Long before they doused each other with champagne over championship euphoria, Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers and coach Steve Kerr shared a few of their insecurities on whether that could even happen.
As Kerr told Myers before the NBA playoffs started: “I don’t know if this is a championship team.”
Forget the various NBA pundits who expressed doubt over the Warriors’ ability to win their fourth NBA title in eight years. Kerr conceded he envisioned the Warriors becoming “a conference finalist, maybe not further than that” amid overlapping injuries to their stars (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green) and mixed progress with the core’s young players.
“We were laughing about that. We said, ‘Well, what do we know?” Myers said now that they proved themselves wrong. “We had a pretty high bar, I guess, for what we were comparing it to.”
That’s because the Warriors could no longer lean on Kevin Durant to elevate them toward an NBA title, as he had twice in three straight Finals appearances (2017-19). But unlike that pre-playoff conversation about potential, the franchise now appears more emboldened after winning its first NBA title since Durant’s free-agency departure (2019).
“My experience is when you win a championship, you get better the next year,” Kerr said. “If you keep going after that, it starts to wear you out. That third year for us, trying to get a three-peat in ’19 was brutally difficult. But whether I was a player or now as a coach, you win that first one, there’s a freedom that comes with it. There’s an excitement, and that carries over into the second year.”
That presents the Warriors with what Myers termed “a high-class problem.” Just one week after defeating the Boston Celtics in a decisive Game 6, the Warriors have decisions to make that could determine if they can keep the championship train rolling.
When the 2022 NBA Draft takes place on Thursday (8 ET, ABC/ESPN), that decision-making process begins as the Warriors look to find some dependable young talent with their three draft picks at No. 28, 51 and 55.
Will the Warriors agree to early extensions for two players who helped lead them back to the top (Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole)? Will they retain key free agents like Kevon Looney, Gary Payton II and Andre Iguodala?
With lead assistant coach Mike Brown departing for Sacramento to coach the Kings, can the Warriors find a suitable replacement for Kerr’s coaching staff?
Can the Warriors continue to rely on their star trio while nurturing young talent (James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody)?
1. Add more prospects
The Warriors will try to upgrade their roster by adding young NBA prospects to their team, just as they did in 2019 — when they used their No. 28 pick to select Poole, who has since flourished into a rotation player. But the same cannot be said when the Warriors used that same first-round pick in 2018 on Jacob Evans, who barely cracked the rotation. Consider that among all the No. 28 picks in draft history, San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker represents the lone gem. Otherwise, the No. 28 pick historically has featured 11 role players that lasted at least 10 years, 28 to play fewer than that and five who never appeared in an NBA game.
“A guy like Poole, it shows you how valuable it is to get it right,” Myers said.
2. Retain key free agents
But Golden State has more control when it comes to retaining its own players, so what does the future hold for Wiggins and Poole?
Myers called it a “big priority” to sign both Wiggins and Poole to extensions. After Wiggins earned his first All-Star appearance during this ninth NBA season, his third with Golden State, the veteran swingman is eligible for an extension of up to four years at $172.2 million. Poole, who excelled a scorer, playmaker, and defender in his fourth NBA season, became eligible for an extension worth as much as $190 million over five years.
Technically, the Warriors have time to negotiate a deal even through next season, with both Wiggins and Poole remaining under contract until then. While Myers does not expect to reach these deals as soon as free agency begins on June 30, he hopes to reach a resolution well before next summer. If the Warriors don’t secure an extension on either player, Wiggins will become an unrestricted free agent and Poole, a restricted one.
“We’re going to make every effort to keep both those guys,” Myers said. “They were huge for us.”
The Warriors said the same thing about most of their seven pending free agents.
Kerr described Looney as “a championship center and modern-day defender” after helping the Warriors with rim protection, rebounding, screens and hustle plays both as a starter and reserve. Despite spending most of his seven-year NBA career struggling to stay healthy, Looney became one of only five NBA players this season to appear in all 82 regular-season games.
“He’s a huge component to our success,” Kerr said. “We all want him back. We also are rooting for him personally to get a really good contract, so hopefully, it’s from us.”
The Warriors praised Gary Payton II for his shooting, defensive tenacity and resiliency. Payton, a sixth-year guard who spent time with four different teams before sticking with Golden State, showed his toughness in another way during the playoffs.
“I hope that our players will give us a chance to respond to an offer,” Myers said. “They don’t owe it to us, but that’s what you get if you win and you create a good environment.”
As for NBA veteran Iguodala, who reunited with the Warriors at the start of 2021-22 on a veteran’s minimum deal, both Kerr and Myers expressed uncertainty about any potential extension of his 18-year career.
The 2015 NBA Finals MVP, Iguodala faced a limited on-court role this season amid various injuries that sidelined him for 12 playoff games and 50 regular-season games. Nonetheless, the Warriors praised Iguodala’s behind-the-scenes mentorship. Kerr argued a significant turning point in the playoffs happened when Iguodala told his teammates during their first-round series against the Denver Nuggets that “in order to win a championship, you have to improve from round-to-round.”
No wonder Kerr said that “we’d love to have him back on the roster.” But how about as an assistant coach? Kerr mused, “I think he’s way too smart to sit next to me and come to all our coaches’ meetings and do this.”
3. Replace Mike Brown
On one hand, the Warriors expressed relief that Kenny Atkinson will return for his third season after reportedly changing his mind about accepting the Charlotte Hornets’ coaching position. Kerr considered Atkinson “a fantastic development coach” because of how he handles players and how he analyzes numbers.
On the other hand, Myers predicts Atkinson will receive other coaching offers soon. The Warriors are in the midst of discussing how to replace erstwhile associate coach Brown, who organized the team’s rotations and defensive game plans. Myers said “we prefer internal” on how to address that vacancy, but the Warriors have not ruled out any external candidates.
Amid those discussions, the Warriors do not appear worried about the potential impact on their already league-leading payroll.
Golden State spent about $346 million in combined salary and luxury taxes last season and are positioned to be $24.6 million over the tax in the upcoming campaign. They can spend over the cap to retain Looney and Payton, but cannot do the same for veteran Otto Porter Jr. after he accepted a veteran’s minimum deal. The Warriors also could have other roster vacancies with three other unrestricted free agents (Nemanja Bjelica, Chris Chiozza, Damion Lee) and restricted free agents (Juan Toscano-Anderson, Quinndary Weatherspoon).
Still, majority owner Joe Lacob has proven he’s willing to spend for two reasons: Because the Chase Center is a privately-financed arena, the Warriors receive revenue both from their home games and other entertainment events. Lacob has considered this variable as the cost of doing business — to an extent.
4. Keep a good thing going
The Warriors’ success also depends on how much they make with what they have.
After Curry, Thompson and Green won their fourth NBA title together, Myers observed “they’re looking in pretty good shape now.” The Warriors expressed optimism that Thompson will play more consistently next season after returning in the middle of 2021-22 following a 2 1/2 year absence with injuries. And with Curry collecting his first Bill Russell Finals MVP, Kerr is confident he can continue to lead the Warriors in future playoff runs.
“He absolutely peaked in the playoffs,” Kerr said. “I think it’s going to be harder for him next year at 35 and the following year to put together an 82-game season like he did seven years ago. But in the playoffs, when you’ve got time off in between games and you’re really locked in? This was the best I’ve ever seen him in terms of his two-way performance.”
As for the youngsters, they will receive clarity this summer on their potential. After playing sparingly during their rookie seasons, center Jonathan Kuminga and guard Moses Moody are expected to play in either the California Classic (July 2-3) or the Las Vegas Summer League (July 7-17). Possibly both. The same applies to third-year center James Wiseman, who missed his entire second season while rehabbing his surgically repaired right knee. Myers said all three could play significant minutes next season.
Kerr will worry about the roster later.
“I’m excited for a vacation,” Kerr said. “But I’m excited to come back and coach again next year.”
That’s because Kerr no longer envisions the Warriors falling short of an NBA title. This time, he might be correct.
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