The Golden State Warriors will be over the salary cap for the 2015-16 season and almost assuredly pay the luxury tax. Considering they were able to stay under it this season and compete for a title regardless of what happens with Andrew Bogut’s big bonus, there should be no problems with that.
This context matters in discussions about what the team should do with David Lee this summer. I just wanted to make sure that readers knew that moving Lee or Andre Iguodala this summer would be for the primary purpose of saving the owners money rather than making the team better, barring something unforeseen.
The NBA uses a “soft cap” which allows teams to go over the salary cap using exceptions, many of which exist to facilitate franchises retaining their own free agents. That system allows cores like San Antonio’s to stay together for years but can make it hard to build on top of a key group without great draft picks, as the Oklahoma City Thunder have seen after their stars moved off their rookie contracts. The Warriors straddle those extremes to a point but have committed enough money to their core that they will not have cap space this summer. Considering the Dubs have a legitimate shot at the title and can bring everyone back next season, they should be thrilled with that reality.
At present, the Warriors have about $77 million committed to eight players next season with a $3.8 million team option on Marreese Speights, Brandon Rush’s player option and three restricted free agents including Draymond Green. Even without Green getting his deserved payday, Golden State could have expected a luxury tax bill for next season and having their commitments meant getting sufficiently under the cap to actually have usable space was always going to be inadvisable. From where the Warriors sit, there would not be many advantages to shedding enough salary to gain flexibility- the benefits would not be worth the costs if we are focusing exclusively on team quality.
Another component to understand comes from David Lee’s contract itself. A little while back, I coined the term “The Nene Test” as a way of determining if a player and his contract could be considered an asset by other teams, named after Nene because Masai Ujiri signed the Brazilian to a contract and traded him that same season. (I even did a podcast with ESPN’s Amin Elhassan on the Nene Test at the beginning of this season: http://basketball.realgm.com/wiretap/235449/RealGM-Radio-Amin-Elhassan-On-The-Nene-Test-NBAs-New-TV-Deal). While still a talented player with plenty to offer, David Lee and his remaining contract would not be beneficial on the aggregate. $15.5 million (or thereabouts) is just too much to pay for him, even with a higher salary cap. In practical terms, that means we can expect franchises to ask for assets in exchange for taking Lee off Golden State’s hands rather than the other way around. Andre Iguodala presents a much more complicated case since his defensive ability and knowledge could help build the foundation for certain teams but an NBA team will not sacrifice much in terms of talent to acquire either player considering their sizable contracts.
The lack of flexibility and small chance that David Lee (or Iguodala to a much lesser degree) brings back notable value in return means moving either would be a cost-saving venture that does not make the team any better. As this ownership group hopefully learned from the James Harden trade and Miami using their amnesty provision on Mike Miller, weakening your team for the sole purpose of saving owners money can lead to catastrophic consequences for contending teams.
Bob Myers and the Warriors front office have done an excellent job assembling a collection of players that can thrive together for the long term and fans should be both aware and wary of any move this summer that does not make the team better.