My goodness, if they’re all healthy, the Warriors’ potential Summer League second-timeline unit is outrageously interesting — James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody and let’s add in the new NBA champion’s top two draft picks this week, Patrick Baldwin Jr. and Ryan Rollins.
None of them are older than 21 (Wiseman) and, in fact, Kuminga, Baldwin and Rollins are all 19. Moody is 20. All of them have enough size and ability to easily imagine the entire youth brigade jumping into key rotation roles alongside Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins someday. But also, who knows. It’s possible that none of them will turn into anything important for the Warriors and relatively likely that two or three of the group will fizzle out pretty swiftly.
That’s the fascinating part. The variance level on all of these guys is quite high. And that’s exactly the way the Warriors want it as they supplement Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson for the short term and also plan for the distant day when they need to do more than supplement them.
You aim high. You gather a bunch of talented and unproven players. You put them out there. You work hard to develop them the way you developed Poole and Kevon Looney (and even Wiggins as a mid-career revival once he arrived from Minnesota). Then you see what happens. Maybe you get another Poole or Looney. Maybe you get a bunch of oopsies. But to get a lot you have to bet a lot.
Yes, the health part is just one giant and immediate caveat with the youngsters. Wiseman, of course, didn’t play a second in this past season due to lingering knee issues and Baldwin, the 28th pick in the NBA Draft on Thursday, has lingering ankle issues from a high school injury that contributed to a debacle of a freshman year at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. But if Baldwin had fulfilled the expectations of his great prep career, he never would’ve been there for the Warriors at 28. So …
We’ll see about all of these guys in the coming weeks of Summer League, starting next weekend in the California Classic at Chase Center, and in the months and years to come.
But draft night is always a very good way to peer into the way a team is thinking about its roster composition. Just a week after winning their fourth championship of the Curry Age, the Warriors’ selection of Baldwin, a skilled 6-foot-10 “shooting big,” as team president Bob Myers described him, and the $2 million move up from pick 51 to 44 to take combo guard Rollins told us some things about the Warriors’ offseason plan the rest of this summer.
Clearly, the Warriors’ idea is to stock roster spots 10-15 with as much young talent as possible. They also believe Wiseman, Kuminga and Moody can start playing relatively regularly. And then the Warriors will try to round out the lineup by re-signing Looney and Gary Payton II and maybe Otto Porter Jr. and adding a veteran or two on minimum deals for integral spots, the way they did last season when they signed Porter, Andre Iguodala and Nemanja Bjelica.
“After we drafted, somebody joked, you’ve got, like, four 19-year-olds,” Myers said Thursday night. “And we kind of said, yeah, we do. But we do feel like three of the young guys (Wiseman, Moody and Kuminga) … they are young, but we do think they can play in the NBA and give us rotation minutes. … Those are unusually gifted young players. But we still do need to surround the team with vets. And that’s the plan.
“It’s easier to get some of the older players, we think, in free agency, than young players. Young players are probably the most in demand in free agency. Obviously trading for them is extremely difficult. So that’s why we draft some guys like that. We think we still have guys beyond these two. … We do think three of our young guys on our roster can play for us, depending on how Steve (Kerr) wants to use them.”
At pick 28, the Warriors could’ve selected a safer, older player than Baldwin; Ohio State combo forward E.J. Liddell and Gonzaga tall point guard Andrew Nembhard both were taken soon after Baldwin and both are much surer candidates to put together some solid NBA seasons. But Baldwin has a higher top-end possibility, though that’s accompanied with risk of a potential bust. And in the last few years, the Warriors have used the draft to gamble big; starting with Wiseman at No. 2 in 2020, the Warriors have believed in shooting for the moon whenever possible in the draft and back-filling with hand-picked veterans in free agency.
They can do this because they’re such an attractive destination for veterans who could use a change of scenery, and that only was heightened by the revitalized seasons turned in by Porter, Bjelica and especially Wiggins. The Warriors will not have trouble getting middle-career takers for vet-minimum offers. Basically, the pitch: Do you want to chase rings with Curry in a system that has already revived multiple other vets? If the money is equal, there will be a line of interesting veterans ready to jump aboard.
If the Warriors balance it out correctly, and nobody has ever balanced it out quite like they pulled off this last season, they’ll still have the Curry/Draymond/Klay core group ready to win another title, they’ll have that second-timeline group knocking on the door at some point this coming season and giving the older guys a chance to take some time off.
So with this backdrop, let’s take a player-by-player look at what the Warriors’ roster looks like right now and how it might be re-shaped starting next week, when the free-agency window opens up …
Players with guaranteed contracts for next season (9)
Curry: Signed through 2025-26.
Thompson: Signed through 2023-24.
Draymond: Signed through 2023-24 (player option).
Wiggins: Signed through next season. Wiggins seems like the best bet of the extension-eligible top-line guys to actually sign one this summer. If Wiggins wants some long-term security, this should be almost automatic for the Warriors.
Poole: Signed through next season (extension-eligible now, would be a restricted free agent July 2023 if he hasn’t signed an extension by then).
Wiseman: Under team control through 2023-24. The Warriors almost certainly will pick up their option for 2023-24 by the deadline to do it this fall; Wiseman would be a restricted free agent in July 2024 if he hasn’t signed an extension by then.
Kuminga: Under team control through 2024-25.
Moody: Under team control through 2024-25.
Baldwin: Once he signs his rookie contract, Baldwin will be under team control through 2025-26. A guaranteed multiyear roster spot for Baldwin has some roster ramifications at the forward position; as much as Myers noted Baldwin’s basketball IQ as the son of a coach, I don’t think the Warriors are necessarily viewing him as a full-scale project. If you plan to give minutes to Wiseman, Moody and Kuminga, and are intrigued by Baldwin, there might not be much room on the 2022-23 roster for some of the backup veteran forwards from this year’s team.
Second-round picks (2)
Rollins: Myers said that he expects Rollins to make the Warriors’ 15-man roster next season, which probably means he’ll get some kind of guaranteed multiyear deal. That isn’t a surprise since Joe Lacob approved the $2 million cash outlay to Atlanta to move up for this pick, which is what you do for a player you want to see play some.
Just from the highlights I’ve perused, Rollins is a little different than the Warriors’ other guards — he’s built and seems to play like Kyle Lowry or De’Anthony Melton, power perimeter players who can be physical on offense and defense. I’m sure the Warriors are wondering how Rollins could complement a playmaker like Poole.
And here’s where the Warriors’ financial might joins up with their roster architecture. Remember, the cost to buy a draft pick is not subject to luxury-tax penalties (every salary dollar now essentially costs them $5 due to the taxes), so in the Warriors’ minds, this is like getting an 80 percent discount to acquire a player they really like. All it takes is money. Which the Warriors are almost always willing to spend.
Also: adding Rollins to the roster gives the Warriors 10 players for 15 spots next season.
Gui Santos: He’s a 20-year-old wing who has played four seasons for Minas in the Novo Basquete Brasil and probably won’t be on the Warriors’ roster next season.
Priority free agents (3)
Looney: He made $5.2 million this season. The Warriors have his Bird rights.
As I’ve mentioned a few times, Looney’s market is uncertain. A very limited number of teams have double-digit cap space and most of them don’t seem likely to throw it all at a non-scoring center, despite Looney’s obvious championship-winning value to the Warriors. So the likeliest problematic scenario for the Warriors is that a good team offers Looney a multiyear deal with the non-taxpayer midlevel exception of a $10.35 million starting salary. And I think the Warriors wouldn’t find it too difficult to match or top something like that.
If Looney is determined to go elsewhere, he absolutely can do that. But I doubt his top choice would be to leave this great situation. It’s also possible that an over-the-cap team would try to force the Warriors into a sign-and-trade to extract Looney. But a) the Warriors can’t take back another player in a S/T because they’re way, way over the hard cap and you can’t add a player in a S/T if you’re over the hard, and b) They wouldn’t facilitate a Looney departure like that, anyway. They want to keep him, not help him get to another team.
Payton II: He made $1.9 million this season; the Warriors have his Early-Bird rights, which means they can pay him up to the expected league average of about $10 million but it must be in a multiyear deal. If GP2’s market isn’t quite so lively, the Warriors could also use the taxpayer midlevel exception of about $6.3 million and it wouldn’t have to be for more than one year.
GP2 is another player with an uncertain free-agent market. He’s 29. He fits the Warriors perfectly. His defense and finishing ability translate anywhere, but he really fits on a title team with Curry more than, say, as a backup wing in Sacramento or Indiana into his 30s. I think it’s about 50-50 that the Warriors get GP2 back for next season. If they lose him, they probably would have to dip into the TPMLE to try to replace him. So they might as well use it to try to keep him.
Porter: He made $2.4 million this season and would be eligible for a 20 percent raise from the Warriors, or the Warriors could use the TPMLE to offer him more than that. My guess is that another team will offer Porter a multiyear deal that is a little bit higher than the Warriors will go now that they have minutes to parcel out to Wiseman, Kuminga, Moody and maybe Baldwin.
I’d expect the Warriors to avoid multiyear deals as much as possible on back-end players understanding that extensions for Wiggins and Poole would kick-in in 2023-24 and that’s when the Warriors might be looking at a $450 million payroll or more. That’s when they’d want the guys on rookie deals stepping into important roles.
Other free agents
Iguodala: He made $2.6 million this season and would be eligible for a 20 percent raise from the Warriors if he decides to keep playing. He only played 20 total minutes in the playoffs after playing only 31 games during the regular season. After all these injuries, there’s no way the Warriors or any team could count on him for a significant playing role next season. But the Warriors would not only welcome Iguodala back as an unofficial assistant coach, they could probably use him for some minutes, too, if the young guys can’t quite get settled.
Bjelica: He made $2.1 million this season and also would be eligible for a 20 percent raise from the Warriors. If he has other teams interested, he’ll probably go. At most, he’s a Warriors’ second- or third-wave option after they check in with some other free agents.
Damion Lee: He made $1.9 million this season. Moody jumped over Lee in the playoff pecking order, which was not a minor sign for the future.
Juan Toscano-Anderson: He made $1.7 million this season.
With Baldwin, Kuminga, Moody, Wiseman and Rollins taking up five roster spots and the Warriors likely needing veteran help at other positions, you can probably see the handwriting on the wall for the vets who didn’t play much in the playoffs.
Two-way players (2)
Chris Chiozza and Quinndary Weatherspoon: Since this was the first season on a two-way deal with the Warriors for both players, they are both eligible to spend another season on a two-way deal with this team. But that’s not what either player would want. Weatherspoon is probably more likely to win a roster spot with the Warriors next season, but he’d have to win it in training camp on a non-guaranteed deal.
Summary: I’m presuming there’s a decent chance that both Looney and GP2 will re-sign with the Warriors. If that happens, that’d be 12 players on guaranteed deals and would leave three open spots. Porter, Iguodala or Bjelica probably could take one spot, not likely more than that. And maybe none of that trio returns.
If that’s the way it breaks, what would the Warriors need to finish off their roster? They could use a veteran big wing in the Porter mold in case Kuminga isn’t quite ready to do it. They probably need the insurance veteran center they never added last season, just in case Wiseman can’t give them big minutes. They could use a third point guard, the role Chiozza played for much of last regular season, but like Chiozza this season, that could also be filled by a two-way guy.
None of this is too tricky. Again, veterans with specific skill sets will be very interested in coming to the Warriors. And if the youngsters can give the Warriors key minutes in the regular season and maybe into the playoffs, there isn’t too much the Warriors really need, anyway. That’s a large “if,” but they’ve got the four titles in the bank and it’s not wrong for the Warriors to feel pretty good about rolling the dice a few more times.
As Kerr said, teams usually get better the year after winning a title. But as Kerr also suggested, going through the long haul year after year can wear a team down, often right at about Year 3. Especially with core players deep into their 30s.
So this could be a very sharp focus on the coming season, to go as hard as possible for a back-to-back to get to five championships in nine seasons, which would tie the number of championships the Spurs won in their dynasty — but that was in 16 seasons.
And if this all times out right, somewhere over the next few years the Warriors will have some or all of their talented youngsters ready to play major roles and extend some form of this way off into the future. It’s a risk. But the Warriors already pulled one title out of the two-timeline plan. Who’s going to tell them it’s not possible to rack up some more?
(Photo: Kyle Terada / USA Today)