When the Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers held a news conference the other day, it was for the purpose of introducing draft choices Jordan Poole, Alen Smailagic, and Eric Paschall. Nonetheless, discussions in the presser invariably veered toward the impending free agency of All-Stars Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. It wasn’t simply that the prospect of offering them max contracts, long seen as academic even in the face of luxury tax concerns, became muddled after their injuries in the immediate past NBA Finals will effectively red-shirt them throughout the 2019-20 season. More importantly, it was due to seeming changes in their own mindsets given the manner in which they suffered from unfortunate twists that required surgery and prolonged convalescence.
Significantly, Myers could offer no better than a cryptic response to queries on the Warriors’ plans. “We’ll see,” he said, underscoring the uncertainty of the situation. He’s scheduled to meet with Durant and Thompson this week, no doubt to again convey the message that they’re wanted back, and not just to take care of unfinished business in light of their bridesmaid finish. How much they’ll be welcomed back is up in the air, although it’s fair to argue that they deserve no less than the best offer under current collective bargaining rules. After all, they played hurt in the Finals even with their future at stake.
From the outside looking in, the point is not for the Warriors to reward Durant and Thompson for going above and beyond the call of duty. It’s to show all and sundry that they appreciate the efforts of players who don Royal blue and California yellow. If they give so much as a hint that they’re out to scrimp on their offers, other free agents will draw conclusions and act accordingly. Which is why, despite the projected toll on their finances and on their competitiveness in the immediate term, they have no alternative but to pony up. They may be taking on more risk, but they get to save their reputation in the process.
At this point, it’s anybody’s guess as to how Durant and Thompson will fare when they get back on the court. The lists of players who have managed to fully recover from a ruptured Achilles tendon and a torn anterior cruciate ligament are woefully short. That said, they’re worth the gamble; even if they wind up operating at, say, 80% capacity, they’ll still be better than most others in the league. For the Warriors, however, it’s a matter of retaining favored franchise status. Pinching pennies will eat at their name; overspending will allow them to retain its luster.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing the Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.