Warriors secure stars after Kevin Durant Experience

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

When Kevin Durant signed his first one-year contract with the Warriors, they were just happy to have him. His second one-year contract led to some jokes that masked real internal concern.

By the time Durant signed a third one-year contract in Golden State, the tension was inescapable. Durant left money on the table to ensure another free agency. The writing was on the wall.

And it contributed to so much tension.

Draymond Green most infamously addressed it, reportedly telling Durant, paraphrased, “We don’t need you. We won without you. Leave.” Durant brooded at times, lashing out at the media and publicly criticizing Steve Kerr. It seemed untenable.

It was. Durant signed with the Nets, ending the Warriors’ dominion over the league.

Golden State recuperating by seizing control of stars’ future. It has come at a substantial cost. But the team is back in charge.

The Warriors signed Klay Thompson to a five-year max contract, signed Draymond Green to a four-year extension with a player option and acquired D'Angelo Russell on a four-year max contract. They’ll join Stephen Curry, who has three years remaining on his super-max deal.

Few stars are locked in that long.

Setting rough criteria for stars, let’s look at players who were an All-Star last season or both of the preceding two seasons. Here’s how many years they’re each under contract before their contracts expire or they can opt out:

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By team:

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The Warriors’ best move was signing Green to a four-year, $99,666,363 extension. He could’ve hit unrestricted free agency and sought a max contract from another team, which projects to be worth $151 million over four years. Or he could’ve pushed for even more from Golden State, way more if he qualified for the super max by winning Defensive Player of the Year or making All-NBA next season. Instead, he took the security of an extension now. Nothing is assured as Green ages. But best I can tell now, this is a bargain for the Warriors.

Signing Thompson to a five-year max contract was another must-do deal. There’s risk. Thompson has a torn ACL and will likely turn 30 before he plays again. But he’s an excellent two-way player whose sweet outside shooting should age well.

Getting Russell was the most controversial acquisition. He doesn’t fit cleanly in a backcourt with Curry and Thompson. There’s already talk of Golden State trading him. A max salary isn’t cheap, and the Warriors had to send the Nets a potential first-rounder.

Acquiring Russell a sign-and-trade also hard-capped Golden State, creating significant limitations. The Warriors traded a first-round pick to dump Andre Iguodala, who’s still a good player. They were also restricted in filling out their roster.

Why go to all that trouble?

Because Russell is a young star. Those are rarely available.

Russell is the youngest established All-Star ever to change teams via free agency (including sign-and-trades and, in a previous era, signings that included compensation).

Here’s every established All-Star to change teams via free agency before turning 26:

 

Player Year From To Age
D’Angelo Russell 2019 BRK GSW 23 years, 4 months, 14 days
Jamaal Wilkes 1977 GSW LAL 24 years, 2 months, 9 days
Shaquille O’Neal 1996 ORL LAL 24 years, 4 months, 12 days
Otis Birdsong 1981 KCK NJN 25 years, 5 months, 30 days
LeBron James 2010 CLE MIA 25 years, 6 months, 10 days
Sean Elliott 1993 SAS DET 25 years, 7 months, 29 days
Andrew Bynum 2013 PHI CLE 25 years, 8 months, 22 days
Kenny Anderson 1996 CHA POR 25 years, 9 months, 14 days
Bernard King 1982 GSW NYK 25 years, 10 months, 18 days

Pressed by the hard cap, Golden State gave the biggest chunk of its remaining money to Kevon Looney (three years, $14,464,287). That’s solid value for a player comfortable with the Warriors.

The most interesting low-cost addition is Willie Cauley-Stein, who got slightly more than the minimum on a 1+1. He could be a heck of a finisher around other high-gravity players.

Maybe one of the Warriors’ young players will pan out. But No. 28 pick Jordan Poole, No. 41 pick Eric Paschall, No. 39 pick Alen Smailagic and Omari Spellman (2018 No. 30 pick acquired in a trade for Damian James) aren’t exactly thrilling prospects.

As for minimum-salary free agents, I’m higher on Glenn Robinson III than Alec Burks. But both are minimum-salary players for a reason.

Golden State could have built a deeper roster better-suited for contending this year. Without Durant and Iguodala, the Warriors have a massive hole at small forward.

Instead, Golden State acquired Russell and accepted the hard-cap burden. That might pay off in the long run. Next season, it probably reduces the Warriors’ championship odds.

Maybe a title wouldn’t have happened next season, anyway. Thompson is injured, and the team could need another year to build back up after losing Durant.

Golden State and Durant had three great years together. Losing him is a huge setback. The Warriors as we knew them are finished.

But all this star control gives them a good chance to rebound.

Offseason grade: C-