When Draymond Green called a timeout the Warriors didn’t have in the final second of Game 6 of the Finals, Steve Kerr looked at the desperate faces of Green and Stephen Curry, Golden State’s two remaining stars after a Finals filled with attrition, and he smiled, telling them it was okay. The Warriors did not end the 2019 season as champions, yet in the face of cruelly mounting adversity, handled themselves as such in the face of defeat. There was certainly no shame in Golden State losing in the manner it did to the Raptors. The problem is the Finals have left the Warriors broken, and their future is more complicated than ever before.
Golden State acquitted itself very well without Kevin Durant in the playoffs. Toronto was certainly the better team, but the Warriors kept every game close, and if Klay Thompson didn’t go down with a torn ACL in Game 6, the series easily could have gone the distance. Even in a situation in which a healthy Durant left the team this summer, the Dubs could have put together a legitimate contender by bringing back the Curry, Thompson, and Green trio, trying to find a shooter at the mid-level exception in free agency, and filling out the roster with championship-hungry veterans. Unfortunately, that’s not the case anymore, and what would have been a dream scenario a week ago—bringing back both KD and Klay—would now mean enduring a lost year from each of their primes. So what’s the Warriors’ next step?
Golden State should still offer both KD and Klay max deals, almost certainly for max years, and put the ball in their court. The Warriors can still offer Durant more years than any team on the open market, and that could hold a significant value for the team after his Achilles injury. Both Durant and Thompson are obviously dealing with serious injuries. But ACL tears are no longer as terrifying as they were in the past, and KD’s game at least feels like it can age gracefully even with his Achilles issue. And while the rehab will obviously be grueling, perhaps a year away from the grind of a title chase would actually help the two players in the long run.
If both KD and Klay re-sign, it may be time for Golden State to look into trading Green. That would almost mean punting on the 2020 season—the Warriors’ first in a new arena—but paying Draymond max money next summer with three huge deals to older players already on the books would get dicey. Another championship-hungry team would certainly value Green’s services, and as this Finals showed, Golden State could use depth beyond its top-end talent. Trading such an integral part of the Warriors’ core would certainly be a little cold and ruthless, but it’s what the Raptors had to do to capture their first title. I have no problem if the Warriors’ ownership group wants to pay the massive tax bill that would come with keeping all of Dray, Klay, Steph, and KD. But from a pure basketball standpoint, it could make more sense to keep the latter three and trade Green for multiple pieces as it becomes more difficult to fill out the roster.
In the event that only one of Durant or Thompson stays—most likely Klay—the Warriors still have solid options. Again, a 2020 title is going to be a pipe dream almost no matter what, but Golden State could still extend its championship window. Let’s say Thompson returns and KD signs with New York, then what? Golden State still needs to go out and find a shooter for the mid-level exception, and then look to find vets who still have something left to give. This year’s Warriors were missing the Leandro Barbosa and David West types in the Finals. Guys who could be counted on to play a few minutes without glaring flaws for the opponent to attack.
Golden State needs to prioritize shooting more than anything this summer. The Warriors arguably could have won this series with a James Ennis-level player even if Durant never played a second, just because Curry and Thompson would have had that much more valuable space. If Thompson returns, the Dubs should also consider trade options for Andre Iguodala at some point. Again, it’s not about payroll, but how the team is allocating money. Could Iguodala’s $17.2 million expiring contract bring back two useful players—preferable ones who can shoot—who are on longer contracts?
(DeMarcus Cousins, by the way, will almost definitely be on another team next season. He had some nice moments in the Finals, but bringing back Kevon Looney will be more important. Unless Cousins improbably wants to sign for the vet minimum, he’ll make more money outside of the Bay. He’s a luxury the now-shooting starved Warriors can’t afford.)
It’s going to be a tricky calculus for Golden State. The Warriors certainly have pockets deep enough to re-sign their best guys to the max deals they deserve. But that will make it incredibly difficult to hand out contracts beyond those players. If Golden State maxes everyone, then the front office can only flesh out the roster with dwindling cap exceptions and vet minimums. The trade market would be the only way to acquire players in the next tier up, and Green’s and Iguodala’s contracts would make the most sense to move in that scenario.
While the Finals almost quite literally left the Warriors for dead, and their era of dominance is almost certainly over, this team can still very much compete for championships in the future. Next season may not be a banner year for Golden State because of the injuries to Durant and Thompson, but if at least one of them comes back, the Warriors can start putting together a roster with title potential in 2021. (Also, if Thompson recovers quickly, the Warriors definitely won’t be an easy out next postseason.) Though the options are expensive, and the various roadmaps complicated (Who do they keep? Who do they float in trades? Is three-to-four max guys and exceptions/minimums a viable route?), Golden State will recover from this Finals defeat. The Warriors may never be the overwhelming favorites they were at the start of the last three seasons, but after what Curry, Green, and Thompson showed in these Finals with a diminished roster, a few tweaks on the margins will eventually return Golden State to contender status.