OAKLAND -- Put on alert during the regular season, the Warriors heard the alarms while surviving an arduous postseason. Even while celebrating their third championship in four seasons, they saw what was coming.
It’s time to make appreciable changes within their roster.
There is a compelling need for the Warriors to get younger and cheaper and more versatile, while also searching for players capable of developing into NBA starters. It begins with three players on the roster that fit the younger/cheaper profile, continues with the draft on Thursday and into free agency the first week of July.
This will not affect the All-Stars. Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are the foundational members. They set the tone and are as good a foursome as any NBA team has ever had. They are the ring-bringers.
Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, veterans established in the playing rotation and already under contract, still have roles that would be very difficult to replace. That accounts for two more spots.
Youngsters Jordan Bell, Quinn Cook and Damian Jones are cost-friendly and presumed to be part of the 2018-19 squad. The Warriors see Cook as a solid fourth or fifth guard, and they’d like Bell and Jones to earn most of the minutes at center.
Though Bell rebounded from a late-season lull to play a significant role in the postseason, there was routine debate within the organization in March and April over whether Jones could handle some of the minutes going to veteran JaVale McGee. There will be no debate next season.
“Damian has spent the last two years preparing for next year,” coach Steve Kerr says. “That’s the way I look at it. We’re not going to have a roster full of veterans. We’re going to have a lot of young guys. So I anticipate that we will start training camp with some great competition in camp, and Damian will be right in the mix.”
That’s nine spots. The other six, comprising 40 percent of the roster, will undergo repurposing as sweeping as any since Joe Lacob and Peter Guber bought the Warriors nearly eight years ago. Having established themselves as elite, this is their first commitment to an injection of youth.
Veterans Zaza Pachulia and Nick Young will not return, and veteran David West is strongly considering retirement. Knowing that youngsters Kevon Looney and Pat McCaw could be lured away with decent contracts will be a factor as the Warriors make decisions on draft night.
“We have to assume that anything can happen with those guys,” general manager Bob Myers says, “and that’s where you fall back on drafting the best player. The only guys we know we have are the ones that are under contract.”
The Warriors made one significant change for 2014-15, Kerr’s first season, using their midlevel exception on a three-year deal to add Shaun Livingston for the role of third guard. Having won their first title under Kerr, they made no significant change after that season.
After losing The Finals in 2016, the Warriors made a massive change, signing free agent Kevin Durant, which forced a considerable revamping of the roster, with veterans McGee, Pachulia and West all coming aboard on minimum deals.
The only significant change entering 2017-18 was the addition of Young, on a one-year deal for the midlevel exception.
Not since 2012, when Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli and Green were selected, has a Warriors draft pick developed into a player getting consistent minutes within the rotation. To evolve the roster and control finances, that has to change.
“With our limitations, as far as what we can spend in free agency, we’d like to draft a guy that can play,” Myers says. “It’s been four years of our major core playing a lot of minutes. We recognize that. So the idea of having some youth that can step on the floor and give us some good minutes is appealing.”
Lacob, the hyper-ambitious CEO, is on board. Totally.
“Hopefully, we learned a little bit from this year and maybe we’ll do some things differently -- and I don’t know what they are -- but we might do some things differently,” he told 95.7-FM The Game this week. “Maybe we’ll play a lot of the young guys. We need to get our peripheral younger guys, especially after this draft, hopefully with one or two guys coming in, we need to get them more playoff-ready so they can be primary contributors for the long term.”
If the Warriors were to hold up a sign for the next couple weeks, it would read: “Wings needed. Two-way players preferred. Youth is a plus. Will train.”
The Warriors carried as many as seven players capable of playing center, but only four -- Iguodala, McCaw, Thompson and Young -- that could be comfortably categorized as wings. As injuries hit late in the regular season and in the playoffs, they found themselves extremely light. It made for some odd lineups.
“More than likely,” Kerr says, “we will have a better ratio.”
The Warriors are already into the luxury tax and will remain there for the foreseeable future. Lacob has accepted that, considers it the price of winning.
But now is the time to start bringing in younger players -- and the lower costs that come with them -- to blend in with the core. Curry is 30. Durant turns 30 in the fall. Both Green and Thompson are 28. They’re all in their primes, so it’s the perfect time to add understudies.
“It’s a luxury for us to bring a young player into this environment, with Steve and his staff, and kind of show them what winning looks like,” Myers says, noting the work ethic of the team’s All-Stars.
So the Warriors of next season will look much like the Warriors that won it all this season. That is, until you glance over at the bench. That’s where you could see four or five players with three or fewer years of experience.
The Warriors would prefer to avoid paying the full amount of the taxpayer midlevel ($5.29 million) as the punitive repeater tax would result in a payout more than three times the midlevel exception.
After that, it’s back to minimums and rookies. The Warriors have only one pick, No. 28, but would like to buy at least one other.
“We want three or four, if we can get them,” Myers says, laughing but not kidding.