Long before they doused themselves with champagne in championship euphoria, Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers and coach Steve Kerr shared some of their insecurities about whether that could even pass.
As Kerr told Myers before the NBA playoffs began: “I don’t know if this is a champion team.”
Forget the various NBA pundits who have cast doubt on the Warriors’ ability to win their fourth NBA title in eight years. Kerr admitted he envisioned the Warriors becoming “a conference finalist, maybe not beyond that” amid overlapping injuries to their stars (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green) and mixed progress with the players. core youth.
“We laughed about it. We said, ‘Well, what do we know?’ Myers now said they were proven wrong. “I guess we had a pretty high bar, for what we were comparing it to.”
That’s because the Warriors could no longer lean on Kevin Durant to lift them to an NBA title, as he had twice in three straight Finals appearances (2017-19). But unlike that pre-playoff talk about potential, the franchise now seems more emboldened after winning its first NBA title since Durant’s free agency exit (2019).
“My experience is that when you win a championship, you improve the following year,” Kerr said. “If you continue after that, it starts to wear you down. That third year for us, trying to get a treble in 2019 was brutally difficult. But if he was a player or now as a manager, you win that first one, there’s a freedom that comes with that. There’s an excitement, and that carries over into year two.”
That presents the Warriors with what Myers called “an upper-class problem.” Just one week after defeating the Boston Celtics in a decisive Game 6, the Warriors have decisions to make that could determine if they can keep the championship train going.
When the 2022 NBA Draft takes place on Thursday (8 ET, ABC/ESPN), that decision-making process will begin as the Warriors look for some reliable young talent with their three draft picks at Nos. 28, 51 and 55.
Will the Warriors agree to early extensions for two players who helped get them back to the top (Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole)? Will they retain key free agents like Kevon Looney, Gary Payton II and Andre Iguodala?
With head assistant coach Mike Brown leaving for Sacramento to coach the Kings, can the Warriors find a suitable replacement for Kerr’s coaching staff?
Can the Warriors continue to rely on their trio of stars while nurturing young talent (James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody)?
1. Add more prospects
The Warriors will try to improve their roster by adding young NBA prospects to their team, just as they did in 2019, when they used their 28th pick to select Poole, who has since become a rotation player. But the same can’t be said when the Warriors used that same first-round pick in 2018 on Jacob Evans, who barely broke into the rotation. Consider that among all the No. 28 picks in draft history, San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker represents the one gem. Otherwise, the No. 28 pick has historically featured 11 role players who lasted at least 10 years, 28 who played less than that and five who never appeared in an NBA game.
“A guy like Poole shows you how valuable it is to get it right,” Myers said.
2. Retain key free agents
But Golden State has more control when it comes to retaining its own players, so what does the future hold for Wiggins and Poole?
Myers called it a “high priority” to sign both Wiggins and Poole to extensions. After Wiggins earned his first All-Star appearance during this ninth NBA season, his third with Golden State, the veteran forward is eligible for an extension of up to four years for $172.2 million. Poole, who excelled as a scorer, playmaker and defender in his fourth NBA season, became eligible for an extension worth up to $190 million over five years.
Technically, the Warriors have time to negotiate a deal even as early as next season, with Wiggins and Poole under contract until then. While Myers doesn’t expect to reach these deals as soon as free agency begins June 30, he hopes to reach a resolution well before next summer. If the Warriors don’t get either player an extension, Wiggins will become an unrestricted free agent and Poole a restricted free agent.
“We’re going to do everything we can to keep those two guys,” Myers said. “They were huge for us.”
The Warriors said the same thing about most of their seven pending free agents.
Kerr described Looney as “a championship center and modern day defender” after helping the Warriors with rim protection, rebounding, screens and rushing plays as both a starter and backup. Despite spending most of his seven-year NBA career struggling to stay healthy, Looney became one of only five NBA players this season to appear in all 82 regular-season games.
“He is a huge component of our success,” Kerr said. “We all want him back. We also support him personally to get a really good contract, so hopefully, he is from us.”
The Warriors praised Gary Payton II for his shooting, defensive tenacity and toughness. Payton, a sixth-year guard who spent time with four different teams before sticking with Golden State, showed his toughness in another way during the playoffs.
“I’m hoping our players will give us a chance to respond to an offer,” Myers said. “They don’t owe it to us, but that’s what you get if you win and create a good atmosphere.”
As for NBA veteran Iguodala, who rejoined the Warriors early in 2021-22 on a veteran-minimum contract, both Kerr and Myers expressed uncertainty about any potential extension of his 18-year career.
The 2015 NBA Finals MVP, Iguodala faced a limited on-court role this season amid various injuries that sidelined him for 12 playoff games and 50 regular-season games. Nonetheless, the Warriors praised Iguodala’s behind-the-scenes mentorship. Kerr argued that a significant turning point in the playoffs occurred when Iguodala told his teammates during their first-round series against the Denver Nuggets that “in order to win a championship, you have to get better from round to round.”
No wonder Kerr said “we’d love to have him back on the roster.” But how about as an assistant coach? Kerr reflected: “I think he’s too smart to sit next to me and come to all of our coaches’ meetings and do this.”
3. Replace Mike Brown
On the one hand, the Warriors expressed relief that Kenny Atkinson will return for his third season after having changed his mind about accepting the Charlotte Hornets coaching job. Kerr called Atkinson “a fantastic developmental coach” because of how he manages players and analyzes numbers.
On the other hand, Myers predicts Atkinson will get other coaching offers soon. The Warriors are discussing how to replace longtime associate coach Brown, who organized the team’s rotations and defensive game plans. Myers said “we prefer insiders” on how to fill that vacancy, but the Warriors haven’t ruled out any outside candidates.
Amid those discussions, the Warriors don’t seem concerned about the potential impact on their already league-leading payroll.
Golden State spent about $346 million in combined salary and luxury taxes last season and is positioned to be $24.6 million above the tax next season. They can spend more than the cap to retain Looney and Payton, but they can’t do the same for veteran Otto Porter Jr. after he agreed to a minimum veteran deal. The Warriors could also have other roster openings with three other unrestricted free agents (Nemanja Bjelica, Chris Chiozza, Damion Lee) and restricted free agents (Juan Toscano-Anderson, Quinndary Weatherspoon).
Still, majority owner Joe Lacob has shown he’s willing to spend for two reasons: Because Chase Center is a privately funded stadium, the Warriors receive revenue from both their home games and other entertainment events. Lacob has considered this variable as the cost of doing business, up to a point.
4. Keep something good going
The Warriors’ success also depends on how much they make with what they have.
After Curry, Thompson and Green won their fourth NBA title together, Myers observed that “they look in pretty good shape now.” The Warriors expressed optimism that Thompson will play more consistently next season after returning midway through 2021-22 following a 2 1/2-year absence with injuries. And with Curry earning his first Finals MVP from Bill Russell, Kerr is confident he can continue to lead the Warriors in future playoff runs.
“It absolutely peaked in the playoffs,” Kerr said. “I think it’s going to be harder for him next year at 35 years old and the year after that to put together an 82-game season like he did seven years ago. But in the playoffs, when do you have time off between games and are you really focused? This was the best I have ever seen him in terms of his two-way acting.”
As for the youngsters, this summer they will receive clarity about their potential. After playing sparingly during their rookie seasons, center Jonathan Kuminga and point guard Moses Moody are expected to play in either the California Classic (July 2-3) or the Las Vegas Summer League (July 7-17). Possibly both. The same applies to third-year center James Wiseman, who missed his entire sophomore season while rehabbing his surgically repaired right knee. Myers said all three could play significant minutes next season.
Kerr will worry about the list later.
“I’m excited for a vacation,” Kerr said. “But I’m excited to come back and train again next year.”
That’s because Kerr no longer imagines the Warriors falling short of an NBA title. This time, he might be right.
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Mark Medina is a senior writer/analyst for NBA.com. You can email him here, find his archive here, and follow him. On twitter.
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