May 28, 2023
NBA's new CBA

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 18: Andre Iguodala #9, Stephen Curry #30, Draymond Green GETTY IMAGES

The NBA’s normal process of team formation has already been challenged by the Golden State Warriors. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green have now been teammates for more than ten years, whereas cores rarely last longer than four or five years together before they start to disintegrate.

The Warriors have established themselves as one of the greatest dynasties in NBA history with their four championships throughout that time. But nothing lasts forever, just like all the dynasties before them.

The Warriors as we know them may no longer exist if they lose to the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round of the 2023 NBA playoffs. That is practically guaranteed under the new collective bargaining agreement for the NBA, which becomes effective on July 1.

The Warriors’ over $170 million luxury tax bill this past season was the highest in the league; it fell just short of their record-breaking $170.3 million tax bill from 2021 to 22. They will find it harder to maintain that level of payroll under the new CBA—and it will hurt more if they do.

The wage cap in the current CBA is approximately $7 million above the luxury tax line. The non-taxpayer mid-level exception, the bi-annual exception, and the ability to sign and move players were all lost to teams above the apron. Even so, the Warriors were still able to sign Donte DiVincenzo in free agency this past winter because to a lesser taxpayer mid-level exception.

A new second salary-cap apron that is $17.5 million above the luxury-tax threshold is included in the forthcoming CBA. Teams above the second apron will no longer be eligible for the taxpayer mid-level exception in free agency, and they will also be subject to a number of new restrictions, especially starting in the summer of 2024–25.

Currently, it is anticipated that the 2023–24 salary cap will be $134 million and the luxury-tax line would be $162 million. Accordingly, the price for the second apron would be $179.5 million.

The Warriors have roughly $148.2 million in guaranteed salaries on their books for the upcoming season between Stephen Curry ($51.9 million), Klay Thompson ($43.2 million), Jordan Poole ($28.7 million), and Andrew Wiggins ($24.3 million) alone. The Warriors are at almost $179.4 million, or about $125,000 below the second apron, once you factor in the guaranteed contracts of Gary Payton II ($8.7 million), Kevon Looney ($8.5 million), Jonathan Kuminga ($6.0 million), Moses Moody ($3.9 million), Patrick Baldwin Jr. ($2.3 million), and Ryan Rollins ($1.7 million).

That’s before taking into account Draymond Green, who can (and most likely will) exercise his $27.6 million player option for the 2023–2024 season this summer and become an unrestricted free agency. DiVincenzo has the option to forego the $4.7 million player option for the upcoming season and join Green in unrestricted free agency. Due to their proximity to the second apron, the Warriors won’t be able to fully replace Green or DiVincenzo if they decide to leave.

The Warriors will go above the second apron and lose access to the taxpayer mid-level exception if they re-sign Green and/or DiVincenzo without making any other roster adjustments. They would only be able to give veteran-minimum salaries in free agency, which would allow other teams to simply outbid them for the best role players available. Although they have recently discovered several vet-min gems—Payton and Otto Porter Jr. were essential parts of their championship run in 2021–2022—it’s uncommon to acquire significant players at that price.

Thus, the Warriors must determine if they feel confident in continuing to field the same team that finished the regular season with a 44-game winning streak and required seven games to defeat the third-seeded Sacramento Kings in the first round of the playoffs before falling to the Lakers in the Western Conference Semifinals. Curry, Thompson, Wiggins, Poole, and Green will probably all be sporting different uniforms next season if that doesn’t happen.

Poole is probably going to be the outlier if the Warriors and Green agree to terms on a new contract. He was formerly thought of as the link in the Warriors’ two-timeline strategy, but by agreeing to a four-year, $128 million extension last October, he might have priced himself out of their long-term plans. He posted a career-high 20.0 points per game during the regular season, but his dismal postseason performance makes it unclear whether he can eventually replace Curry, Thompson, and Green.

Poole averaged 17.0 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting overall and 39.1 percent from long range en way to winning the championship the previous year. He dropped to 10.5 points per game on 34.2 percent overall and 27.8 percent from outside the arc this season. He was the Warriors’ starting point guard in Games 3 through 6 against the Kings, but his playing time decreased against the Lakers, with the exception of a 10-minute absence in a tight Game 4 loss.

After the game, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said of Poole, “It just wasn’t his night.” He wasn’t able to get it running. We had other players on the team. Moses in and did an excellent job, Donte entered and gave us helpful minutes, and Gary undoubtedly gave us a tremendous boost.

The Warriors may have thought of Poole as their transition player into the post-Curry era, but before the trade deadline, they already abandoned up on 2020 No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman. In the four-team trade that brought Payton back to the Bay Area, they sent him to the Detroit Pistons because they understood that Wiseman’s schedule for development didn’t coincide with Curry, Thompson, and Green’s win-now window.

Even if Green decides to leave this off season as a free agency, the Warriors may suddenly view Poole as their greatest salary-matching tool to restructure their squad. If they can find a buyer for him, they might try to split his contract up among several role players to improve the depth they have surrounding Curry, Thompson, and Wiggins.

For the Warriors this offseason, there probably won’t be any simple solutions, which is exactly what the new CBA was intended to do. In an effort to increase league parity and level the playing ground between clubs prepared to absorb nine-figure luxury-tax expenditures and those that aren’t, expensive contenders will take the brunt of the pain.

The Warriors’ dynasty lasted much longer than expected because to an enormous salary-cap increase in 2016, but this time around, no such relief is on the way. The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association reached an agreement in the new CBA to smooth out salary-cap hikes brought on by the league’s new national TV contracts, which will go into effect before the 2025–26 season. In contrast to the one-time 34 percent increase it experienced in 2016, the cap can only rise by a maximum of 10% annually.

The Warriors and other free-spending title contenders will have to make difficult decisions over which players to keep and which to let go as a result of the new CBA. Regardless of how the Warriors handle those decisions, both their two-timeline vision and their dynasty as a whole are expected to end this off season.

Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NBA.comPBPStatsCleaning the Glass or Basketball Reference. All salary information via Spotrac or RealGM. All odds via FanDuel Sportsbook.

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