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OAKLAND – Through countless phone calls and texts filled with offers and counter proposals, other NBA teams have positioned themselves to make a move in hopes to dethrone the Golden State Warriors. With deliberate planning and limited spending power, the Warriors have strategized how to strengthen their championship armor.
So once NBA free agency begins on Saturday at 9:01 pm PT, the frenetic pace will likely apply more to the Warriors’ potential future playoff opponents than themselves. The Cleveland Cavaliers might have further clarity if LeBron James leaves again after declining to exercise his $35.6 million player option so he could become an unrestricted free agent. The Oklahoma City Thunder might find out if Paul George is genuine about his reported affection playing one season with Russell Westbrook or if the Los Angeles native always viewed his free-agency aspirations through purple and gold glasses. And perhaps the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics or Philadelphia 76ers finally offer enough to convince the San Antonio Spurs to deal Kawhi Leonard, whose quadriceps injury that sidelined him last season for all but nine games sparked both mistrust among all parties and eventually a trade demand.
As for the Warriors?
After winning three NBA championships in the past four years, the Warriors do not exactly need to do any bidding. It would have been in Joe Lacob’s nature for the Warriors majority owner to encourage the front office to show interest in facilitating a trade with Cleveland for James, but the Warriors will not clear any cap room just to engage in the James sweepstakes. Not when they have three All-Stars under contract (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green) and another one they expect to re-sign (Kevin Durant).
The Warriors have not already booked summer vacations, though. They have stressed the need to add depth to complement their All-Star talent.
First things, first. The Warriors plan to spend the first few days of free agency ironing out a deal with Durant, who plans to decline to exercise his $26.2 million player option on Friday to become an unrestricted free agent. He has said unequivocally he plans to return after collecting two NBA championships and two Finals MVP awards in consecutive seasons since leaving Oklahoma City for Golden State as a free agent in the 2016 offseason. There are no indications yet, though, on what Durant wants.
The Warriors would love to have Durant under contract for as long as possible for obvious reasons. But after Durant willingly took a $10 million paycut last year so the Warriors could spend to further bolster their roster, the Warriors have stressed that Durant will dictate the terms. Therefore, the Warriors are bracing and willing to signing Durant to a max contract after re-signing Curry last summer to a five-year, $201 million deal.
Durant has plenty of options.
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He could agree with the Warriors to another so-called “one-plus one” deal, which would pay him up to around $30 million for the 2018-19 season and a player option worth up to about $31 million for the 2019-20 season.
He could agree to a “two-plus-one” deal, which would boost his pay for the 2018-19 season (up to around $35 million), give him another guaranteed year in 2019-20 (up to around $38 million) and a player option for 2020-21 (up to around $41 million). Or he could agree to a “three-plus-one” deal, which would make the 2020-21 season guaranteed along with a player option for 2021-22 worth around $44 million.
Durant has plenty of factors to consider. If he opts for another “one-plus-one” deal, he could re-sign with the Warriors next summer to a five-year deal up to $219 million. If he goes for a “two-plus-one” deal. Durant could have a bigger deal afterwards because of the league’s salary cap increasing and the ability to have full Bird Rights that would give him an eight percent raise. Though he would have the most security with a three-year deal, Durant would have the least flexibility.
The Warriors may not make a deal shortly after free agency begins on July 1, but they expect to reach an agreement within a few days. The Warriors will then seek more clarity on their pending free agents among the uncertain (Kevon Looney, Patrick McCaw, David West, JaVale McGee) and the expected departures (Zaza Pachulia, Nick Young).
Then, the Warriors plan to weigh the cost-benefit of using a tax-payer mid-level exception (up to $5.3 million) partly because of the additional costs. Though the Warriors currently have a $104 million payroll that is below the luxury tax threshold ($123 million), that does not account for Durant’s new deal or drafting Cincinnati junior forward Jacob Evans. Once the Warriors exceed the luxury tax threshold, they will accrue tax penalties ($1.50 for every $1 spent over the cap). That tax will grow if the Warriors’ payroll reaches $128 million ($1.75 in taxes for every $1 spent), between $133-138 million ($2.50 in taxes for every $1 spent) and between $138-143 million ($3.25 in taxes for every $1 spent).
Given that framework, the Warriors appear intrigued on whether Trevor Ariza, J.J. Redick, Tyreke Evans or Avery Bradley would accept a deal on the tax-payer mid-level exception. Among the likely veteran’s minimum candidates: Jamal Crawford, Ed Davis, Wayne Ellington, Brook Lopez, Kyle O’Quinn and Michael Beasley.
What helps the Warriors: their championship equity, a tight market that will stabilize two years after a salary cap spike led to highly lucrative deals and the privately financed Chase Center that will open in San Francisco for the 2019-20 season. What may not help the Warriors: they cannot treat free agency as an open auction..
The Warriors and Crawford have mutual interest, but it appears he will also field other offers. It appears unlikely Davis would accept a veteran’s minimum deal. And Ellington is expected to seek a long-term deal. Would the Warriors become interested in Dwight Howard assuming he negotiates a buyout with the Brooklyn Nets after they acquired him in a trade from Charlotte? Though the Warriors have shown a willingness to acquire talented players with previous baggage, it does not appear likely they would entertain that idea with Howard.
So where does that leave the Warriors? Unlike during their recent NBA championship runs, the Warriors will not command center stage. But they still plan to work behind the scenes in hopes to enhance their production.
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