Warriors free-agent strategy points towards the future originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area
The Warriors lost a lot of soul on Thursday afternoon when Juan Toscano-Anderson agreed to a contract with the Lakersand they lost a lot of heart a few hours later when Gary Payton II agreed to a deal with the Trail Blazers†
They lost some sauce Friday morning when Otto Porter Jr. agreed to terms with the Toronto Raptors†
Those three blows inflicted a lot of damage on a squad that won the NBA Finals 15 days ago. The rotation is broken as GP2 and OPJ are two of their top three reserves.
However, the Warriors still believe they can recover, and the first step was to secure an agreement with Kevon Looney on Friday† The 26-year-old center, a regular part of the team’s core, accepted a three-year deal for a reported $25.5 million. He was the team’s top priority, ahead of GP2 and OPJ.
The recent championship relieves some pressure; this week would have turned out very differently if the Warriors had been driven out by, say, Memphis. By winning, they created enough space to trust their process and rely on what has become apparent as a two-pronged strategy for the 2022-23 season.
Part I: CEO Joe Lacob is counting – literally – on the player development staff to prepare the youngsters Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody and James Wiseman for regular rotational minutes. Jama Mahlalela and his team refined GP2 from an itinerant player seeking a role to one who contributed to an NBA Finals winner. They also distracted Kuminga and Moody from teenagers who weren’t expected to contribute much as rookies to fill important minutes in the postseason. It is expected that Wiseman will not only be in the rotation but could eventually land a base role, with Looney coming off the bench.
The three lottery picks, still on rookie deals, are long-term investments. They represent the future core of Golden State and will spend a lot of time on the floor.
Part II: General Manager Bob Myers and his front office lieutenants think they can find a few veterans willing to sign minimal contracts to get the chance to play with champions and increase their value next summer. Nemanja Bjelica and Porter’s low-key purchases last August didn’t spark a fanbase yearning for a smashing additionion to “maximize the Stephen Curry title window”, but both played an important role. It worked so well that OPJ made three starts in the final. That strategy was designed to put the Warriors in position for an extended postseason run after two non-playoff seasons. Even they were unsure about a championship.
Golden State’s top three bench players – Jordan Poole, GP2, and OPJ – together earned a salary of $6.5 million. To put this in context, that’s about $3 million less than the Lakers paid Talen Horton-Tucker. For beer money, the Warriors got champagne showers. The huge return on investment was a form of corporate heist.
In addition, it encourages the Warriors to believe that they can somehow repeat the process.
At the same time, winning everything in 2022 buys currency for 2023. It allows the Warriors to absorb a season without a parade. If they were really committed to “turning it back” as Myers pointed out last week, they would have paid the cost to keep GP2 and OPJ.
The reason Porter had a lower priority than Payton is that he’s easier to replicate. Porter is a very good player, a plus rebounder, solid defender and an excellent marksman. Health permitting, he will be on or near the front of a reliable supporting cast. The Warriors got it cheap because the demand was mediocre.
They believe they can find someone who is able to fill that void, much of which will be distributed among the three youths.
GP2 is another matter. Over the course of the season, he went from being the last man to be signed — a few days after he was waived — to a regular in the rotation. Of the Warriors who didn’t start at least three games in the Finals, only Jordan Poole played more minutes against the Celtics.
At six feet tall, Payton is the NBA’s most unlikely designated dunker. He was the defensive attack dog of the team, getting his hyperactive paws on passes and dribbling with astonishing speed. His 2.8 steals per 36 minutes was the best in the NBA. More often than not, Payton made a positive impression the first minute he stepped on the floor.
“He’s a unique player,” said coach Steve Kerr last week. “A different kind of player.”
GP2 wanted to return. The Warriors wanted him back, too, but not for what would have cost more than $50 million in salary and luxury taxes next season.
So ownership means we want to spend more time on the future core, while they trust the front office to find a veteran or two in the hopes of reviving their career or playing for a contender. Winning it all next season is not so urgent when you know that rings will be presented on opening night.