SAN FRANCISCO — The trade speaks for itself at the moment, largely because the Warriors can’t say anything about the surprise deal that sent Chris Paul to the Bay Area and Jordan Paul to the Wizards until it’s official on July 6.
Yes, the plain fact of a mercurial 24-year-old heartthrob on a long-term deal for an angry, Hall of Fame-inscribed 38-year-old on a short-term contract says a lot about the Warriors’ state of mind and financial standards at this moment. Add in the drafting of two strong prospects, Santa Clara guard Branden Budzimski and Indiana big man Trace Jackson Davis, and there’s a buzz topic that’s hard to miss.
New GM Mike Dunleavy Jr., Joe Lacob, Kirk Lacob, Steve Kerr and all the others don’t have to say the words: They still love their dynasty’s core of Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, but after the struggles and strains of last season, they knew they had to make some changes. The task is on the rest of their list. They want to make themselves tougher. Stronger in the face of adversity. More efficient and consistent in qualifying situations.
Warriors don’t have to say the words. But after Friday’s press conference introducing Podziemski and Jackson-Davis, and days before anyone on the team was allowed to tackle Paul’s acquisition, Kerr clarified the general terms of the Warriors’ offseason goal.
“We’re going to be a lot different,” Kerr told me. “The last thing I would do is say anything about a team that just won the championship a year ago and then fought through a tough season. They had a remarkable run at the end of this year. I loved this group we’ve had the last couple of years.
“But the bigger point is that we felt we needed a shift. Not that we needed an overhaul, but that we needed a change of some sort. I think everyone in the organization felt that. And it seems like we’ve achieved a very important shift without giving up who we are and our sense of Who we are as a team. I think, overall, it’s a very positive shift.”
Obviously, there are a lot of risks involved. Just eight months ago, the Warriors’ coppers were unanimously in favor of giving Paul a four-year, $123 million contract extension that won’t start until next season… when he could potentially score more than 30 points in a single game in Washington. As of Friday, no one from the Warriors I spoke to had expressed any regrets about the deal.
But the Warriors had to change a few things, both tactically and financially, to try to catch up with the champion Nuggets and the rest of the Western Conference powerhouses and give themselves a way out of the dreaded second payroll arena by next season. The Poole-for-Paul deal (which also includes the Warriors sending their first player in 2022 Patrick Baldwin Jr. to The Wizards) subtracts nearly $100 million in future salary obligations – which would have been multiplied many times over by luxury tax penalties if it had stayed That money is in the books for future seasons – and it also gives the Warriors their best secondary playmaker since Shaun Livingston. Moreover, if Paul struggles through another injury-plagued season, the Warriors can walk away with an unsecured $30 million in 2024-25 or flip that contract for another high-paying player.
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Paul, too, is a prominent pixie and finisher on the field. He’s had his tense moments with the Warriors, just as he has with almost everyone else. He also rarely runs the ball, fights on defense, and is simply the kind of adult he’s been craving this season after his experiences with Paul, James Wiseman, and the many other teens recruited.
Thursday night after the draft, here’s what Dunleavy said when I asked him if he aimed to acquire the kinds of players who would make the Warriors tougher next season:
“Yes, I would say ‘competitiveness’ — there is competitiveness,” Dunleavy said. “We drafted a couple of guys with really good track records. Obviously, Trace, four years[collegiate play]; Branden really only played one year, he’s 21, but guys who have a sample size of going out and getting things done. At the top of That, it was kind of the competitive/difficult factor that was something that I think, with the feedback we’ve had from our team and our coaches this year, we kind of had to come back to it.”
Podziemski is a sharp-shooting little guard who happened to lead the WCC in rebounding (8.8 per game) last season and said he’s hoping to average a triple-double very quickly in his NBA career. Jackson-Davis is a big, undersized, no-jumper shooting guy who was a finalist for Naismith Defensive Player of the Year and blocked 2.9 shots per game last season. There are plenty of tapes from both of their college careers and none of them indicate they backed out of anything.
“I love the fact that they both have a lot of college experience,” Kerr said. “I think that’s really helpful. Trayce played 120 college games. It’s meaningful. It just means you’re ahead when you get here. It means you’re further along than you might be otherwise. The guys the last couple of years have done a good job, they put in Work But they have to catch up to the level the older player has already reached.
“We feel we have a really good competitive group. There will be spots available. Everyone will get a fair shake to earn playing time.”
Of course, everything has to work on the basketball court, too. The Warriors have their own unique style of play with Curry, Klay, and Draymond, and they’ve been incredibly successful at doing so. This depends on the movement of the ball and players, curling, cutting and screens. Nobody controls the ball. Everyone passes it on to the open man. Which is quite unlike anything Paul managed many years ago, when he thrived as a ball-dominant player not often seen cutting in and off the ball to open up spaces for others or to boot. Taking pictures from a distance.
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But warriors can make adjustments in parts of the game. Kerr has done this before, especially in the Kevin Durant years (when the Warriors ordered more isolation kits at Durant’s suggestion) and when Livingston would man the second unit during Curry’s rest minutes. Also, as Kerr pointed out on Friday, it’s not like they totally hate the game of basketball. Next season, they will have an extra capable ball handler to do this when Curry is out or be available as a replacement option when Curry is in.
“If you think about the Lakers’ series and probably the last Sacramento series game, we pretty much ran a high pick and roll a hundred times, over and over again,” Kerr said. “Steve is obviously a killer with that. But it also limits what you can do in terms of generating offense elsewhere and puts a lot of pressure on Steve’s shoulders.
“Obviously we’d be better able to manage that style if we wanted to. But also to get Steve off the ball. One of the strongest strengths we have in this team is Steve’s versatility on and off the ball.”
The idea is to give the Warriors another way to challenge the defense. Paul can run his attacking style with the second unit (perhaps setting Jonathan Cuminga on edge running) and then he can close the net alongside Curry and Clay and allow both to run around the screens off the ball while Paul probes and presses the defense in his own way.
“One of the things Steve said… I thought his most revealing quote after the Lakers series was that we didn’t have enough variety in the ways we could score,” Kerr said. “And it was all high with Steve. That whole series. We just couldn’t create enough. When we were at our best, this team had a lot of good passes, a lot of links, a lot of guys who understood how to play with Steve and free him up.” and using his gravity to slide in quick passes or create shots on the other side of the ground.
“We have to keep that kind of diversity in our game somehow. We lost some of that this year. So hopefully we can get some of that back next year. … When we had to get the bucket, we relied on the high pick-and-roll, Steve/Draymond. It’s our best game. That’s a 98-mile-an-hour fastball. But if you throw that in the middle far enough, somebody hits it in McCovey Cove. And that’s what happened against the Lakers, we didn’t have the variety. We didn’t have the changeup. As Steve said.
As Dunleavy and Kerr stress, the Warriors still have plenty of roster spots available, which is exciting for them but a little scary because they’re currently pretty thin in the frontcourt. They’ll be in worse shape if Draymond doesn’t re-sign in July, but the Warriors have strong expectations that he’ll return to the fold.
So they cut out a lot of future money by putting up Paul and Baldwin. (I’m told the Warriors now expect roughly $420 million in payroll obligations next season, which is a bit more than suggested earlier this week, but of course things change. Next season that could be down to $320 million.) Or less, if they want to.) They feel more versatile and tougher with Paul. They have two talented rookies who might earn Kerr’s trust relatively quickly. They are a little smaller. They are much larger. They are different. And the Warriors, with a new GM and mounting pressure to try for another Curry-era title, were definitely going different this season.
Chris Paul trade is Mike Dunleavy Jr.’s gonzo move for the title
(Photo: Jed Jacobsohn/NBAE via Getty Images)
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