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Exit Interview: Golden State Warriors

Another year, another title for the Warriors. But if they want to make it three in a row, they’ll have to solve some essential questions about their Hall of Fame core.

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The Warriors are exactly who we thought they were. After almost eight months of trying to believe in the Houston Rockets and praising LeBron James, we’ve reached the same conclusion for the second straight year: The Warriors are world champs. They beat the Cleveland Cavaliers for the third time in the past four NBA Finals, but did so this time in only four games.

Now Golden State will head into yet another offseason with an eye toward keeping the title train rolling. But there are some questions ahead, including the most essential one: How long can the Warriors keep their Hall of Fame core together? Here are the first-world problems that front-office executives in the Bay Area will be dealing with in the not-too-distant future:

How Will the Warriors Fix Their Depth?

A team missing 34-year-old Andre Iguodala should not have looked as discombobulated as the Warriors did at times in the six games he missed during the final two rounds of the playoffs. The Warriors had depth problems this season that weren’t fully exposed until they faced off against a Houston team designed to beat them. The Omri Casspi signing backfired, and Quinn Cook (who replaced Casspi on the roster) had little, if any, impact against Houston. Nick Young went from a heat-check signing to a necessary backup. Golden State could also barely play David West, Zaza Pachulia, JaVale McGee, and rookie Jordan Bell against a Rockets team that found its most success with 6-foot-6 P.J. Tucker at center. The glut of bigs and lack of wings went from unideal to detrimental when Iguodala went down.

The good news is that the contracts of almost all of the aforementioned players are up this summer. West, Pachulia, Young, and McGee are all unrestricted free agents, and there’s a chance almost none of them return. The problem is the Warriors still have to fill those spots with players who can not only contribute but who are also willing to do so for a minimal salary. Young made the most out of the group at $5.2 million, and West and McGee both made less than $2 million. Owner Joe Lacob still had to pay up a $43 million luxury tax bill, a number that won’t get any lower any time soon. General manager Bob Myers has a surprisingly tough task ahead for a team with four All-Stars in their primes.

Will Kevin Durant Reconsider Not Taking a Pay Cut?

ESPN reported in April that Durant would be opting out of the $26 million owed to him for next season in favor of entering free agency this summer and restructuring his deal with the Warriors. (Durant confirmed to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols this week that he is indeed staying with the Warriors.) The message was clear: Durant is not taking another pay cut. Durant, 29, took $10 million less than what he could have when he signed a two-year deal with the Warriors in 2016, which allowed the Warriors to retain key role players like Iguodala and Shaun Livingston and keep their budding dynasty rolling. But after seeing how close they were to elimination in the West finals, the Warriors are bound to try and find places where they can improve. And if Durant signs a max deal, it provides them with more cost certainty in the long run but few options to fill out the roster.

There’s a larger question with Durant that goes beyond salary, too. At times in the playoffs, it looked like there were two different Warriors offenses trying to coexist: The one run with Steph Curry, and the one run by Kevin Durant. The prepositional difference is crucial. In the latter, the Warriors’ core principles cede the floor to Durant isolations and post-ups. The reigning Finals MVP is typically unstoppable in those scenarios, but his offense sometimes turned Curry into a role player and the rest of the Warriors into stationary chess pieces on Durant’s board. With Curry at the helm, the Warriors are more egalitarian. Last season, Golden State seemed to have found the perfect balance between the two styles. This season, the Rockets threw them out of that rhythm. Now they’ll have to prepare for a possible rematch next year.

How Will a Klay Thompson Extension Help?

Before the Western Conference finals, The Athletic reported that the Warriors and Thompson were discussing a contract extension in the neighborhood of an extra $102 million over four years on top of the $18.9 million he’s due next season. Thompson’s current deal is set to expire after the 2018–19 season, and the Warriors are fortunate that all signs indicate Thompson would be willing to sign one about $67 million below what he could make with Golden State and $18 million less than if he played out his final year and signed with another team, according to The Athletic. It’s clear Thompson wants to make it work in Golden State for the long haul, and given the Warriors’ other financial demands (Durant reportedly wanting a max, Curry on a supermax contract, Iguodala making $33 million over the next two seasons), this is the only way he can do so as the luxury payments pile up.

But there’s risk involved here for Thompson, especially if the Warriors stagnate. A relatively bargain deal would indeed keep together one of the greatest collections of individual talents, but said deal could turn into an interesting trade chip down the road. How many teams out there think they can turn Thompson into more than just the third or fourth option? An extension under the reported terms figures to help the Warriors, one way or another.