SAN FRANCISCO — The Golden State Warriors were on the fringe of the Pascal Siakam market several weeks ago. They had exploratory conversations with the Toronto Raptors. If the Indiana Pacers didn’t pounce — giving up three mid-tier first-rounders plus Bruce Brown, who might fetch another for Toronto — the Raptors might’ve engaged the Warriors more seriously as the 2024 NBA trade deadline neared.
But Indiana was motivated, Siakam preferred to get directed there (always a massive behind-the-scenes factor) and the Pacers paid up, both now and presumably into Siakam’s lucrative future. Another issue: Jonathan Kuminga, the Warriors’ most valued trade chip, isn’t an ideal fit next to Scottie Barnes, the centerpiece of Toronto’s rebuild. Their skill sets overlap, so the Raptors weren’t exactly beating down the door to figure out a way to pry Kuminga.
This only further shoved the Warriors into what appears to be a trade deadline trap of circumstance without a clear path for upward or downward mobility. They’re in NBA no-man’s-land. The odds and internal expectations of a trade that meaningfully moves the needle has steadily decreased over the last month, team sources not authorized to speak publicly tell The Athletic.
The Warriors are 19-24, but disincentivized to hit the eject button on a season going south because they still employ Stephen Curry and don’t even own their first-round pick. (Portland has it, unless lottery luck plants it in the top four.) But it’s difficult for the Warriors to pivot much lower than they currently sit in the standings, since the league’s bottom-five teams are pretty much set in stone.
So motivation remains to win, to climb at least into the Play-In Tournament mix and threaten the young contenders atop the conference come April. The Warriors are buyers. But this trade market is saturated with them, which tends to create an overpriced economy. That’s tricky for a front office like the Warriors’, which has shown a hesitancy to unload valuable assets (Kuminga, Moses Moody, future first-rounders) to chase a season and title window that plenty believe has already faded out of realistic reach.
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There’s a recent test case that could inspire belief and promote an appetite for movement. The Los Angeles Lakers seemed stuck in a similar position last season. They were 25-30 at the trade deadline and 13th in the conference on the day they flipped Russell Westbrook’s seismic contract (and a lightly protected first-rounder) for D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley. They added Rui Hachimura in a smaller deal three weeks earlier.
Those four bulked up the middle portion of their rotation. The Lakers went 18-9 after the deadline to earn the seventh seed, beat the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Play-In, upset the crumbling Memphis Grizzlies in the first round and powered past the Warriors in the second round. The Denver Nuggets swept them in the West finals, but their run more than justified the deadline maneuvering that helped fuel it.
That isn’t a simple task for the Warriors to repeat. Their roster flaw is harder to correct. That Lakers team already had LeBron James and Anthony Davis, two mega pieces that needed better depth below. The depth portion of this Warriors roster — spots five through 11, let’s say — hasn’t been a large issue. It’s the upper crust of the rotation, directly below Curry, that has held this team back.
Draymond Green has missed 24 of the team’s 43 games, mostly due to suspension. Klay Thompson, at a different stage of his career, is averaging fewer than 20 points for the first time since 2013. Andrew Wiggins is having his worst offensive season ever and, when his slump was at its worst, he sunk every lineup combination that included him.
The Warriors won the 2022 title because Green was reliably available and Wiggins played himself into a regular season All-Star while notching his game up even more in the playoffs to serve as a legit two-way No. 2 wing next to Curry. That’s what Curry — and, in tandem, the current construction of this roster — needs more than anything right now: A title-level second option.
It’s why Siakam had a real level of appeal to many in the building. But he’s gone, and there doesn’t appear to be anyone left who is realistically available and fits the mold.
Mike Dunleavy Jr. spent a chunk of time chatting with Atlanta general manager Landry Fields before a recent Hawks game. But any interest in Dejounte Murray, the No. 1 player on The Athletic’s trade deadline big board, is tepid at best, which won’t lead to movement. He’s another guard about to step into a four-year, $114 million deal. It’s a similar story with Chicago’s Zach LaVine.
The Warriors have a greater need and thirst for a wing or center. Utah’s Lauri Markkanen fits the description, but most league personnel don’t believe he’s truly available. If he did get moved, the price is expected to rise higher than what exists in the Warriors’ bank account.
There are at least names to consider downstream. Bojan Bogdanović is on an appealing deal ($20 million this season, $19 million non-guaranteed next season) for a 6-40 Detroit Pistons team. So is DeMar DeRozan, on a $28 million expiring for the 22-25 Bulls. Each would boost the offense, though defense has been a bigger issue for both.
Kevon Looney is having a down season and is currently watching his minutes disappear after Green’s return. The Warriors have explored the center market. Could Wendell Carter Jr. be obtained from the Orlando Magic? Atlanta’s Clint Capela is reportedly available. Is Brooklyn’s Nic Claxton worth the price it’d take to get him and whatever contract he’d command in free agency this summer?
These aren’t names or moves that’d immediately vault the Warriors back into the title conversation. But they have a roster in need of some reshuffling over the next six months and, often in the modern NBA, offseason work begins at the trade deadline, especially once the prices drop as the buzzer nears.
Let’s quickly check in on the deadline situation for some of the Warriors’ current players. As The Athletic’s Shams Charania has reported, the Warriors’ front office has and will listen to any conversation that doesn’t include Curry.
“The mindset in Golden State right now is everyone but Steph Curry is on the table.”@ShamsCharania on the Golden State Warriors.
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— Run It Back (@RunItBackFDTV) January 11, 2024
Wiggins profiles as the most likely Warrior to be dealt. He’s on the first season of a four-year, $109 million extension. The Warriors have fielded player-for-player offers for Wiggins, according to team and league sources. They wouldn’t have to attach a draft pick to get off his deal.
But nothing has made them jump. Wiggins has upped his production and activity lately. He’s back in their starting and closing lineup, able finally to play next to Kuminga (a huge factor in his future) because of Green’s return as the starting center. The Warriors are plus-41 with that trio on the court together in 66 minutes over last four games.
There has been no mandate from Joe Lacob and the Warriors’ ownership group to shed money, according to team sources, despite a record tax bill and 19-24 record. Even without trading Wiggins, there’s a clear path to ducking the second-tax apron this summer because of their other expiring contracts. It’s conceivable they could hold Wiggins and explore his market again in the summer, when he only has three seasons left and theoretically finished this season better than he started.
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The cleanest way for the Warriors to rearrange their depth in a mid-tier trade would be to attach a future first-rounder to Paul’s expiring $30 million deal and shop it. Depending on the protection, the Warriors’ first-rounders a few years down the line, as Curry fades, would have extreme upside because of their lottery-ticket potential, and rebuilding teams love expiring deals.
But Paul maintains value for the Warriors. He will return from his broken hand with time left in the season and likely take back ownership of the second unit. Paul is a team-high plus-85 on the season, and the Warriors are plus-27 with him on the floor without Curry. Those non-Curry minutes will be crucial in any and all important games down the stretch.
Then, there are his contract specifics. The Warriors traded Jordan Poole for Paul in part because Paul’s deal is up this summer, allowing them a cleaner way to duck the second apron (which is essentially a mandate). It’s unlikely they’ll then turn around and use that contract to add future money at the deadline.
There’s another benefit to Paul’s deal: He actually has a $30 million non-guarantee for next season. So if a trade opportunity arises in June or even early July, assuming Paul is in on the conversation, it could be a tool to the Warriors in the offseason, when more players and avenues are open.
It’s taken four games for Green to again reestablish his extreme importance to the Warriors on the court. Since his return, they’ve outscored teams by 65 points in his 123 minutes. Coach Steve Kerr is committing to him as the team’s starting center and, while early in the process, Green seems to be unlocking Kuminga and Wiggins as a usable wing combo in the team’s best five-man unit.
Considering how Green’s contract (four years, $100 million) and sticky circumstances with the league office would be viewed on the open market, there’s little reason to believe he will be traded.
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Two factors make a Thompson trade in the next nine days tricky. The first is his contract number. He makes $43.2 million in the final year of his deal. While the expiring aspect has its appeal, that is a large number to construct a match. Not impossible, but a hefty ask that’d likely require multiple players coming back to a Warriors rotation that already feels crowded in the middle.
Sentimentality is the other roadblock. It would be unceremonious for the Warriors to trade Thompson, a franchise icon, in the middle of the season. Business can be cold-blooded. If a can’t-miss opportunity presents itself, it isn’t off the table. But it’s tough to imagine enough of a home-run offer landing at the Warriors’ doorstep that they tap Thompson, Curry, Green and Kerr on the shoulder next week at the team hotel in Indianapolis and alert them that the dynasty core is broken up.
My sense is the most likely scenario is still a Thompson return this summer on a reasonable contract that is a significant pay cut from his current $43.2 million figure, bringing the Warriors comfortably under the second apron. It’s possible he’s lured elsewhere, if an offer tempts him and the Warriors go cold. But if he departs, it seems more likely to be a summer split than a February one.
Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody
Kuminga has played in 11 January games. Here are his numbers: 20.1 points per game on 59 percent shooting and 40 percent from 3 in 29.7 minutes. He’s added 5.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists and been assigned high-usage scorers as his defensive assignment.
There have been about 25 stop-and-start Kuminga moments through his first three seasons, and Kerr has been hesitant to consistently trust him. So it’s too early to declare an unquestioned arrival. But it does feel different this time. His impact is more sustainable and the pressure on Kerr to commit to him as a 30-minute per night piece is more obvious and fierce.
That, of course, ups his value around the league. I’ve had several scouts note the legitimacy of the leap they’ve seen from Kuminga the last month. There are rival teams who’d love to trade for him.
But conversations with the Warriors’ decision makers — including about which players to possibly add — now come attached more often to Kuminga being a part of the foundational fold. How does this player fit next to Green and Kuminga in the frontcourt?
The Warriors don’t appear ready to give up a 21-year-old rising wing to aid the rotational depth of a 19-24 team (where Kuminga is currently a top three- or four rotation player anyway). If a legit star is available, sure, but that’s not the current landscape.
The Warriors invested in Jonathan Kuminga, and now it’s paying off
Moody, rehabbing a strained calf, is less established with less upside. But there’s still internal belief that he’s ready for a bigger role than he’s been given, creating too much of a sell-low situation. As the Warriors attempt to recalibrate over the next several months, there’s some belief (and perhaps a bit of management nudging) for a stretch run that includes larger doses of Kuminga, Moody, Brandin Podziemski and Trayce Jackson-Davis in the rotation, generating more information and growth potential.
Only $3 million of his $8 million contract is guaranteed next season. I could see him being the outgoing salary in a smaller deal, especially if it is for an inbound center.
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(Top photo of Andrew Wiggins: Noah Graham / NBAE via Getty Images)