Warriors Face Important Roster Decisions
It hasn’t even been 24 hours since the Golden State Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games to win the NBA championship.
The feeling of winning the championship is still fresh on everybody’s mind. The feeling is so fresh that talk show hosts are still dissecting last night’s game. The smell of champagne may still be present throughout Quicken Loans Arena. Fans are still in shock that their 40-year championship drought is over and players are still nursing their celebratory hangovers.
Once the high of winning the NBA championship wears off, the Warriors will face some tough decisions regarding their roster. Those decisions won’t be made today. They won’t be made tomorrow. But they’ll be made soon. That’s the nature of basketball as a business. The window for teams to legitimately compete for championships is so small, teams must take advantage of their opportunities as much as they can. Free agency, trades and injuries are just a few things that can change the landscape of a team in the blink of an eye.
Players know things can change quickly. Draymond Green said months ago that he knows that this team may not be the same.
“It’s easy to capitalize on this, when you enjoy being around the people you’re around every day,” Green said back in March. “This is a special group, a special bond, so let’s make the best of it, because this team will probably never be together again. That’s just the nature of this business. One addition, one subtraction, and the team isn’t together no more. So take advantage of it while you’ve got it because I’m sure this team will never be together again.”
Green was likely accurate in his statement in March. The Warriors are currently looking at a payroll in the neighborhood of $77.5 million for 2015-16 and that number only counts the qualifying offer of $2,725,003 for Green as he prepares to hit restricted free agency. The team already has eight contracts guaranteed for next season, but will face important decisions on other role players over the summer. The projected cap number for next year is estimated at $67.1 million so the team doesn’t figure to have any cap room to work with as things are currently constructed.
Green tops the list of priorities for the Warriors this offseason. His rise from a role player averaging around 20 minutes a game to a starter playing 31 minutes per game has been well-documented. Green proved this season that he’s more than a decorated college player from Michigan State that was drafted in the second round. As he infamously yelled out to his mother last night after clinching the championship, “Mom, they told me I can’t play in this league!”
Green averaged just 6.2 points and five rebounds per game last season before getting an increased role this season after an early hamstring injury to David Lee in the preseason. He went on to average 11.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game this year and increased those numbers to 13.7 points, 10.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game over the Warriors’ run in the postseason. He finished runner-up in both the Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player awards, was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team and even threw in a triple-double last night against the Cavaliers to cap off the best year of his young career.
Much of the discussion all season long was whether Green was deserving of a max contract. It’s safe to say that Green has proven that he’s worthy of such a contract. The only question now becomes if he’ll ultimately sign that contract with the Warriors or another team in need of a player of his caliber. Warriors general manager Bob Myers hinted yesterday prior to Game 6 that the team will retain Green (as they can match any offer he receives, since he’s restricted), but a promise like that isn’t a guarantee and crazier things have happened.
Green will likely meet with prospective teams during the free agency process and listen to their presentations. People across all professions always want to hear how much they’re valued and appreciated and NBA players are no different. They want to enjoy the free agency process and be wooed by teams and Green has certainly earned that right. But at the end of the day, it’ll rest squarely on the Warriors and whether or not they want to match a max deal that’ll pay Green roughly $16.5 million next season. Bringing Green back would almost certainly guarantee that the team will be into the luxury tax next season, which is projected to be around $81.6 million.
One way to help alleviate some cap space would be by finding a suitor for the $15,493,680 owed to David Lee next season. Lee was the team’s starting power forward at the start of the year before suffering that hamstring injury in the preseason. He averaged 18.2 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game last season before those numbers slipped to 7.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game in a limited role this season.
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr made the conscious decision to go smaller in Game 3 and opted to insert Lee into the game. Lee responded by scoring 11 points in Game 3 and nine points in Game 4 and helped completely alter the series. Lee remained a professional throughout the entire season and into the playoffs as his playing time dwindled, but he’s even admitted that his time may be up at Golden State. Lee has shown that he can still be a capable contributor for teams, and Golden State will almost certainly try to trade him at some point during the offseason.
Moving down the roster, the Warriors will face a decision on Harrison Barnes. Although his deal for next season is guaranteed, Barnes figures to become a priority this offseason as he’ll be up for a contract extension on his current rookie deal. The Warriors can avoid Barnes hitting restricted free agency next summer if they can extend him by October 31. Barnes found himself in the starting lineup when Kerr took over and he’s improved as a result. He’s become a key contributor in the offense and came up big multiple times for the Warriors during the playoffs and could be in for a big pay day as a result.
Next up on the list is seven-year veteran Marreese Speights. The team holds a $3,815,000 option on his contract and could opt to bring him back next season. Speights averaged a career-high 10.4 points per game last season while adding 4.3 rebounds a game. Given his ability to score off of the bench, the team may elect to keep him given the small price tag attached to him.
Leandro Barbosa will become a free agent this summer and likely command a higher salary than the $915,243 he made this season. He came up huge for the Warriors on several different occasions during the playoffs, most recently in Game 5 when he scored 13 points in a 104-91 win.
Brandon Rush holds a $1,270,964 player option for next season while Ognjen Kuzmic and Justin Holiday are restricted free agents. While all these players may not represent a huge chunk of production, they all surfaced in big ways throughout the season, which added to their depth on the bench.
Despite these upcoming decisions, the Warriors will still be in pretty good shape next season. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Barnes and Festus Ezeli at the very least are all back next season, but some key role players may not be and their depth could change.
The team will be able to celebrate their championship some before having to deal with these issues. They’ll be celebrated in the Bay area for the next several days and will receive a proper party at some point, but big roster decisions loom in the coming days.
Dwyane Wade Upsets HEAT Fans
Miami HEAT guard Dwyane Wade caused HEAT fans some uneasiness prior to Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday night.
During the pre-game telecast on ABC, Wade responded to a question by saying, “When I was in Miami…” That phrase has left many fans wondering if Wade would really leave the only organization he’s known for 12 years.
It was reported last month that Wade and the HEAT are at a significant difference in contract negotiations. Wade must decide by the end of June if he will opt out of the $16.1 million player option that he holds for next season and become a free agent. Wade is reportedly seeking a three-year deal from the HEAT in a last attempt to collect as much money as he can as he enters the latter years of his career. The HEAT are said to be hoping that Wade exercises his player option in an attempt to stay flexible in the cap.
Should the HEAT not offer Wade what he’s seeking, he is prepared to consider other teams if the two sides can not agree to a deal.
It seems likely that Wade may be pressuring the organization into knowing that he is open to the idea of leaving in an effort to meet his contract demands. It also seems entirely possible that Wade misspoke on live television. In any matter, HEAT fans seemed genuinely nervous following Wade’s comment and they could be in for an interesting free agency with Wade.
In 62 games for the HEAT last season, Wade averaged 21.5 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds in a career-low 31.8 minutes per game.
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