Four top-20 players and perhaps the most destructive offensive force to ever set foot on an NBA floor is a pretty good recipe for success. The Golden State Warriors swept through the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2018 Finals to bag their third title in four years and secure their place among the all-time great dynasties in NBA history. Still, no roster is perfect, as the Warriors almost found out against the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals—Golden State’s insistence on filling half their squad with centers and eschewing wings left them in a tough spot when Andre Iguodala went down with an injury in that series. If Houston merely shoots incredibly poorly instead of oh-my-god-will-they-ever-make-a-shot-again poorly in that Game 7, the general conversation around the Warriors and their roster is very different. Still, they got out of that game, did the job against Cleveland, and have the opportunity this summer to course-correct back to a more balanced roster for next season.
Kevin Durant will technically be a free agent this summer after taking a discount last summer to facilitate more money being saved by the team’s billionaire owners, a decision that surely sat well with the NBPA. Just like last year, Durant’s free agency is a mirage—there’s no real chance he leaves Golden State. Danny Leroux over at The Athletic broke down Durant’s free agency, which I wholeheartedly recommend (along with everything else Danny writes) in order to get a handle on the various types of contracts he can sign and the pros and cons that come with each option. I won’t reiterate what Danny wrote there, but the one important part is that whichever option Durant chooses, Golden State will be in the tax and therefore limited in their other free agency acquisitions. The Warriors will begin the summer about $17.7 million from the tax (assuming they stay put at 28 in June 21’s draft) and unless Durant is feeling awfully generous toward Joe Lacob and Peter Gruber for a second consecutive year, general manager Bob Myers will have to work within the confines of the $5.3 million Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception in order to bring in outside talent this summer.
Golden State’s other free agents include Nick Young, Zaza Pachulia, Kevon Looney, Pat McCaw, David West, and JaVale McGee, opening the door for the Warriors to drastically overhaul their roster this summer, though they’ll have to do so mostly through minimum contracts. Young is the primary focus among their incumbent free agents, as he’s the only one of them who plays the wing and looks to be affordable. McCaw is a restricted free agent but may price himself out of what Golden State is willing to pay him when factoring in what that would do to their tax bill. Pachulia and Looney are almost definitely gone—Pachulia fell completely out of the rotation by the end of the year and the Warriors declined Looney’s fourth-year option before the season started, limiting what they can give him to just $2.2 million for next year. Looney certainly has his flaws, but he showed enough during Golden State’s playoff run to earn a larger contract than that elsewhere. West is a great locker room presence and has a consistent role as a bench center during the regular season, though his slow-footedness shows up in certain playoff matchups. He performed better against the Cavaliers but was completely unplayable against Houston; still, he’s worth another minimum contract, should he want to return to Golden State for a chance at a third consecutive title. McGee looked like the team’s best option among their traditional centers at times in the playoffs, but was also played off the floor by the Warriors’ chief rivals in the Conference Finals. Of their non-Durant free agents, I would expect to see Young, West, and McGee back in Golden State next season.
That leaves two open roster spots for next season, assuming Pick 28 is not a draft-and-stash. Given their financial limitations, it makes sense that they use their entire mini mid-level exception to bring in a single player, then fill the last roster spot with a minimum contract. There are plenty of low-cost wings who could bolster their depth and some even who might take a bit of a discount to come be a rotation player for a championship contender. Given Iguodala’s age and injury history and Young’s inconsistency, it’s not hard to imagine that there are a few guys going into free agency who would look at themselves as the first wing off the bench for this team in the very near future. The list starts with Trevor Ariza, who will be an unrestricted free agent and just got an up-close look at how great this Warriors team is. Depending on Houston’s other moves, Ariza may not be in their plans anymore, which could open a dialogue between his camp and the Warriors. He’d have to take a pay cut to make the move, but it will be on the table if he’s willing to shave about $2.1 million off of what he made last year.
There are a host of other options, should Ariza spurn the Warriors for another team, Rockets or otherwise. Joe Harris is likely to have offers between $4 million and $7 million, according to Michael Scotto of The Athletic, who’s as plugged in to the Brooklyn Nets as anybody in the league, a range in which Golden State’s $5.3 million exception fits perfectly. Harris would be a phenomenal fit with the Warriors, giving them a fourth floor spacer to go with Durant, Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson. It didn’t end up hurting them, but there was a severe lack of spacing on the 2017-18 Warriors that we weren’t used to seeing in their previous Finals runs. Harris is a career 40 percent three-point shooter and set career-highs in both attempts and efficiency from the great beyond for a run-and-gun Nets team this past season. Throw in average-enough defense to make it work (certainly better than what Young gave them last year) and Harris is likely at the top of Golden State’s non-Ariza wishlist for free agency signings. A few other names that would work in slightly smaller roles: restricted free agent Treveon Graham, unrestricted free agent James Ennis, and unrestricted free agent Mario Hezonja, who quietly had a solid year after the Magic declined his fourth-year option in October. Not all of these other options would take the entire mini mid-level, leaving the door open for them to sign an undrafted free agent or second-round pick to a three-year deal instead of the standard two for minimum contracts. The Warriors have no second-round picks in this year’s draft but have shown a willingness to buy back in when they see an opportunity, as they famously did with Jordan Bell in 2017.
There isn’t much the Warriors need to do to upgrade their roster, which is good since they don’t have a ton of options. Getting another youngster in the draft will help sustain their excellent run and a key free agency signing on the wing will help reinforce their depth for what looks to be another 100-game season in 2018-19. Durant will re-up with the team this summer before their attention turns to fellow stars Thompson and Draymond Green for extension negotiations, as fruitless as those look to be. Neither player has a financial incentive to sign an extension, though we’ve seen superstars take less in Golden State previously. Still, the gap between an extension and what they could get in their respective free agencies is wide enough to make them wait until 2019 and 2020, respectively, to get paid what they deserve.