The challenge for every NBA team that finds a diamond in the rough—also known as a second-round draft pick who can crack its eight-man playing rotation—is to make the most of him while he's making second-round pick, rather than eight-man rotation, money.
Unless, that is, you're an NBA team in that situation right now, as are the Golden State Warriors with forward Draymond Green.
League sources estimated that Green, a restricted free agent next summer, is in line for a hefty raise from the $915,000 he's making this season. With eight-figure deals already guaranteed for next season to five players—Stephen Curry, Andrew Bogut, David Lee, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson—the prudence of putting Green in the same neighborhood would be questionable, if not prohibitive.
Yet a case can be made that he provides an element the Warriors would not otherwise have.
"You could make the argument that his value is somewhat like Taj Gibson's is to the Bulls right now," one NBA talent scout said. "He is seen as a part of the Warriors' main core. His value is very similar to that of Tayshaun Prince on Detroit's championship team. He will end up getting approximately $8 million per year in free agency based on similar comparables."
As of last spring, the Warriors faced the prospect of having to move power forward Lee, paying an exorbitant salary-cap tax hit or letting Green go. Prior to his playoff performance against the Clippers, the Warriors might have had to think long and hard if they wanted to pony up a three-year, $25 million deal to keep an undersized (6'7", 230 pounds) stretch four who shot below 30 percent from beyond the three-point arc over his first two seasons. Anyone familiar with Green's game knows he brings a ton of intangibles (toughness, defense, IQ) to the floor as well, but those are luxuries for which teams of late haven't been paying millions in salary and tax. At that time, they faced the prospect of paying multiples of Green's salary in tax or face losing one of their other key assets.
Thanks to the monstrous new TV deals (nine years, $24 billion in all) the league signed this fall, the Warriors have another option they assuredly will exercise: match whatever Green might be offered and suffer a one-year tax hit. The combination of the cap rising for the 2016-17 season and Lee's $15.5 million salary coming off the books assures them that will be the extent of the damage.
Well, that and Green's dedication. There's always uncertainty about a player's hunger after he finally lands a big contract, and although Green hasn't crossed that threshold, all signs point to him being able to handle it. Some players are best served when they stay within the web of team activities – playing on the summer-league team and training at the practice facility during the offseason—but those commitments actually may have held Green back, based on what he did last summer.
Allowed to arrange his own workouts, he enlisted former Michigan State teammate Travis Walton, now an assistant coach with the NBDL's Idaho Stampede, to work with him back in East Lansing, Michigan. Walton watched film of every minute Green played last season and then formulated a workout plan to fill in the holes of his game. Honing his three-point shot was on the list, but so was developing a mid-range game, since he found himself often getting the ball inside the three-point arc as teams trapped Steph Curry off pick-and-rolls.
"Before, I'd get in there and I'd be looking to pass because I'd never shot floaters," Green said. "I shot a lot of floaters this summer, along with mid-post and elbow stuff. It's been working well for me."
Has it ever. With Lee sidelined most of the season with a hamstring injury, Green started the first 10 games of the season at power forward and is a strong, early candidate for the league's most improved player award with his contributions to the Warriors' 8-2 start. His three-point accuracy through the first 10 games stood at a career-high 41.9 percent and his shooting inside the arc is above 50 percent, both career firsts.
Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson blurted it after the team's lopsided win over the Lakers: Golden State sees itself as a championship contender. And while Green is not the first name that comes to mind when listing the reasons that ambition is legitimate, the league's roster-building architects will tell you having a stretch four is considered an essential ingredient for any team with title aspirations. It's why the Clippers went out and snared Spencer Hawes; it's also why, despite their torrid starts, some around the league question if the Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies have a championship formula since they do not have that bona fide range-stretching power forward.
"Boris Diaw proved the importance of having that kind of player for San Antonio," said one league executive. "He changed the series against Oklahoma City last year. You need that component. You don't have to have it to be successful, but the way the game has changed you need it to win a championship. The three-point shot has become too big a part."
Lee has worked on extending his shooting range in training camp and practice, but he's a lifetime 1-for-26 on threes over 10 seasons and there's no indication the work is paying off. Putting him out by the three-point line also increases the chance that he would be the first line of defense for a fast break, and it's hard to imagine him excelling in that role. It also takes him away from what he does best, and what the Warriors, as constituted, need most: his ambidextrous scoring in the post and around the rim.
Green is aware he's made himself an important part of the Warriors, and he has a windfall coming. "It'd be a lie to say I don't think about it," he said. "But I don't try to do anything different. If I did, everything is going to go wrong because I would be focusing on the wrong thing. I'd be stressed all year. Stress equals bad performances, which then would equal no contract. I really love it here. It's all I know about this league. As far as the money working out, if they want me to stay here, I know there's a way to keep me here."
He's right and it doesn't take much thought to understand that. The new TV deal made sure of it. Meaning? The worthiness of the Warriors' championship hopes shouldn't rest on finding their Boris. They already have him. His name is Draymond.
Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.