Over the last few weeks, the BBALLBREAKDOWN team have been taking looks at five important questions each NBA team will be facing going into the upcoming offseason, continuing here with the Golden State Warriors.
1. With A Luxury Tax Bill Looming, Who Can They Unload David Lee Onto?
David Lee is leaving the Warriors on the greatest terms possible. He selflessly bought into the organization’s team-first concept and didn’t make a stir when his spot in the rotation was quickly ceded to Draymond Green. Lee was expected to start and play significant minutes, but Green’s versatility was so potent that Steve Kerr knew not to mess with success. Lee got to enjoy a final magical championship run and came up huge a couple times in the NBA Finals, providing Golden State with a crafty scoring touch around the basket to puncture Cleveland’s defense.
Unfortunately, reality settles in not long after the last piece of confetti settles to the ground at the championship parade. Lee was Golden State’s highest paid player in 2014-15 at a tad over $15 million and his contract, set to expire after this upcoming season, will cost $15.5 million before then. Even without Lee, the Warriors are preparing to pay the luxury tax for the first time in franchise history.
The details haven’t been finalized or made public quite yet, but Draymond Green just agreed to a new five year deal to stay in the Bay Area. It’s expected to be for $82 million, meaning the Warriors scored a discount in locking up the emerging star for under the maximum salary. Regardless, it adds another significant total to their growing tax bill.
Klay Thompson will enter the first year of his near-maximum contract extension next season and earn $15.5 million. Andrew Bogut, due a $1.9 million bonus for playing in more than 65 games and making an All-Defense team, stands to make $13.9 million total. Andre Iguodala, fresh off his historic run to Finals MVP, will make around $11.7 million.
Meanwhile, MVP Stephen Curry remains criminally underpaid at around $11.4 million. While it may chill you to the core to see DeMarre Carroll signing for $60 million or Brandon Knight getting $70 million when the current MVP makes so much less, the context here is critical. BBALLBREAKDOWN.com colleague Seth Partnow’s recent piece on the “sticker shock” of the new salary cap landscape is a must-read for calibrating our expectations on players’ value. Further, Curry was mired in serious ankle injury concerns at the time and did well for himself to guarantee a financially secure future. He’ll be due for a massive raise in 2017, another factor Golden State GM Bob Myers must balance going forward.
Per Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News, the Warriors will be around $17 million over the luxury tax line with David Lee on the books. They’re almost certainly paying the tax no matter what, but moving Lee will save them an absurd amount. The luxury tax rate jumps from $1.50 per $1 over to $3.25 if Lee’s extra $15 million plus is included, meaning Golden State stands to pay around $40 million less in salary and luxury taxes by unloading his contract. Even if they take on some smaller salary in a deal, the savings are massive.
Lee, who started only four games last season, needs to find a new home where he can recoup value before hitting free agency next summer. Lee excels at scoring around the basket and provides a nice mid-range stroke. He’s not flexible defensively and struggles to guard his position, however, and therefore in an evolving NBA that emphasizes versatility and length on both sides of the floor, Lee has been left in the dust. Adding a legitimate three point jumper would be such an enormous addition to his game that it could extend his career by years. But it won’t be in Oakland.
The Warriors were hoping to package Lee and the last pick of the first round together in order to unload his contract. While they weren’t able to find any takers, they appear to still have several attractive options:
Fallback option for NY, LA and DAL, as FA bigs sign elsewhere: David Lee. All three could absorb his contract into cap room.
— Howard Beck (@HowardBeck) July 2, 2015
Sam Hinkie was clever enough to utilize his droves of cap space to fleece the floundering Sacramento Kings out of several potential future assets. As the dust settles on the big name free agents, though, a few other teams with plenty of space will be desperately seeking big name players to fill it with. The New York Knicks and L.A. Lakers seem like obvious bets, as both organizations have shown a willful ignorance to embrace the league’s adapting landscape. Either team could pretty easily talk themselves into Lee’s somewhat empty past production.
If Golden State doesn’t find a taker, they can always buy Lee out for most of his salary and part ways amicably. Still, given the dearth of free agents willing to sign in New York or Los Angeles thus far, it’s looking like the Warriors will pull this one off. Taking Lee’s salary off the books will bring the luxury tax bill down to a palatable figure; Curry, Thompson, and Green’s discounts will allow flexibility as the cap rises in the upcoming two offseasons. Once David Lee is unloaded, the Warriors will have their roster nearly finalized for a chance to repeat as champions.
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2. Can They Win It Again?
All of next season in Golden State, this will be the biggest and only question. They’ve ended the 40 year drought and vanquished LeBron James as part of a dominant championship run. But the league churns on, and soon the Warriors must sober up and refocus on trying to pull off the rare repeat. First, let’s gander back on the last 30 seasons and look at which teams have achieved it.
- 2012-13 Miami Heat
- 2009-10 Los Angeles Lakers
- 2000-02 Los Angeles Lakers
- 1996-98 Chicago Bulls
- 1994-95 Houston Rockets
- 1991-93 Chicago Bulls
- 1989-90 Detroit Pistons
- 1987-88 Los Angeles Lakers
While the late 80s and 90s were dominated by some historic teams, it’s become increasingly difficult to win it all twice in a row. Ask the San Antonio Spurs, who have captured five rings since 1999 but have never been able to repeat. Only teams with LeBron James or Kobe Bryant have pulled it off since Michael Jordan retired.
Golden State has a legitimate shot at doing it. Yet every NBA champion needs a little luck on their side, and the Warriors took advantage this season. They didn’t have to face the Spurs or Los Angeles Clippers, perhaps considered the two best teams in the conference after the Dubs. They avoided injuries to an extreme degree, making it to the final buzzer with their entire roster nearly entirely healthy. To add their name to the historic list above, the Warriors will need a little help on their side again.
Their eight leading players in minutes from 2014-15 will return next season. Curry, Thompson, and Green are all in their mid-20s and primed for highly productive seasons. Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala are on the older side, but Steve Kerr’s staff excels at keeping its players at maximum efficiency levels. Part of the reason for Iguodala’s “demotion” to the bench was to keep him fresh over the season so that he could be uncorked in the playoffs. After winning the Finals MVP award, it clearly worked.
Harrison Barnes flourished as a starter and can take over more of Iguodala’s minutes as he continues to improve. Festus Ezeli cemented his importance to the team in the Finals when Kerr chose Ezeli and not Bogut to play the center late in the series. Unsurprisingly, it worked, and Ezeli blocked several shots and scored a handful of key baskets in the series. As Bogut ages, Festus can continue to learn from the Australian and take on parts of his role.
Barring injuries, the Warriors will be deadly once again. Even if they can stay pristinely healthy next season, however, the Western Conference figures to be the buzzsaw many expected this year. The Spurs would’ve been a worthy opponent for the champion Warriors and are likely to be their biggest threat in 2015-16. They too will bring back mostly the same team; Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green agreed to new team-friendly contracts, with Green’s a particular bargain (must be something about Greens giving up green this summer). Tim Duncan, still insanely productive, has officially announced his return. And while Aron Baynes reportedly signed with Detroit and the Hawks absorbed Tiago Splitter’s contract into cap room, leaving a void in San Antonio’s frontcourt, the Spurs are reportedly preparing to sign LaMarcus Aldridge. Either way, they will be a deadly opponent next postseason. Especially so with Aldridge.
Oklahoma City will also return from its one-year hiatus from the playoffs. Kevin Durant figures to finally get past his foot issues and return to being arguably the league’s most dominant player. The Thunder are highly confident in Billy Donovan and need to make a deep postseason run in order to keep Durant happy, as he could bolt next summer. They should be a top three team in the conference.
If the Los Angeles Clippers retain DeAndre Jordan, they improve as well. Lance Stephenson is an intriguing gamble on the wing while Paul Pierce should provide some nice depth and flexibility at a very team-friendly rate. The Memphis Grizzlies are expected to retain their core and scored Brandan Wright at a bargain $6 million a year. And the New Orleans Pelicans are worth keeping an eye on with Anthony Davis and former Warriors’ assistant Alvin Gentry running the show now.
Simply put, the Warriors could have a near-historic amount of competition in their conference alone. And that doesn’t even factor in the looming King James, who seems very likely to advance to his sixth straight NBA Finals appearance. Golden State will enter 2015-16 with arguably the best team in the NBA, but they’ll have plenty of obstacles between them and another Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Five Questions: Atlanta – Boston – Brooklyn – Charlotte – Chicago – Cleveland – Dallas – Denver – Detroit – Indiana – L.A. Lakers – Memphis – Miami – Milwaukee – New Orleans – New York – Oklahoma City – Orlando – Philadelphia – Portland – San Antonio – Toronto – Utah – Washington
3. How Can They Get Even Better?
As perfectly as 2014-15 went in Golden State, there are always areas to work on.
From a technical level, the Warriors can perfect their offense. To the surprise of many casual fans, last year’s team actually had a better defense, the league’s best, than it did offense. While the Dubs were just a fraction away from the Clippers for the number one offense, there’s still room for improvement.
The Warriors were 13th in turnover ratio, a decent rate, but one in particular that Kerr wants to see improved. When they were in the most danger of losing this postseason, poor ball security was one of the biggest culprits. Improving that is part of larger team goal of perfecting their offense. Kerr came to the Bay and recognized that a lot of Mark Jackson’s defensive schemes worked, so he kept them. But Jackson’s isolation-heavy offensive was archaic and, in retrospect, borderline crazy with generational shooting talents in the backcourt.
This offseason, Kerr can fine tune the schemes and make changes to stay ahead of the rest of the league. The Warriors will go to work on improving toward full mastery of the screening, rolling, and movement necessary to make their engine run. Klay Thompson took a big leap last offseason, adding much-needed ball-handling and off the dribble flexibility. He’s a noted hard-worker, and young enough that he could get even better next year when teams are more locked in on Steph Curry than ever before.
The Warriors would also benefit from drawing more free throws, where they were 26th in the NBA in attempts per game last season. Thompson in particular could draw significantly more freebies by further improving his paint penetration. Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut are two of the more free throw-averse players around, and that’s unlikely to change next season. However, as younger players slowly take over some of their minutes, Golden State should naturally improve its free throw rate.
One of the greatest things Steve Kerr did when he joined the Warriors was acknowledging that a rookie coach should seek experienced assistants. He brought in Alvin Gentry to help mold the Warriors’ dynamic new offensive identity while former Bulls assistant Ron Adams pioneered the defensive juggernaut. Both coaches were roaring successes that made up integral parts of the thriving team.
The big question mark for the Warriors’ offense is the departure of Gentry. He was a Phoenix assistant coach from 2003-09 and a key part of the evolution of Mike D’Antoni’s famed “Seven Seconds or Less” offense that changed the NBA. Gentry did a fine job as head coach of those Suns from 2009-13 and was a key assistant to last year’s Clippers, another elite offensive squad. The Warriors high-paced attack surely drew much of its inspiration and quirks from the lengthy experience of Gentry. He’ll move on to New Orleans next season, where he’s already pledged to take down his good friend Kerr.
There’s not a plethora of ways that a team with an 11.4 net rating can really get better, of course. The Warriors will focus on fine-tuning that offense in Gentry’s absence and maintaining their lethally flexible defensive schemes. If they can keep the status quo and introduce some new wrinkles to opponents, the Warriors could be even deadlier next year.
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4. How Do You Stay Hungry?
The 2014-15 Warriors were perhaps the league’s most dominant team since Michael Jordan retired. As any good organization knows, continuous improvement is critical. What separates the all-time greats from the flashes in the pan is the willingness to come back hungrier than ever, to be driven by the feeling that winning brings rather than its bountiful rewards.
When Steve Kerr came on Zach Lowe’s podcast shortly after the Finals, Lowe asked him what the Dubs could possibly work on this offseason. Kerr, unfazed, was fully prepared to provide his answers. He focused on the importance of wanting to always improve and bringing the fire. A great burden is lifted from both a franchise and its individual players when a championship is won; Steph Curry will never face the scrutiny that Chris Paul and Kevin Durant hear on a daily basis. Kerr emphasized that they must build on that achievement rather than “resting on their laurels”. As he pointed out to Lowe, it sure helps to have a flamethrower like Draymond Green on your side. It was no surprise when the Warriors re-signed him not long after.
It’s natural to lay off the gas pedal after achieving the goal of your career that you dreamed about growing up. Dirk Nowitzki needed an extended break from even looking at basketballs after finally capturing a trophy for Dallas. The Warriors seem like the rare team that is wired to never lose that passion. They’ve drawn many comparisons to San Antonio recently as a model NBA organization, especially as they’ve convinced several star players to take discounts to stay in town.
Klay Thompson spent an entire summer in the gym working with Warriors’ assistants as a young player without even realizing that he was doing extra work; he was that focused on individual improvement. Draymond Green has earned a reputation as perhaps the NBA’s premier energy and heart player. Green, a veteran of Tom Izzo’s model Michigan State program, thrives on hard work and relentlessness. He signed for five years with no player option at a time when nearly every free agent was weighing how quickly they can reach the exploding future market. That’s perhaps even more significant than the pay cut he took. Green surely could’ve had the option of hitting free agency in 2019 but committed to as many years as possible in the Bay, even though he won’t be up for a new contract until he’s 30 now. The “fire in his belly” is very real.
Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut have proven twice over their willingness to sacrifice for the team. Iguodala started every game of his career before coming off the bench this year, while Bogut, an almost perennial All-Defense selection, accepted his spot on the pine in the latter games of the Finals and allowed no hard feelings to mar his celebration of the Warriors’ championship. They couldn’t have done it without him. Keeping that grind alive can be tough after reaching the promised land, but the Warriors have a roster stocked with players who were born to strive for greatness. They should ace this challenge, one of the biggest facing freshly-minted champions.
5. Can They Kick It?
Yes, they can. The 2015-16 campaign may be rapidly approaching but the Warriors are still rightfully enjoying their spoils as the NBA Champions:
— GoldenStateWarriors (@warriors) June 17, 2015
— GoldenStateWarriors (@warriors) June 17, 2015
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