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Warriors offseason preview: How will Kevin Durant's injury affect Golden State's plans? | Sporting News

Warriors offseason: Big issues

The free-agency bonanza of 2019 was always going to have a huge impact on the Warriors moving forward, but they could never have anticipated just how complicated it would become.

This was supposed to be the summer of Kevin Durant, who could leave the Bay Area with two rings and two NBA Finals MVP awards in his trophy case. Then Durant went down in Game 5 of the NBA Finals with a ruptured Achilles, an injury that will have major ramifications for the entire league.

The Warriors can offer Durant familiarity as he recovers and goes through a lengthy rehabilitation process. They possess a championship roster and organization, a supermax contract and a chance to play in the brand-new Chase Center in San Francisco.

But Golden State isn’t even the betting favorite to sign Durant. New York is seen as KD’s most likely destination, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise considering Durant-to-the-Knicks rumors have been flying around all season. The Clippers and Nets are preparing to chase Durant as well, so the Warriors will have plenty of competition. The injury shouldn’t stop suitors from throwing a lot of money his way.

The primary choices for Durant: a five-year supermax with the Warriors, a four-year regular max from another team and a $31.5 million player option with Golden State for the 2019-20 season. It’s on Durant to make a decision that’s best for him and his future. It will be fascinating to watch what he does knowing he is essentially taking a redshirt year to recover.

One thing the Warriors control? Maxing out Klay Thompson. There is no reason for the front office to mess around with the five-time All-Star, who has averaged 19.5 points on 46.7 percent shooting (41.9 percent from beyond the arc) over eight seasons with Golden State. He is an elite shooter, a terrific perimeter defender and about as low-maintenance as you can get in the NBA. Just give him the five-year, $188 million deal and keep the Thompson-Stephen Curry backcourt intact.

(UPDATE: The Warriors announced early Friday that Thompson suffered a torn left ACL in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. That could change Golden State’s approach to his free agency, but Warriors owner told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports the injury “doesn’t change anything as far as I’m concerned.”)

None of this will be cheap, of course. As ESPN’s Bobby Marks recently noted on “The Woj Pod,” bringing Durant and Thompson back would cost the Warriors approximately $160 million in payroll and $230 million in luxury tax next season, and that’s without mentioning Draymond Green’s next contract. He will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2019-20 season, though he could want an extension done in July.

Golden State fans shouldn’t care how much owner Joe Lacob has to spend to maintain this roster, but how deep he wants to go into the tax could ultimately change the trajectory of the franchise. Figuring out which stars will stay is a nice problem to have, but it’s a problem nonetheless.

Warriors offseason: Free-agent outlook

Player Status
Kevin Durant Player option/unrestricted free agent
Klay Thompson Unrestricted free agent
DeMarcus Cousins Unrestricted free agent
Kevon Looney Unrestricted free agent
Andrew Bogut Unrestricted free agent
Jonas Jerebko Unrestricted free agent
Quinn Cook Restricted free agent
Jordan Bell Restricted free agent
Damion Lee Restricted free agent

(Shaun Livingston is under contract for the 2019-20 season, but his deal is only guaranteed for $2 million. It becomes fully guaranteed if he is not waived before June 30.)

Warriors offseason: The young folks

The most interesting youngster for the Warriors is 23-year-old center Kevon Looney, who emerged as a quality big man in the 2019 playoffs. He displayed an improved ability to finish around the basket, gobbled up rebounds and held his own against smaller guards on switches.

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Unfortunately for Golden State, that means Looney will be making much more than $1.5 million, his salary for this past season. His future could be tied to DeMarcus Cousins, who has a higher ceiling than Looney but may never be the same player after multiple leg injuries.

Then there’s Jordan Bell, the 24-year-old who saw his minutes drop from 14.2 per game as a rookie to 11.6 as a sophomore. Bell played in every Western Conference finals game but also logged six DNPs in the playoffs, perfectly illustrating his inability to produce consistently and earn Steve Kerr’s trust.

Chaos at center won’t grab the same headlines as Durant and Thompson, but the Warriors’ work here could be immensely important to another run at the title.

Warriors offseason: Wait till next year . . .

Golden State will be a contender again next season, whether Durant leaves or stays. The trio of Curry, Thompson (assuming he re-signs) and Green is enough to make the Warriors a formidable opponent to any team in the West without Durant ever touching the floor.

But the work around the margins by general manager Bob Myers becomes that much more important now. If the Warriors don’t boost the supporting cast, they won’t look nearly as terrifying. The Raptors showed there is no reason to wait for the Golden State dynasty to run its course. There are benefits to going all-in right now.

The Warriors enjoyed sitting in their own separate tier for a few years. It appears the rest of the NBA is finally catching up. How will they respond?

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