block or taking away the perimeter briefly. Klay Thompson would pass the ball in the post, only for the big (in this instance Marquese Chriss or Kevon Looney) to pass the ball to Wiggins. Then, Wiggins executes a dribble handoff to Curry-who drives to the basket taking two defenders with him.
That would leave Wiggins open at the top of the key for three.
Making cuts and screens with precision and timing is vital to what the Warriors do on offense. So, getting Wiggins acclimated with Curry, or even Green before December and getting a head start on developing chemistry makes the most sense.
Jannelle Moore is a TBW staff writer who concentrates primarily on the Golden State Warriors, L.A. Lakers and L.A. Sparks while also covering both the NBA and WNBA. She is also the host of I Got Moore, TBW’s NBA/WNBA crossover podcast.