The Warriors were bracing for Kevin Durant’s departure for the better part of a year, long before that public squabble with teammate Draymond Green. Even as they were holding open the re-entry door for KD, they knew he might turn and walk away.
Durant did exactly that Sunday, announcing his decision to sign with the Nets.
So, how does this affect the Warriors next season? It neither helps nor hurts, mostly because Durant isn't expected to play while he recovers from a ruptured Achilles.
With that in mind, though, the Warriors got younger, reportedly moving Andre Iguodala and his 2019-20 salary ($17.2 million) to make room for 23-year-old guard D’Angelo Russell, who as an All-Star who can be a tradeable asset or contribute to their next chapter.
These moves, combined, should be of considerable help to the Warriors beyond 2019-20.
With Klay Thompson expected to miss most of next season and Durant expected to miss the entire year, the Warriors quickly realized their inaugural season at Chase Center will not be as they had hoped. It was going to be, um, challenging. That has not changed. They were going to tumble out of the 55- to 65-win range to somewhere closer to 45 to 50, and that’s still the case.
Understand, Durant’s decision to turn down the $221 million supermax offered by the Warriors doesn’t mean they can offer it to someone else. That money could be given to KD — and only KD — because the team owned his Bird rights and, therefore, the NBA's salary cap was not an obstacle.
The task now is to assemble a roster that can realistically compete for the playoffs. The goal was adjusted downward, from championship or bust, when Durant and Thompson were injured.
The Warriors were, again, preparing for Durant’s departure, with multiple backup plans in place. They were blindsided by the torn ACL that is expected to force Thompson — who has agreed to return — to remain on the sideline until late next season.
The Warriors had compiled a list of free agents who might be available if Durant left. The loss of Thompson meant the creation of another list, which might have led them to Russell.
One play is for the short term, as in next season. All indications from league and team sources are that next season would be a step toward the future. Though a couple veterans will be added, the commitment is to evaluate young players while still firmly believing they’ll be a playoff team as long as Stephen Curry and Draymond Green are at the core.
The Warriors are seeking cost-effective options, and there isn’t much to love. Durant’s exit deprives them of using the disabled player exception, which is worth about $9 million. The DPE is not an option for Thompson’s injury because he is expected to return sometime next season.
The taxpayer midlevel, worth about $5.7 million, is available, but the Russell deal pushes them up against a hard cap that could cost them Kevon Looney.
For now, the Warriors are down to three All-Stars. In a crowded Western Conference, that’s worth a playoff spot.
But not much more. The Nuggets, who finished No. 2 behind the Warriors, will run it back with a squad that has the experience of a significant playoff run. The Jazz, adding point guard Mike Conley Jr. and forwards Bojan Bogdanovic and Ed Davis, went from good to better. The Trail Blazers look better, and both the Thunder and Clippers will be back.
The Lakers? They will be a factor — and a force if they find a way to add Kawhi Leonard.
As for the Warriors, expect at least two of the three draft picks — guard Jordan Poole and forwards Alen Smailagic and Eric Paschall — to see playing time. They expect to get minutes from 2018 first-round draft pick Jacob Evans III and possibly more from Alfonzo McKinnie.
Expect the Warriors to make a few more moves in the coming days. But no matter what they pull off, anything short of a miracle will result in a season that will end well before June.