BOSTON — The most seismic deadline deal the Golden State Warriors have made during Bob Myers’ tenure came three seasons ago. They flipped D’Angelo Russell for Andrew Wiggins and the draft pick that became Jonathan Kuminga, ducking the luxury tax in the process.
But that deal was executed when the Warriors had a 12-40 record, long eliminated from contending status. It was basically a head start on their offseason attached to some cost-saving financial gymnastics. Most other years, while contending, they’ve remained quiet at the NBA trade deadline, only occasionally nibbling on the fringes.
Last season, they didn’t touch their roster at all. The same 15 players who populated the opening night roster were still there the night they won the title in Boston. You could’ve argued for more urgency at the deadline. They were 41-15 but beginning to slump with Draymond Green out, leaving a theoretical need for frontcourt insurance behind the overworked Kevon Looney. They appeared in need of a jolt to realistically threaten for a title.
Myers stood pat. They won the title anyway.
The best doppelganger for this current Warriors season is actually two years ago. The Warriors hovered around .500 through the middle months. The day of the 2021 trade deadline, they were 22-22, which is exactly their current record. During that 2020-21 season, they opted against moving Kelly Oubre Jr. — their most available chip — and instead made two minor deadline moves: Paying Charlotte to take Brad Wanamaker and San Antonio to take Marquese Chriss.
This cleared two roster spots and saved a chunk of cash. If players are moved off the roster, their entire salary no longer counts against the luxury tax. The Warriors, on a cheap pro-rated contract the last week of the season, eventually converted two-way player Juan Toscano-Anderson into one of those empty spots and tested out a few options for the other, eventually landing on Gary Payton II, beginning a partnership that paid off big a season later.
Sources with knowledge of the Warriors’ thinking, who were granted anonymity so that they could speak freely, indicate this sort of strategy profiles as the most likely path for these current Warriors. Those in the know do not expect a loud trade deadline with substantial roster shuffling, instead anticipating some nibbling on the fringes, if anything. Here’s a more detailed rundown of the situation.
• A backup center like Jakob Poeltl or Kelly Olynyk would profile as a useful rotation upgrade. The Warriors already have a set starting lineup, an effective high-usage sixth man (Jordan Poole) and two other bench players (Donte DiVincenzo and Jonathan Kuminga) who have solidified themselves. That’s eight. The full-strength playoff rotation is unsettled after that.
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JaMychal Green and James Wiseman are currently out. Green is closer to a return than Wiseman. He still has some time to make a claim on the ninth spot, but JaMychal Green struggled before his season was completely derailed by a leg infection that briefly hospitalized him. His absence of him opened the door for Wiseman, who flashed a glimpse but then sprained his ankle in a scrimmage and has missed six straight games.
Poeltl or Olynyk would be clear upgrades over either. Poeltl is making $9.4 million in the final season of his contract with San Antonio. Olynyk makes $12.8 million this season in Utah and has a $3 million partial guarantee on his $12.2 million salary next season. In theory, the short financial commitment is an appeal for the Warriors. They are facing a well-documented tax crunch and are uninterested in adding committed salary beyond this season, which eliminates many of the league’s other trade options.
That problem doesn’t exist with Poeltl or Olynyk. But it creates another issue that’s hard for them to overcome. Poeltl and Olynyk, for the Warriors, would be considered rentals. There are teams out there who’d be more than willing to keep Olynyk on the roster at $12.2 million next season or extend Poeltl at his market price in the summer, probably in the mid-teens toward $20 million per season. But owner Joe Lacob and the Warriors don’t have the appetite for what that would do to their future tax bill, already projected beyond their comfortable threshold.
You’d really be talking about three months of a backup center who wouldn’t start or close games behind Looney and Draymond Green and then disappear in the offseason. Would that be worth mortgaging the draft picks it would cost, plus, presumably, Wiseman and his matching salary? It could be argued. Otto Porter Jr. only averaged 19.5 minutes in his 19 playoff appearances last season, but he was a consequential part of their title run. Ninth men can matter.
But the Warriors are protective of their future. Lacob has been explicit in his desire to thread the needle and asset-manage this franchise into a never-ending window of relevance. These are the downsides. Inherently, trade deadline rentals negatively impact the long term for a bump in the immediate. The Warriors aren’t moving with a desperation to maximize the present.
• This is also why Kuminga, Wiseman and Moody remain likely to be with the Warriors beyond the deadline. They aren’t actively shopping their three recent lottery picks, according to those sources with knowledge of the Warriors’ thinking. That isn’t to say they couldn’t be moved in the right deal, but a rival team hoping to obtain them would be searching to get Moody or Wiseman on a bargain, and the Warriors aren’t in sell-low mode.
Kuminga’s situation is a bit different. He’s shown more and could net more, but he’s also worth more to the Warriors. Considering what he’s flashed as an individual point of attack defender — something the rest of this roster lacks — there’s internal belief he will be a necessary playoff rotation contributor.
• The Warriors have greater interest in adding a versatile multi-positional wing than an extra big man, for those sources. Assuming health, either Draymond Green, Looney or both will be on the floor in almost every relevant playoff minute. So the priority would be to add an adaptable rotation option who could upsize and downsize depending on who else Steve Kerr is using at any given time.
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Porter was that. There are younger wings who fit that description, such as Jalen McDaniels, Darius Bazley, Rui Hachimura and Obi Toppin, all reportedly varying levels of available. But, again, the price would probably be too steep when bidding against teams more interested in signing these type of restricted free agents long term.
• For these reasons, the Warriors do profile as more of a buyout team than a trade team. That’s the no-strings-attached, no-assets-used market, adding a veteran on a pro-rated deal. Last season, they didn’t have a roster or rotation spot to offer buyout candidates. This season, they should have both.
Could Rudy Gay in Utah fit that description? If he makes it past the deadline without a new home, is there any way the Rockets would buy out Eric Gordon?
• Anthony Lamb matters in this discussion. He is currently a regular part of the Warriors’ rotation, averaging 25.9 minutes per game this month and making 42 percent of his 3s this season. He’s on a two-way contract and has already used up 36 of his 50 eligible games, slotting in as frontcourt depth for a team that needed it.
The expectation is that Lamb will eventually be converted onto the 15-man roster. They have an open spot, and that void will be filled by someone for the playoffs, for those sources. It’s a no-brainer to fill it. Even if you waited until the final week — like they did two seasons ago with Toscano-Anderson — the salary is pro-rated, limiting the tax hit. So there will be a 15th.
If that’s Lamb and if there’s another player to be added either via trade, free-agent signing or in the buyout market, then another roster spot would need to be cleared. The most prudent financial way to do that is at the deadline, as the Warriors did with Wanamaker and Chriss a couple years ago, clearing the tax hit. If JaMychal Green doesn’t return and grab firmer hold of a rotation spot before the deadline, he’d be the most obvious candidate.
(Photo of Jonathan Kuminga: Bill Streicher/USA Today)