By keeping Draymond Green (especially at less than his max), drafting Kevon Looney and saving on their luxury tax bill by swapping David Lee for Jason Thompson without giving up substantial assets, Bob Myers and the Warriors have done very well this summer.
With the roster largely set and plenty of time until training camp starts, we can take a little walk down hypothetical lane and look at 2016. Tim Kawakami wrote a nice piece on Kevin Durant last week but I wanted to put my take out there as well.
Let’s start with the basics:
- The current estimate for the 2016-17 salary cap is $89,000,000
- Golden State has eight players under contract for that season (Curry, Klay Thompson, Green, Bogut, Iguodala, Livingston, Looney and Jason Thompson’s guaranteed portion) at a combined salary of about $76 million.
- That figure does not include Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli, who will be restricted free agents if they do not sign extensions before November 1st. Their cap holds absent an extension (that salary would replace the cap hold) are about $9.6 million and about $5 million respectively.
- The Warriors would have full Bird rights on Marreese Speights and Early Bird rights on both Leandro Barbosa and James Michael McAdoo. Bird rights allow a team to go over the salary cap to retain players but each has a cap hold (which counts against the salary cap) until they sign or are renounced. McAdoo’s hold is small enough that they could retain him even in circumstances where they need to clear cap space to sign someone.
What that Means
This combination actually makes Golden State’s situation pretty easy to understand because their total combination of salaries and cap holds puts them very close to the salary cap line if they cut Thompson and renounce both Speights and Barbosa. That means signing other team’s free agents for more than the Mid Level Exception would require sign and trades or clearing the space some other way.
Having salary commitments in that area without bad contracts creates challenges because the Warriors would have to sacrifice talent to gain cap flexibility but simply clearing space will be easier than when they signed Iguodala because the players Golden State has on the books are net assets rather than negatives.
As such, the Warriors could conceivably take meetings with players like Kevin Durant on the logic that they can clear the space if he decides to join the team. Assuming (as I did in an earlier article] that Durant would not take less than his maximum first year salary of about $25 million, the Dubs would either need to clear about $30 million in space or agree to a sign-and-trade with the Thunder which would reduce the salary to clear due to trade rules. However, OKC could justifiably take the stance that they will not facilitate their star player heading elsewhere in an attempt to narrow his suitors, like the Nuggets’ posturing with Iguodala and the Cavs with LeBron James in 2010. Since a player’s prior team has to be a part of any sign-and-trade, the Thunder could make Bob Myers’ life more difficult but the team could easily move players like Iguodala and Bogut considering nearly the entire league will have cap space and a desire to add players like them on expiring deals. As I wrote for the Sporting News, teams looking to clear space in the Summer of 2016 will be able to do it because there will be too many cap teams for any to exert leverage.
The Restricted Free Agents
One other major factor: Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli making it to restricted free agency would change their role in all this. While the Warriors could wait until later in the process then go over the cap to sign them to a larger salary like the Spurs did with Kawhi Leonard, the players would get some control over their own destiny as well. Restricted free agents have to consent to any sign-and-trade, can sign a valid offer sheet with any other team (starting a three day countdown until the Warriors would have to decide and would not be able to negotiate or trade them) and the only other way for their prior team to clear their hold if desired would be to renounce them altogether, which is untenable for these two talents. In those circumstances, having them on the books for an extension can actually facilitate moving them, assuming the player/contract combination is considered an asset around the league.
A way to think about it is that having either or both hit restricted free agency makes it much harder to move them for assets if the Warriors want to go in a different direction but likely makes it easier to add talent on top of them.
One small note: James Michael McAdoo is a different case because his cap hold is so small. While the team has the same constraints on moving him, McAdoo only makes a meaningful dent on the books when he signs so the timeline works a little differently assuming he is willing to wait for the rest of the process to shake out.
The Warriors have flexibility to make big things happen if the opportunity presents itself but fans should also consider that making smaller moves using cap space appears unlikely. Sure, the team could conceptually trade one of their expiring contracts like Bogut to another team and then use that space on a free agent but remember that the upcoming cap explosion means free agent salaries will be going through the roof, especially since nearly every team will have space burning a hole in their pockets. $11-12 million will not get the same caliber player it once did unless someone wants to take a discount to play on this squad.
In all likelihood, these factors in concert mean that 2016 will see the Warriors either make a seismic shift or largely keep the band together for that season. Curry, Iguodala, Bogut and Livingston all hitting unrestricted free agency in 2017 means that summer will be a major pivot point anyway but what the Dubs commit to for Barnes, Ezeli and McAdoo will dramatically affect their ability to add a major piece then too.
Winning a title puts Golden State in a great position for 2016 because they can leave the door open for a big piece without sacrificing the opportunity to keep their core together.