LOS ANGELES — Did the Draymond Green/Kevin Durant tiff in a Monday loss to the Los Angeles Clippers signal the end of the Golden State Warriors dynasty?
Per Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, Green told Durant something like, "We don't need you. We won without you. Leave."
That's undeniably juicy and possibly crippling for Golden State, with Durant eligible to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. The two may eventually reconcile, but what if they don't?
What options do the Warriors have if the relationship cannot be repaired?
Ride It Out, Move On
If this year is the last run for the Warriors with Durant, then so be it. Teammates don't need to be close friends. Remember Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant?
Golden State may advance to a fifth straight NBA Finals, which is all but unheard of in the modern era. Go win a fourth title, thank Durant, and then focus on re-signing Klay Thompson and filling out the roster.
Even if this is the last gasp, the chance to win three straight titles may be too much for the Warriors to consider anything drastic.
If they hold steady and Durant walks, the team wouldn't gain any real spending power to replace the All-Star, other than the $5.7 million taxpayer midlevel exception. DeMarcus Cousins will likely leave for a heftier paycheck, and the Warriors might even climb under the projected $132 million luxury tax if they're thrifty.
The franchise would undoubtedly prefer tax issues with Durant, but if he and Green can't coexist, his exodus may be inevitable. Green's message wasn't appropriate, but it was accurate: "We won without you."
Stephen Curry, Thompson, Green and quality role players won't be as good as their current iteration with Durant, but it's still a potent team. They may be able to do it again without Durant—but if he joins LeBron James with the Lakers, Los Angeles could become a significant obstacle.
Beyond Durant, the Warriors have a difficult decision ahead on Green, as the All-Star forward will finish his contract next season at $18.5 million.
Should he earn a berth on an All-NBA team or win either the Defensive Player of the Year or MVP, Green would qualify for a supermax contract, which would make him eligible for a starting salary of about $41 million. Only the Warriors would be allowed to pay that amount.
If Green doesn't qualify for the supermax, he can still earn a maximum starting salary of roughly $35 million. Golden State can give Green a five-year deal at approximately $205 million, while any other team with enough cap space can sign him for up to four years at $152 million.
Will he command that kind of money at 30 years old? With nearly all of the 2016 contracts expiring by 2020, a number of teams project to have a lot of money to spend, with a salary cap projected to reach $118 million.
What's the number that makes sense for both the Warriors and Green? Is there a compromise to be had when the team could be paying almost $80 million in 2020-21 to Curry and a re-signed Thompson but losing Durant to stand by Green?
Forget Durant for a moment. Can any team pay three max salaries at almost $114 million? Then again, if Green leaves and Durant stays, the Warriors are facing a similar dilemma: Golden State might have to break the bank at roughly $120 million.
The Warriors face several difficult financial decisions in the coming years, and the players are only going to take "discounts" for so long.
One solution might be to trade Green before the season ends. That would be a major shake-up for a team widely favored to win the title, but if Durant is the priority, dumping Green could be the play.
The Warriors would probably need a younger, cheaper player on a long-term contract given their payroll issues moving forward, and Green's $17.5 million salary may not be that difficult to trade.
Would the Charlotte Hornets have any interest for, say, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Miles Bridges? Kidd-Gilchrist is under contract for $13 million next season (player option), but Bridges is in the first year of his rookie contract.
Or perhaps Kelly Olynyk of the Miami Heat as a more reasonable economic replacement? He's earning $13.1 million and $13.6 million over the next two years, with a player option on the final season. How about TJ Warren of the Phoenix Suns, earning $35.3 million over the next three years?
The Warriors could even prioritize an expiring contract with a first-round pick as the ideal return for Green, especially if Durant indicates he's willing to stay if Green departs.
Can Golden State get equal value for arguably the best player in the league? The simple answer is no.
The chance to win another title probably trumps any trade, but if the Warriors can find a package that keeps them on top, wouldn't that be better than losing Durant for nothing?
Complicating matters, Durant can block any trade by the "one-year Bird" rule since he re-signed over the summer for just one season (technically two with a player option of $31.5 million for the second season). The Warriors also only have one open roster slot, which means they can only bring back two players for Durant, unless they cut or trade an additional player.
Durant is earning $30 million this season. A trade partner would have to send out almost $24 million in salary, provided Durant waives his 15 percent trade bonus; otherwise, that number jumps to $27 million. Naturally, the acquiring team would want to be confident Durant re-signs, which may be a promise he's unwilling to make.
Would Paul Millsap and Jamal Murray be a reasonable return for Durant for both the Denver Nuggets and Warriors? How about Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander from the Los Angeles Clippers?
If Durant wants to pair up with James and the Lakers, Los Angeles can match Durant's salary with Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (who can also block a trade like Durant). But the franchise may be more inclined to wait until summer when it can just sign Durant to play alongside James, Ingram and Ball.
The most likely path for the Warriors is riding out the streak with designs on a fourth title in five years. Perhaps high off another win, acrimonious feelings dissolve and Golden State is able to keep its core together.
How the Warriors pay for four max players is a worry, but dynasty-building is nearly impossible in the NBA. The Warriors should try to find a way to keep their core together for as long as possible, even if they flat-out can't stand each other.