Long before they drizzled champagne on championship euphoria, Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers and coach Steve Kerr shared some of their uncertainties about whether this could even happens.
As Kerr told Myers before the NBA playoffs started, “I don’t know if it’s a championship team.”
Forget the various NBA pundits who have expressed doubts about the Warriors’ ability to win their fourth NBA title in eight years. Kerr conceded he envisions the Warriors becoming ‘a conference finalist, maybe no further than that’ amid overlapping injuries for their stars (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green) and progress mixed with young core players.
“We were laughing about it. We were like, ‘Well, what do we know?’ Myers said now they had been proven wrong.”We had a pretty high bar, I guess, for what we were comparing it to.”
That’s because the Warriors could no longer rely on Kevin Durant to lift them to an NBA title, as he had done twice in three consecutive Finals appearances (2017-19). But contrary to that pre-playoff conversation about potential, the franchise now seems more emboldened after winning its first NBA title since Durant left free agency (2019).
“My experience is that when you win a championship, you get better the next year,” Kerr said. “If you continue after that, it starts to wear you down. This third year for us, trying to get a hat-trick in 2019 has been brutally difficult. But whether I was a player or now a coach, you win that first game, there’s a freedom that goes with it. There’s an excitement, and it carries over into year two.
This presents the Warriors with what Myers called “a high class problem.” Just a week after beating the Boston Celtics in a decisive Game 6, the Warriors have decisions to make that could determine whether they can keep the championship bandwagon going.
When the 2022 NBA Draft takes place on Thursday (8 ET, ABC/ESPN), that decision-making process begins as the Warriors look to find reliable young talent with their three draft picks at Nos. 28, 51 and 55.
Will the Warriors accept early extensions for two players who brought them back to the top (Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole)? Will they keep key free agents like Kevon Looney, Gary Payton II and Andre Iguodala?
With senior assistant coach Mike Brown leaving for Sacramento to coach the Kings, can the Warriors find a suitable replacement for Kerr’s coaching staff?
Can the Warriors continue to build on their star line while nurturing young talent (James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody)?
1. Add more leads
The Warriors will try to improve their roster by adding young NBA prospects to their squad, just like they did in 2019 – when they used their No. 28 pick to select Poole, who has since become a player rotation. But the same can’t be said when the Warriors used that same first-round pick in 2018 on Jacob Evans, who barely made the rotation. Consider that of all the No. 28 picks in draft history, San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker represents the only gem. Otherwise, the No. 28 pick has historically featured 11 role players who lasted at least 10 years, 28 to play less than that and five who never appeared in an NBA game.
“A guy like Poole, that shows you how valuable it is to get it right,” Myers said.
2. Retain Key Free Agents
But Golden State has more control when it comes to retaining its own players, so what does the future hold for Wiggins and Poole?
Myers called it a “high priority” to sign both Wiggins and Poole for extensions. After Wiggins earned his first All-Star appearance this ninth NBA season, his third with Golden State, the veteran swingman is eligible for an extension of up to four years at $172.2 million. Poole, who excelled as a scorer, point guard and defenseman in his fourth NBA season, became eligible for a five-year extension of up to $190 million.
Technically, the Warriors have time to negotiate a deal even next season, with Wiggins and Poole remaining under contract until then. While Myers doesn’t expect to close those deals as soon as free agency begins on June 30, he hopes to reach a resolution well before next summer. If the Warriors don’t get an extension on either player, Wiggins will become an unrestricted free agent and Poole a restricted agent.
“We’re going to make every effort to keep these two guys,” Myers said. “They were huge for us.”
The Warriors said the same thing about most of their seven pending free agents.
Kerr described Looney as “a modern-day championship center and defender” after helping the Warriors with rim protection, rebounding, screens and bustle plays as both a starter and reserve. Despite spending most of his seven-year NBA career struggling to stay healthy, Looney became one of only five NBA players this season to appear in all 82 season games. regular.
“He’s a big part of our success,” Kerr said. “We all want him back. We also want him to get a very good contract personally, so hopefully that will come from us.
The Warriors praised Gary Payton II for his shooting, defensive toughness and resilience. Payton, a sixth-year guard who spent time with four different teams before staying with Golden State, showed his toughness in another way during the playoffs.
“Hopefully our players will give us a chance to respond to an offer,” Myers said. “They don’t owe it to us, but that’s what you get if you win and create a good environment.”
As for NBA veteran Iguodala, who rejoined the Warriors at the start of 2021-22 on a minimum veteran contract, Kerr and Myers expressed uncertainty about any potential extension to his 18-year career.
The 2015 NBA Finals MVP, Iguodala has faced a limited role on the court this season amid various injuries that sidelined him for 12 playoff games and 50 regular season games. Nonetheless, the Warriors praised Iguodala’s behind-the-scenes mentorship. Kerr argued that a major playoff turning point came when Iguodala told his teammates in their first-round series against the Denver Nuggets that “to win a championship, you have to get better at it.” turn to turn”.
No wonder Kerr said “we’d love to have him back on the roster.” But what about as an assistant coach? Kerr reflected, “I think he’s way too smart to sit next to me and come to all of our coaches’ meetings and do that.”
3. Replace Mike Brown
On the one hand, the Warriors expressed relief that Kenny Atkinson is returning for his third season after apparently changing his mind about accepting the Charlotte Hornets coaching job. Kerr considered Atkinson “a fantastic developmental coach” because of the way he manages players and how he analyzes numbers.
On the other hand, Myers predicts that Atkinson will soon receive other coaching offers. The Warriors are discussing how to replace former associate coach Brown, who organized team rotations and defensive game plans. Myers said “we prefer the inside” on how to handle the vacancy, but the Warriors haven’t ruled out any outside candidates.
Amid those talks, the Warriors seem unconcerned about the potential impact on their already league-leading payroll.
Golden State spent about $346 million in combined payroll and luxury taxes last season and is expected to top taxes next season by $24.6 million. They can spend more than the cap to retain Looney and Payton, but can’t do the same for veteran Otto Porter Jr. after accepting a veteran’s minimum contract. The Warriors could also have other vacancies on the roster with three more unrestricted free agents (Nemanja Bjelica, Chris Chiozza, Damion Lee) and restricted free agents (Juan Toscano-Anderson, Quinndary Weatherspoon).
Still, majority owner Joe Lacob has proven he’s willing to spend for two reasons: Because the Chase Center is a privately funded arena, the Warriors receive revenue from both their home games and other entertainment events. Lacob viewed this variable as the cost of doing business – to some extent.
4. Carry on a good thing
The success of the Warriors also depends on how much they earn with what they have.
After Curry, Thompson and Green won their fourth NBA title together, Myers observed “they look pretty good now.” The Warriors have expressed optimism that Thompson will play more consistently next season after returning midway through 2021-22 after a 2½-year absence with injuries. And with Curry picking up his first Finals MVP from Bill Russell, Kerr is confident he can continue to lead the Warriors into future playoffs.
“He absolutely peaked in the playoffs,” Kerr said. “I think it’s going to be harder for him next year at 35 and the year after to put together an 82-game season like he did seven years ago. But in the playoffs, when you have free time between games and you’re really locked in? It was the best I’ve ever seen in terms of performance both ways.
As for the youngsters, they will receive clarification on their potential this summer. After playing sparingly during their rookie seasons, center Jonathan Kuminga and guard Moses Moody are expected to play in either the California Classic (July 2-3) or the Las Vegas Summer League (July 7-17). Maybe both. The same goes for third-year center James Wiseman, who missed his entire sophomore season while rehabilitating his surgically repaired right knee. Myers said all three could play big minutes next season.
Kerr will take care of the list later.
“I’m excited for a vacation,” Kerr said. “But I’m excited to come back and coach again next year.”
That’s because Kerr no longer sees the Warriors falling short of an NBA title. This time he might be right.
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Mark Medina is a senior writer/analyst for NBA.com. You can email him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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