If you believe in karma, the Golden State Warriors' upcoming offseason will be a just one. The physical, emotional and financial distress they face is merely a cosmic rebalancing for the abundant success and effortless dominance they enjoyed over the last half-decade.
The universe is settling the score.
Maxed Out, Taxed Out
A step backward seems imminent, as the Warriors' best-case scenario involves paying maximum five-year salaries to two players who might not see the floor in 2019-20. Kevin Durant's ruptured Achilles and Klay Thompson's torn ACL might not dissuade suitors from offering both free agents as many years and dollars as possible, but Golden State can make KD and Klay richer than anyone.
Thompson's is the easier scenario to parse. If the Warriors shove a five-year, $190 million contract across the table, all indications are the deal will get done, drama-free.
Durant's situation is less certain. He has a 2019-20 player option for $31.5 million to weigh before anything else happens. If he opts in, Golden State might end up paying him that money and helping him rehab his injury before watching him walk in a year. If Durant opts out, there's every chance he'll get max offers from other teams. But the Warriors can (and probably will) offer a fifth year and up to $220 million, figures nobody can match.
That was true all season. But as you'll recall, there was uncertainty attached to KD's future in Golden State this year.
If only Thompson returns, the Warriors will still be a taxpayer for the foreseeable future—even if they only fill out the rest of the roster with minimum salaries and their midlevel exception, according to ESPN's Bobby Marks.
Add a hypothetical max for Durant, and Golden State could wind up paying over $200 million in tax alone for 2019-20, a year in which the team will almost certainly not be a title contender.
Draymond Green's future warrants more attention, even though he's under contract for next season at a below-market rate of $18.5 million.
The Warriors could offer him an extension this summer worth $100 million that would add four more years to his tenure. But if Green declines that extension and qualifies for a supermax by winning Defensive Player of the Year or making an All-NBA team, he could more than double that $100 million in 2020 free agency.
Considering the potential gains (and the fact that he wasn't interested in a similar extension this past summer), it seems like Green will play out the last year of his current deal and rank as the No. 2 free agent behind Anthony Davis in the 2020 class.
There's an outside chance Green will put more emphasis on the locked-in security of an extension when weighing his options, having just watched free-agent teammates go down with career-altering injuries. But both Thompson and Durant are in line to make just as much money as if they were healthy, so the cautionary-tale angle is imperfect.
Plus, it seems unlikely Green moved to Klutch Sports in March if he simply planned to take the $100 million extension from Golden State.
If there were no emotions involved, trading Green would be a legitimate option. He'd command a major return on the market and could help facilitate a quicker rebuild around Stephen Curry. Moving Green now would also eliminate the risk of losing him for nothing in a year.
Don't count on a trade, though. Green's contributions are irreplaceable. Unless Golden State is prepared to completely concede its run is over, the club will keep Green this year and hope he looks good enough in 2020 to max out.
The False Choice
Let's suppose the Warriors improbably lock in Durant, Thompson and Green to long-term agreements. Even then, they'll do it with an eye on the 2020-21 season. By then, Curry and Durant will be 32. Thompson and Green will be 30. Charitably, all four will be in the late stages of their primes.
As for the other key figures in the dynasty, Andre Iguodala will be 37 and no longer under contract in 2020-21. Shaun Livingston is already talking retirement, which makes it highly unlikely he'll be around (or remotely effective) by the time all four stars are back on the floor together.
An unsentimental rebuild, highlighted by a full punt on the 2019-20 season, seems like the only prudent alternative.
Why spend excessively on a core that might not see the court in full form until 2020? Why gamble ridiculous amounts of money for such an uncertain payoff?
Because there's really no alternative.
A hypothetical in which the Warriors trade Green and Iguodala and don't even pursue Thompson or Durant would damage the franchise more severely than the financial commitments they'd have to make to keep them all together. Suddenly, the Dubs could be a lottery team with cap space, right along with a whole heap of similar outfits who'll head into a threadbare 2020 free-agent signing period.
The odds the Warriors could surround Curry with more talent than they have now are low.
They will cut the ribbon on a glittering, privately financed arena in San Francisco next year, and wasting a season of Curry's prime would be a grave basketball injustice.
The rebuild option isn't an option at all.
The Search for Reinforcements
If the Warriors' best path forward involves spending big and waiting a year on Thompson (and maybe Durant), they'll need support for Curry and Green in the interim.
If there's a silver lining in any of this, it's that Golden State has meaningful minutes to offer in free agency. That wasn't the case in years past, when the Warriors' free-agent targets couldn't expect more than eighth-man roles. Suddenly, there are glaring holes and golden opportunities at both wing spots.
ESPN's Kevin Pelton listed a handful of potential outside hires, headlined by Reggie Bullock, DeMarre Carroll and Wayne Ellington. But it's not realistic to expect Golden State to snag more than one of those guys using its taxpayer's MLE. From there, the Warriors will have to hope they strike gold with minimum deals.
Organic growth is always possible.
Alfonzo McKinnie is an athletic wing who has hit big threes and makes an impact on the offensive glass. He has a partially guaranteed deal for just $1.8 million next year. The Warriors will pick that up in a heartbeat and hope he takes another step forward.
Kevon Looney will be unrestricted, but the Warriors can use full Bird rights to retain him. Expect his potential $3-5 million salary to be money extremely well spent.
Center Damian Jones is one of just five Warriors with a fully guaranteed deal (not counting qualifying offers), and he could easily slot into the starting gig he occupied before going down with a torn pectoral.
Jordan Bell, due a qualifying offer of $1.8 million, could mature and stop losing track of his man on defense. Jacob Evans could complete his G-League transition to full-time point guard and see heavy minutes—especially if Quinn Cook, a restricted free agent, prices himself out of the Warriors' range.
Maybe DeMarcus Cousins won't do better than the $6.4 million the Warriors can offer.
However possible, Golden State owes it to Curry, Green and Iguodala, the three still-upright pillars of the dynasty, to do whatever it can to stay competitive.
The Familiar Impossible
Bet on Golden State reforming as best it can, and expect a year without clear-favorite status to intensify the hunger of a championship core. It's been a while since the Warriors faced this much doubt. Maybe they'll relish it.
Make no mistake: There's at least a year of pain ahead and no guarantee of a payoff on the other side.
But if the Warriors proved anything as their stars fell and their title prospects collapsed against the Toronto Raptors, it's that they aren't in the quitting business. They kept getting up, kept fielding a roster with whatever they had and never relented.
They were beaten, yes, but not defeated.
So if the looming offseason battle to preserve this dynasty seems impossible, consider the team in the fight.
Making five straight Finals seemed impossible. Curry's reinvention of three-point norms and his unanimous MVP seemed impossible. Green going from 35th pick to perhaps the greatest defender in league history seemed impossible. Adding Durant to a 73-win team seemed impossible.
What's ahead will be extremely difficult. Compared to all the impossible things Golden State has done before, "extremely difficult" doesn't sound so bad.