After five straight Finals appearances, the Golden State Warriors are the first team in the NBA to be eliminated from the playoffs. They currently have the league’s worst record and FiveThirtyEight’s Elo forecast projects them to finish the season 22-60, which would also be league-worst. Assuming they finish in last place, the Warriors will be guaranteed a Top 5 pick in the 2020 draft.
CURRENT 2020-21 PAYROLL
The Warriors are entering the 2020-21 offseason with $148.9 million dedicated to eight guaranteed players and four partially-guaranteed players. That figure could be as high as $159 million if they get the first overall pick or as low as $155 million if they get the fifth overall pick. The Warriors are already set to be more than $10 million above the currently projected $139 million luxury tax line but could reduce about $7 million if they waived all non-guaranteed players.
Despite finally getting healthy and having a full roster, the Warriors could still look to surround All-Stars Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green with more talent. There is a considerable dropoff between them and Andrew Wiggins, Kevon Looney, Damion Lee, and Marquese Chriss, and there is a big dropoff after those players with the rest of the roster. They’ve got work to do to get back into contention, and fortunately for them, they have the means to improve the roster.
TOP 5 DRAFT PICK
The top of this year’s draft is still considered wide open. This draft could be reminiscent of the 2013 one where there was no consensus top player and the best players were selected in the most random spots throughout. Like in most drafts, but especially one as wide-open as this one, the Warriors should select the best player available. They should choose someone regardless of position who they envision as a piece of their future. For the current team, picking a big man like James Wiseman makes sense. Selecting a wing such as Anthony Edwards or LaMelo Ball could prepare them up for the post-Curry/Thompson era. The Warriors could also look to trade the pick to expedite their timeline.
When the Warriors traded for D’Angelo Russell, they did it desperately needing a potential asset to help offset the loss of Kevin Durant. Because they were over the cap and are expected to remain over it over the next few years, a trade was the only way they could add another high tradeable salary. When they moved Russell to Minnesota, they probably gauged the market on him and came to the conclusion that his value isn’t high enough to return the type of player they seek. Perhaps the Timberwolves 2021 first-round pick (Top 4 protected) and a potentially improved Wiggins will get them closer to that value threshold.
Trading Wiggins, who makes $29.5 million in 2020-21, can bring back the Warriors up to $37 million in incoming salary. The Warriors are expected to pursue a trade for a star that can complement their core. Such players they have ambitions on could include soon-to-be potential free agent Giannis Antetokounmpo and Bradley Beal. The Warriors have all their first-round picks, so they can offer a combination of Wiggins, their lottery 2020 pick, the Timberwolves 2021 pick, and even another future pick if needed. There is no indication those top players mentioned are available, but the Warriors can make a compelling offer for them if they are.
If the Warriors can’t land a star for Wiggins’ contract, they can also trade for a high-quality player with their $17.2 million Andre Iguodala traded player exception (TPE). They have several other TPEs that range between $1.6 million and $2.2 million, but the Iguodala exception is their gateway to a great starter-level player. The Warriors cannot utilize the Iguodala TPE until June 30 once they are free from hard-cap restrictions but they’ll have a tight window since it expires on July 7. They should have plenty of time between the draft and that day to secure a trade agreement where they utilize it.
STEPHEN CURRY IS EXTENSION ELIGIBLE
Curry will be eligible to sign a veteran extension starting on July 6, which will be the three-year anniversary date of him signing the designated veteran player contract, or supermax, with the Warriors. Normally, players can earn a 20 percent raise from the previous year of their contract in the first year of their extension. Under these conditions, his starting salary would be a whopping $54.9 million and the total value of the extension would add $180 million over three years. However, because that starting salary would exceed the projected 35 percent maximum salary for 2022-23, the first year of his extension is limited to that season’s maximum salary. RealGM’s Salary Cap History page currently estimates the 2022-23 salary cap at $131.25 million, which would make the 35 percent maximum $45.9 million. This would allow Curry to add $148.8 million over three years to Curry’s current contact. Danny LeRoux of The Athletics adds that Curry’s first-year salary can be the greater of the 35 percent maximum, or a five percent raise off Curry’s $45.8 million salary for 2021-22, which would start him at $48.1 million in 2022-23. This would make his extension worth $155.7 million over three years.
For Curry, signing a maximum extension makes a lot of sense. He is currently in his age-32 season and is coming off one of his biggest injuries since 2012. He is more likely to earn a maximum contract now versus at age-34 and would keep him maximizing his earnings through his age-37 season. The Warriors would probably like to extend Curry now, for at least two years, so he is on the same timeline as Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. That third year could be a dividing point in negotiations, but ideally, both parties would want to get something done this summer.
PAYROLL AND LUXURY TAX
The Warriors were projected to have an enormous payroll and luxury tax payment in 2020-21 in the range of $340 million had they re-signed Durant along with Thompson. They can still have the most expensive roster next season with the ability to increase it by more than $30 million if they choose. Because they’re already above the hard cap, or Apron, they’re going to have the taxpayer mid-level exception (T-MLE) worth $6 million available.
If the Warriors utilize the entire Iguodala TPE and the T-MLE, the Warriors would be looking at a $180 million payroll. This would put them $41 million above the luxury tax line for a $140 million tax payment. Altogether, that is $320 million combined in payroll and tax payment. Keep in mind that the Warriors didn’t hit the luxury tax this season, allowing them to avoid the repeater tax for 2020-21. Had they remained taxpayers this year, the same conditions would put the Warriors luxury tax bill at over $180 million and for $360 million in total spending.