What’s the Plan? is a weekly series where we usually look at the long-term outlooks for teams that aren’t immediately contending for a championship, but I’ve already talked about all of the bad and middling teams, so now I’m looking at the contenders. Today, we’re looking at the defending champs and how they can keep their championship team together.
The Warriors are in a great position. They’re coming off a championship with one of the best young teams in the league. Often championship contenders are racing against their title window, trying to maximize their chances at a ring before their veterans and star players start to decline. The Warriors don’t need to worry about that too much. Of their starters, Andrew Bogut is the oldest at age 30, followed by Stephen Curry at 27. The rest are all 25 or younger and should continue to play at a high level, or even improve, for the years to come.
The dilemma for the Warriors is more in how to keep as much of their championship core together and re-sign all of those young players. The good thing for the Warriors is that they’ve already gotten a head start on this. They’ve extended Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, and reportedly tried to extend Harrison Barnes to a four year, $64 million contract, which Barnes apparently refused.
If the Warriors are unable to extend Barnes this season, he’ll be a restricted free agent next offseason and be able to sign an offer sheet with another team. Golden State will be able to match that offer sheet, but if the number comes in too high, they may have to think about their long-term flexibility, in particular, for the 2017 offseason.
2017 is when Stephen Curry, Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston all become free agents. They’ll give Curry the max for however many years he wants, but the other players will force the Warriors to make some interesting decisions with their lineups. Iguodala and Bogut will both be well into their 30s, and the Warriors may consider other options at those positions. Festus Ezeli seems prime to take Bogut’s position, but he’ll also be a restricted free agent next offseason if an extension can’t be agreed upon before the start of this season.
The big thing to remember is that these are the Warriors’ own players, so they can go over the cap to re-sign members of their current roster. The limiting factors are how much ownership wants to spend on players, and also how much the front office values flexibility in signing free agents.
Another interesting aspect of the Warriors’ 2017 offseason is that they could find themselves with a lot of cap space and a very talented roster. The team is currently only committed to $34 million (it’s effectively $50 million because of Curry’s cap hold) in 2017. Signing Ezeli and Barnes would increase that number, of course, so signing them would cut into the amount of money the Warriors will have to spend on the 2017 crop of free agents. Some of the big names from the 2017 class potentially include: Blake Griffin, Giannis Antetokounmpo (restricted), Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant (if he signs the LeBron one-and-one deal this offseason), Gordon Hayward and plenty of others.
The league will be in its second year of the new TV deal, and the cap is projected to be up around $108 million. Some players have been setting up their deals so they’ll hit free agency at this exact time. The Warriors could feasibly move on from Bogut and Iguodala, sign another big free agent and then sign Curry using his Bird rights to go over the cap. How much they decide to give Barnes and Ezeli will affect how much room they have to maneuver in 2017, something that could be the difference between getting a player the Warriors want and a player they’d be content with.