Tomorrow will be a year since Kevin Durant decided to leave the Golden State Warriors for the Brooklyn Nets and the Warriors. own bold decision to transform Durant’s choice into a sign and an exchange for D’Angelo Russell. A year later, Russell is no longer with the Warriors. But that does not mean that their risky decision did not bear fruit.
The choice of warriors
The Warriors were faced with a choice when Durant walked. Path A, perhaps the path of least resistance, was to roll over the main players and attempt a title without him. After all, the Warriors had come close to their third straight title, rallying to beat the Rockets after Durant was injured in the fourth quarter of Game 5, and taking a classic 6 game in Houston to end their rivalry emphatically. After sweeping the Portland Trailblazers in the Western Conference finals, they met their game in the NBA finals in Toronto. It’s easy to forget now, but before the third game at Oakland, they were tied 1-1. If Klay Thompson hadn’t been injured, missing Game 3 first and then tragically tearing up his ACL in Game 6, the Warriors might have been shot.
The Warriors front office could have applied the old adage, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. There must have been some tinkering around the edges, but they would still have had Andre Iguodala and could have brought DeMarcus Cousins cheaply alongside other benches like Quinn Cook. Then, in the summer of 2020, they could have carved out a bit of ceiling space if they had decided to leave Draymond Green. At first glance, this is not a bad path at all.
But there was a time limit on this path. Maybe if Thompson’s injury hadn’t been as bad, it would have been the route they would have taken. As it turned out, Steph Curry’s injury knocked him out for most of the 2019-20 season, it wouldn’t have worked. They would have had high hopes for Cousins to return for his second season of his Achilles tear. But unfortunately for him, he tore up his LCA this summer, which also kept him away all season. Kevon Looney was also expected to be a key player, but he missed most of the season with a litany of injuries.
The Warriors did not know any of these facts when they made their choice. All they knew was that Thompson would be out for a while, maybe the whole season. They also knew they had to rejuvenate. There is only so far that you can go by bolting a few extra pieces with shallow draft choices and the intermediate level taxpayer exception.
No doubt in the previous two dead seasons, they had seen the limits of this strategy. In 2017, they used their MLE to sign Nick Young and got value in the second round with Jordan Bell. In 2018, they named Jacob Evans as an NBA ready prospect who did nothing. The MLE surprisingly registered Cousins for them, but the bet did not pay off and their lack of wing depth returned to bite them in the final.
If they wanted to restart their franchise and expand their dynasty in the future, they had to do something more drastic.
Plan B was then. The Warriors made a bold decision to turn Durant’s exit into a sign and swap for young Brooklyn leader D’Angelo Russell who had just had an impressive year leading the Nets to the playoffs and making his first ever team. stars.
As part of the signing and swap deal to bring Russell in, the Warriors were limited and had to pay wages. Iguodala is out and his $ 17.2 million contract, as well as a protected draft pick of 2024 among the top 4 for the Memphis Grizzlies. With Russell, the Warriors sent their first protected draft pick in 2020, which will become their second-round pick in 2025.
The Warriors then managed to keep Looney on what looked like a deal at the time with their room remaining under the “apron” (the limit available for teams that are strict). They also avoided Green entering a free agency where he could have a bigger contract, instead, signing him for a multi-year extension based on his current contract which was signed under a lower salary cap.
The second bet
The adjustment with Russell was questioned from the start. But that gave the Warriors a chance to take a look at a young guard to come while Thompson was away, and most importantly, both a great asset and a way to take another maximum contract while continuing to exceed the salary ceiling.
The fact that they left Russell so quickly was a surprise. The fact that they took one of the worst contracts in the league in the Andrew Wiggins case was even more of a surprise. The Warriors compounded a risky decision – trade for Russell – with an even bigger bet – trade for Wiggins. It was a bold decision by a front office that had seen the first bet not quite pay off.
The Wiggins trade was not, however, a question of better adjustment. In compensation for this contract, the Warriors got their hands on the first protected choice of Minnesota in 2021, unprotected thereafter, and the choice of the Wolves in the second round in 2021, which should be in the 1930s. have also sent enough wages to evade the luxury tax and avoid the repetitive tax next season.
Overall, the Warriors ended up sending Durant, who was leaving Iguodala anyway, a protected pick from the top 4 in 2024 and a second-round pick in 2025. In return, they received Wiggins and Minnesota in 2021, including the first protected tour of the top 3. They will also face lower luxury tax bills for the 2020-21 season, which could help them spend.
Restart is not finished
Under these conditions, the Warriors game worked well. In the round, Golden State managed to get a younger wing to partner with their long-term core of Curry, Thompson and Green, and accelerated their capital project, betting on the disappointing Minnesota Timberwolves next season. Given the Wolves’ history, this is not a bad bet. They will likely choose the top 10 and top 30 next year in a repechage class known to contain quite a few stars. And thanks to their own terrible 2019-2020 season, the Warriors’ choice in this year’s first round draft will not go to Brooklyn, but will rather their highest choice in almost 20 years.
Most importantly, the restart is not over. They still have one more tool from the Angelo Russell trade sign – the $ 17.2 million trade exception they created during the Iguodala trade in Memphis. There is a big financial cost to use it now the NBA salary cap is unlikely to increase but they have lots of options to look at. And thanks to the avoidance of the luxury tax this year, they won’t be exposed to repeated tax penalties until the 21-22 season, when they hope fans will return to the Chase Center, generating the kind of income they need to pay these bills.
On top of that, one of the main reasons why Russell was added was to open the possibility of using a fourth maximum salary range while operating above the ceiling, which would not have been possible for them otherwise. Wiggins’ contract will be more difficult to reverse, especially in this financial environment, but combined with their capital project they have assets to go after the next disgruntled superstar.
The Warriors faced a big decision this time last year. They made a typically bold move that seems to have paved the way for the return to the championship. All that’s left is to finish the job. They’ll have to wait a little longer than they had planned due to the postponed NBA season, but if they stick out, their big bet on the sign and D’Angelo Russell’s trade could still pay off .