Friday, July 1, 2016

Roster Analysis: How the Warriors could sign Kevin Durant

Let me preface this by saying that I am a fan of the Golden State Warriors. Kevin Durant has also been my favorite player since I first saw his smooth stroke at the University of Texas. I normally try to remain rational and accountable in my writing, but with all that being said, OH MY GOODNESS KD PLAYING IN THE BAY IS POSSIBLE.

When a WojBomb was dropped five months ago that the Dubs intrigued Durant, I contained my reaction since it didn't seem right or realistic to think about scrapping a team that was the defending champions and in the midst of pursuing the single season wins record. That didn't stop me from reading Danny Leroux's enlightened piece on how the pieces could fit under the salary cap a couple hundred times or constantly tinkering with my own spreadsheets, though. The salary cap estimate going up to $94 million helps things a bit, and now that Cleveland beat them in a stunning Finals, it seems much more plausible that a star like Durant would consider joining an elite team as a missing piece to put them back over the top instead of ring-chasing with the back to back champs. It was one of the first things to go through my mind after Game 7, and after their meeting went very well today (as all of these meetings do), I figured I might as well put together a post about it instead of a tweet here or there, especially now that Shaun Livingston's guarantee date and the deadline to extend qualifying offers to James Michael McAdoo, someone whose cap hold is small enough that I thought could be kept, and Ian Clark have passed.

Golden State did extend qualifying offers to Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli to allow themselves the opportunity to match any contract, and along with cap holds for their other free agents, they're nowhere near the amount of cap space needed to sign KD to his maximum salary possible as of now. However, with the right timing and execution, here's how they can fit him under the projected salary cap if he agrees to come. The biggest challenge would be moving the incumbent big man, Andrew Bogut, without taking any salary back, but with so many teams having money to spend due to the cap spike, they should be able to find someone to take on the still productive 31 year old with only about $11 million owed to him in the last year of his deal. Then they'd have to withdraw the qualifying offers to their restricted free agents, renounce the rights to nearly all of their others, and leave their first round pick, Damian Jones, unsigned for now to keep his cap hold lower than the deal he'll actually sign for. I think any idea of Andre Iguodala being traded to clear room should be dismissed given what he means to the team with his unselfishness and the fact that Durant became buddies with him and Stephen Curry on the 2010 Team USA roster. There hasn't been any indication as to whether Brandon Rush would be a bench player they intend to keep, but his cap hold is so low that they could hold onto his Early Bird rights and still clear the necessary space, as shown to the right.

Then once Durant signs, one of those empty roster chargers could be filled by Patrick McCaw, the second round prospect they shrewdly acquired purely with cash, one of the benefits of receiving so many playoff gate receipts lately. I'm going to list him at just the $543,471 rookie minimum here, but you'll notice that there would still be close to $700K of cap space remaining at this point (depending on where the salary cap actually falls), an insignificant amount to sign anyone else at this juncture. If the Warriors view McCaw as a potential rotation player in a couple of years, they'd be smart to use this remaining space to give him a bit more upfront money guaranteed in order to secure a 3 or 4 year contract instead of just signing him with the Minimum Exception that maxes out at 2 years, like they did when using part of the Mid-Level exception to give Draymond Green 3 years, $2,640,743 in 2012.

Now, Jones could be signed to the typical 120% of the Rookie Scale as they use cap exceptions to exceed $94 million, so he'd start at $1,176,517. As alluded to previously, Rush's Early Bird rights would allow him to be signed to a contract starting at the estimated average salary, about $5.739 million (July 3rd update: $6.191 million). Again, who knows if Rush is a free agent they want to re-sign, but their options for filling out the bench are limited, especially with the contracts being given out elsewhere in this new environment. The only other way to sign anybody to more than the minimum is the Room Mid-Level exception, and $2,890,000 won't get you what it used to nowadays. I mentioned Bismack Biyombo in one of the tweets above because he is the gold standard of signing somebody to a bargain one year "prove it" deal with the Room MLE by dangling a player option for the second year, and although the names I mentioned are unlikely (Timofey Mozgov already signed for waaay more than anybody could have expected after his contract year play post knee surgery), they are out there. They've already been linked to Andrew Nicholson, and there's likely to be ring chasing-veterans who could give spot minutes as a starting center like Zaza Pachulia, Nene, or Amar'e Stoudemire. Would this hypothetical team be the deepest? Certainly not, but this new Death Lineup with Durant in Barnes' spot would be the most talented in the league.

July 3rd update: Now that the league officially set the cap at $94.143 million last night, a max salary for Durant would be $26,540,100, so I updated the spreadsheet to the right. If the Warriors choose not to keep Rush's cap hold on the books, they could replace one of those roster holds with a free agent starting at around $1.85 million if my math is correct. Then they would just sign McCaw with the Minimum Exception and use the Room MLE after that, which is looking smaller and smaller with the deals being signed in this market. Or with this space left, I still think it makes more sense to keep the cap holds for Rush and even McAdoo since they have his Early Bird rights, as well, and then McCaw's first year salary could go up to $974,114 in that case.

Things would become a lot easier if the Thunder could be persuaded to participate in a sign-and-trade in some form, likely with draft picks as compensation. This would allow Golden State to stay over the cap to give them access to the full $5,628,000 MLE, the $2,203,000 Bi-Annual Exception, and two Trade Exceptions consisting of $5,387,825 and $3,197,170 from the David Lee and Gerald Wallace moves, although they'd be hard to use after giving up first rounders to OKC. However, sign-and-trade deals must be for at least three seasons, and I've consistently said that it would make the most sense for Durant to sign a 1+1 deal: a one year contract with a player option for a second season, meaning that he can have some security while still hitting free agency again next summer when the cap is projected at $107 million and he'll have 10 years of experience in the league. That way, his max salary is for 35% of that higher cap (or thereabout), which would be $35 million, instead of his current limit of 30%, resulting in a $26.6 million starting salary. This would be easily done if he stays in OKC since they have his Bird rights, but it's not impossible if he signs elsewhere. However, in order to sign a new long term deal, his new team needs to make sure it has enough 2017 cap room for his full max salary, which the Warriors could depending on deals signed this summer, since they'd only have his Non-Bird rights to sign a new deal at 120% of his previous salary. Whether or not Durant wants to have to deal with free agency and another year of questions again is another story, especially considering he's made over $108 million in his career on the court and is already signed to a $250 million Nike contract that followed his $60 million initial deal.

Regardless of whether he wants a long term deal or flexibility, if he is to choose the Warriors, they'll need to clear the space, and these are the steps to do so and then fill out the roster. It's probably still most likely that he stays with the Thunder, leading to the Dubs matching any offers for Barnes, but it's still fun to think about.

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