Golden State Warriors Should Focus on 2014 Free Agents, Not Dwight Howard


Dwight Howard expressed interest in making the Bay Area his new stage, and the ownership will not hesitate on surpassing the luxury tax to improve the Golden State Warriors.

Mar 30, 2013; Sacramento, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) dunks the ball against the Sacramento Kings in the third quarter at Sleep Train Arena. The Lakers defeated the Kings 103-98. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Howard demonstrated his dominance in Orlando, reaching the NBA Finals in 2009 over LeBron James’ Cavaliers; scoring 40 points to finalize the series. The Lakers took the title in five games that year; the Magic’s only win coincided with Dwight Howard’s best performance of the series (21 points and 14 rebounds).

His sheer dominance in the paint is undeniable, although at times inconsistent. Last year, Lakers’ fans and Kobe Bryant alike worried about Dwight Howard playing, and finally his talent began to shine at the end of the year with Pau Gasol. Dwight is a free agent this year, just one year too early for the Warriors.

With Richard Jefferson exercising his player option for $11 million and Andres Biedrins likewise returning for the 2013-14 season and $9 million, the Warriors are looking at a $75 million payroll without Jarrett Jack’s return. Howard’s maximum contract at over $20 million is literally impossible to accomplish without a sign and trade deal. But where is the issue with that?

Well for starters, the Lakers orchestrated a four-team trade for Dwight Howard to play just the last year of his contract. Don’t think for a second that the Lakers would sign-and-trade him cheaply. Undoubtedly, the Warriors ownership could orchestrate a deal for the hugely talented center, but there are three blatant reasons to ignore the appeal of Howard, and each complements the other: the team’s success last season, contracts coming off the books in 2014-15, and the free agent class of 2014-15.

Under Mark Jackson, the Golden State Warriors reached the playoffs for the first time since the 2007 ‘We Believe’ team. The Warriors core is extremely young and gained valuable post-season experience together. Harrison Barnes (21 years old), Festus Ezeli (23), and Draymond Green (23) all played extended minutes in the playoffs, and represent one of the best Warriors draft class in recent memory. Only Klay Thompson (23), Stephen Curry (25), and David Lee (30) accompany the rookies in the team’s roster for the 2014/15 season.

The team’s salary drops by nearly $50 million from this coming NBA season to the next ($74,855,000 to $25,641,000). That staggering amount should partially augment Thompson’s and Barnes’s salaries in the form of contract extensions. For the sake of simplicity, lets say each receives a Curry-like deal and increase their salaries for the 2014/15 season to $9.5 million, increasing the team’s expenses to  roughly $37 million. Now here comes the fun part.

May 12, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut (12) blocks the shot of San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan (21) during the fourth quarter in game four of the second round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Spurs 97-87 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

This coming season enables the Warriors to evaluate a healthy Andrew Bogut. After coming out to play in the playoffs, Bogut finally showed all naysayers of the Monta Ellis trade what a imposing center brings to a team. If Bogut remains healthy, and dominates the paint all year, the 28 year old should find his contract extended, adding something in the range of $15-$18 million to the payroll (unless he takes a pay cut).

While sporting a team of Curry, Thompson, Barnes, Lee, and Bogut, including the aforementioned hypothetical contract extensions, the Warriors will have roughly $55 in salaries, that’s about $20 million less than what’s on the books for this coming season. Conveniently, the Warriors will have room for a max-contract player while retaining all starters from this year’s playoff team.

If choosing a different center than Andrew Bogut, the possibility of restricted free agent DeMarcus Cousins (his career averages are 16.3 PPG and 9.8 RPG) seems the most tantalizing. Other options are Marcin Gortat (8.6 PPG, 6.9 RPG), and Kosta Koufos (5.1, 4.3). If Festus Ezeli hasn’t improved his game to a starter’s-caliber by then. Both Gortat and Koufos improved their career numbers with strong showings last year and would be reasonable free agents to sign.

Before I begin salivating over the rest of the 2014-15 free agent class with you, remember, a trade for Dwight Howard would disrupt timing of ending contracts for the ’14-15 free agency, likely adding players with ’14/15 active contracts in a trade, and removing the flexibility the Warriors have with keeping Bogut or finding a new center… Now back to those free agents.

Of the unrestricted free agents, Ramon Sessions, Kobe Bryant, Luol Deng, Pau Gasol, and Dirk Nowitzki all catch the eye. However only Deng (29) and Sessions (28) are under the age of 34. Others on the list include Chris Humphries, Thabo Sefolosha, and J.R. Smith; each could be strong additions to the team.

If the Miami Heat’s big three decide to part ways (all three players have an early termination option for the ’14-15 season) Dwyane Wade (32), Chris Bosh (30), and LeBron James (30) would all be available. Other players with options to join the free agency include Zach Randolph, Andrea Bargnani, Tim Duncan, Rudy Gay, and Carmelo Anthony.

Restricted free agents could find themselves a new team, if the offer is right. The list includes standouts John Wall, Paul George, Derrick Favors, and, as stated earlier, Cousins. Furthermore, many players whose contracts aren’t fully guaranteed may end up free agents, including Jameer Nelson, Tony Parker and Michael Beasley.

The Warriors could trade for Dwight Howard, but doing so would likely entail moving a key young player. The Warriors should spend this season testing the team that posed the biggest threat to the San Antonio Spurs’ Western Conference title run. The Warriors show strength and resilience, and another year will let players settle into a deeper rhythm of team play, and reveal the optimal player types to compliment the Warriors core. After a delightful, successful season, the Warriors should wait patiently, and fight to become a post-season contender for a second year in a row.

Next year, ownership will have loads of money to spend improving the franchise, and rather than disrupting a winning team through free agency, they should not pull the trigger on a blockbuster Dwight Howard trade.