What Are the Warriors Doing?

Yesterday, Steph Curry signed a 4 year contract extension with the Golden State Warriors that will probably ensure he retires a Warrior. He will be making $59.6 million in the 2026 NBA season, in which he will turn 38.

Now, given that he’s a shooter, it’s entirely possible he’s still a highly effective basketball player 5 years from now. He won’t be playing at an MVP level, but he should still be good. Players these days are just taking better care of their bodies, and advances in recovery science, medicine and technology are allowing them to play longer, it feels like.

But this contract for Steph also feels like the Warriors are giving him the same treatment the Lakers gave Kobe Bryant at the tail end of his career. From 2010 until he played his last game in 2016, Kobe Bryant was the highest paid player in the NBA. The Lakers obviously won a Title in 2010, and Kobe won Finals MVP, so it made sense to make him the highest paid player in the league even at the age of 31. But for the last three injury-plagued years or so of Kobe’s career, and even after he retired, his contract was an albatross on the shoulders of the franchise.

It’s always a tough situation for a team’s front office when a beloved superstar is nearing the end of his career: he wants to finish his career with the team, the fans want it too, and probably everyone in the organization does as well–but money complicates everything. The team feels an obligation to pay the aging star big bucks even as his production slips, as a way to say “Thank You,” and also to show other players around the league, “Hey, we take care of our own here.”

But having a massive contract on the books also forestalls any efforts at a rebuild. You can’t really move on to the next era for your team if you’re still paying top dollar to keep the past era going. The Lakers made the playoffs in 2013, getting swept in the first round by San Antonio, and that would be their last playoff appearance until the bubble playoffs in 2020. For the final three years of Kobe’s career, the Lakers were in an awkward spot where they were paying him the most money of any player in the league, but he was continually getting screwed over by injuries, and the team was horrible. The Lakers were in a semi-rebuild period, picking up young pieces in the draft such as Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram, but they were also never able to fully commit to the rebuild given that the Lakers were still technically “Kobe’s team.”

Once Kobe retired at the end of the 2016 season, the Lakers were then able to go full rebuild mode, but even then, the only reason the Lakers returned to prominence was because LeBron James decided to join the team in the 2018 offseason.

Who knows how long the Lakers would’ve been lost in the wilderness had LeBron not chosen them?

I bring all this up about the Kobe/Post-Kobe Lakers because it feels like the Warriors are getting themselves into a similar situation with Steph Curry as he gets up there in age. Again, I think Steph Curry will age well and still be effective well into his mid/late 30s, but Kobe looked like he was going to age gracefully too: in 2013, his age 34 season, he was still averaging 27 points per game. Then injuries hit and he was never the same.

Curry missed most of the 2020 season with injuries. This season, he was healthy and even won the scoring title averaging 32ppg, but the Warriors still missed the playoffs. Now they should be better in 2022 with Klay Thompson coming back, but Klay Thompson hasn’t played an NBA game since Game 6 of the 2019 Finals. He had a torn ACL, and then he tore his Achilles. He’s 31 now, turning 32 in February. Curry will be 34 in March, and Draymond Green will be 32 in March. Draymond’s advanced metrics are all in decline currently, and he’s far removed from his peak years of 2015-2018.

We have no idea how good they’re going to be this upcoming season. I’m sure they’ll be better with Klay Thompson back healthy, but we also don’t know if he’ll be the same player coming off the Achilles injury.

People who are expecting the Warriors to just revert right back to 73-9 pre-KD form are kidding themselves. 2016 was 5 years ago. Sure, they have Andrew Wiggins, who can get buckets, but he’s not consistent.

Their defense is going to be sub-par as well given that it used to be anchored by Draymond, Klay and Andrew Bogut, but Bogut is long gone, Klay might not be able to move as well, and Draymond is past his prime.

And the roster around them is a bunch of young guys: James Wiseman, the new first round picks Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, Jordan Poole–it’s like the Warriors are trying to build up a young core for the future on the fly while also believing they can compete for a title with their “old” core.

I don’t think it’s going to work. Young players–especially young lottery picks–cannot develop effectively if they’re being asked to slide in as role players. You know how Julius Randle, D-Lo, Ingram and Lonzo all flourished after they left the Lakers? That’s because they went to teams that were willing to fully commit to building around them. The Lakers drafted them and instead of developing them, they asked them to just be role players to compliment Kobe, and then LeBron. That’s not what you’re supposed to do with rookies and young guys.

I feel like the Warriors need to commit to either their young core or their “old” core. You can’t do both.

I’m not saying they shouldn’t have given Steph that big contract to keep him in Golden State for life, but I am saying they probably should’ve traded away the draft picks to get guys who can help them win now.

They were able to add Otto Porter Jr. on the vet minimum, which is a move in the right direction in terms of getting veteran role players who can help them win now, but they’re about to be paying close to $200 million in luxury taxes because their active roster salary is so high:

If the owner is rich enough that he doesn’t care about that, fine. But eventually he’ll get sick of throwing money away and not competing for a championship. Because of the luxury and repeater tax provisions in the NBA, adding Kelly Oubre last year cost the Warriors a total of $82 million. And they didn’t even make the playoffs. No matter how rich the owner is, that is not something he will tolerate indefinitely.

I think if the Warriors don’t at least make the Finals this season–and I don’t think that roster is capable of making the Finals–the owner is going to have second thoughts on the idea of pissing away literally hundreds of millions of dollars for nothing.

Remember last week, just before the draft, when everyone was laughing about the Ben Simmons trade Daryl Morey offered them?

The trade seems laughable now, but it might not have been a bad idea for the Warriors to take it. Other than Wiggins, how are any of those other pieces the 76ers wanted going to help the Warriors win now?

Ben Simmons could help them win now. He could benefit from the change of scenery, and the fact that he’d be surrounded by great shooters, and also the fact that he’d be free to attack the rim whenever he wants without Embiid clogging the lane.

Granted, I think the 76ers were asking for too much, but maybe the Warriors could’ve talked them down instead of just turning Morey down outright.

Teams in the NBA are generally either in win-now mode, or rebuild mode. It feels like the Warriors are trying to do both at the same time, and historically that hasn’t worked in the NBA.

Austin Frank

Sports blogger

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