For deep luxury tax teams, the back end of the NBA roster is a commonly used way to save money. It’s how the Golden State Warriors have shaved their bill for the past half decade. This season, that meant Ryan Rollins – and his second-round rookie salary – is in the 14th and nobody in the vacant 15th, avoiding more than $10 million in additional taxes.
Even this season, punitive tax penalties partially guide the team’s roster build. This is from an audio clip of Bob Myers last week when discussing the possibility of adding a buyout candidate to the roster vacancy.
“Any acquisition conversation has to be done in cooperation with the coaching staff,” Myers said. Why bring in a player if he’s not useful? There’s a good quote from John Wooden: Don’t confuse activity with achievement. I don’t just want to say I’ve researched the acquisition market, there’s a guy and he’s sitting at the end of the bench. Because for us, it ranges from $3 to $4 million (pro rata). Which Joe (Lacob) did and would do. But that’s the conversation with the coaching staff in terms of who’s going to play and who’s available.”
Translation: He wouldn’t light green if he wasn’t a strong spinner on a night basis. Kevin Love, for one, would not have been. He went to the Miami Heat for $3.1 million and a clear road to regular minutes. Warriors wouldn’t have submitted either.
Patrick Beverly sparked more interest inside the front office. Perimeter defense has been a problem. That’s why they traded to Gary Payton II. But Beverly’s conversation never made it to the show’s stage. When the rotation is fully intact, he is behind Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Jordan Poole, Donte DiVincenzo and Peyton in the backcourt selection order. Beverly picked Chicago and mentioned on his podcast that the Warriors have “a lot of guards out there.”
“The acquisition market in general has been inflated over the years,” said Steve Kerr. It is usually difficult to find someone who will have a significant impact. Perhaps you are looking into an insurance policy of some kind. But the reality is, when you get to the playoffs, the insurance policies don’t win you the series.”
The Warriors plan to give someone a 15th-place finish before the end of the regular season. Tax penalties do not extend to qualifying. There is no reason to leave that spot void. Two years ago, they gave Juan Toscano Anderson and Payton vacant roster spots for the final week of the regular season.
This comparative scenario is another reason why the Warriors have always been more likely to convert Anthony Lamb or Ty Jerome – his two-way players – to the top 15 rather than add a veteran. At the time, the Warriors gave Toscano-Anderson and Payton unsecured multi-year deals, giving them control of the contract during the offseason, and keeping them in the program. Both of them ended up being contributors to a deal on a subsequent title team.
Two months ago, Lamb and Jerome had a conceivable path to the list. JaMychal Green’s lack of production and long absences left him vulnerable before deadline, a salary dumping trade candidate to split the tax bill further and create an extra vacancy. That’s what they did with Marquese Chriss and Brad Wanamaker the year they signed Toscano Anderson and Payton.
But Green rebounded in the weeks leading up to the deadline, regaining his place as the third senior and retaining his spot on the roster. That only left one spot each for Lamb or Jerome, should the Warriors decide to convert.
“We have to look and see if it’s (converting one of them) or another player and compare it,” Myers said. And tell Steve, “Here are your options.” Which player do you think helps us the most? “We have to fit the system. We have to fit what works here and what works here.”
The Warriors have a growing history of success in the two-way market. In the first season of its existence, they used it to get Quinn Cook into the fold. Cook actually started the final month of the regular season with Curry as a sideline. They needed Cook for the playoffs, so they cut and added Omri Casspi, the first of their two-way conversions. Damion Lee and Toscano Anderson were the next two major success stories.
This summer, the Warriors decided to draft Rollins and Patrick Baldwin Jr., two rookies in the draft, while bringing back Andre Iguodala, despite knowing he would sit out the majority of the regular season. This meant almost nothing on the field starting with an empty 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th, which led to fair criticism regarding the build-up of the extensive roster.
He placed extra importance on their ability to identify eligible two-way players who could fit into Kerr’s rotation, if necessary. This is Kent Lacob’s leg in the front office. Supervises G League scouts. He has been credited with discovering Payton.
“It’s something our organization really excels at,” Kerr said. “Kent Lakob, David Vatuki, it’s really their responsibility to bring players into training camp, potential players a couple of ways, and they’ve pulled it off.”
Fatuki is the general manager of the Santa Cruz Warriors. Nick Oren and Ryan Atkinson are the influential voices in the room. Santa Cruz coach Seth Cooper was part of the group voting for the G League’s Most Valuable Player award a season ago. They collectively chose Lamb, the player they had long felt could excel in their system. When it became available in the pre-season, they added it.
Lamb initially thought he would spend much of his early season in Santa Cruz. But when Kerr re-rotated after 10 games, he replaced James Wiseman. Lamb hits 40 percent of his 3s on a very large 145 try, providing an option to stretch in the frontcourt that it lacks. He’s had some big moments in important wins – check out his five-win streak of the season around Christmas – and leads all NBA players in two directions in minutes and points this season.
“These actors are invaluable,” said Lamb.
Jerome isn’t far behind in either category. The front office has loved him since the pre-draft process in 2019. He went four draft picks before they took Paul. He decided to go two ways with the Warriors this summer, in part because he knew Curry and Thompson would selectively miss a few games to rest and likely miss another part due to season wear.
“This is an opportunity to play more than 20 or 20 games on the Championship Team,” Jerome said.
His suspicions were correct. Jerome has been key to the Warriors during Curry’s various absences. He even had 22 points, 8 assists, and 41 minutes in the night’s home win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. He’s currently averaging about 19 minutes a night with Curry and Payton and has 105 assists and just 23 turnovers this season, giving Kerr the safety third blanket he’s always coveted.
“I know this is kind of unique with two players playing key minutes,” Curry said. “They are playing well and helping us.”
The question may soon turn to which of the two they think will help them the most in the playoffs.
Lamb used 43 of the 50 available two-way games. Use Jerome 36. With JaMychal Green in good rhythm, it’s easier for the Warriors to deactivate and save Lamb’s remaining seven games. Jerome is even essential to Carrie’s return. The longer they wait before making a transfer decision, the more allocated tax money they will save and the more information they will gather.
Lamb’s argument is topical. Warriors are thinner in the frontal region. In the playoffs, particularly if JaMychal Green’s shot leaves him again, it’s easier to see Lamb get minutes of spin as an extended option in a small-ball environment than to field Jerome in a backcourt picture where Curry, Payton, Paul, Thompson and Divincenzo should be. turn.
But the context guiding the situation can change. An unlikely takeover candidate may emerge before March 1st. Injuries can reshape the picture again. Constant floundering in the standings could turn the unsecured control of a young player for next season into a bigger priority.
(Top photo by Anthony Lamb: Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
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