If Not Kevin Love, What's Warriors' Best Free-Agency Backup Plan?

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 6, 2014

All's quiet on the trade front for the Golden State Warriors lately, a marked change from the pre-draft bluster that made Kevin Love's arrival seem like a real possibility.

Maybe it still is.

There's always a chance the Dubs' stubborn refusal to trade Klay Thompson is really just a tactic to create leverage. After all, it seems crazy to let Thompson, a good-but-not-great player, hold up a deal for a superstar.

Perhaps the Warriors know the Minnesota Timberwolves will cave when faced with the possibility of dealing with an unhappy Love for another full year, then losing him for nothing as a free agent. If that happens, we could eventually see Golden State get Love and keep Thompson.

Another possibility: The Warriors have been ready to trade Thompson all along but are just waiting until they're absolutely sure the Timberwolves are serious about including him in any deal for Love.

Per Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News, very little has changed since the Warriors' offseason began, and they may even be willing to maintain the status quo longer than anyone expected:

Love is by far their No. 1 big-ticket option, but to this point the Warriors execs have decided that he only makes them a title contender if they can add him and keep Thompson, too.

So the Warriors are fine with letting the Love discussions simmer maybe all the way into November or even February.

The Warriors execs believe the star power forward wants to be a Warrior; they believe there isn't another hot offer for Love out there (or else he would have been traded by now).

And they believe Minnesota has to pull the trigger at some point before next summer, when Love can be a free agent.

Then again, maybe the Wolves won't budge on the Thompson issue. And maybe the Warriors won't, either. As unsatisfying as it sounds, Golden State general manager Bob Myers has maintained his stance that a big trade is "unlikely" since before the draft.

Per Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle, Myers said:

I think probably right now unlikely. It's the best I can do for you. But I will say this: If you asked me last year at this time would we be in a situation to grab an (Andre) Iguodala, I would have said the same thing.

Right now, I think it's unlikely. Right now, today.

Weeks later, that's still exactly where the Warriors stand, which means the Warriors need a fallback option.


Trust the System

Maybe the Warriors' backup plan is no plan at all.

They already addressed the roster's most glaring need—backup point guard—by spending the entire mid-level exception on Shaun Livingston. He'll immediately be a massive upgrade over the parade of subpar options the Warriors employed behind Stephen Curry last season. And Livingston's arrival, alone, means the Dubs can call the current offseason a success.

In addition, the coaching staff is deeper, more experienced and more specialized than ever. New head coach Steve Kerr remains a great unknown, but with Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams essentially functioning as offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively, the Warriors have one of the most impressive assistant tandems in the league.

It may take some time for everyone to slot comfortably into their roles, but Golden State's coaching resources are vastly deeper than they were a season ago.

As for the players those coaches will manage, well, it's fair to expect some improvement from them as well.

Draymond Green introduced himself to an uninitiated national audience in the Warriors' first-round postseason ouster, and if he adds a few percentage points to his long-distance accuracy rate, he'll suddenly become one of the more valuable stretch power forwards in the league. As a defender and dirty-work contributor, Green was phenomenal last season. If he becomes a bigger threat from distance, watch out.

Harrison Barnes should also enjoy a better year. Miscast as a leader on the second unit, he'll be far more effective with Livingston setting the table. And if you're skeptical about Barnes' capacity to become more than a solid role player (as, admittedly, I am), consider the deals Golden State is reportedly passing on in order to keep him:

Toss in some more growth from Thompson, a healthy Festus Ezeli to back up Andrew Bogut and a lighter load for Curry, and there's reason to believe the Warriors will be in fine shape without Love—fine enough, perhaps, to move into one of the top four spots out West.


Fallback Fallback Options

The Warriors' roster flexibility is severely limited after the Livingston signing. They still have a hefty $9 million traded-player exception from the blockbuster deal that brought Andre Iguodala on board last summer, but using that to acquire a major contributor is more complicated than it seems.

So while free agents like Channing Frye and Pau Gasol would be ideal acquisitions, Golden State would need cooperation from their former teams on sign-and-trade deals to make any agreement a reality.

Remember, it's not like the Warriors just ship out the trade exception for a player coming back. Instead, the TPE allows for lopsided salary exchanges to pass muster under the collective bargaining agreement.

If you're the Los Angeles Lakers, I'm not sure why a sign-and-trade exchanging Gasol for cap room and one of Golden State's nonexistent cheap, expendable assets makes any sense when you could simply let Gasol walk away for nothing.

Plus, Gasol is drawing interest from every team with championship hopes and a roster spot. Why would he want to be part of a sign-and-trade deal when he could just choose his destination and dollar amount from among a half-dozen great offers?

The same is true for Frye and the Phoenix Suns. If flexibility is a priority, it's hard to justify taking on another contract just to facilitate a sign-and-trade exchange sending Frye to Golden State. And from Frye's perspective, he'd probably prefer to sign a deal outright with a suitor of his choosing.

If the Warriors had more picks stockpiled, or young players whom management didn't seem to universally regard as untouchable, the story might be different. But Golden State, so far, hasn't been inclined to break up any of its core unless a superstar is the return.

And as we've learned from the Love fiasco, even then, the Warriors are hesitant.

That leaves Golden State with the veteran's minimum to spend on other potential additions, and some of the names floating around in that price range aren't especially inspiring (or new):


Try, Try Again?

Ultimately, the Warriors don't have much of a backup plan—at least not one that replaces Love's name with another equally sparkly one on the trade market.

Either they get their man from the Timberwolves, or they hope to get better on their own. There doesn't seem to be a third option.

In some ways, that sounds disappointing. But there are lots of reasons to believe the team will improve if organic growth ends up being the mantra of the offseason.

The issue, though, is that the Warriors can't be sure they'll be the caliber of contender they want to—even with a beefed-up coaching staff and steps forward from the talent already on hand. Deep down, ownership and management probably have reservations about that, which is why we shouldn't expect the Love discussions to stay dormant forever.

The Warriors are bound to make another play, perhaps this time relenting on their Thompson stance.

In the end, the real backup plan might just be trying the original one again—only this time with a little more urgency.


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