The Warriors can’t afford to keep Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins, and Jordan Poole, so who goes?
It’s been a dramatic few days for the Golden State Warriors. More dramatic than things are supposed to be for an NBA team in the doldrums of late July. Certainly more dramatic than things are supposed to be for a defending-champion NBA team this time of year.
The drama has been brewing for a while, yet we’ve all tried to suppress it as much as possible. Fans and writers alike have formed a human dam to keep the drama at bay. As the contracts grew larger, the dam refused to budge. As the Warriors set the NBA record for payroll in 2021-22, and committed to setting a new record in 2022-23, the dam held strong. When the Warriors refused to match the price tag necessary to retain Gary Payton II, the dam stood its ground.
And then it broke.
On Wednesday, The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson II and Anthony Slater offered an in-depth report on the financial flexibility of the Dubs. It featured a previously glossed over quote from Joe Lacob, given to The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami in June, that the team would be unwilling to exceed a $400 million payroll. It revealed that Draymond Green wants a max contract, the Warriors are unwilling to give him one, and he’s willing to play elsewhere.
And it put the harrowing numbers onto the page: A $33 million/year extension for Andrew Wiggins, mixed with a $31 million/year extension for Green, mixed with a $27 million/year extension for Jordan Poole would result in total payments estimated at around $564 million. You can search long and hard for a few discounts, but they’ll shave off tens of millions, not hundreds of millions.
The conclusion, unless it isn’t abundantly clear, is this: the Warriors cannot keep all five of Green, Wiggins, Poole, Steph Curry, and Klay Thompson beyond this season.
Someone has to go. And with tax payments, that someone will shave something in the order of $150 million off the total bill.
In all likelihood, that decision will be made this time next year. But the Warriors can offer extensions to any of those players right now, and Thompson and Slater reported that some discussions are already underway, though they noted that “nothing is imminent” regarding Wiggins, and “there doesn’t appear to be a level of urgency” with a Poole extension. And even if one player is extended this offseason, it doesn’t necessarily signal a clear commitment, as that player could still be traded.
So barring something bizarre, one of those players will need to be given back their wings next summer, so they can fly elsewhere. It won’t be Curry, for obvious reasons. And let’s eliminate Thompson, too, because he still has two years left on his deal — he may need to take a discount on his next contract, but nothing he can do now will put the team in a financially feasible position for the 2023-24 season.
That leaves Green, Wiggins, and Poole. Let’s make the case for, and against, each player.
Why he might be the odd man out: There’s no denying that Dray’s lack of scoring and shooting hurt the offense this year. And he only played in 46 regular season games last year, which is, unfortunately, becoming something of a trend.
If we assume that the players who are kept will get four-year extensions, it’s not wild at all to think that Green’s will look the worst on the back half. He’s 32 years old right now, which means he’d be 37 by the time a four-year extension finishes up. Even if it’s a three-year extension to put him on Curry’s timeline, the idea remains. Any long-term deal for Green is about maximizing the next few years, and dealing with the rest later.
Also, when I talked about this on Twitter the other day, I was shocked to see just how many Warriors fans think Dray is no longer good, and is way worse than Wiggins. I don’t agree with that even remotely nor, I suspect, do the Warriors. But it is worth bringing up.
Why the Warriors won’t want to lose him: Well, this one’s pretty obvious. He’s been a core part of the team’s dynasty since Day 1. According to Thompson and Slater, Curry sees the Warriors core trio as a packaged deal and “would not be happy” if the Dubs let Green go because they wouldn’t pay him enough. That’s reason enough to make him the only priority.
Green is, when healthy, the best defensive player in the NBA by a landslide. He led the league last year in Defensive EPM at +5.0 … only five other players eclipsed +3.0, with the closest to Green being +3.6. Their defense fell apart when he was injured — it dropped to 15th in the league during the two-month stretch. He’s arguably the team’s biggest leader, and you could make the case that if he didn’t play last year they wouldn’t even make the postseason.
While the report noted that Green wants the max, I don’t think the Warriors will have to go there. He’s unlikely to get anything too close to that on the open market, so there should be a middle ground where he feels taken care of by the organization.
For all these reasons, I think Green’s spot on the team going forward is safe. Which means it really comes down to two players.
Why he might be the odd man out: Wiggins is an exceptional bridge. He’s significantly younger than the core, but significantly older than the team’s recent draftees. He can help transition from one era to the next … but is that worth prioritizing at the expense of that next era?
In other words, if in four years the Core 3 is fading and/or retired, and some combo of James Wiseman/Jonathan Kuminga/Moses Moody/Patrick Baldwin Jr./Ryan Rollins have emerged as foundational pieces, in their mid-20s, would you rather pair them with mid-20s Poole, or 31-year old Wiggins on a near-max contract?
There’s also the question of how Wiggins will look like as the core fades. His defense took a substantial hit when Green was out, and he had a two-and-a-half month stretch where he scored at a low volume, with poor efficiency, while turning the ball over lots, and seemingly forgetting how to shoot free throws.
The reality is that in March or April it looked like there was a clear clock counting down Wiggins’ time with the Warriors. And then the playoffs occurred, he put the clamps on two of the best offensive players in the world, was the team’s second-best player in the NBA Finals, and now things look very different.
Wiggins has both of those truths in him, and it’s fair to trust either one of them.
Why the Warriors won’t want to lose him: Wiggins can do something that Poole will likely never be able to do: play good defense. He’s also, despite the vaccine situation, very well respected in the locker room, and gets along well with his teammates. If you’re wanting to maximize the championship odds for the next two or three years — and the Warriors should want to do that — there are plenty of reasons to think that Wiggins helps more than Poole does. Especially if they end up facing Luka Dončić or Jayson Tatum again.
He fits very well with the core. He’s reliable and rarely ever misses games. He’s just a super solid player.
Why he might be the odd man out: Poole had an electric offensive season, but the Warriors might have concerns. They’ve rarely prioritized offensive players, unless those players were Hall of Fame-level talents: Curry, Thompson, and Kevin Durant. Poole is all-offense, no-defense, and that surely scares the franchise. They might also have concerns over how much of an offensive load he can carry when not surrounded by stars.
All of those concerns will only be amplified if they feel that Kuminga, Moody, or any other young player can replace the bulk of what Poole does on the offensive side of the court.
And you could also make the case that Poole is more replaceable in free agency and trades than Wiggins is, though I don’t think I’d agree with it.
But the case for Poole to be the odd man out mostly comes down to this: most people probably think that removing him from the lineup hurts the team’s immediate title chances less than removing Wiggins.
Why the Warriors won’t want to lose him: Joe Lacob has spoken at length about wanting to be this generation’s San Antonio Spurs — a team that retools as it goes, without having to dip into an extended lull. While Poole is neither Tim Duncan nor Kawhi Leonard, it’s hard to claim they’re prioritizing building the best next era of Warriors basketball if they let their 23-year old fringe All-Star walk.
As a reminder, Poole is younger than Dončić and Trae Young. He’s merely two months older than Ja Morant. He’s also not nearly as good as those three players, but you get my point: he’s incredibly young, and more valuable to the post-Curry era than Wiggins.
Also, given his young age, it’s still unclear just how good he could eventually become.
So who goes?
I can’t stress enough how important the upcoming season is. This has become a fluid situation, and so much depends on how those two play. Does Poole take another step forward? Does he take a step backwards now that defenses have adjusted to him? Does Wiggins play like he did in June all year long? Does he play like he did in February all year long?
There’s so much left to play out.
If the Warriors were forced to choose right now? My guess would be that they keep Wiggins. He’s more proven as a championship contributor, and fits the current timeline while serving as a bridge to the next one.
If it were me? While recognizing that there are no fun choices here, I would keep Poole. The thought of letting a youngster with so much potential walk reeks of something that could come back to bite the team. There’s also the fact that the Warriors are an elite defense but a mediocre offense … to me, they should be prioritizing offensive players. The defense will remain very good as long as Green and Kevon Looney are around. But the offense can’t afford any more hits.
It would be nice to live in a world where the Warriors could simply keep both Poole and Wiggins, as well as Curry, Thompson, and Green. Unfortunately we don’t live in that world. Which makes the 2022-23 season one in which the Warriors will not only be fighting for a second-straight championship, but also taking note of some very important roster battles.