Ample time is currently being dedicated to making sense of the Golden State Warriors’ unceremonious loss to the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Finals. The dilemma: deciding whether it was a blip of misfortune or both unlucky and the end.
At least initially, the focus will be on salvaging, or imminently rebooting, the Warriors dynasty. Even if it doesn’t work, they have to try.
Part of any unwanted ending is the attempt to avoid it-to see if Golden State faces a hiatus rather than the point of no return.
Draymond Green’s future looms over everything that comes next, now more than ever, regardless of what it might be. He will be essential to the Warriors’ survival if they hope to bide time until they’re whole again, or if they want next season to be something more than a gap year.
He will even play a starring role should Golden State decide to commission its own undoing.
A combination of injuries, free agency and punitive luxury taxes threatens to subvert the Warriors’ big-picture reign. Kevin Durant will probably miss all of 2019-20 after undergoing surgery on a ruptured right Achilles tendon, according to ESPN.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Losing him for a year is Golden State’s best-case scenario. He was billed as a goner all season and will still have suitors that offer him a max contract in free agency if he, as expected, declines his player option, per ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne.
Klay Thompson is less of a flight risk-in that he isn’t one. Like Durant, though, his 2019-20 availability is in jeopardy. Thompson suffered a torn left ACL in the third quarter of Thursday’s defeat. The most optimistic timetables will put him back in the lineup around February. More cautious ones will have him on the sideline for an entire year:
Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn
Even if Warriors are able to keep Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant in free agency, it’ll be a fight to reach playoffs in the Western Conference. Thompson’s ACL rehab could take him into February or March — and Durant likely misses entire season. Devastating turn of events. https://t.co/xKXayv9p34
Writing off the Warriors through at least next season feels fair. They will be up against the tax even if Durant leaves and, as the Raptors showed, have more holes in the rotation then they can hope to fill with the mini mid-level exception ($5.7 million) and placeholder contracts.
And yet, it sure seems like they’re going to try.
“It is my understanding in talking to people with the Warriors organization that their intention is to continue and offer Kevin Durant a full five-year max contract and to offer Klay a full five-year max contract. Those two decisions would put their payroll next year, including luxury taxes, at over $350 million. And they’re going to be able to pay for it because they’re going to move, sadly for Oakland, across the Bay to a cash-cow arena, which is going to increase their team revenue by enough to pay for it.”
This sounds enviable. Really, if the Warriors are hoping to recapture their matter-of-fact dominance, it’s necessary.
Durant and Thompson are both integral to their inevitability. But the intervening year will not be a cakewalk. Nor is it guaranteed to be even a worthwhile slog. All of a sudden, Golden State is that lean.
Green, Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, Jacob Evans, Damian Jones and this year’s No. 28 pick are the only contracts on the books. Alfonzo McKinnie’s non-guaranteed deal can be thrown in there too. Shaun Livingston’s partially guaranteed pact cannot. He will “seriously consider” retirement, per The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears. The Warriors also may not be above waiving him for $2 million as opposed to paying his $7.7 million salary.
Count on Kevon Looney to come back. Golden State owns his Bird rights and, frankly, cannot afford to lose him. Assuming Livingston is done leaves the Warriors with eight players, only four of whom were rotation regulars during the regular season.
Everybody’s significance will increase by default no matter who Golden State adds via free agency. And Green will be under more additional strain than anyone.
Curry’s offensive role can only be extended so far. Green has the bandwidth to do more on that end, and his defensive workload will invariably get tougher with no Durant or Thompson and with Iguodala set to enter his age-36 season.
That might not be the end of the world. Green can handle a greater playmaking share. The Warriors are not a pick-and-roll-heavy team, but the Green-Curry two-man game remains difficult for defenses to guard, and head coach Steve Kerr now has every reason in the world to lean on it:
Dramatically upping the pick-and-roll volume isn’t a magic elixir. It not only represents a stark departure from how the Warriors play, but they also don’t, as of now, have the supplementary talent to fully weaponize it.
Defenses will smother Curry just as the Raptors did, and he lacks outlets. The Warriors are light on knockdown shooters, and Green, while terrifying on short rolls and downhill attacks, is solvable as the No. 2 option unless he buries threes, in volume, at an untenable clip.
That’s the crux of the problem that faces the Warriors. Green has so often been their second-most important player without always having to be their second-best player. He has the IQ and vision to do more on offense, but only within his specific wheelhouse.
Maybe he hits more threes, but don’t bet on it. He’s shooting 30 percent from downtown since his 38.8 percent outlier in 2015-16, and his 28.5 percent clip this season is the second-lowest of his career.
Those looks aren’t getting any easier while playing beside Golden State’s skeleton crew. It might not matter even if they did. He’s burying just 30.6 percent of his wide-open treys over the past two seasons.
Even if he’s downing jumpers, the burden of creation falls to someone else. He is not the guy to fire from the perimeter coming around screens or launch off the dribble. He attempted just 29 pull-up jumpers this season, and his career efficiency on these looks doesn’t suggest he should be taking more of them.
The Warriors are not above milking mismatches in the post, but Green isn’t the player they typically use to do it. Durant and Livingston have long carried that crown, with a little bit of Thompson dappled in for good measure.
When Green does work on the block, the results are not good. Only 5.6 percent of his offensive plays this season came as post-ups, on which he averaged just 0.71 points per possessions with an alarming turnover rate of 34.3:
This is not meant to imply that Green is a symptom of the Warriors’ issues. He is part of their interim solution. He has to be. But his role is about to change. The attention he commands and workload he shoulders will increase. The depth of his skill set will be tested. If he answers the call to additional arms with anything less than a career performance, Golden State will not be a postseason lock, much less a title contender.
And that assumes the Warriors don’t confront his future one summer early. Their preference may be to keep the band together, but they’re on the verge of paying more than one-third of a billion dollars for what projects as a sub-juggernaut.
It doesn’t matter that they can “afford” to take the hit. Actually bankrolling what amounts to a one-year stay outside the dynastic ranks is different. Owner Joe Lacob may want to cut costs in some form, which wouldn’t bode well for Green one year out from free agency. As agent and marketer Nate Jones wrote on Twitter:
” A lot of people that don’t deal with $ at that level assume just because they are still in the black paying that $, that the owner is still cool paying that out for a team that won’t win. An extra $100-150 million is still an extra $100-$150 million! One thing I could see happening is them dumping Draymond now. Same with Iguodala. If they know they will be bad and Klay won’t be back til 2020-21, they might just cut their losses and move them and save money and try to get a top lottery pick and future assets from trades.
“The calculus on Draymond and Iguodala is you know you’re not winning the title and will struggle to be good. You could cut your losses and try to build up assets for a revamped run around Klay and Steph (and possibly KD) in 2020-21. If you keep Draymond and/or Iguodala, your lux tax bill stays insane and you either have to pay them in summer 2020 or get nothing in return for them. Basically you flip them for flexibility before it’s too late. Retool around Steph and Klay (and possibly KD) for 2020-21.“
Going this route is both nuclear and feels unlikely. But standing pat, with or without Durant, only makes total, inarguable sense if the Warriors believe they can get by for a year on the merits of who they have left. If they’re instead bracing for disaster, or if they don’t trust this nucleus will still be a favorite when everyone is healthy, the idea that they’d lean into a quasi-dissolution is hardly outlandish.
Tony Avelar/Associated Press
Iguodala will be a free agent next summer, ahead of a would-be age-37 season, if he doesn’t retire. Golden State’s four superstars will all be on the wrong side of 30 by the time 2020-21 rolls around, at which time Durant (age-32 season) and Thompson (age-30 season) will have returned but won’t necessarily be all the way back.
It could be 2021-22 before the Warriors are, by the most literal standard, at full strength. They have to figure out what they’ll look like in the meantime, and whether the cost is worth what they’d be fighting to preserve.
Running it back, with or without Durant, remains the overwhelmingly likely outcome. The Warriors are also not beyond short-circuiting their own design.
They were already approaching a crossroads with Green, and this summer was always going to be about confronting ugly truths. These latest setbacks merely accelerate that reflection.
Either way, Green is indispensable to anything they do-the player most tempting to trade, but one of two people in the organization, along with Curry, capable of granting the Warriors dynasty the continuance it isn’t supposed to need.
Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference or Cleaning the Glass. Salary and cap-hold information via Basketball Insiders and RealGM.