After Blowing Past Salary Projections, Warriors Face Different Kind of Pressure

When Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers met with local media late last week—decked out in his ultra-casual black sweatpants and gray T-shirt, looking like he was on his way to a weekly pickup game—he was relaxed and convivial, sounding like his summer was going swimmingly thus far.

And why not? Winning a championship on the back of a dominant 16-1 postseason will ease whatever might ail you. Kevin Durant telling you he’s going to take a nearly $10 million haircut on his salary is another kind of panacea to which only GMs could relate.

“Unequivocally, without it, we’re not looking at the team we have right now,” Myers said.

Myers has endured some tough summers in the Warriors front office. In 2013, he pushed himself to near-exhaustion trying to finagle the Andre Iguodala sign-and-trade. A year later came the internal debate over whether to trade Klay Thompson for Kevin Love. In 2015, he got Draymond Green to sign for several million below a max deal.

And last summer? Wooing Durant to decamp to Oakland, thus pulling off the greatest free-agency coup in years.

It’s why Myers has won the NBA‘s Executive of the Year award twice in the past three years, but he gets to breathe a little freer this summer.

That’s because the Warriors, despite boasting the league’s most talented starting lineup—and possibly in all of NBA history—have strengthened their bench since the season ended.

Gone thus far are Ian Clark, James Michael McAdoo and Matt Barnes. Replacing them are Nick Young (40.4 percent on threes last season) and Omri Casspi (40.1 percent on threes over the last three seasons).

Zaza Pachulia and David West are each back after giving up millions to sign with Golden State a year ago. Both signed one-year deals this offseason and will continue to mentor Damian Jones, the Warriors’ first-round pick in 2016 out of Vanderbilt.

After a somewhat protracted and public negotiation, Iguodalawho would’ve been gone had Durant asked for his max salarywill return on a three-year, $48 million deal. Shaun Livingston, who also likely would’ve been gone had Durant not sacrificed so much money, is also back for three years at $24 million. Both players will continue to take Patrick McCaw, Golden State’s 2016 second-round pick out of UNLV, under their collective wing as he looks to take a significant step forward in his second season.

And similar to how they acquired McCaw last year, the Warriors, devoid of any picks going into draft night, bought their way into the second round, sending $3.5 million to the Chicago Bulls so they could select Oregon big man Jordan Bell at No. 38 overall.

Bottom line: The Warriors were already going to be a powerhouse as they headed into the 2017-18 season to defend their title, but the second unit has been fortified beyond what anyone could’ve reasonably expected.

Credit to Myers for putting all the pieces together, and credit to Durant for essentially footing the bill for all of these upgrades.

In reality, team owner Joe Lacob is footing the bill for this superteam. Myers said Lacob was “intimately” involved in all of the contract negotiations, and the only time the GM sounded even mildly skittish during his media sit-down was when the topic of the Warriors’ future luxury-tax bills came up.

“We’re in it in a pretty meaningful way,” he said once, and then again a few minutes later. Each time, his voice let out a combination exhale/squeak/nervous laugh, the way one does when they reach for the dinner check and see it’s far higher than anyone at the table realized.

For now, Lacob—who also must privately finance his $1 billion arena in San Francisco that’s currently under construction—is willing to go neck-deep into the luxury tax. Meanwhile, the rest of the NBA has not been scared off by the Warriors’ commitment to add even more firepower to a team that averaged 69 wins over the past three seasons.

The Western Conference was already stacked with talent. Last season’s top three vote-getters for MVP were all in the West; the same goes for Defensive Player of the Year.

Now, Paul George is in Oklahoma City playing alongside Russell Westbrook. Chris Paul has buddied up with James Harden in Houston. Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and the newly signed Rudy Gay figure to lead San Antonio back to another typically awesome year.

Golden State’s biggest competitors are not backing down. Perhaps Utah and the Clippers will take a step in the wrong direction, but Houston, OKC and San Antonio will all present major challenges.

“We’re the hunted right now, but that’s where you want to be,” Myers said. “That’s why it’s so important that we continue to push and improve and get our roster as best we can. Because they’re not going to stop coming, but that’s what makes it fun. If this stuff was easy, it’d be boring, but it’s hard, and pressure from other teams is good.”

Myers was convinced the Warriors were going to lose some production going into next season because those are the economics of being a champion. The more you win, the more valuable your players become to other teams. And with the NBA printing money these days, it’s a great time to be a free agent.

But winning is also infectious, and championships have a peculiar way of begetting more championships, especially if you have fostered a culture where your players enjoy coming to the workplace every day.

Look at JaVale McGee, who went from a reclamation project in October to playing meaningful minutes in the NBA Finals come June. Players see examples like that and it makes them want to come to Oakland. It also makes the players who are already there want to stay, even if meansto the players association’s chagringiving up a few million in salary.

That’s what Iguodala did in 2013. That’s what Green did in 2015. That’s what Durant did this summer. Yes, Curry signed what was at the time the richest contract in NBA history at $201 million, but his previous four-year, $44 million contract was arguably the most value-added deal ever signed, not that anyone could’ve guessed it back when he put the pen to paper.

And yet, despite all of these “hometown discounts” and team-friendly gestures, the Warriors still blew past all of their internal salary projections. “We crossed that number already,” Myers said. “It got blown through.”

Now the Warriors must keep winning to validate the massive tax penalties coming their way, but they’ve also given themselves every opportunity to continue building up this modern basketball dynasty.

With these summer moves, the Warriors have become more flexible and, to some degree, a potentially more lethal version of what fans saw last season. Young is 6’7″ while Casspi and Bell are both 6’9″. Head coach Steve Kerr will be able to mix and match rotations next year like never before. 

They could miss the folk-hero escapades of McGee, who may be priced out of the Warriors’ limited remaining payroll, but the Golden State will also have a legitimate chance to smash the all-time record for threes in a single season, which Houston set (1,181) last year.

Breaking this squad up now, at least beyond the Core Four, would’ve been easy. It definitely would’ve been much cheaper. But as Myers contends, the results are now what matters, and when you’re on the top of the NBA, you’ll do what you can to stay there. 

“When winning is the most important thing,” Myers said, “I think you can sustain success.” 


Erik Malinowski covers the Warriors for B/R. His book, Betaball: How Silicon Valley and Science Built One of the Greatest Basketball Teams in History, will be published in October. Follow him on Twitter: @erikmal.

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from Bleacher Report – NBA


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