Offseason In Review: Golden State Warriors

Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.

Signings

Extensions

Trades

  • None

Waiver Claims

  • None

Draft Picks

  • None

Camp Invitees

  • Aaron Craft
  • Jason Kapono
  • Sean Kilpatrick
  • James Michael McAdoo
  • Mitchell Watt

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

For a team without draft picks, cap space, or any members of its starting five entering free agency, the Warriors sure made some critical and potentially franchise-altering decisions this past offseason. A controversial coaching change, a steadfast commitment to Klay Thompson in failed trade talks with the Timberwolves about Kevin Love, and a near-maximum extension for Thompson only seemed to dial up the pressure to challenge for the title.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Detroit PistonsThe Warriors entered the playoffs in 2013 not having been to the postseason in six years and as an underdog in the first round against the 57-win Nuggets. They won that series and put a scare into the Spurs before succumbing in the next round, and since then, co-owner Joe Lacob’s expectations for the team have ratcheted up. Golden State won four more games in the regular season last year than it did the year before, but it didn’t improve its playoff seeding, and though the Warriors took the Clippers to seven games this past spring before falling in the first round without an injured Andrew Bogut, it didn’t save Mark Jackson‘s job. Jackson had presided over a rapid turnaround in his three seasons as Warriors coach, and he had forged a profound trust with his players, but he failed to get along with some of his assistant coaches and other key figures within the Warriors organization. He also reportedly made a play for other NBA head coaching jobs while still with Golden State. His ultimate shortcoming was in failing to convince Lacob that the team’s on-court performance and locker-room morale were strong enough to justify his continued employment, and the Warriors axed him.

That touched off a wide-ranging search for a replacement that at one point seemed to zero in on Stan Van Gundy, but by the time Golden State met with him, the Pistons had already spoken to him about the dual executive/coaching role he ultimately took on in Detroit. The Warriors were instead seeking a coach who would be just that and leave front office decision-making others. Somewhat curiously, they hired former Suns GM Steve Kerr, whose only experience is as an executive and not as a coach, though Kerr made it clear that he wanted to transition into coaching long before he hooked up with the Warriors, and he reiterated that after his hiring this year. Kerr agonized over choosing the Warriors instead of the Knicks, with whom he could have served under mentor Phil Jackson, but Kerr’s West Coast ties, and doubtlessly the vast gulf in talent between the Warriors and Knicks, proved too strong.

Kerr made it a point to win over Jackson supporters like Stephen Curry and others on the Warriors roster, and the team is off to a roaring start this season. Golden State’s 14-2 record also helps validate the team’s decision to keep Klay Thompson for this season and for the foreseeable future. There’s no guarantee that the Warriors would have wound up trading Thompson to the Wolves if they had been more willing to include him in proposals, particularly given how pleased Minnesota was with the package it received from the Cavs. The deal never would have been Love-for-Thompson straight up, since the salaries wouldn’t have matched, and a variety of other factors involving David Lee, Kevin Martin and Harrison Barnes complicated the discussions, as Tim Kawakami of the Bay Area News Group chronicled.

The inertia didn’t itself guarantee a long-term future together for Thompson and the Warriors, since the fast-rising former No. 11 overall pick was extension-eligible and agent Bill Duffy was going after the max. Lacob vowed this past spring to strike a deal with Thompson, though it wasn’t clear whether he was talking about an extension or a new pact in restricted free agency during the summer of 2015. The owner apparently resisted giving Thompson $15MM salaries, amounts that the max will almost certainly entail. Thompson held firm, and other teams reportedly sniffed around as the extension deadline drew near to see if the Warriors were willing to change course and trade the 24-year-old, but the sides ultimately struck agreement on a pact with an unusual structure.

Thompson will get the max for a player of his experience in the first year of his extension next season, as long as that max doesn’t exceed the $15.5MM that it’s projected to hit, as Grantland’s Zach Lowe reported. It’s a compromise of sorts for both sides, though there’s a strong chance it won’t have wound up costing Thompson a penny if the max doesn’t come in higher than thought. The Warriors appear to have made the more significant concession, especially since the Thompson extension gives them nearly $78.8MM in commitments for next season, including Brandon Rush‘s minimum-salary player option. Former second-round pick Draymond Green wasn’t eligible for an extension even though he was entering the final season of his rookie contract, so he’ll hit restricted free agency in the summer. He’s poised to merit a sizable raise that would make it difficult for the Warriors to avoid the luxury tax should they keep him.

The Warriors figure to have little capacity to spend on upgrades next summer, but they took advantage of the full mid-level exception this year, inking Shaun Livingston months after he finished his strongest campaign since his catastrophic knee injury in 2007. He’s not the player he was before he got hurt, when the Clippers made him the fourth overall pick in 2004, but he was a vital part of a revival for the Nets after they started slowly last season, as his unusual combination of 6’7″ height and ball-handling proved troublesome for opponents. The Warriors struggled all of 2013/14 to fill the role that combo guard Jarrett Jack played in 2012/13 before he departed in free agency, so they outmaneuvered the Nets as well as the Heat, HornetsSpurs, Wolves and Kings in hopes that Livingston would fill that gap. A toe injury slowed him at the start, and he has barely played half as many minutes per game as Jack did in his season by the Bay, but there’s plenty of time left this year, and the Warriors have no need to press him for more, as well as they’ve played as a team.

In any case, the answer at point guard won’t be Nemanja Nedovic, even though Golden State is just a year and change removed from investing the last pick of the first round in him. The Warriors declined his third-year rookie scale option before the season and waived him shortly thereafter, eating only about half of his guaranteed salary for this season thanks to a buyout arrangement. The parting of ways was a somewhat troubling sign for the team, since it gave up $600K in cash and a second-round pick in an odd sequence of trades to acquire Nedovic on draft night in 2013, but, Jimmy Butler aside, late first-rounders often fail to become contributors, much less stars. The Warriors gave a vote of confidence to 2012 30th overall pick Festus Ezeli when they picked up his fourth-year option in October after an injury wiped out his sophomore season, so there’s still a chance that he’ll help the Warriors.

Regardless, this past offseason wasn’t about moves on the margins for Golden State. The Warriors made potentially franchise-altering decisions even though their core remains intact, and the onus is on that core to produce like never before. Lacob has every financial reason to affect significant change and avoid the tax next season, so the Warriors must show they’re close enough to winning a title to ensure that the team as constituted will continue to have chances to do so.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

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