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Before the Warriors Defend Their Title, They Must Figure Out Their Future

A loaded Western Conference isn’t the only thing that the NBA champs must contend with. Paying for two generations is proving costly, and several key players are due extensions.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Three months after overseeing one of the most surprising NBA championship runs in recent memory, Bob Myers, the Golden State Warriors’ president of basketball operations, sits on a stage in a Chase Center conference room, high above San Francisco, just after the team’s first practice. Seconds into his first media availability of the season, he’s met not with questions of how the Warriors will defend the title, but how he can keep his dynastic core intact beyond this season.

“You have several guys in contract years coming up,” a reporter says. “How do you prioritize how you address all those situations?”

The Warriors will return their entire starting lineup, as well as the four recent draft picks that make up their prized young core, but there’s less clarity beyond this season. Andrew Wiggins, Golden State’s do-any-and-everything forward, is entering the last year of a max deal. Jordan Poole, a high-scoring guard and potential bridge to the team’s future, is hoping for an extension by the October 18 deadline for rookie deals. Draymond Green, who holds a $27.6 million player option following this season, is also hoping for an extension.

For years, Golden State’s front office has happily spent the necessary capital for titles, paying $500 million in luxury taxes over the past five seasons. Last season, roster salaries, coupled with a repeater tax, cost ownership nearly $350 million alone. But recently, Joe Lacob, the Warriors’ executive chairman, indicated there might be a limit to the team’s spending spree, complicating Myers’s ability to keep his best players on the roster.

“We want all those guys,” Myers admitted to the rows of reporters in attendance. “Can we get them all? I don’t know.”

Lacob has raved about how the Warriors reconstructed following the 2019 Finals, when they lost Klay Thompson to injury, and Kevin Durant to injury and eventually free agency. “I love what we’ve been able to do,” he said in June, two weeks before Golden State won its latest title. “We’ve been able to do this—call it a two-tiered strategy—call it whatever you want. But you got your core guys that are going to get you there. Meanwhile, you’re going to develop these young guys and I think we’ve done that.” But in order to successfully bridge to the next era of the dynasty, the Warriors must figure out how to pay for two generations simultaneously.

“Where it ends up, the more I’ve been in this, the more I realize there’s no absolutes,” Myers said. “I can sit here and say, we want this, we want that. Some of these decisions may be made in the next two weeks and some might be made in seven, eight months, and the information that we have then will be helpful as far as making those.”

But Myers wasn’t the only one facing questions about extensions prior to the season. When asked about next summer at Sunday’s media day, Wiggins sidestepped the inquiry: “I know my agents and the team probably have a plan or something,” he said. “Right now I’m just focused on the season.” Poole, whose representation is expected to meet with Warriors brass next month following Golden State’s preseason trip to Japan, gave a similar response: “I’m going to let my reps handle that,” he said. “I have confidence that we’ll work something out. I’m just here to play basketball.” Green’s agent, Rich Paul, spoke with Myers a week before camp, but the All-Star forward’s overtures for an extension seem futile. “I don’t think it will happen,” Green said when asked whether a deal will be struck before the season. “And so for me, I’m just focused on this season.”

Green’s contract impasse didn’t hinder his efforts to get others paid. When forward JaMychal Green hit the free-agent market, Draymond Green phoned the 32-year-old with a declaration: “Come here, we need you. You’d be a great fit.”

“That pretty much kind of sealed the deal for me,” JaMychal told me in between media day obligations. “I was in Jamaica getting the FaceTime from him, and then he was just so excited. You could just see the excitement on his face and it really made me want to be there.”

Green wasn’t the team’s only recruiter. When Donte DiVincenzo was pondering his options in free agency, Stephen Curry phoned the 25-year-old. Curry was aware of the injured ankle tendon that forced DiVincenzo to miss the Milwaukee Bucks’ 2021 title run, so he raved about Golden State’s medical staff. “He told me if you come here, they’re going to get you right,” DiVincenzo recalled. “And you ain’t going to have nothing to worry about.”

“Steph was different because it was not a player-to-player thing,” DiVincenzo added. “It seemed like it was a person-to-person thing. He has dealt with injuries in his career as well, so he had a different perspective. So when he was telling me stuff that he went through and decisions he had to make and things that he went through, it kind of resonated with me.”

DiVincenzo and JaMychal Green are two of the five new potential rotation players for Golden State. Key reserves Otto Porter Jr. and Gary Payton II both left for paydays the cash-strapped Warriors couldn’t provide. The departures created a void expected to be filled by the team’s youth movement, which showed spurts of progress last season. Nineteen-year-old Jonathan Kuminga registered five 20-point games and 20-year-old Moses Moody started 11 regular-season games last year. But the most pressure rests on the shoulders of 7-foot big man James Wiseman, who has made just 39 appearances in his first two pro seasons and missed all of last season recovering from a torn meniscus. When the Warriors celebrated their title in Boston, Wiseman participated in the spoils of the NBA mountaintop but struggled to reconcile celebrating a season he largely looked at from the sidelines.

“It’s hard, man,” he told me this week. “Because last year I went through a hard time, especially not only as a basketball player but as a person. Trying to find myself, especially going through an injury and especially playing the game that I love. So, man, it was hard, but I just tried to make the positive out of it, and just tried to be a student of the game.”

Last year’s absence hasn’t dimmed Golden State’s view of Wiseman. Coaches have reported rave reviews of the 21-year-old’s dedication over the summer, which he spent the majority of in the team’s San Francisco facility. “His work ethic is fantastic,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said last week, a day before Golden State’s first official practice. “His approach, his attitude; he’s beloved by his teammates. They are seeing how hard he works. So now it’s a matter of experience. He just has to keep playing, and we have got to continue to be patient and allow that development to happen at an organic, natural rate.”

Still, Wiseman is expected to come off the bench this season, backing up Kevon Looney, who re-signed with the Warriors after stabilizing Golden State’s thin frontcourt last season. In the meantime, Wiseman has plenty of questions for the seven-year veteran.

“How did he get adjusted to the NBA speed?” Wiseman frequently asks. “What it’s like being a big, playing in the league. So when I get my minutes and get my opportunity, then I’ll be able to capitalize on it.”

The maturation of Golden State’s youth movement has been aided by its veteran leadership. Over the summer, when Kuminga wasn’t showing enough effort in summer league, Green called him out on his podcast. In the game after Green’s comments, Kuminga responded, finishing with 28 points, seven rebounds, and four assists.

The tough love has extended to fall camp. When the Warriors practiced on Sunday morning, Kerr split the team up between veteran starters and the younger group. According to onlookers, the starters, led by Curry and Green, handily beat the second unit, headlined by Wiseman and Poole, in each of the five games to seven. Whenever the starters felt a hint of adversity, they’d turn to a Curry-Green pick-and-roll to seal the deal.

“It’s supposed to be like that,” Curry said on Sunday. “We know what we are doing. We have good chemistry. We are just coming off playing in the Finals three months ago and also setting the tone of what it means to play for this team and what we do. I understand that, hey, young guys got to be patient with what that process looks like, but they have to be committed to it.”

Three days before last year’s NBA Finals, Lacob said he wanted Golden State to win the most titles in league history one day, eclipsing Boston’s record of 17. Such lofty goals require specific motivation. Last season, it was the chip on the shoulder of proving to the world the Warriors could win without Durant on the roster. As the 2022-23 season approaches, the team’s tone is a tad different.

“I don’t think it’s the same chip,” Green said on Sunday. “I’d be lying to you if I told you it was. But there are chips. There are chips. There’s no shortage of chips, I can tell you that.”

But the mantra for this year’s group is something bigger. “You think of the players who have won five championships, it’s such a short list,” said Thompson. “And to have the opportunity, just the opportunity to be able to do that is like, so special.”

Last month, much of the NBA’s elite descended on San Diego, in the halls of the Fairmont Grand Del Mar hotel, to see Green tie the knot with his longtime partner Hazel Renee. Hoop luminaries Tom Izzo, LeBron James, and Curry were in attendance. Rappers Roddy Ricch and DaBaby performed as the attendees partied the night away. At some point during the festivities, James, Curry, and Green found the wedding photo booth, and flashed “four” with their hands, signifying the four titles each has won. The flick also represented how far these Warriors have come. Seven years ago, Curry and Green were the youngins coming for the King’s crown. Now, they’re on equal footing with the greatest player of his generation, with a chance to eclipse his ring count.

“You understand the competition and all that is what makes us great,” Curry told me on Sunday. “But respect and love off the court, celebrating Draymond and everybody being there and knowing how we all kind of ... had a lot of shared experiences as adults this time and kind of let loose and have fun with it.”

Then, Curry’s tone gets more serious as he begins to shift his focus to another season. And more importantly, another chip.

“That’s why we’re here,” he says, walking into another season. “That’s why we’re here.”