After the Golden State Warriors decimated the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night to win their third NBA championship in four years, the eyes of the basketball-watching world quickly shifted from the victors to the vanquished, starting a summer of speculation about where LeBron James will be plying his trade next season. As the rest of us consider potential LeBron landing spots, though, the back-to-back champs are reportedly considering next-big-thing moves that could keep them brutalizing opponents for years and (light) years to come.
“Are the Warriors still targeting New Orleans center Anthony Davis?” asked Tim Kawakami of The Athletic in a piece that went up Monday morning. “Sure. [Owner Joe] Lacob and [general manager Bob] Myers love to circle the best names possible years in advance of their potential availability, and figure out how they might be able to land the biggest fish out there.”
It’s the approach that, in conjunction with a slew of couldn’t-have-seen-it-coming occurrences — Stephen Curry’s serious ankle problems locking him into a well-below-market contract that he’d comically outproduce en route to two-time-MVP superstardom; the Oklahoma City Thunder blowing a 3-1 lead to the Warriors in the Western Conference finals, followed by the Warriors blowing a 3-1 lead to the Cavs one round later; the following free-agency period coming on the heels of a $24 billion broadcast rights deal that resulted in an unprecedented $24.1 million spike in the salary cap after the National Basketball Players Association rejected the NBA’s proposal to “smooth” the entry of all that spending power into the marketplace — resulted in the Warriors landing Kevin Durant. That one has worked out pretty well for all parties involved, so, yeah, naturally, Golden State’s braintrust is going to remain open to the possibility of doing it again.
Kawakami’s comment quickly began to make the rounds throughout Monday, with writers, commenters and observers moving from “the Warriors are interested” to “oh, God, when will the league step in to stop the insanity?” A couple of things on that topic, though:
This isn’t news
And that’s true in a couple of ways.
For one thing, as Kawakami — a legitimately plugged-in journalist and columnist who’s been dug into the Warriors for years — noted on Monday, the thrust of his item is that while the Warriors’ interest in Davis’ services is real, they’re likely not going to go after him right now. Like, it’s literally in the next couple of paragraphs of Kawakami’s story.
The salary cap exists. Importing Davis, who’s set to make more than $81 million over the next three years, would require the Warriors to shed a massive amount of salary. They’re not moving Curry, the centerpiece of everything they do, one summer after signing him to a full-freight five-year maximum-salaried deal. Durant can opt out of his contract this summer to hit free agency, but both player and team have made it clear that they want to keep the relationship that has produced two consecutive NBA titles and Finals MVPs rolling.
Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are both All-NBA talents who are a year away from potential extensions, and could theoretically be used to anchor such a swap, were the Pelicans so inclined. But as unbelievable and incredibly special a player as Davis is, the odds of the Warriors pulling a move that would dismantle their championship core on the heels of three titles in four years are slim to none.
“All good things cost a lot,” Lacob told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne after Golden State’s Game 4 win. “We’re going to try to sign Klay 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.”
Sure, the Warriors’ braintrust thinks in broad strokes and bold colors, and wants to set the team up to win forever. But Golden State won’t cut off its nose to spite its face in the here and now, no matter how enticing the prospect of a Curry-Durant-Davis core might be in the near future.
No, for real: this isn’t news
The second way in which the latest “AD to the Warriors?” item isn’t news? Kawakami had reported that Golden State was targeting Davis all the way back in January:
I can tell you that I believe the Warriors absolutely have a prime object of hope and desire, and that target is: New Orleans’ Anthony Davis.
The timetable for this? That one is up in the air, because Davis, still only 24, is signed through July 2021 but can opt-out a year earlier. There is some thought that New Orleans’ prolonged inability to climb into the Western Conference elite might get Davis thinking about life elsewhere … and might trigger the Pelicans to think about trading him before risking him walking away as a free agent for nothing in 2020.
That initial report carried several of the same caveats as the one that ran Monday. For starters, and it’s a big one: the Pelicans would have to actually want to trade Davis, which seemed unlikely last summer, when they were coming off another trip to the lottery, and seems all but unthinkable this summer, with New Orleans coming off a sensational second half of the season and a run to the second round of the playoffs. (Where they were toppled by — you guessed it — the Warriors.)
The Warriors would likely have to part with either Thompson, Green or perhaps both to get such a deal done, which would certainly make many in Golden State feel hot around the collar as they considered the prospect of a Klay-less, Draymond-less future, given how integral both have been to the establishment of the Warriors as an all-time team. Beyond that, Golden State surely wouldn’t be the only club interested in getting into the bidding for Davis should he force his way onto the market; the young-talent-and-draft-asset-loaded Boston Celtics, for example, have long been rumored as a potential suitor for the devastating big man if he ever were to become available.
But none of that means you don’t prepare, in the event an opportunity presents itself. When the Warriors were squaring off against the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the 2013 playoffs, they had no reason to believe that ace Denver wing Andre Iguodala would want to join them that summer … but when he came calling, they found a way to solve their roster and salary cap problems to make room for the versatile perimeter player who’d eventually unlock their best lineup. A year before the Warriors went toe-to-toe with Durant’s Thunder in the 2016 Western Conference finals, they had no reason to believe they’d have a shot at bringing him in the next summer … but they had a plan in place just in case, and when the Warriors’ players sold KD, they were ready to execute to fit him in.
The Warriors are preparing for possibilities, just like every other team should
Things can change fast in the NBA, and the front office that doesn’t develop contingency plans for every possible scenario is one that isn’t doing its job. Everybody else might be upset that a 73-win team signed a four-time scoring champion and has gone 32-6 in the last two postseasons as a result, but the Warriors’ job isn’t making us happy; it’s stomping the competition into oblivion and having fun doing it. So they keep an eye on free-agent classes and trade blocks, continue to monitor emerging situations and developing relationships, and look for every opportunity they can to set themselves up to be the NBA’s most dominant team for as long as humanly possible.
Adding Anthony Davis would obviously fit that mold, and the Warriors — like 28 other teams, and like the team that currently employs Davis — would love to have him for precisely that reason. It’s just that nobody — even the well-sourced people who know for a fact that the Warriors are interested — is saying that they’re going to look to transform admiration into acquisition any time soon. I know some of you have your hearts set on a brand new version of the Warriors to hate, but we’re just going to have to keep muddling along with our disdain for the garden-variety super-team that’s won 80 percent of its games over the last four years and three of the last four championships. Sorry, y’all. Hang in there.
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