By: Drew Kells
When you look at the three teams left with a legitimate shot at hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy in a few weeks time (sorry Indiana), what do you see?
The reigning Miami Heat have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The Spurs’ well-oiled machine is run by Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. And the Oklahoma City Thunder feature the young explosiveness of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The obvious common theme is that all three title contenders feature two legitimate superstars.
When you examine the Warriors roster heading into the 2014 offseason, it’s just not quite where it needs to truly be considered a genuine title threat.
Joe Lacob and Bob Myers have made it clear that they want to compete for championships not in the future, but right now. Given the current salary cap situation for both the 2014-2015 and 2016-2016 seasons, the Warriors do not have the option to add any major pieces via free agency barring the trade of a major salary.
The vast majority of the team’s money is tied to the four contracts of Steph Curry, Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut, and David Lee, with extensions looming for both Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
Thompson and Green are regarded highly by the front office, but it’s unrealistic to expect there to be enough cap space to retain both players next summer without moving one of those aforementioned four players.
Unless you think the current group of players is good enough to win it all next season, the time to pull the trigger on a game-changing move is now. And the opportunity has presented itself in Kevin Love.
2014-2015 Cap Outlook
The Warriors currently have 11 players on guaranteed or partially guaranteed contracts for the 2014-2015 season, with Jordan Crawford as a restricted free-agent (per HoopsHype).
The total of those salaries comes in just over $61.9 million (assuming Draymond’s contract becomes fully guaranteed and not including Crawford’s $3.2 million qualifying offer).
With the projected soft cap at $63.2 million and the luxury tax line at $77 million (per Larry Coon), the Warriors do not have many options in terms of adding a piece to take them to the next level.
The team will need to make a decision on whether they offer Crawford the $3.2 million qualifying offer by June 30, and also if they want to bring back Jermaine O’Neal and Steve Blake.
Crawford is likely not coming back, although his restricted free agency does open the possibility of a sign and trade to add another role player. The other option is to use the remaining portion of the traded player exception from the Jefferson/Biedrins trade last summer to add a piece, but that would need to be done before it expires on July 10.
Backup PG is a clear need, and Myers will have to decide if Steve Blake is the man for the job or possibly try and use the TPE or mid-level exception to acquire an upgrade.
A few options with the TPE could be to acquire a veteran such as Andre Miller or Raymond Felton, whose teams could look to dump their salaries.
When looking at the possibility of the MLE to add a quality piece, a few players that come to mind are Shaun Livingston, Rodney Stuckey, and Greivis Vasquez. The Warriors need to fill the void left by Jarrett Jack’s departure to allow Steph to get extra rest as well as play off the ball more.
Regardless of who those final pieces are, if the opportunity presents itself to sign a player who is sure to contribute at a high level, the time is now for Joe Lacob to step up to the plate and cross the luxury tax line.
He has mentioned so many times that he is willing to do so, and in order for this team to take a step forward next year this very well may be the season it has to happen.
There are some interesting options out there of how the Warriors can add another piece or two to the rotation, but the inflexibility created from the $61.9 million already guaranteed makes it nearly impossible to add someone who will instantly turn them into a contender.
Decision Making Ahead
With the rookie contracts of Klay and Draymond set to expire after next season, the Warriors will be watching their core players extra closely over the next 12 months to determine what building blocks they want to move forward with.
As mentioned above, the window for the starting five, Barnes, and Green to play together is this coming year only as there won’t be enough cap space to re-sign both Klay and Draymond given the way Green emerged at the end of the season.
The Warriors’ brass is openly high on Klay and Lacob has been adamant that they will re-sign the shooting guard at all costs. Thompson will be eligible to sign an extension this offseason between July 10 and October 31, and it is very likely negotiations will be explored during that window.
Would Klay be willing to give a discount to stay with the franchise whose staff and fans have grown to love him? Has being involved in Kevin Love trade rumors affected his trust with the organization? Does he want to see what he can get on the open market?
These are questions that we don’t know the answers to, but surely have to be crossing the mind of the 24 year old whose stock is on the rise.
If an extension is not agreed upon by the start of the season, it is almost unfathomable to imagine a scenario where the Warriors do not match any offer sheet that Klay is signed to in restricted free agency next summer.
While they would love to have the same flexibility with Draymond, he will likely be offered a hefty contract by a team with cap space that the Warriors simply won’t be able to afford after paying Klay. The only way to make it happen would be to move one of Lee, Bogut, or Iguodala.
In either situation, the Warriors will be breaking out their checkbooks in the summer of 2015. If millions more are scheduled to come on board, the question that needs to be asked is are the players currently on the squad enough.
While we have yet to see what Steve Kerr is capable of doing with this core of players, the honest answer is no. This is a league dominated by teams with multiple superstars, and right now the Golden State roster only has one.
Kevin Love can change that.
Going All In for Love
The opportunity for a team to add a second superstar is rare, and when it presents itself, you simply cannot let it pass.
Kevin Love dominated the NBA in 2013-2014 posting averages of 26.1 points and 12.5 rebounds per game while finishing third in the league in both PER and win shares (per basketball-reference.com).
He is widely considered a top 10 player in the league and if coupled with Stephen Curry, the Warriors would have the two superstars needed to truly make a push at the title for years to come.
Before the Lacob era during the reign of Rowell and Cohan, that mere thought seemed like a pipe dream. Times have changed and the Warriors are now a desirable destination in this league with a real shot of landing Love and convincing him to sign an extension. That is something you go all in for.
According to Marcus Thompson, the Warriors do not want to include Klay Thompson in any deal for Love. While it would obviously be the preference to keep Klay in any deal, it simply cannot be the factor that kills a potential trade.
Thompson is a fantastic rising player with a lot of promise on both ends of the floor, but he cannot match the kind of production that you get from a top 3 PER kind of player.
Once the Jazz make a selection in the upcoming draft at #23, the Warriors will be eligible to trade their first-round pick in the 2015 draft. Myers should leverage that new asset and put together a godfather offer centered around Lee, Klay, the 2015 pick, and one of Barnes or Green that simply cannot be topped by any of the Timberwolves’ potential trade partners.
With two top elite offensive players in Curry and Love and two elite defenders in Iguodala and Bogut, the Warriors will instantly become a top contender to win the NBA title in the 2014-2015 season.
Lacob and Myers have shown they have championship aspirations. It’s time to go make it happen.