The Warriors as we know them appear to be entering the twilight of their dominance. They are off to a shocking 7-9 start to the season where they rank 12th on offense and a bottom-tier 24th in defense. Their defensive struggles aren’t exclusive to their bench as the team has already given up 125 points in six different games.
While they surely miss players from last season like Gary Payton II (who hasn’t played a game this season yet due to injury), they may also really miss former assistant coach Mike Brown, who was considered their defensive coordinator. Since he joined the Warriors in 2016, the Warriors often finished at the top of the league in defensive rating and with the exception of the 2019-20 season, they never finished below 11th.
The two timelines also appear to be clashing, which was a potential concern prior to the season. The Warriors went into 2022-23 with the expectation that their recent first-round picks would be able to replace the veterans who left in the offseason. Jordan Poole, Jonathan Kuminga, and Moses Moody have been inconsistent while James Wiseman has struggled to stay in the rotation and has now been sent to the G-League.
Can the Warriors make any moves that could fix this roster? They could make some trades to save the season, but it’ll be difficult for them to find any deal that could solve most of their problems.
The issue with trading the youth
As long as the Warriors plan on remaining competitive over the next few years, their starters as well as Poole are here to stay. This naturally shines the spotlight on Wiseman, Kuminga, and Moody as logical trade candidates. They can also trade a maximum of two future first-round picks at the moment.
The problem with trading any of these players is that the Warriors would likely sell them low. If they were to trade just one of these players for veterans that would likely come off the bench, they’re either admitting to making a bad selection or giving up too early and risk seeing them thrive elsewhere. Or both.
Even if the Warriors decide to move these players, they are limited in the amount of incoming salary they can bring back. For example, Wiseman, the highest earner of their recent first-round picks at $9.6 million, can get back up to $12.1 million in a trade. There could be some difference-makers earning that much or less but most of the players the Warriors could use are probably making more. The idea that the Warriors may need to combine these players further complicates any potential deal.
One other issue to consider is their luxury tax situation. They currently have $190.5 million in payroll and $176.5 million in luxury tax penalties. It’s unclear how much the Warriors would want to increase their expenses, if at all. They’ve gone into the season with an open roster spot for that reason. For example, increasing their payroll by $5 million in a trade would raise their luxury tax penalties by nearly $34 million. With all these factors in mind, they’re probably much better off being patient and continuing to develop their guys.
The Klay conundrum
Even if the Warriors make such a trade, that doesn’t solve the other issue they have which is the slump of Klay Thompson. He is having by far the worst shooting season of his career shooting 33.6 percent from three and 36.3 percent from the field. There is still time for him to bounce back and chances are he will to some degree considering he played well last season and in the playoffs. But if Thompson can’t get back to becoming a productive and consistent player then it doesn’t matter what other moves the Warriors make. His $40.6 million and $43.2 million would make this version of him one of the worst contracts in the league.
The Warriors would probably be able to effectively deepen their roster and potentially get significant tax savings if they traded Thompson for two or three veterans. But even if the Warriors were willing to move him (which they won’t for obvious reasons), they may need to include draft picks to incentivize other teams. At that point, the Warriors are much better off betting on him to get out of this slump.
The Warriors are more likely to stick to their group for better or worse if the returns on potential trades aren’t strong enough. And how this season ends could portend to difficult decisions about their future. For the first time, head coach Steve Kerr is acknowledging the end of this iteration of the Warriors:
“But it can only last so long. We know this isn’t going forever. This could be the last year, maybe next year is the last year. We’re in the final stages. We know that. We want to make the most of it.”
You can follow Yossi Gozlan (@YossiGozlan) on Twitter.