On Monday night the Golden State Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 129 to 120, securing their second NBA Championship in three years. Last summer’s signing of Kevin Durant proved to be worth every penny. Durant averaged 35.2 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists throughout the series’ five games, going on to be named Most Valuable Player. The Warriors also benefited from the play of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, all of whom played giant roles in the Warriors defeat of the Cavs.
But now the Finals are old news. It’s time to move on; it’s time to ask the important questions. For instance, are we destined for a fourth straight Finals between the Warriors and the Cavs? A look at both team’s rosters shows that it’s not the craziest thing to imagine right now and it’s not as if it’s a bad thing. The past three Finals have been massively entertaining. I’m not sure who would really complain if we ran it back for one more year.
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After taking a look at the rosters and free agents of each team, Warriors vs. Cavaliers: Part 4 isn’t out of the question. Who will be there if a rematch happens is a different story.
2017 Unrestricted Free Agents:
In addition those names, Durant has a player option for the 2017-18 season and James McAdoo is a restricted free agent. Golden State currently doesn’t have any picks in the NBA Draft, with their first round pick going to Utah and their second rounder going to Atlanta.
The Big Names
Curry is obviously the biggest name of the list and will likely be the team’s primary focus this off-season. In January Curry told the San Jose Mercury News that he can’t see leaving the Warriors, saying that “Bay Area fans are amazing, our organization’s amazing, we’ve put together an amazing team that’s competing for championships ever year … There’s really no reason that I can see right now that would draw me elsewhere.”
That should be reassuring for Warriors’ fans, as well as Warriors’ management. But management would be wise to not take Curry for granted. Curry played the 2016-17 season under an extension he signed in 2012 and in doing so, was the team’s fourth highest paid player behind Durant, Thompson and Green. If Curry stays with the Warriors, he’d be eligible for a max deal of $210 million over five years, about $70 million more than he’d be able to make from any other team.
Let’s be honest, Curry isn’t going anywhere. But can the same be said for Thompson?
The 11th pick in the 2011 Draft is under contract with the Warriors until 2019, but he’s clearly the “expendable” one when you look at the Warriors’ big four. Expect Thompson to be involved in at least a handful of trade rumors this off-season. The Celtics could make a play for Thompson if they wanted to and dealing Thompson would help the Warriors stretch out this run a couple more years by replacing him with a two or three cheaper role players, giving them some financial flexibility. For his part, Thompson hasn’t expressed much of a desire to play somewhere else, but he has admitted that the idea of being the face of a franchise is something he’s thought about. Ultimately it seems like something that will be addressed either at the trade deadline or next summer, depending on how the 2017-18 season goes.
As for the rest of the team’s free agents, the Warriors would most likely want to keep Iguodala in the Bay Area, but for that to happen it will depend on what kind of extension Durant ends up signing. ESPN has reported that Durant would be open to taking less than the max in order to keep the team’s core together for a few more years.
“In order to sign Durant to the maximum possible extension this offseason, starting at an estimated $35.4 million per year, the Warriors would have to renounce their rights to Iguodala and Livingston to create room under the salary cap. The most they can pay Durant in 2017-18 without creating cap space is 120 percent of his 2016-17 salary, a little less than $32 million.”
With Durant being willing to take less than the max, the Warriors wouldn’t have to clear the decks to keep him, It would mean they wouldn’t have to bail on Iguodola or Livingston. More importantly, none of this would impact Curry signing a “supermax” contract, which under the new collective bargaining agreement is a way a team can reward a veteran on their team. The Warriors would be able to sign Curry to a contract “starting at 35 percent of next year’s projected $101 million salary cap.”
In the same report, they say Iguodola is expected to get some phone calls from Phoenix, Minnesota and Atlanta. He has been with the Warriors since 2013, when he was traded by the Denver Nuggets. If the Warriors can figure out a way to re-sign him, it’d be hard to imagine both parties not finding some common ground, especially given the way he played for them in Game 5, giving them quality minutes, timely buckets (20 points,) and rock solid defense.
With the bulk of the team’s payroll being tied up in their four stars, expect the Warriors to fill out their rosters with a collection of ring-chasing vets, redemption projects and young bucks looking for a chance.
One other change the team might undergo is a front-office one. Jerry West, the NBA legend and NBA logo, has been a member of the Warriors’ Executive Board since 2011, helping steer them towards the success they’re experiencing now. Marc Stein, formerly of ESPN, has reported that Clippers are trying to pry West away from the Warriors, something echoed by Bill Simmons on his podcast last week.
I’d say that there’s a good chance the 2017-18 Warriors look a lot like the 2016-17 Warriors, with their Big 4 coming back, surrounded by a handful of ringers and mercenaries.
2017 Unrestricted Free Agents:
The Cavs don’t have any restricted free agents, nor do they have any draft picks in the upcoming draft. Their first round pick is headed to Portland and their second round pick is headed to Boston.
The Big Names
When it comes the Cavs, every conversation begins and ends with LeBron James. Although to be fair, based on his play throughout the playoffs, at least a few conversations could at least start with Kyrie Irving. Not many conversations are going to start with Kevin Love unless that conversation is about who the Cavs might trade at some point in the near future, which looks increasingly likely given Love’s poor performance in the series’ deciding game (if you forgot Love was even on the Cavs during Game 5, you’re not alone.)
James becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2018. Let’s say that if the Cavs had pulled off a miraculous comeback and won their second championship in as many years – does that mean that James’ return to Cleveland has been a success and if so, has it been such a success that if he left, everybody would be cool with it? This is a question worth asking because there’s already some rumors out there that come 2018, James could leave Cleveland again. It’s also a question that will be asked again next year at this time if the Cavs are in the Finals again. When James returned to Cleveland, he returned promising to bring the city a championship, which he did. You’d think that James could leave again and there would be slightly fewer Cavs’ jerseys burned in the aftermath, something that will likely factor in James’ decision.
That’s a year away though. If the Cavs want to keep James in town, what could they do to keep him? Unfortunately for Cleveland, the answer is “not a whole heck of a lot.” The Cavs Big 3 of James, Love and Irving command a big chunk of the team’s payroll and that payroll is also weighed down with the contracts of J.R. Smith, Iman Schumpert and Tristan Thompson. There’s been some talk of a Kevin Love for Paul George trade, but that talk has been countered by reports that the Pacers don’t have any plans to trade George. Love for Carmelo Anthony is always a possibility, although the Knicks turned down a Love/Anthony swap this past winter. Second time’s a charm, maybe?
Of the five free agents the Cavs have, keeping Korver would seem to make the most sense. Korver was traded by the Hawks in January and is one of the best shooter’s in the league. However, the Cavs have roughly $125 million already committed, making it unlikely they’d be unable to bring Korver back. Deron Williams might be a more likely candidate to return, provided he’s willing to take a pay cut. That’s actually something that could go for any free agent on the roster or any available free agent period. Hey, come play with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving…provided you’re willing to take a pay cut.
It’s not as if that means the Cavs are going to have a hard time landing free agents, though. James is a powerful draw, as is the allure of coasting through the Eastern Conference and playing in the Finals. The Cavs will figure out a way to land one or two free agents; just don’t expect them to be top shelf ones.
Barring the Celtics pulling off some wizardry via trades or free agent signings or someone like the Wizards, Bulls, Heat or Raptors scoring big this off season, it’s hard to imagine the Cavs not being in the Finals again next year. The looming threat of James possibly leaving in 2018 is going to hang over the team’s entire 2017-18 season and any team in that situation is a wild card. If things start to get weird during the season, expect Love trade rumors to get going again (if he hasn’t been traded already.) The same could be said for pretty much everyone on the Cavs except for James and Irving.
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Whereas the Warriors’ future looks slightly more stable and promising, the Cavs’ outlook is considerably more cloudy. The result could be that both teams end up making the Finals again next year, but one team (the Warriors) would look roughly the same, while the other (the Cavs) wouldn’t.