Warriors' five biggest roster questions for NBA offseason

Warriors' five biggest roster questions for NBA offseason originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

Nobody in the NBA wants to be watching the playoffs from home. Since Steve Kerr arrived, this is a foreign world for him and the Warriors when having a healthy Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

Welcome to the Warriors’ new world.

Their offseason to-do list is a long one. Pertinent questions must be answered. Some are more difficult to come to terms with than others. If we’re being honest, the most important unresolved mystery is if the Warriors can trust Green after a second straight year of derailing the season.

Kerr’s emotional four-minute answer again told us what the Warriors already have shouted before: They’ll live and die by Draymond, or so it seems.

With that once again being established, what challenges are the Warriors facing in a time of such uncertainty? Here’s your ultimate primer on the five biggest things the Warriors must tackle this offseason.

The Klay Situation

Why wait? Those reading this know the top storyline as the Warriors’ offseason has begun earlier than anybody has gotten used to. It’s the future of a 34-year-old future Hall of Famer who has spent his entire career in a Warriors jersey, is a franchise icon and is hitting unrestricted free agency at an incredibly interesting time for all involved.

Even though Thompson’s “big ol’ donut” of going scoreless on 10 shot attempts in the Warriors’ season-ending blowout loss in Sacramento still is on the tip of Warriors fans’ tongue, replacing him isn’t some easy next-man-up scenario.

Thompson did play 77 regular-season games, his most since missing two consecutive seasons due to leg injuries. His 268 threes this season were the fourth-most in the NBA and tied for the third-most of his own career. Plenty of teams could theoretically use a 3-point threat like Thompson whose 38.7 3-point percentage isn’t a waste.

But there’s more to it than only what Klay provides from deep, including what his role would be if he returns to the Warriors.

“I thought Klay really showed that he was agreeable to the Sixth Man role the second half of the year, even though eventually we put him back in the starting lineup,” Kerr said at his end-of-the-season press conference. “I think that's got to be an option going forward. I would prefer not to play him 35 minutes.

“There were games down the stretch, I think the New Orleans game, I think I played him 38 minutes. We've got to be able to play him less, but in order to do that we've got to add more shooting to the roster, frankly. We can add more shooting and limit Klay's minutes, I think he'll be much more effective in a season-long manner.”

Thompson came off the bench for the first time playing for Kerr on Feb. 15, a three-point win against the Utah Jazz. In 63 games as a starter, Thompson averaged 17.4 points on 42.5-percent shooting over 30.2 minutes per game, and was a 37.7 percent shooter from deep. He averaged 27.4 minutes in 14 games off the bench, yet put up 19.8 points on 46.4-percent shooting and made 42.8-percent of his 3-pointers.

Contract, role, lifestyle and more. All will be taken into account by Thompson this offseason. Aside from knowing Thompson’s love for his Bay Area surroundings being in their favor, the Warriors have to be asking themselves the same questions.

Every Warriors offseason storyline is secondary.

Younger, Longer, More Athletic

Two questions later, Kerr was asked a follow-up question: If Klay returns in a Sixth Man role, is his replacement already on the roster?

“It could very well be somebody on the roster,” Kerr said. “I think our young guys are going to continue to get better. For a while we started Brandin [Podziemski] instead of Klay. So that's a possibility. Maybe Moses [Moody] moves into the starting lineup.”

Kerr also added in his answer, “Or maybe it's a trade. This is the NBA, we all know what happens in this league.”

Podziemski and Moody being in-house options would make the Warriors’ starting lineup younger and more athletic. As Thompson’s first replacement, Podziemski started 28 games, averaging 9.5 points on 42.9-percent shooting with a 33.7 3-point percentage, 6.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists. Moody in nine starts 12.6 points on 51.9-percent shooting with a 39.5 3-point percentage. Both bring more defensively than Thompson at this stage of his career.

Figuring out the Warriors’ next starting shooting guard is only one part of a bigger problem. The Warriors have to get younger, longer and more athletic at every stage of the roster.

“I think in this modern NBA the game is played so fast and we got to be able to play that way,” Warriors general manager said last week to reporters. “We struggled this year in transition, both ways. Defensively, couldn't get back, which is a speed, athleticism, effort thing. Then, going the other way, we didn't create a lot of turnovers and were unable to get out in transition and use our athleticism with [Andrew Wiggins] and [Jonathan Kuminga], [Gary Payton II] those guys.

“So, we got to solve that, we got to be better both ways in transition. And we'll look to do that.”

The Warriors were the third-oldest team in the NBA entering the season. They led the league in rebounding, yet were also the shortest team in the league. Golden State this season was the NBA’s fifth-worst transition offense team and sixth-worst at stopping transition.

Kuminga-Wiggins Question

Of all the in-house options the Warriors already have in being younger, longer and more athletic, Kuminga and Wiggins are front of mind. Golden State also might have to decide between one or the other.

Within Kerr’s answer of what happens if Thompson returns as a permanent Sixth Man, he opened the door to a different discussion.

“Maybe JK shows that he can play the 3 next to Draymond and Trayce [Jackson-Davis],” Kerr said.

The notion throughout Kerr’s press conference was that he wants to see Kuminga develop into a 3. Does that mean as soon as the start of next season? Kuminga, Green and Jackson-Davis played only 18 minutes together in the regular season, good for a minus-16.9 net rating (90.2 offensive rating and 107.1 defensive rating). Kuminga can’t work next to those two as a 32.1-percent 3-point shooter.

And Kuminga and Wiggins didn’t work together this season. They played 674 minutes alongside one another, producing a minus-0.3 net rating with a 111.9 offensive rating and 112.2 defensive rating.

Wiggins and Kuminga will be names mentioned in trade rumors during the coming months until their fates are ultimately decided. The Warriors signed Wiggins to a four-year contract extension in mid-October two years ago. By the time next season begins, Wiggins still being a Warrior feels like it would be more of a surprise than a guarantee.

Joe Lacob’s Wallet

Kuminga also is extension eligible this offseason. Warriors owner Joe Lacob has been enamored with Kuminga since before they drafted him No. 7 overall in 2021. Jaden McDaniels’ five-year, $131 million contract is one already being thrown around for a what a Kuminga deal might look like.

One thing is for certain when it comes to the Warriors’ financials: Lacob isn’t going to want to keep spending wild amounts of money for a team to not even make the playoffs, and barely make the play-in tournament.

“I think if you've got a team that you feel can contend for a championship, you do what it takes financially,” Dunleavy said. “So, we'll look at everything, we'll balance it out. It's hard to say right now in terms of what it's going to look like and all that, because this is April, this stuff goes into June and July.

“But you know how Joe is with his willingness to spend and compete that, I don't think there will be any restrictions, but we'll also be prudent. I mean, to put a team out there that can't make the playoffs, like we spent 400 million dollars this year – I wouldn't recommend that.”

None of Chris Paul’s $30 million is guaranteed for next season. Only $3 million is guaranteed on Kevon Looney’s $8 million deal for next season. Payton has a $9.1 million player option and is willing to re-do his contract with the Warriors. Looney was supplanted in the starting lineup and Kerr’s rotation as a whole, and Payton’s injury history continues to hurt him and the team alike.

Yes, Thompson’s contract is the biggest question of all. There are other financials to figure out as well.

Help Wanted

Dunleavy said the quiet part out loud.

“Those guys aging out, like it's Steph Curry, it's Draymond Green, it's Klay Thompson – those guys are great guys to go out with,” Dunleavy said when asked about balancing the responsibility of a dynasty while also knowing what’s best for the franchise’s success. “They're still good at basketball. So I think it's a manageable thing. Is it challenging, yes, but I relish it because it's unique and I think it's somewhat doable, so we'll see what happens.”

The Warriors’ Big Three is one you go down with until the final punch turns the lights out. How weakly is the light already flickering? Or is it too heavy to flip back up?

Curry is the last of the three to still be among the league’s elite. Curry had 28 games of scoring at least 30 points this season. The rest of the Warriors combined for six – four from Thompson, one by Kuminga and one by Wiggins.

This team’s success or demise still fully rests on the shoulders of Steph. Those are also the shoulders of a 36-year-old who looked gassed down the stretch, pushing to climb the unforgiving Western Conference standings on a team where nobody else strikes fear into the opposition.

Look around. Turn on the TV and watch a playoff game. These are teams full of stars in their prime, not looking back at memories and fooling themselves in the mirror.

Seismic changes could be coming. They might have to. Perhaps the development of the Warriors’ next wave, along with a little tinkering, is enough in the eyes of decision makers.

The former feels much closer than the latter at what’s one of the most captivating crossroads the Warriors have faced in the past decade.

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