The Golden State Warriors’ early end to their disappointing 2020-21 NBA season sets up the biggest offseason of the franchise’s recent history. With Stephen Curry firing on all cylinders, but 33 years old, Draymond Green showing he’s still got some juice in the tank, but for how long, and Klay Thompson returning, but off two devastating injuries, the Warriors need to nail their offseason decisions to put together a team that can contend for a title over the next few seasons. These are the five big questions that will define their offseason.
Does the Minnesota Timberwolves draft pick convey?
The prize asset that the Warriors have in their possession is the Minnesota Timberwolves top-three protected 2021 NBA draft pick. If it falls outside the top three, the Warriors will receive it this year, if not it rolls over to 2022 when it becomes unprotected.
The Warriors really need this pick to convey this year. The 2021 draft holds four, possibly five, top NBA prospects. Beyond that there are a bunch of prospects who project to be useful NBA players, several of whom should be able to contribute straight away.
The draft lottery is on June 22nd. Overall the Warriors have a 72.4% chance of receiving that Minnesota pick. From there it’s a 9.6% chance that it’s 4th, and a shot at a potential star in the making, 8.6% chance it conveys at 6th, 29.7% chance it’s 7th, 20.6% chance it’s 8th, and if the Warriors are unlucky a 3.8% chance it’s 9th, and 0.2% chance it’s tenth.
The Warriors also have their own pick with the 14th best odds, but that only has a 2.4% chance of jumping into the top four. So realistically if the pick conveys the Warriors are probably looking at two lottery picks, one in the top-10 and another at 14th. That will give them several options in the draft, or in trades. But if the Minnesota pick doesn’t convey, the Warriors can’t really afford to sit on it, waiting for 2022.
How patient are their stars?
This season Curry and Green displayed remarkable patience with year two of a project to rebuild the roster while they are in their 30s. Curry’s incredible play may open up the possibility that he can lead a championship caliber roster for several more seasons, but the time for waiting is over. The Warriors need to put themselves into a position to win a lot of basketball games next season.
There were some slightly pointed moments in both Curry and Green’s final press conferences on this front. But perhaps the starkest message was delivered by Green in his role as a TNT analyst. While discussing the Washington Wizards’ offseason, Green notably said “getting draft picks and placing them next to two All-Stars, that don’t work.”
Green’s not wrong. The last five NBA titles have been won by a team that has recently acquired a superstar in a trade or free agency. The Lakers flipped all their assets for Anthony Davis and immediately won in 2020, the Raptors took a gamble that paid off in 2019 for Kawhi Leonard, the Warriors benefited immensely from Kevin Durant’s infamous free agency decision, and the Cavaliers built their championship winning team by bringing Lebron James back in free agency and flipping Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love. If the Nets and Clippers make the Finals this year, that reality will be doubly emphasised.
The last team to win a title with players they had drafted and developed was the Golden State Warriors in 2015. But they had veteran help, having acquired Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa over several years. And their budding stars were between four and six seasons into their careers by the time they won.
Warriors GM Bob Myers has already said the Warriors need to get veterans and will prioritize that this offseason. But seeing as the Warriors’ main tools are two potential lottery picks, to place next to their own All-Star core, the message from Green wasn’t particularly subtle. If they’re going to use those draft picks on players, they’ll not only need at least one player who can contribute right away, but to find some steals on the veteran free agent market.
Who is available in a trade?
The most direct route the Warriors can take is to trade in their assets for the next available superstar. Not only do they have those two lottery picks, but they also have recent second overall pick James Wiseman, and a rehabilitated Wiggins with only two years left on his maximum contract.
That is a very competitive trade package should a superstar come onto the trade market. The problem is, who might be? The real blue-chip players are all tied up with their existing teams, save for potential free-agent-to-be Kawhi Leonard who the Warriors don’t have a realistic path to get as they are so far over the salary cap. Of the next tier, Bradley Beal has long been rumored to be the next star name on the market, but he maintains he is happy in Washington and the Wizards late surge may convince him to stay around. The younger crop of stars on struggling teams, such as Karl-Anthony Towns, still have multiple years to run on their contracts so are unlikely to be able to shake free this offseason.
In the NBA, however, anything can happen. At some point over the summer, someone will surely demand a trade. And the Warriors will be sitting there on a pile of assets, ready to pounce.
Will any star actually be worth the Warriors’ package?
This may be the biggest question of all. Two lottery picks will always have trade value whether both are in this year’s draft, or Minnesota’s falls next year. But if James Wiseman is in a trade, they’ll be trading him at what will probably be his lowest trade value point. The Warriors certainly don’t sound like they’re ready to sell low on him yet.
Then there’s the Andrew Wiggins question. The Warriors will most likely have to include him to match salaries for any star, but Wiggins’ departure would leave a huge gap on the wing. Wiggins has proven himself to be a durable, solid option to eat up minutes at the league’s premium position, credibly guarding opposing stars, and hitting enough of his open threes to keep defenses honest.
So part of the question here is if you trade Wiggins who is guarding those wings? If the answer if Klay Thompson coming off two serious injuries plus a bunch of veteran minimum players the Warriors are going to be in trouble. Doubly so, if the player you’re getting is another offensive dynamo who is a questionable defender, such as Beal.
The reality is the Warriors package holds plenty of value precisely because it holds plenty of value. Try this for a thought experiment. If there’s a trade on the table of Wiseman, the Minnesota pick, and Wiggins for Toronto’s Pascal Siakam, is Siakam really better enough than Wiggins to justify jettisoning those two prime assets alongside Wiggins?
This is perhaps the most difficult judgement the Warriors front office has to make this offseason. In the NBA the future comes a lot sooner than you think. And if Curry could realistically be expected to lead the charge for three, or even four more seasons yet, cashing in on all those assets now had better make them a surefire contender next season. The worst thing they could do is end up stuck in the middle, having used up all their assets for a team that can’t win a title either now or a few years down the line. There is more than one way to squander what is left of Curry’s prime.
How big will the Warriors spend?
Warriors GM Bob Myers has essentially answered part of this question already, saying there is a limit and that $400m “would be exceeding that limit”. Barring some major roster surgery, that means they can’t bring Kelly Oubre back, or flip him for a trade exception to use down the road. A $15m salary for Oubre puts them at around $450m in salaries and luxury tax thanks to three players (Curry, Thompson, Wiggins) on max contracts, Green on a $100m extension, and the salaries of three recent lottery picks all coming due while they hit the NBA’s crippling repeater tax. The Warriors can pay “more than most”, as Myers put it, as long as the cashcow that is Chase Center can reopen fully next season. But the salary cap numbers here are unheard of.
It’s also worth noting that if Curry signs the four-year $215m extension he is expected to, the Warriors will be in the repeater tax for the foreseeable future. That means those luxury tax bills won’t be coming down any time soon. Handing out multi-year contracts, unless they are close to the minimum, is probably off the table as a result.
But up to that point what are they willing to do? They will have the taxpayer Mid Level Exception available worth around $5.7m, which they could use to try to tempt a veteran to sign. Other than that, it’s minimum contracts all round. If the Warriors are going to prioritise veterans but can’t find trade options worth the price tag, they’re going have to get lucky.
That’s not impossible. There are always solid veteran players up for joining a potential contender, and the Warriors were in the mix for several last offseason. With Curry, Thompson and Green, the Warriors can make a decent pitch. But it’ll be a lot more convincing if they can find a way to offer more than the minimum.
The Warriors summer promises to be anything but uneventful. From June 22nd through to the draft on July 29th and the opening of free agency in early August, the Warriors are going to face some of the most important decisions their franchise will make.