The Week That Was:
It would be hard to script a better opening week for the Warriors. Beyond going 3-0 by beating three conference opponents, they earned those wins behind strong performances from Klay Thompson and the rest of the starters. While the Splash Brothers will get the headlines because of their scoring exploits, Andrew Bogut’s defense played a major role in the road wins against Portland and Sacramento.
Beyond their own success, the Warriors’ chief rivals for the division crown looked weaker than expected early on. While the Clippers sit at 3-1, they have not left the Staples Center and the only playoff team they faced was the Thunder who are a M*A*S*H unit right now and suffered the emotional hit of losing Russell Westbrook during that game. Lob City fell at home to a surprisingly feisty Sacramento squad who lost to the Warriors by eighteen in their own home opener on Wednesday. One week obviously does not tell the full story but any early stumbles by the Clippers open up yet another window for Golden State.
Oh, and Klay Thompson signed a four-year extension for a bunch of money.
The Soapbox: Two Dates
Klay Thompson’s extension means the Warriors will keep the Splash Brothers together through at least the 2016-17 season barring a major surprise but it also puts the wheels in motion for fans to find out just how committed owner Joe Lacob is to putting a championship caliber team on the floor.
There are two dates Warriors fans should keep in the back of their minds: July 15, 2015 and February 18, 2016.
At this point, we already know pretty clearly that Golden State will not pay the luxury tax this season. The combination of the team subjecting themselves to the hard cap by signing Shaun Livingston to the full Mid-Level Exception and the large unlikely bonuses on Andrew Bogut’s contract mean that even a Warriors front office that pushed it to their limits would have trouble being in the tax unless Bogut hits those incentives. For better or worse, the choices made this summer make that a reality.
Next season will be totally different as Klay’s lucrative extension will kick in without any large salaries coming off the books.
July 15, 2015 should be about the time that Draymond Green’s free agency situation resolves. As Saam Esfandiari explained well over the weekend, Green stands as the most likely casualty if Lacob does not want to spend a ton of money next season to keep the team together. As a Restricted Free Agent who cannot sign an extension, it would be shocking to see Draymond take any less than the highest salary any team will offer him. At that point, Golden State will have three days to match the offer sheet or let Green go. That decision will mark the first major signpost.
The second comes seven months later at the trade deadline. The first Thursday after the 2016 All-Star Game is February 18 so that should be the day everything locks in. The NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement specifies that the calculations for which teams pay the luxury tax come from the last day of the regular season but the trade deadline functions as the indicator since franchises have a ton of trouble shedding money after that point. The Warriors could go through the Summer of 2015 looking like they would pay the tax and then make a move in February like what happened on a much smaller scale when the team dumped Jeremy Tyler and Charles Jenkins in 2013 to duck the tax at the last minute.
While paying the luxury tax may not appear to have that large an impact, Joe Lacob’s willingness to spend on the Warriors will determine their ceiling moving forward because the downside of drafting well and getting your star player at a below-market contract comes when those players can get new contracts. We have seen from Oklahoma City’s recent troubles that ownership groups who prioritize profit over spending on teams that are already good can kneecap a team on the cusp and Klay Thompson’s big contract means we have a clear idea when we will know that key part of the franchise’s future.
Seven days from now, we will have a much better idea just how good this Warriors team is in the short term. The first duel this season with the Clippers will come at Oracle on Wednesday and then the Dubs travel to Houston and Phoenix for a brutal back-to-back.
I would consider 2-1 a triumph because each game will be a challenge on its own and the brutal timing makes it even harder.