Offseason Outlook: Golden State Warriors

May 16 at 4:00pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Guaranteed Contracts

Options

  • None

Non-Guaranteed Contracts

Free Agents / Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • None

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $63,970,632
  • Options: $0
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $1,810,928
  • Cap Holds: $15,406,048
  • Total: $81,187,608

In the span of eight days, the Warriors went from an ex-Knick as their coach to someone who seemed destined to become a future Knick. Instead, Steve Kerr will be on the Warriors bench next season, overseeing an offense with a few triangle-inspired principles but with a heavy dose of Stephen Curry in the pick-and-roll, as he told Tim Kawakami of the Bay Area News Group. Kerr cites Gregg Popovich, who coached him for four seasons in San Antonio, as an influence, but it’s a stretch to declare him a member of the vaunted Popovich coaching tree, or any coaching tree at all, since he’s never coached before. He walks into the job with the sort of comfortable relationships with co-owner Joe Lacob, GM Bob Myers and other Warriors bigwigs that predecessor Mark Jackson didn’t have, but the pressure for Kerr to succeed in a field that’s new to him will be instant. Lacob expected this year’s squad to be a top-four team in a loaded Western Conference, and with limited flexibility for changes to the roster over the summer, the onus will be on Kerr to lift the team to that elite level immediately to avoid the sort of in-house scrutiny that dogged Jackson.

The club enters the offseason with commitments that slightly exceed the projected $63.2MM salary cap. Even if the cap winds up going even higher, any room the Warriors could create would almost certainly not be significant enough to entice the team to renounce its cap holds and officially dip under the cap, thus causing the forfeiture of the non-taxpayer’s mid-level exception. That mid-level, worth $5.305MM, figures to be the team’s primary offseason tool. The biannual exception is unavailable, since the team used it to sign Jermaine O’Neal last year. The projected increase to the tax threshold for next season doesn’t get as much publicity as the rise in the salary cap, but it’s actually a larger jump, exceeding $5MM. The ability to spend up to $77MM without incurring the tax gives Golden State plenty of cushion to use the full mid-level, re-sign their trio of free agents, and explore trades that would add to the payroll.

Lacob has expressed his willingness to pay the tax in the right circumstance, and it might come to that if the team is to become a true title contender. Still, short of the chance to acquire a superstar, the Warriors seem more likely to lurk beneath the threshold and revisit the idea of going over it closer to the deadline, when their relative title chances will be more apparent. Golden State pulled off the Andre Iguodala trade last year with much less flexibility beneath the tax than it has now, so the front office has established that it’s capable of finding a way to manage an upgrade even under challenging financial circumstances. Still, the Iguodala deal cost Golden State its ability to promise a team a first-round pick before 2019, and the Warriors don’t have the haul of expiring contracts they needed to make the salaries work last time, making it tough to manage a trade that makes a difference without cutting into the core of the roster.

The most obvious target is the man whom Iguodala knocked from the starting lineup. It was Jackson’s call to bring Harrison Barnes off the bench, and it’s not out of the question that Kerr has different ideas. Still, the Warriors starting five of Iguodala, Curry, Klay Thompson, David Lee and Andrew Bogut was a tantalizingly efficient unit, outscoring opponents by 15.4 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. That’s the second-best margin of any five-man unit in the league that saw at least 250 minutes together this season. It’s a sign of success, and a sign of failure for the bench, since the team outscored opponents by just 5.4 points per 100 possessions overall.

Barnes doesn’t deserve all the blame for a group of reserves that suffered from the departures of Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, but the seventh overall pick from 2012 suffered a disturbing stall in his development, with most of his numbers holding steady or declining slightly in spite of more minutes per game. His PER fell from 11.0 as a rookie to 9.8 this season, and most lottery picks who record sub-10 PERs have trouble avoiding the “bust” label. Barnes, who’ll turn 22 in a couple of weeks, seemingly still has time to turn his career around and fulfill his promise. While that possibility makes it difficult to fathom trading him away, it also makes this summer perhaps the perfect time to strike, before the perception of his upside changes for the worse.

The Grizzlies reportedly made a push to trade for Barnes at the deadline, and the Cavs apparently inquired about him, too, but the Warriors brushed off such talks and Lacob publicly cast doubt on the idea of letting him go. The Warriors made counter-proposals in response to a few offers, as Chad Ford of ESPN.com reported as he passed along a list of names that intrigued the team: Greg MonroeThaddeus YoungTristan ThompsonKenneth FariedJohn Henson, Amir Johnson and Kevin Love. Some of those names would appear on any team’s list of intriguing players, and others are cornerstones that their clubs would be reluctant to trade. Still, the Warriors aren’t afraid to try to hit home runs, as their pursuit of Dwight Howard last summer made clear, and the likes of Love can’t be considered out of the realm of possibility, no matter how unlikely they are to wind up in Golden State next season.

Barnes might be the team’s best trade asset, but he isn’t the only one, even if the team does have a few sacred cows. Trading Curry seems unthinkable, and Lacob has vowed to keep Thompson, who’s up for an extension this summer, for the long haul. Bogut just received an extension this past fall, and while his inability to remain healthy is troubling, his presence as a defensive anchor, not to mention his long-term contract, would make it tough for the Warriors to send him away.

Lee inspires much disdain from critics who see beyond his impressive traditional stats, reminiscent of the advanced metrics community’s vitriolic deconstructions of Rudy Gay. The Warriors made their 2013 playoff run largely without his help, save for his laudatory efforts to play through a painful hip injury. He nonetheless has more than $30MM and two years left on his deal, and it might prove impossible to find a team willing to take that on and give back fair value in return this summer. Iguodala has changed teams the past two summers, and if the front office determines it was better off in 2012/13 with reserves like Jack and Landry than this past season with Iggy, there’s a decent chance he’d be on the move again. The Warriors might also attempt to trade bench players for bench players, banking on their ability to get more than they give.

The only pressure the Warriors would have to make a major upgrade this summer would be self-created, and there’s plenty of incentive for the team to concentrate on finding the best mid-level fit available. Curry and Thompson are young, with room for continued improvement, and the same can be said of Barnes, providing that this past season was an aberration. Festus Ezeli was impressive as a rookie, and his return to health bodes well for the bench. No matter what, negotiating that extension with Thompson will be a priority. Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News Group (no relation) suggested recently that the shooting guard will wind up with $12MM annual salaries, putting him on par with Ty Lawson, who was probably the best player on a 57-win Nuggets team in 2012/13. The Warriors no doubt have higher aspirations than to mimic the team they pushed aside in last year’s playoffs, but Thompson is at best second on Golden State’s hierarchy to Curry, who’s on an even cheaper deal for another three seasons. The Warriors appear to have the foundation and framework needed to contend. The question is whether they have the front office savvy and patience necessary to fill in the gaps.

Cap footnotes

* — Green’s salary becomes fully guaranteed if he’s not waived on or before August 1st.
** — Crawford’s qualifying offer is worth $3,206,867.

ShamSports and Larry Coon’s Salary Cap FAQ were used in the creation of this post.

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