- Despite their recent run of poor play, it takes a lot of stretching to think of anyone else hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy this year. But if Kevin Durant decides to depart Golden State this summer, what will the team's future hold?
The NBA’s leading storyline went from a simmer to a full-blown boil on Nov. 12 when a turnover at the end of regulation led to DEFCON 1 in Golden State. Draymond Green’s spat with Kevin Durant brought the underlying tensions of the Warriors’ quest for a three-peat to the surface, reminding us all of the biggest question currently surrounding the league: is this Kevin Durant’s final year in Golden State?
We’ve spent the past week prognosticating on KD’s future, and will probably spend the entire 2018-19 season doing the same. Barring a historic implosion or rotten injury luck, Golden State should cruise to their fourth title in five years this season. The Warriors’ core four is too lethal to conquer over seven games, and if DeMarcus Cousins can get back to his old self, the league will look to June 2020 in a hurry.
The greatest uncertainty will come in July 2019. Does Durant continue the string of dominance, or does a new challenge await, perhaps six hours down the California coast to the Staples Center, or maybe 3,000 miles away to Madison Square Garden? Durant’s decision will sculpt the league's landscape for years to come.
Much has been discussed about what Durant’s departure could mean for teams seeking his services, yet its ripple effects in the Bay Area have yet to be thoroughly examined. So what would the Warriors’ future entail without Kevin Durant? We at The Crossover break it down by answering three key questions.
1. Does Klay Thompson skip town?
Thompson’s impending free agency has naturally faded to the background amid the swirling Durant rumors. That’s probably the way Thompson likes it. He isn’t one to stir drama or make headlines, letting his play do the talking. So do we have any insight on Thompson’s future?
The close-to-the-vest shooting guard has offered a pair of notes over the past few months. In August, he told the East Bay Times that he “would like to be a Warrior for life.” Two months later, it was reported that Thompson won’t take a discount in free agency negotiations with the Warriors next summer. Thompson seems eager to stay in Golden State, but it will have to be for the right price.
Will Golden State pay up for the second Splash Brother? The Dubs can offer Thompson a contract up to five years, $188 million, an extra year and nearly $40 million more than any other team. With Durant gone and a potential financial commitment to Green not due until 2020, don’t expect any penny-pinching with Thompson. Golden State should be all-in on retaining the four-time All-Star.
There will be plenty of suitors for Thompson. He’s developed into much more than a spot-up shooter since entering the league in 2011. Thompson still won’t dribble the air out of the ball, but he’s more comfortable in traffic, able to wiggle past defenders to get to a favorable spot near the free throw line. He won’t ever be a high-usage star, yet as a partner in crime for a superstar, there are few better options on the open market. Expect the Lakers to chase Thompson if Durant or Kawhi Leonard don’t look to team up with LeBron.
It’s difficult to envision Thompson outside of Golden State, especially if the Warriors make the necessary financial commitment. His bond with Curry is strong, built through the unglamorous growth before the Warriors’ dynasty began. Aside from Curry, Thompson is the most likely player to be a Warrior for life.
2. Will Green remain in Golden State?
Green’s future with the Warriors is understandably murkier. Thompson is as relaxed as they come. Green is a firecracker. This week-long hysteria over Golden State’s future is due in large part to Green and his expletive-laden confrontation with Durant, and it’s hard to imagine the duo coexisting long-term.
There’s the chance Durant could force an ultimatum; him or Green. Draymond has been Golden State’s unrivaled leader for a half-decade, a defensive menace and one of the league’s most effective playmakers in transition. But choosing Green over the two-time Finals MVP is unlikely to even the most sentimental of Warriors fans.
Even if Durant bolts, Green can’t necessarily be expected to be a Warrior for the rest of his career. Golden State will presumably run back its pre-Durant core in 2019-20, the last year of Green’s contract. Perhaps Green and the Warriors agree to a lightened extension. That could ultimately be beneficial for both parties. However, if Green opts to play out the final year of his deal before hitting the open market in July 2020, feelings could quickly get hurt.
Green’s market value is questionable. If he wins Defensive Player of the Year or earns All-NBA honors in 2018-19, he will qualify for a five-year, $226 million contract from Golden State. The Warriors shouldn’t bite on such a bloated deal. Green will be 30 in the summer of 2020 and he’s looked a touch slower this season. Add in his deteriorating jump shot, and an expensive commitment through Green’s 30s isn’t a recipe for sustained success. He could be on his way out sooner than we think.
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3. Will the Warriors chase another star?
As Golden State shifts from the Durant-era of its dynasty, new targets will inevitably come on the horizon. A Curry-Thompson-Green trio is unlikely to lord over the West for the next decade without added help. Green knew as much when he called Durant from Oracle’s parking lot after the 2016 Finals. Even with two of the greatest shooters in NBA history, added firepower will be necessary to keep the titles flowing.
Curry and Thompson are the lone non-rookie Warriors on the books through 2019-20 should Thompson stick around. Locking up Green will take up significant cap space, and likely keep Golden State out of the hunt for a max free agent. If Green is sent walking, though, the Warriors could be the premier shark in the free-agent market. The projected 2020 class pales in comparison to 2019. Barring a big name going the route of signing a one-year contract in 2019 with a player option for 2020 (the route Durant took this summer) there’s one big name on the market: Anthony Davis.
AD replacing KD would send shudders throughout the league. It seems like a natural fit. Davis would fill the frontcourt void left by Durant and form a lethal two-man game with Curry. After years of toiling away on fringe playoff teams, what better way to navigate the latter rounds of the postseason than with the Warriors? There’s no stronger infrastructure in the league. Golden State could be aggressive and look to deal Green in a package for Davis, but it could make more sense to be patient, play 2019-20 with the pre-Durant Big 3, then hunt for Davis in July 2020.
The Warriors transformed the league two years ago, bringing in Durant to create a collection of talent unseen this century. Davis’s free agency will give them a chance to do it again.