Golden State Warriors NBA Free Agency Preview: Salary Cap, Potential Veteran Targets
The Golden State Warriors enter NBA free agency in real need of veteran presence after selecting Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody in the NBA draft. However the Warriors will be hamstrung in their quest by their salary cap predicament.
Projecting to be more than $40m over the luxury tax threshold, while hitting the repeater tax for the first time, the Warriors are on the hook for the highest luxury tax bill ever paid by an NBA team. As a result they’ll be armed with only the taxpayer Mid Level Exception and veteran minimums to offer. Here’s a full breakdown of what awaits them this week.
Players under contract
Projected starting lineup:
Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney
Jordan Poole, Damion Lee (partial guarantee), Mychal Mulder (non-guaranteed)
Juan Toscano-Anderson, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga
James Wiseman, Eric Paschall, Alen Smailagic (non-guaranteed)
Kent Bazemore, Kelly Oubre Jr, Nico Mannion (restricted)
Veterans, backcourt depth, playmaking wing, stretch big
Salary cap projection
If the Golden State Warriors just fill out their roster with veteran minimums and the taxpayer MLE, they’ll be on the hook for a luxury tax bill of an eye-popping $200m on top of salary commitments of $180m. While no-one can reasonably accuse the Warriors ownership of penny-pinching given that this would be the highest salary and luxury tax bill any NBA team has ever shelled out, General Manager Bob Myers has clearly set out that there are financial limits. Specifically he has said that over $400m is territory they will not go to.
Why a Kelly Oubre sign-and-trade is (mostly) a mirage
As the table above shows that rules out one potential tool in their armoury to add talent this offseason – a Kelly Oubre sign-and-trade. Even without using the taxpayer MLE, if Golden State were to either re-sign Oubre, or sign-and-trade him to another team for a player making around his current salary, they’d rocket past $450m, let alone their $400m limit. That is the byproduct of having three max contracts, and another almost max contract in Green’s extension, on the books. The only way Oubre’s slot can be used under their limits is to shed one of those players, which they have signalled they are not contemplating unless it’s in a trade for an NBA star.
Indeed, part of the appeal of a trade for a Bradley Beal trade ahead of the draft was that they could cut costs significantly, freeing up the potential use of that Oubre salary slot. But Beal’s choice to remain with the Wizards for now means the window is very narrow for any kind of deal that shaves enough salary off to open up other paths. That is because as soon as Kuminga and Moody sign their rookie contracts any deal will need to match their salaries as well as Wiseman and Wiggins as well. So the chances are the Warriors will just roll with what they have and hope that they can find enough help to help Curry, Thompson and Green to contend while their younger players develop.
It is still worth the Warriors trying to get a trade exception for Oubre though to keep in their back pocket for the next 12 months in case the kind of superstar trade they’re on the lookout for emerges later in the summer or at the trade deadline. But the reality is that with the luxury tax bills they’re facing any trade exception would very much be a contingency measure.
Free agency priorities
The Warriors top priority this offseason will be to sign Stephen Curry to a contract extension. He will be eligible for a four-year deal up to $215m, which will take him past his 38th birthday. Given his incredible play this season where he led the league in scoring at 33, a feat only achieved by Michael Jordan, that’s a no-brainer.
After that attention will turn to finding veterans willing to take a discount. Of the free agents on their roster, Kent Bazemore might fit that bill well. The question is whether or not he’s willing to take a discount as they can only pay him a 20% raise on his current minimum contract. The current buzz is that he’s looking for a multi-year deal and after his solid play last season he might just get it.
So who could they look to sign? The Warriors are probably looking at a maximum of three players – a taxpayer MLE signing, a replacement for Bazemore in the backcourt if he leaves, and another veteran minimum if they can stomach the cost of using all their roster spots. They may well prefer to leave one open for now given that the tax at the level they’re at on a veteran minimum will be over $11m. That would also allow them some flexibility for a buyout signing later in the season
One of Nic Batum, Andre Iguodala, Rudy Gay
The Warriors have needed playmaking wings who can guard multiple positions since Andre Iguodala was traded away in the summer of 2019. Last year they went after Nic Batum who had a bounce back year with the Los Angeles Clippers, shooting over 40% from three, after a couple of seasons of decline with the Charlotte Hornets. The Warriors would love to pry him away from L.A. but he’ll be in heavy demand around the league and may well just want to return to the Clippers where he can play for a contender he already knows.
A very plausible backup could be the return of Iguodala himself. At 37 he wouldn’t be counted on to play big minutes in the regular season, but he’s likely got a playoff run or two left in his career. The Warriors know and love what he can bring to the table – a veteran leader, calming presence, and clutch performer who can guard multiple positions. The only catch is whether or not he hits the market. The Miami Heat have a team option on him for the 2021-22 season. However, they’ve just declined Goran Dragic’s option signalling they are looking to free up cap space. If that’s the case Iguodala could become available, and the Warriors would surely be at the top of his list.
Failing either of those options, the most realistic veteran wing available is probably Rudy Gay. The Warriors have chased Gay before in free agency, but never been in a position to make him a decent offer. They aren’t really now, but Gay is now 34 and with only a few seasons left in his career the opportunity to join the Warriors and try to help them back into contention could be appealing. Golden State won’t be the only contender chasing him though.
Still if the Warriors can get their hands on one of these three wings, that will plug a huge gap in the rotation on the wing and give them a veteran presence who can help them when it counts the most.
From Bazemore to Danny Green, JJ Redick and Avery Bradley there are options for backcourt help
The Warriors are looking particularly thin in the backcourt with only Curry, a returning Thompson, and Jordan Poole as locks, and Thompson could take months to ease his way back from two serious injuries. Expect them to guarantee one of Lee or Mulder (likely Lee) as an insurance policy. Mannion too will potentially be back as a creative point guard. If his solid play for Italy in the Olympics is an indicator to what’s to come, he could see minutes backing up Curry. The Warriors will also be hoping for their new rookie Moody to give them something as a 3-and-D wing at least in the regular season.
They’ll need that veteran presence though. If they can re-sign Bazemore that would be a big help, but as detailed above there’s no guarantee of that. Other candidates potentially available include Danny Green or JJ Redick as veteran shooters, Patty Mills as a backup point guard, or Avery Bradley as a backcourt defensive ballhawk. Some will come at a higher price tag than the Warriors are able, or willing, to pay but all it takes is one yes to round out that backcourt rotation
Can the Warriors snag Marc Gasol or Kevin Love?
The Warriors enter free agency with Kevon Looney, who as reliable as he is on the court will always have injury questions hanging over him, James Wiseman who is still too raw to count on, though the Warriors will hope for some progress this season, and Eric Paschall who had a disappointing sophomore season but showed some flashes as a small ball five.
That’s simply not enough in a league where big men such as Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis, and Deandre Ayton have brought the position back to relevance. When the chips are down the Warriors will roll out Green at the center, as they always have done, but they need at least one veteran big body.
Preferably Golden State needs someone who can shoot, improving the spacing alongside Green, and operate as a passing hub in the offence in the mould of Andrew Bogut or David West. Two potential veteran candidates who would be ideal fits for the Warriors system spring to mind – Marc Gasol and Kevin Love. Unfortunately neither are on the market as it stands.
Gasol was close to joining the Warriors last offseason before he chose the Lakers as a better contending bet in the wake of Thompson’s injury. It might not take too much for the Warriors to prise him away from L.A. after a season where Gasol didn’t see the sort of role he signed on for. The Warriors might be able to sell the Lakers on Eric Paschall as a cheap Montrezl Harrell replacement, use Mulder’s salary as filler, and if need be throw in a future second-rounder to sweeten the deal. That would give the Warriors a veteran defensive presence in the middle who can help Wiseman learn the art of defense, and a playmaking hub in the offense who hit 41% of his threes last season.
Meanwhile Kevin Love has two years left on his Cleveland contract but is a prime candidate for a buyout. If that happens the Warriors will be in hot pursuit. He may not have played much in the last couple of seasons but he can still grab some rebounds, shoot from long distance, and operate as that big man playmaking hub. Draymond Green has already been recruiting Love during his brief time with Team USA ahead of the Olympics.
So while the Warriors are undoubtedly on the clock to find veterans, with a bit of luck there may well be some decent options who can fill out the gaps in their rotation and help them on their quest to contend for a title next season.