If Warriors Are Forced to Pick Between Green and Thompson, the Choice Is Clear

Will Gottlieb@@wontgottliebFeatured Columnist IJune 18, 2018

Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson (11) and forward Draymond Green (23) reacts after Thompson scored a three-point basket during the final minutes of the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

"Strength in Numbers" is a somewhat ironic slogan for a team as top-heavy as the Golden State Warriors. Of course, they have depth, but their embarrassment of riches of top-tier talent is what drives their success.

For now.

As is the case with most excellent teams, Golden State has a handful of great players. With discounted deals on Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green in the past and a salary-cap spike in 2016 that allowed them the space to sign Kevin Durant, the Warriors put together a historic run. But those contracts will start to expire.

Last July, Curry signed a long overdue supermax contract worth over $200 million. This summer, Durant is technically off the books, though general manager Bob Myers told Janie McCauley of the Associated Press that he is expected to be back for "whatever he wants."

The summer of 2019 will prove to be a challenge. Myers will have to perform some cap-room magic to extend Thompson and leave space to give Green a contract the following year.

Of course, it's possible both players will take discounts, but according to Chris Haynes of ESPN.com, Green is expected to turn down an extension offer since he could make himself eligible for a supermax contract. Thompson is not eligible for a supermax deal after failing to make an All-NBA team, but it's possible he would be willing to sign a team-friendly contract to remain in Golden State.

The Warriors brass will have to get creative to keep both Green and Thompson, and they needed to start thinking about this yesterday.

                                              

Thompson's contract and extension details

Contract: $18,988,725 in 2018-19, unrestricted in summer 2019.

Contract eligibility: 

Klay Thompson Max Contract Details
Year (Age)Thompson Max*
2019-20 (29)$32,400,000
2020-21 (30)$34,992,000
2021-22 (31)$37,584,000
2022-23 (32)$40,176,000
2023-24 (33)$42,768,000
Total$187,920,000
Sources: Basketball Insiders, CBAFAQ.com

               

*Max figure calculated based on 30 percent of $108 million estimated salary cap with 8 percent annual raise.



Green's contract and extension details

Contract: $17,469,565 in 2018-19, $18,539,130 in 2019-2020, unrestricted in summer 2020.

Contract eligibility:

Draymond Green Max, Supermax Contract Details
Year (Age)Green Max*Green Supermax**
2020-21 (30)$34,020,000$39,690,000
2021-22 (31)$36,741,600$42,865,200
2022-23 (32)$39,463,200$46,040,400
2023-24 (33)$42,184,800$49,215,600
2024-25 (34)$44,906,400$52,390,800
Total$197,316,000$230,202,000
Sources: Basketball Insiders, CBAFAQ.com

 

 *Max figure calculated based on 30 percent of $113.4 million estimated salary cap with 8 percent annual raise.

**Supermax figure calculated based on 35 percent of $113.4 million estimated salary cap with 8 percent annual raise.

 

The money may be the big needle-mover for Myers and Company, and that makes sense. Would you rather pay a 34-year-old Green roughly $45/$52 million in 2024-25 or a 33-year-old Thompson about $43 million in 2023-24?

If everything were equal, getting off an enormous contract sooner would feel better than hanging on to an even bigger deal for an additional year. But it changes when you take into account how each player will age and live up to the money he's making.

                      

Projecting value into the future

Projecting how a player will age is difficult. Injuries happen. Bodies fall apart. Using FiveThirtyEight's CARMELO projections, however, we can estimate a player's wins above replacement and provide some insight. This projects until the year 2024, which is when a Green max contract would expire, and assigns a monetary value to each season.

CARMELO rates Green as an MVP-level player. His plus/minus projection based on wins above replacement for the seasons he would be under contract is as follows:

Green Value Projection
Year (Age)Green +/-Estimated Value
2020-21 (30)5.4$52.2M
2021-22 (31)4.7$42.5M
2022-23 (32)4.0$37.1M
2023-24 (33)3.9$36.5M
2024-25 (34)3.2$31.1M
Total21.2$199.4M
Source: FiveThirtyEight.com

This projection systems values Thompson far less than Green. It ranks him as an average starter, and his plus/minus and yearly values are as follows:

Thompson Value Projection
Year (Age)Thompson +/-Estimated Value
2019-20 (29)0.9$20.9M
2020-21 (30)0.7$18.7M
2021-22 (31)0.2$13.9M
2022-23 (32)-0.1$10.8M
2023-24 (33)-0.3$7.6M
Total1.4$71.9M
Source: FiveThirtyEight.com

If Green signs a max contract, even though he's projected to regress as his deal increases, he will be making approximately what he is worth. Thompson, on the other hand, will be a $116.02 million overpay.

Even if Green became eligible for the supermax deal, which would require him to win Defensive Player of the Year again, the MVP award or make an All-NBA team, overpaying him by only $31 million seems like the obvious answer, especially since Green's plus/minus is projected to more than double Thompson's in the final year of his deal.

If we're talking about bang for your buck, Green is the obvious answer.

Using only the eye test, Thompson seems like he could play into his 40s. Running off screens and shooting three-pointers don't result in much bodily wear. His shooting skills cannot be understated, and he doesn't have to do much of the proverbial dirty work. But he is assigned the lead guard matchup on a nightly basis and has accumulated 10,060 minutes over the last three seasons, playoffs included.

Green, an undersized big at 6'7", bashes with true big men in the post and relies more on brute force than skill. This could mean he will erode faster than a perimeter player like Thompson. That said, Green is still skilled. His defensive game—on ball 1-through-5, off-ball and leadership—are second to none in the NBA. He's also a valuable playmaker and roll man, and even his shooting as a center is above-average. He's accumulated 9,857 minutes over the last three seasons, including the playoffs. While Green's minutes probably make a higher impact, those miles on the odometer add up.

There are other things to consider when making this decision. It's not just about whose plus/minus will be higher in 2024. If the Warriors sign Thompson next summer, they have one more year with the Hamptons Five lineup before Green's deal expires, whereas if they let Thompson walk, they'll need to find a replacement immediately.

Things could go south for Green sooner than they might for Thompson, but Thompson's three-and-D skill set—high volume, high-efficiency scoring and point-of-attack defense—can be found elsewhere. There are no replacements for what Green does.

If the Warriors can find a three-and-D wing who does 75 percent—or even 60 percent—of what Thompson does at a much cheaper price, they'd be better off with the alternative. Green's skill set is historically unique, and without him, the Warriors defense would need an entire makeover. Their present and future reign would be at stake.

             

All stats via Basketball Reference and FiveThirtyEight.com unless otherwise noted. Salary-cap information via Basketball Insiders, Spotrac and CBAFAQ.com with help from B/R salary-cap guru Eric Pincus. Follow Will on Twitter @wontgottlieb. 

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