Less than three weeks after the Warriors partied down the streets of Oakland celebrating their 2018 championship, the NBA’s 2019 season truly begins.
July 1 marks the start of free agency and with it, what has become a yearly tradition of teams loading up in hopes of dethroning the Warriors.
While the rest of the league has to play catch up to the current kings of the NBA, general manager Bob Myers and company are busy in the Red Queen’s race — the evolutionary theory that if you aren’t constantly evolving, you become extinct. And in order to avoid that, they’ll have to reload in free agency.
Here’s who they could and should target when the gates open on July 1.
Gerald Green, SG/SF, 32, previous salary $947,248
While Green’s teammate on the Rockets, Trevor Ariza, has been rumored to be open to the idea of turning down money to join the Warriors, it’s Green who might be a better fit on the squad.
While Ariza would have to sacrifice money and a starting spot, Green would be in line for the same amount of money or even a slight raise and play the same role he had in Houston.
He played a meaningful role in Houston and Golden State’s seven-game Western Conference Finals series, where he played over 18 minutes per game and finished a plus-8 in a series where the Rockets were outscored by 63 points. At 32, the former slam dunk champion isn’t as athletic as he once was but showed off plenty of bounce and speed in 2018.
He showed the ability to embrace whatever role asked of him, even committing to the defensive end and becoming a legitimate 3-and-D player. But he’s always been known as a scorer and he continued to put the ball in the hoop after being signed midseason averaging 12 points per game in 41 contests.
How he’d fit with the Warriors
Green averaged just 6.3 points in the Western Conference Finals but shot 43 percent from 3 and played the type of switchable harassing defense that the Warriors covet.
At 6-foot-7, he has the height and length to defend one through four. He showed how capable he was when he switched onto Stephen Curry multiple times during the WCF and blocked his shot twice.
That’s two straight seasons that he’s stepped onto the biggest stage and made an impact after being signed halfway through the year. In 2017, he was a key reserve for the Boston Celtics.
He would fill the team’s biggest need in athletic wings that could step in when one of the Warriors are rested or out with injury. He can also be an electric scorer when needed, as he failed to reach double digits in just 10 games on a loaded Rocket’s team.
He would also weaken the Warriors greatest rival at the moment and that’s the definition of a win-win.
But most importantly, Green would be cheap. For whatever reason he has had trouble finding any offers the last two seasons despite proving his value. The Warriors could offer a minimum contract and that would be more than double what he made last season for the Rockets since he didn’t sign until the end of December.
Joe Harris, SG, 26, previous salary $1.5 million
You’d be excused for not knowing much about Harris as he’s been playing in relative prime-time purgatory in Brooklyn.
He was originally drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers, and then was traded to the Orlando Magic before being waived. He’s found a home the last two years in Brooklyn though and carved out a nice role for himself averaging a career high 10.8 points last season while playing over 25 minutes per game.
At 6-foot-6, Harris has the prototypical size for an off guard and has the shooting stroke to match. He shot 42 percent from deep last season and is a career 40 percent 3-point shooter.
The athleticism won’t wow you, but he’s got a quick first step and can pull from anywhere. He also shot a particularly impressive 63.1 percent at the rim, which is just ahead of Curry and his myriad of creative finishes.
Defensively Harris is adequate; he’s not a lockdown type, but his effort allows him to not be hunted on that end of the court either.
How he’d fit with the Warriors
The Warriors need someone off the bench who can stretch the floor in the worst way. Nick Young was as close to a bust for Myers as you can get last season, yet he still logged over 17 minutes per game — that’s how desperate the Warriors were for shooting.
Harris would fill that void, while having a better memory of the plays and not being picked apart on defense. His stature and skillset obviously draws comparisons to Klay Thompson, but here all he’d have to be is 50 percent of that.
He could play with the starters or bench and doesn’t need to the ball in his hands to be effective. He can fit into any role asked of him, and being surrounded by the stars of the Warriors lets him play to his strength, which is catch-and-shoot 3’s.
It would also give him a chance to play meaningful basketball in the playoffs, something that the Nets can’t offer for the foreseeable future. And at 26 years of age, he fits the Warriors need to get younger and offers some growth potential.
Joe Lacob has proven he’s willing to pay big luxury tax payments to upgrade the team but it’s going to be more and more painful these next few seasons. But Harris is the type of young player that is worth the investment. A minimum deal might not be enough to snag him, but he would even be worth dipping into a portion of their taxpayer mid-level exception.
Jerami Grant, SF/PF, 24, previous salary $1.5 million
Grant was drafted in 2014 as a wing, but in the modern NBA he’s a prototypical four and can even play some center against smaller teams.
He’s coming off one of his most productive seasons where he averaged 8.4 points and 3.9 rebounds with a block a game, while playing a big role for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Grant is an athletic freak who can run and jump with the best of them and that lends to his best skill, which is his defense.
Opponents shot just 57 percent at the rim against Grant, which is one of the best marks in the league, but his length lets him contest shots at all three levels. He’s also quick enough to stay with quicker guards on the perimeter.
His offensive game is pretty rudimentary right now, he can step out and shoot a few 3’s but at just 29 percent it’s not the best option. But if he can get back to 2016 when he shot 37 percent from deep he can be a real stretch big and his value would skyrocket.
How he’d fit with the Warriors
Grant would step in as the Kevon Looney replacement as the second big off the bench and be an immediate upgrade. He can protect the rim but also legitimately stretch the floor, something Looney can’t do.
And while Looney was relentlessly attacked in switches during the playoffs, teams would be less than willing to try the quick and lanky Grant.
The youthful big would add some fresh energy to a team that is in desperate need of some. The team would also give Grant his first taste of a contender, something he could be desperate for, after playing just 11 career playoff games.
It’s clear from the comments made by Steve Kerr and Bob Myers that the Warriors need to get younger but with it, get hungrier. Grant would check both boxes while adding an element that the Warriors currently lack.
This is his first chance to land a big contract but with so many teams strapped for cash, and the others waiting on much bigger free agents, Grant may have to settle for something lower than expected. While the minimum likely won’t be enough to entice him, a small percentage of their mid-level might be enough to secure his services.
Aron Baynes, C, 31, previous salary $4.3 million
The bearded center is coming off his most impactful season, having started 67 games for the East’s second-seeded Boston Celtics.
His 6.0 points and 5.4 rebounds per game are right in line with his career averages, but his play in the postseason raised a lot of eyebrows.
Not only did he play his usual rugged, anchoring-type defense, but all of a sudden started raining in 3’s.
After shooting 28 career 3-pointers in the regular season, Baynes turned into a true stretch five and threw up 23 3’s in the Celtics 19 playoff games, making them at an astonishing 47 percent clip.
If Baynes can show that the playoffs weren’t an outlier he can be extremely valuable in a league thirsty for shooting of any kind.
While Baynes may be most famous for continuously getting yammed on during games, that’s actually a testament to his defense as he’s constantly challenging anything at the rim with no fear.
When he was on the court, the Celtics opponents had an offensive rating of 100.2, but when he was off that skyrocketed up to 107.
Boston would love to keep him but if Marcus Smart gets what he’s asking for, they are going to have to make some tough decisions at the other roster spots. Plus they just drafted Robert Williams in the first round, and with Gordan Hayward and Kyrie Irving returning Baynes would be pushed back to a reserve role.
How he’d fit with the Warriors
The Warriors need a center — not urgently — but even if they keep one of their own veterans, they are in need of one, perhaps even a starting center.
Baynes could trade one contender for another with an open spot in their starting lineup. The Warriors haven’t had a true defensive anchor in the middle since Andrew Bogut left and Baynes would bring back flashbacks with his beard and sturdy presence in the paint.
But he’d also bring a skill that no other Warriors big man has aside from David West, and that’s a reliable outside shot. Can you imagine a starting lineup where not only are Curry, Thompson and Kevin Durant stretch out the defense but so does the center? All while adding another defensive presence next to Draymond Green, which could be deadly.
But here’s the rub, Baynes would never sign for the minimum, and it might take the full taxpayer mid-level to get him, all $5.4 million of it.
For a team deep in the luxury tax that $5.3 million would stretch all the way to around $20 million, all for a position that could be considered a luxury.
Is it worth it? That’s up to the Warriors and Lacob to decide, if they can sign a bunch of good wings for the minimum then can save all the money for the center spot.
But more likely it flips the other way with all their mid-level spent on a wing with a center coming in at the minimum.
In the volatile free agency market, there are always a few players who slip through the cracks and can be had at a steep discount.
That’s the only way the Warriors will get in on these names, but they’ve been very good at getting players on below market deals so don’t count them all the way out.
So here’s three names to keep in mind if their market fails to materialize like they predict.
Tyreke Evans, SG, 28, previous salary $3.2 million
Evans earned himself a lot of money by resurrecting his career in Memphis last season. He put up 19.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists, which are his best numbers since his rookie season when he beat out Curry for Rookie of the Year honors.
He also posted 4.2 win shares for a team that won just 22 total games. He can bring the ball up, run an offense or play off the ball and shot over 39 percent from 3.
It’s going to be a matter of what Evans prioritizes, does he want a chance at a title or to take advantage of his bounce back year to cash in.
Avery Bradley, SG, 27, previous salary $8.8 million
Bradley was part of two unpredictable trades last season when he was shipped to Detroit from Boston and then from Detroit to the Clippers as part of the Blake Griffin trade.
After looking like a lock for a big deal, he had his worst season at the wrong time and now might get squeezed out of even a market value deal.
The Warriors would be lucky to bring in Bradley’s defense and shooting, and if they did you can bet there would be endless complaints again. It would almost assuredly take their full mid-level, and even that might not be enough. But if his market dries up a little bit, you can bet Bob Myers would be first in line.
Rudy Gay, 31, SF/PF, previous salary $8.4 million
Gay opted out of his contract with the Spurs and become an unrestricted free agent. Last year he proved that he can come back from an Achilles tear and while he’ll never be the same athletically, he showed his value as a small ball four.
He left $8.8 million on the table so he’s either betting he can make more than that, or he wants a longer term commitment.
The Warriors can offer neither, but what they can offer is a shot at a title and a chance to show off his talents on the biggest stage. If teams aren’t lining up to pay the 31-year old, he could take the chance to rehabilitate his value on a championship contender—and the Warriors would be there to offer that.