Last summer, I wrote a piece called “The Third Way” talking about how the Warriors could add multiple max players. The past eleven months have changed the Golden State future in many ways (nearly all of them positive) so it felt like high time to go through a different scenario with this new landscape.
My friend Andy Liu at Golden State of Mind likes to ask me CBA/cap hypotheticals because I am a nerd on that stuff and he gave me this one a few weeks ago: Can the Warriors get Kevin Durant?
The answer is yes, albeit a cautious one.
First, a few key assumptions:
- Oklahoma City will not facilitate the move in any way, meaning the Warriors need to have enough cap space to sign KD outright. At that point, the Thunder could opt for a sign and trade ala Denver with Andre Iguodala but Bob Myers would need to have those deals in place.
- Kevin Durant will not take less than his maximum first-year salary to change teams. No reason to make this exercise easier, especially since doing so makes it less realistic.
While no one knows what the 2016-17 salary cap will look like, the NBA does provide projections. Amin Elhassan of ESPN Insider used those figures to estimate that the 2016-17 cap of $89 million would translate to a maximum salary for Durant of $25,098,000.
As such, to sign him outright the Warriors must have less than $64 million in player salaries, holds and exceptions combined. In addition, having fewer than 12 players on roster adds on charges at the rookie minimum for each spot ($543,471 in 2016-17 for those interested).
Stephen Curry will make a disturbingly low $12.1 million that season and since he would be a part of this for sure we can take the Golden State flexibility down to about $51.8 million.
With David Lee off the books that summer, some players who would factor into that number include: Klay Thompson, Draymond Green (on his new contract), Harrison Barnes (either with a new contract or a cap hold of about $9.7 million), Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli (new contract or a $5m cap hold), Shaun Livingston (partially guaranteed), any other players from this year’s team they want to retain and any draft picks between now and then.
You remember that $51.8 million number? Including cap holds but not minimum roster spots, draft picks or any other obligations, the above group adds up to about $76 million. Also remember that shedding the kind of money necessary to clear a large amount of cap likely brings some contracts back, especially since just about everyone in that group would be considered an asset on their remaining contract so getting no returning salary would be getting less than full value.
That said, while it would be incredibly difficult, the Warriors could use the spike to maintain a strong starting five and still have the space to sign Kevin Durant in 2016. A combination of Curry, Klay, Draymond and either Bogut or Barnes would likely leave enough space for the 2013-14 MVP but with a very limited bench. In a way, they would spend that first season looking like Cleveland did before their mid-season deals. However, assuming Curry stuck around after that, the Warriors would head into the new Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2017 without paying the luxury tax in the previous season and with a surprising amount of options to make small improvements. Of course, shedding one or more of those starters would permit more salary for depth if desired.
In short, the answer to Andy’s question is yes, the Warriors could maneuver their assets to sign Kevin Durant outright while retaining enough talent to keep the team a title contender. I am not advocating for this but if they want to, they can.
While that makes 2016 an unlikely but potential option, the more logical time to add another quality player would be one year later. Since Bogut, Iguodala and Livingston expire along with Curry in 2017, Golden State would have a more open platform to add another big piece. I may have written a piece about a young player who could make some bold choices to become an unrestricted free agent that summer…
To be completely clear, the Warriors do not need to revamp their foundation in any way, shape or form but if they want to, the rapidly rising salary cap provides them an opportunity that presents itself to very few elite teams.