Few people were busier at the onset of NBA free agency than David Kelly.
Kelly, Golden State's general counsel and vice president of legal basketball affairs, serves as the team's salary-cap expert. Once Kevin Durant informed the Warriors he was going to join the Brooklyn Nets when the free-agency moratorium began on June 30, Kelly had to get to work.
“Everything has to be in order,” Kelly told The Athletic's Marcus Thompson in a feature published Tuesday. “[Warriors general manager Bob Myers'] big thing is, ‘If you’re telling me this is right, be right. When you say it’s right, be right. I need to know that you’re on top of this.’ So you have to know what you’re doing and when you’re doing it. And it’s true with this stuff even more than a lot of things because the rules, they’re not intuitive. Sometimes you wonder, ‘Why is it that you can’t use this or that?’ It doesn’t necessarily make sense. But if you trip it, that’s a wrap.”
As Thompson outlines, Kelly had to navigate the convoluted maze of the NBA's collective bargaining agreement in order to ensure the Warriors were cap-compliant. It wasn't so simple as signing-and-trading for D'Angelo Russell, re-signing Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney, adding Willie Cauley-Stein and parting ways with veterans Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. For Kelly, the sequence of moves mattered more than the moves themselves.
For instance, Kelly told Thompson that the Warriors could not sign second-round picks Alen Smailagić and Eric Paschall until after the Russell sign-and-trade was finished. Since both players ultimately were signed using the mid-level exception in order to retain their Bird Rights, the Warriors couldn't sign them until the Russell deal was official. The Warriors wouldn't have been able to do a sign-and-trade otherwise, which Kelly realized when dotting 'i's' and crossing 't's.'
“That was like, ‘Whoa. Wait a minute. Hold the presses. Slow everything down,’" Kelly told Thompson. "And it’s not like the deal almost blew up. But it’s a moment where, if you aren’t as diligent, that’s what happens. This is how things get screwed up. And there might have been a way to get around it. But we don’t even want to go down that road.”
The Warriors "circled Russell as an option months earlier when mapping out the potential scenarios" in free agency, according to Thompson. The transaction that caught NBA fans off guard more than any other on the first day of free agency resulted from long-term planning and quickly came to light in part because of that planning.
But Kelly's diligence allowed it to come to fruition.