Here’s why the Warriors might be even better next season

Do Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Steve Kerr, Andrew Wiggins, Jordan Poole, Bob Myers and everybody else involved with this groggy and giddy franchise seem like they’re ready to wrap this all up and move aside after winning their fourth championship of this era?

That answer is: Noooooo way.

If anything, powering through the Western Conference, knocking off the Celtics in six finals games and partying (and partying and partying) on and around the parquet floor in Boston a few days ago only seems to have given a second wind to the Warriors’ dynasty after their three-season title-less drought. If anything, the relatively unexpected nature of this championship sprint only sharpened Curry & Co.’s desire for extra rings and their sense that much more is possible.

Yes, if anything, the Warriors on paper are actually better set up to win next season than they were to start this season. Or even in the middle of this season.

As Thompson said Thursday night, as only he could: “Holy cannoli!”

Or as only Draymond could say: “Welcome back to the Warriors Invitational.”

Of course, the Warriors’ hopes for another championship next season and more after that might slide away due to ill-timed absences or all-time opponents, as they did in 2016 (injuries and suspension plus LeBron James), 2019 (injuries plus Kawhi Leonard) and the lost seasons of 2020 and 2021.

But this is a team that has three recent lottery picks — James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody — who didn’t play a significant minute in the finals and yet remain huge pieces of the Warriors’ future. And the Warriors have now proven they can win with an almost entirely homegrown roster (as they did in 2015), they can add a superstar like Kevin Durant and win two more (2017 and 2018) and they can take on disfavored player like Wiggins and turn him into one of the postseason’s best players … and win another title.

Which isn’t even counting everything that Curry, Draymond and Klay proved about themselves again this season, despite the NBA actuarial tables. So yeah, these probably aren’t the sunset days of this thing.

“As good as we were this year, I feel like next year we’re going to be even better,” Wiggins said Saturday as the Warriors conducted their season-ending exit interviews. “You know, we still have the older guys, the young guys are only going to get better. JK, I’m expecting him to (take) a huge jump this summer. Moses, Wiseman’s going to be back. So our young guys, they’re going to make us a lot better.”

That’s a pretty perfect summation by Wiggins, who got more relaxed and chattier every day of this postseason, which is another very positive sign about next season for the Warriors. The looser Wiggins got under the harsh spotlight, the better he played, and when he played great, the Warriors were just about unbeatable. Also, he’s still only 27.

There’s a larger reason the Warriors are undefeated in Western Conference playoff series since Kerr’s arrival in 2014. There’s a reason they seem to get stronger the deeper they go in a series, while their opponents often seem to get weaker. There’s a reason they climbed back up after putting up the worst record in the league two seasons ago. There’s a reason they won this year’s championship even while they were storing away massive talents for the future.

Simply, the Warriors are a winning franchise. They will keep fighting until the wheels come off, as Draymond put it, and then they will keep fighting even harder. Here are a few specific reasons they could and probably should be a superior team, at least in the regular season, than they were this season:

Anybody want to tell No. 30 that his reign is over? No, didn’t think so

Remember the last time Curry finished a season with this kind of energy, when he was clearly the best player on the floor in every game and seemed to feed off the doubts and predictions of imminent Warriors doom?

That would’ve been the end of last season, when Curry personally lifted the Warriors out of the morass of mediocrity, led them to a 15-5 finish in the regular season and re-established himself as reinvigorated MVP-level life force. Curry and Kerr frequently cite this period as the moment things turned back the Warriors’ way, as the prelude for everything they believed they could achieve this season. Because Curry made them believe it.

Over the last two months of the 2020-21 regular season, Curry averaged 37.3 points on 51.8 percent overall shooting and 46.6 from 3-point distance.

This year, Curry averaged 27.4 points on 45.9 percent overall shooting and 39.7 percent 3-point shooting in 22 postseason games and collected MVP awards for both the Western Conference finals and the NBA Finals. Against the Celtics, Curry averaged 31.2 points on 48.2 percent overall and 43.7 percent from deep. And Curry played the best defense of his career throughout the playoffs.

Yes, he’s still got it. There are zero signs that Curry is about to drop out of the elite level of NBA superstardom. Yes, that means almost everything for the Warriors.

Jonathan Kuminga

Jonathan Kuminga (Petre Thomas / USA Today)

The Warriors could hit the lottery … three times

The 2022-23 regular season should, in large part, be about Wiseman, Kuminga and Moody. The veterans will take plenty of games off. Kerr will need to find out what the young guys can do. And they should be ready for it; Wiseman said Saturday that he’s on track, barring any further complications with his knee, to participate in Summer League play for the first time in his career.

Last season, Kerr used the preseason and then most of the minutes in the regular season to shape the veterans into a cohesive rotation and to build up the team’s confidence after two down years. That obviously isn’t necessary anymore. Next season, Kerr doesn’t even have to worry much about playoff seeding — think the Warriors should be worried about losing home-court advantage in the 2023 playoffs? No, they should and will not worry about that.

Meanwhile, Kuminga got some important, if sketchy, playing time in the Memphis series. Moody was always on call. All three of the youngsters watched Poole establish himself as a prime-time player in his third season, and they got a feel for the highest level of basketball on the planet. None of them should start next season as neophytes, basically.

“Especially for the younger guys, it feels really good to get a ring so early,” Poole said. “A lot of players search their entire careers for rings. James is, what, second year, I think JK’s the second-youngest player to ever win a finals. (Note: The only player to win a title younger than Kuminga’s 19 years and 253 days was Detroit’s Darko Miličić in 2004 when he was 18 years and 361 days old.) That’s nuts.

“It’s really good to have that experience under our belt being able just to feel the energy at home, on the road …  all the really, really small things that are going to play a huge role, a pivotal role for our future. We all want to get back and we’ve got the experience to get the ball rolling and keep it going.”

There’s Poole, too

Poole turned 23 on Sunday, he’s about to head into his fourth NBA season, and he just played 606 very significant minutes in a Warriors’ title run. He had moments when he wasn’t great, especially against the physicality of Memphis and Boston. But Poole never disappeared and delivered some of the biggest shots of the finals.

It’s possible that the most important role he’ll have in his career is to take pressure off of Curry — carry the offense when Curry is out and give Curry a playmaking partner for stretches, too. And that role should only expand next season while Kerr is looking to give Curry more time off. Poole is going to have a good NBA career all on his own, but if he can be the guy who extends Curry’s prime, that’s immense value right there.

Poole is also eligible for a large rookie extension this offseason. So maybe he lands the big contract. Or maybe not quite yet. His contract runs through next season and after that, even if he doesn’t sign a new deal, he’d still be a restricted free agent. The Warriors can wait it out a bit. So can Poole. It’s a good situation both ways.

Andrew Wiggins

Andrew Wiggins (Kyle Terada / USA Today)

Wiggins might just keep getting better

Here’s an extension candidate who might be on short-term timing. It’s pretty remarkable to think that Wiggins came into this season considered one of the most overpaid players in the league and now he’s somebody the Warriors might want to extend quickly this summer to make sure he doesn’t hit unrestricted free agency in July 2023.

Note: The Warriors are not letting Wiggins go now or in the future. They simply don’t have a realistic way to replace his defense, athleticism and versatility at such a key position. They will pay what it takes to keep him. He’s worth it.

Also, Wiggins might not demand a full max since he’s already made so much money in his career. He loves it here. The Warriors love him. He’s never been better or more valuable, but chasing dollars doesn’t seem like the most enjoyable way for Wiggins to spend the prime of his career now that he’s a champion. Wiggins, who led all postseason players with a cumulative plus-140, won’t and shouldn’t come cheap, but there’s a possible middle ground in this situation, maybe something in the neighborhood of $28-30 million a year. (He’s due $33.6 million next season.)

“I would love to stay here,” Wiggins said. “Being here, this is top-notch. The way they treat the players, the way they treat your family. We’re all one big family. A lot of places might say that, but here their actions show.”

Klay played more minutes than any other Warrior in the playoffs

That is just a remarkable note. You can complain about his inconsistent shooting and his errant shot choices while he was inconsistent, but you can’t deny that he was a rock for the Warriors and that Kerr wouldn’t have played Klay 36 minutes a game (and 792 overall in the playoffs) unless he was needed out there.

That came about a year and a half after Klay tore his Achilles, which came about 17 months after he tore his ACL in Game 6 of the 2019 finals. It’s relatively amazing that Klay was able to get back into the rotation so soon after two massive leg injuries. And then he played 38.4 minutes per game in the finals.

To come back and play so hard and so hardily deep into June? To turn into a major defensive factor on the post? That is a sign that Thompson could be ready for his true comeback season, possibly full of spectacular performances, all starting up next fall, as his leg injuries fade further and further into the past.

Klay Thompson

Klay Thompson (Paul Rutherford / USA Today)

Bob Myers and Joe Lacob never let up

Back in 2010, in the first days of his ownership, Lacob took the microphone at a game, pointed up to the solitary banner for the 1975 championship in the Oracle Arena rafters and said: “That’s a very lonely flag. We want another one.”

The Warriors have four more now. And when they hang the newest banner at Chase Center next fall, I expect Lacob to be thinking: I want another one. And another, and another, and another …

This is just how the Warriors operate under Lacob, Peter Guber and Myers. They will spend more than anybody. They will make more than anybody. They will probably talk about it more than anybody. It’s never been hidden. Sometimes their open hunger for titles is mocked a bit by others. But so what? If they say it and then do it, and then keep saying it, maybe the Warriors will keep winning titles. Because you can’t do it unless you expect to do it; that is Lacob’s business credo in a nutshell and played out four times already by this team.

Meanwhile, Myers is the guy who plotted out the plan to sign Durant two years before Durant actually became a free agent in 2016. And Myers is the guy who figured out how to turn Durant’s departure eventually into Wiggins and Kuminga.

This time, I think Myers and his lieutenants likely will plan to keep this roster mostly intact. He’s said for a few years that he believes Curry, Klay and Draymond earned the right to play this out until its proven they can’t win championships anymore and guess what, they can still win championships.

Of course, right now, Myers and Lacob are facing some financial decisions that would crush other teams. The Warriors are already paying a record total payroll commitment (counting luxury tax) of well over $300 million. They have some key free agents this summer who, if re-signed, could take this to $400 million, considering that each new dollar is multiplied by five due to the tax. After that, with even more key players to re-sign, it could verge close to $500 million by July 2023.

What will they do? First, Lacob and Myers are not going to even think about breaking up the core. If they can sign Wiggins to an extension, they’ll do that and happily jump over the $400 million line in two years. If they can’t sign Wiggins, they’ll play it out and will let Wiggins know that they still have every intent to make sure he’s a Warrior for the rest of his career.

They’ll be willing to pay Kevon Looney market price, whatever that turns out to be. They’ll do the same for Gary Payton II. What’s interesting is both players are perfect for the Warriors’ system, which makes them very valuable to the Warriors, but possibly not for too many other teams. And both players will probably lean to stay with the Warriors, if the dollars are at all equivalent.

Those two contracts alone could take the Warriors over $400 million even before a Wiggins extension kicks in. But, as I have written repeatedly, this franchise will continue to collect massive revenue as long as the Warriors continue to challenge for titles. And what will help them challenge for titles? Re-signing Looney and GP2, as a start.

The Warriors will probably also have a bunch of open roster spots this summer. They did well with their open spots last year by signing Otto Porter Jr., Nemanja Bjelica and Andre Iguodala. They could re-sign some or all of those three, though they’re restricted in what they can offer them because they arrived on one-year deals (unless they use the Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception, which they did not use this season). Or the Warriors could just see what’s available on the veterans’ minimum market. And there will be plenty of interesting players who would be more than willing to take the Warriors’ call.

Wiggins had a career rebirth here. Porter was a valuable cog and loved every second. Iguodala came back after he was traded away to make room for D’Angelo Russell in 2020. And didn’t that championship party at TD Garden seem fun? You know that hundreds of players were watching that, too.

Draymond will likely have some contractual motivation

Maybe they’ll do it, but I don’t expect the Warriors to get into a rush to give Draymond more years beyond the final two left (and $53.4 million) on his current deal now that he’s eligible for another extension.

He remains the heart of this team. There is nobody else Curry would rather play with, and that, of course, is a huge point. But Draymond has two years left on his deal, so Lacob and Myers can wait and see if his offense perks up again after he only averaged 7.5 points per game in the regular season.

If he wants an extension and doesn’t get one this summer, that might motivate Draymond just a bit. But yes, a highly motivated Draymond is also usually the best Draymond. And if he delivers a classic season in 2022-23 and forces the Warriors to max him out again, I think Myers and Lacob would be just fine with that.

Steve Kerr knows how to do this

The Warriors are 22-2 in playoff series in Kerr’s eight seasons. And the two series they lost were in seven games in the finals (to Cleveland in 2016) and in six games in the finals (to Toronto in 2019).

It’s time to acknowledge the obvious: Kerr is one of the great playoff strategists — and winners — in the history of the league, alongside Gregg Popovich, Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, Red Auerbach and a few others. We can go through some of the moves this postseason very quickly: Agreeing with Draymond and Curry that Looney should start in Game 6 against Memphis, putting Draymond on Jalen Brunson in the Dallas series, pulling Draymond for a long stretch in the pivotal moments of Game 4 in Boston, getting quality minutes from Bjelica against Dallas and Boston, plotting out the perfect rotation for Curry all season and into the playoffs.

Oh, and figuring out the Celtics from about the middle of Game 4 on. Yeah, that was sort of smart. And large.

Think back to the three-game winning streak after going down 2-1 to Memphis in 2015. Or the three-game winning streak to beat Cleveland two series later after also falling down 2-1. Or the three-game winning streak to come back on Oklahoma City after going down 3-1 in 2016. Or the two-game winning streak to knock off Houston after going down 3-2 in 2018.

And now this one, surging to three consecutive victories after Boston played tremendously to take a 2-1 lead. You’ve got to be very smart and very prepared to knock off a Kerr team in the playoffs. It almost never happens. It might not happen again for a while, because I think the Warriors dynasty just got its second wind.

(Photo: Bob DeChiara / USA Today)

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