The impact of the Warriors' decision to extend Andrew Bogut's contract through 2017 won't be felt until, well, much later. It erases an immediate headache and prevents the team from losing its defensive anchor in what might be a wild 2014 free agency period. But it also puts some real pressure on Golden State's salary cap picture, leading to questions like ...
There is a Warriors concern other than Curry's ankle: Is Klay playing his way out of GSW affordability?— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) November 7, 2013
The Klay Thompson issue has been brewing since last year, and Golden State's decisions to sign Andre Iguodala and then extend Bogut have put more pressure on it. Last week, I asked Nate Parham, editor of Golden State of Mind, for his thoughts on Thompson, Harrison Barnes and the Warriors' salary load going forward.
To me, the answer is easy: keep Thompson. [...] Thompson is the type of prototypical shooting guard who could be a steady contributor for 10+ years on both ends of the floor. When you put him with Iguodala, Curry, and Bogut - for whatever the elder two of that group contributes 3-4 years out - you have a very good core of shooters, defenders, and ball handlers.
This is not to diminish Barnes' talent, but I've see him as very much in the Rudy Gay mold even as a draft prospect (in fact, their college numbers were eerily similar) or perhaps Luol Deng if he progresses as a defender: a very good player who always leaves something to be desired but also talented enough to deserve minutes (and shots) though not quite having the ball skills or shooting range of Thompson.
So there's one half of the equation: you worry about keeping Thompson first and deal with (or deal) Barnes later. Parham made another good point in that chat: David Lee's contract is basically the trigger here. It expires in 2016, when Lee is 32. The 2015-16 season happens to be when Thompson's expected extension would kick in. (He can sign that extension in July 2014.) For the 2015-16 season, four players -- Lee, Stephen Curry, Bogut and Iguodala -- have $50 million locked up. Add in, say, $12 million for Thompson, and you're at the salary cap with five players, with about $10 million to pay for supplemental pieces before hitting the tax. There's reason to believe that the Warriors could survive paying the tax for a couple of years. They wouldn't want to hit repeater territory -- no one would -- but they could swing more salary than, say, Oklahoma City could.
But then there's the Barnes problem. He's eligible to sign an extension in July 2015. Imagine he thrives between now and then. (It's not hard to imagine. He's a hard-working player with a strong physical profile and brains. That's a pretty good package.) A Barnes extension would kick in for the 2016-17 season. If Thompson's contract calls for $13 million that season, the Warriors would have $47 million tied up in four players, with no money committed to Lee, a free agent. Giving Barnes a 4-year, $40 million extension would put the Warriors at $57 million with five players.
As is the case with Thompson, that leaves you about $10 million cushion before the tax threshold and doesn't include any other veterans or young players Golden State locks in between now and then. The problem is that it would commit to a long-term and expensive Curry-Barnes-Thompson core that includes no big men. The contracts for Iguodala and Bogut expire a year later, opening up some space but killing the Golden State defense (unless they are retained). Remember also that Curry will be making a heckuva lot more in 2017-18, when his incredibly cheap contract needs to be renewed.
The short version: the Warriors can fit Thompson's inevitable extension into the Lee-Curry-Bogut-Iguodala scheme, but fitting a fat Barnes contract into a Curry-Bogut-Iguodala-Thompson-Lee scheme is far less tenable. Even with Golden State's brilliant cap management to date, you can't really fit in more than five eight-figure players without getting Prokhorovian. So to keep Barnes, the Warriors would likely lose Lee and any potential replacement and would risk the repeater tax if Iguodala and/or Bogut are retained or replaced with high-priced players.
Because the Warriors seem to have the flexibility to exceed the cap, the situation is not as dire as it was with the Thunder a year ago. But Golden State has more players it is trying to fit in under the cap. OKC tapped out at four. Golden State can't possibly manage to keep six high-priced players. Figuring out how to survive that salary crunch in 2016 and 2017 is something to watch as the Warriors excel this season.
KOBE'S TEFLON LEGACY
If Dwight Howard would have stayed in Los Angeles, the Lakers could potentially have competed for a sixth title for Kobe Bryant in the next couple of years. Perhaps even a sixth and a seventh, putting Bryant ahead of Michael Jordan in the ring chase. Dwight did not stay, and the chances of Kobe winning No. 6 before retirement look quite low. But given how Dwight left, Kobe's legacy might not actually suffer from the ring chase defeat. From Marc J. Spears' excellent Yahoo! piece on the breakup:
"Dwight and Kobe just didn't get along," [Antawn] Jamison said. "There was no definite reason as to why they didn't get along. They were just two different personalities that couldn't co-exist. You know how aggressive and straight-forward Kobe is. He doesn't stroke any egos. What you see with Kobe is what you get."
Despite Howard being a key to Kobe's hopes of capturing another O'Brien, he refused to grovel. He refused to bow. He refused to stroke any egos or co-exist. He stayed Kobe. And while it could end up being a hilarious mistake as the Lakers fade away as Bryant's career winds down, there's something laudable in being so stubborn you don't suffer men you consider inferior. Kobe has never really suffered anyone.
Because of the Dwightmare, Kobe will probably never catch MJ. But it's bolstered his reputation as this generation's most bad-ass star. Something tells me that Bryant -- who nicknamed himself after a deadly snake, has made his signature look a scowl and has dressed up as Lord Voldemort for Halloween -- will be okay with that in the end.