The belief that Golden State’s dynasty won’t last forever is rooted in economics. Eventually, someone will get tired of taking a pay cut. It’s highly possible that Draymond Green, who took a discounted five-year, $82 million deal in 2015, will be the first to leave. This summer, he is eligible for a three-year, $72 million extension that would start in 2020—one that ESPN reports he’s planning to decline.
According to the ESPN story, Green calculated on his own in 2015 how much less he would have to take for the Warriors to sign Kevin Durant to a maximum contract the season after. So it’s no surprise that he understands what’s on the table by turning down an extension. If Green is voted MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, or makes one of the three All-NBA teams next season, he’ll be eligible for a supermax: five years and a glorious $226 million for a former David Lee backup.
“All good things cost a lot,” Warriors owner Joe Lacob said after their championship sweep over the Cavaliers. “We’re going to try to sign Klay [Thompson] and Draymond to extensions this summer. They’ve earned the right to do whatever they want. Maybe they want to wait until free agency. I can’t control that. But we’ll do whatever we can to keep them.” By the time Green’s potential extension would be up, the former Defensive Player of the Year would be 33 years old.
There’s symmetry between Green taking less in 2015 and how he operates on the court. “He sacrifices his body,” Durant told ESPN, “sacrifices points, accolades, money, all that type of stuff just for the betterment of the team.” He’s a rich man’s glue guy: the director, producer, and casting for the defense, calling out screens, rotations, and switches to the teammates in front of him. “Without him,” GM Bob Myers said, “we’re not where we are. It’s clear.”
Myers was talking about Green’s play style, but the comment rings true about the recruitment of Durant as well. “We need you,” he infamously texted Durant in 2016, after the Warriors lost in the Finals. But the money will always be different for the superstar and the one who helped bring in the superstar. Durant is expected to opt out of the second year of his one-and-one contract this summer to seek the max after his one-season discount. He won’t have much trouble. “Whatever he wants,” Myers said of Durant’s upcoming contract talks. “Sometimes you don’t negotiate. I’d love to have him for 10 years. Kevin Durant, look what he did for us last year. He did us a great service. He’s earned the right to sign whatever deal he wants. I just want him to sign a deal.”
Green will never have that kind of pull. To borrow a blunt Steve Kerr quote from the Finals, “We had more talent than they did, and talent wins in this league.” It wins when deciding who gets contract priority as well. Even if Draymond’s accolades warrant a supermax by 2020, that would mean granting him one of the largest contracts in league history just as he’s hitting the wrong side of 30. By that time the Warriors reserves could blossom into full-grown starters as Draymond begins to see his athleticism decline. Green, as well as anyone, knows the possibility of getting replaced.
But Green’s happiness isn’t all Golden State has to be worried about. Last week Klay Thompson’s father, former NBA player Mychal Thompson, said on local station 95.7 The Game that Klay would not sign the proposed extension either.
“Klay definitely wants to play his whole career in Golden State,” Thompson said, “and the Bay Area. There’s no question about that. [...] But let’s just say that negotiations will probably continue in the summer of ’19.” Klay will become an unrestricted free agent next offseason; if he were to just get it over with and sign the extension instead of a regular max contract, it could cost him upward of $86 million, per salary cap expert Albert Nahmad.
There’s also an expense that goes beyond making sure all of the Warriors’ four stars get fed. Doing cap-space gymnastics to fit Stephen Curry, Durant, Green, and Thompson would leave no room for the bench, which has been the positionally disproportionate bastard children Golden State’s been trying to hide for the past couple of seasons. The Warriors have as many centers as Durant’s average 3-point attempts (six), two 30-something guards in Nick Young and Shaun Livingston, three young guys not quite ready to be counted on as reliable, and the saving grace of Andre Iguodala.
Zaza Pachulia, David West, JaVale McGee, and Young will all hit free agency this summer, and something tells me Myers isn’t going to hand the “whatever he wants” offer to those four. “We just don’t have a lot of vehicles to add players,” Myers said, “as far as financial or cap space or even the non-taxpayer midlevel.” The only means the front office can work with besides ring-chaser-minimum contracts are a taxpayer midlevel exception (worth roughly $5 million, significantly less than the non-taxpayer MLE) and its 28th pick in the 2018 NBA draft.
“Things that you’d normally have, we don’t have,” Myers continued. (To which the rest of the league would angrily reply, “Like the greatest scorer of all time, the greatest shooter of all time, the other greatest shooter of all time, and an elite defender all on one team?”) “We do have a draft pick. We’re looking for a guy that can play [immediately], which is a little unusual.” The entire summer will be an unusual one for the Warriors, who are in a unique position of trying to please Green, Thompson, and Durant while adding talent on the bench. There are hidden gems deep in the draft, but finding one is hardly a guarantee. Neither is keeping this core together long-term.