For deep luxury tax teams, the back end of an NBA roster is a commonly used avenue to save money. That’s how the Golden State Warriors have cut their bill over the past half-decade. This season, that meant Ryan Rollins — and his rookie salary reduced in the second round — in 14th place and no one in the vacant 15th, avoiding more than $10 million in additional taxes.
Even though deep into the season, punitive tax penalties partly guide the construction of the team’s roster. This is from a soundbite of Bob Myers last week when discussing the possibility of adding a takeover candidate to his vacant spot on the roster.
“Any buyout conversation has to be done in conjunction with the coaching staff,” Myers said. “Because why bring in a player if he’s not going to be useful? There is a good quote from John Wooden: “Don’t confuse activity with success. I don’t just mean I’ve been through the buyout market, here’s a guy and he’s sitting on the end of the bench. Because for us, it’s 3 to 4 million dollars (prorated). What Joe (Lacob) has done and would do. But that’s the conversation with the coaching staff as to who would play and who is available.
Translation: It won’t light up green if it’s not a solidified spinning drive every night. Kevin Love, for example, would not have been. He went to the Miami Heat for $3.1 million and a clear path to regular minutes. The Warriors wouldn’t have offered either.
Patrick Beverley has generated more interest within the front office. Perimeter defense has been a problem. That’s why they traded for Gary Payton II. But the conversation with Beverley never even got to the offer stage. When the rotation is perfectly healthy, he would have been behind Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Jordan Poole, Donte DiVincenzo and Payton in the backcourt pecking order. Beverley opted for Chicago and mentioned in her podcast that the Warriors have “a lot of guards there.”
“The buyout market in general over the years has been overdone,” said Steve Kerr. “Usually it’s hard to find someone who’s going to have a big impact. Perhaps you are considering an insurance policy of some kind. But the reality is that when you get to the playoffs, insurance policies don’t win you the series.
The Warriors plan to give someone that 15th spot before the end of the regular season. Tax penalties do not extend to the playoffs. There’s no reason to leave this place empty. Two years ago, they gave Juan Toscano-Anderson and Payton vacancies in the final week of the regular season.
This comparable scenario is another reason why the Warriors have always been more likely to convert Anthony Lamb or Ty Jerome – their two-way players – in their 15th place than add a veteran buyout. At the time, the Warriors gave Toscano-Anderson and Payton non-guaranteed multi-year deals, giving them contract control during the offseason, keeping them in the program. The two ended up being trading contributors to a later title team.
A few months ago, Lamb and Jerome had a conceivable path to the list. The lack of production and prolonged absence of JaMychal Green left him vulnerable ahead of the deadline, a candidate for the salary dump trade to further reduce the tax bill and create an additional vacancy. That’s what they did with Marquese Chriss and Brad Wanamaker the year they signed Toscano-Anderson and Payton.
But Green surged in the weeks leading up to the deadline, reclaimed his spot as the third big and kept his spot on the roster. That left only one spot for Lamb or Jerome, should the Warriors decide to convert.
“We have to look and see if it’s (convert one of them) or another player and compare them,” Myers said. “And tell Steve, ‘Here are your options. Which player do you think helps us the most? “You have to adapt the system. We have to adapt what will work 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 bring Quinn Cook into the fold. Cook actually started the last month of the regular season with Curry sidelined. They needed Cook for the playoffs, so they cut Omri Casspi and added him, the first of their two-way conversions. Damion Lee and Toscano-Anderson were the next two big bilateral success stories.
This summer, the Warriors decided to sign Rollins and Patrick Baldwin Jr., two rookies from the draft, while bringing back Andre Iguodala, when they knew he would sit out the majority of the regular season. It meant next to nothing on the pitch from the empty 12, 13, 14 and 15, leading to some fair criticism on the overall roster construction.
He placed extra importance on their ability to identify two-way eligible players who could fit into Kerr’s rotation, if needed. This is the front office arm of Kent Lacob. He oversees G League scouting. He was credited with discovering Payton.
“It’s something our organization has really excelled at,” Kerr said. “Kent Lacob, David Fatoki, it’s really their responsibility to bring players to training camp, potential guys back and forth, and they’ve been successful.”
Fatoki is the general manager of the Santa Cruz Warriors. Nick U’Ren and Ryan Atkinson are influential voices in the room. Santa Cruz coach Seth Cooper was part of the group that elected their G League MVP a season ago. They collectively picked Lamb, a player they had long thought could excel in their system. When he became available in the pre-season, they added him.
Lamb initially thought he would spend much of the start of the season in Santa Cruz. But when Kerr made the rotation again after 10 games, he replaced James Wiseman. Lamb made 40% of his 3s on fairly high volume (145 attempts), providing a stretch option for a frontcourt that lacks it. He’s had big moments in big wins — check out this five-game winning streak around Christmas — and leads all NBA two-way players in minutes and points this season.
“These reps are invaluable,” Lamb said.
Jérôme is not far behind in both categories. The front office have loved him since his pre-draft process in 2019. He made four choices before taking on Poole. He decided to go both ways with the Warriors this summer, in part because he knew Curry and Thompson would selectively miss a handful of games to rest and likely miss another chunk due to wear and tear. season.
“It’s an opportunity to play 20, 20 plus games on a champion team,” Jerome said.
His suspicions were well founded. Jerome played a key role for the Warriors during Curry’s various absences. He even managed a night of 22 points, 8 assists and 41 minutes in a 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 third point guard safety cover he still covets.
“I know it’s kind of unique with two two-way guys playing big minutes,” Curry said. “They play well, they help us.”
The question may soon shift to which of the two they think will help them the most in the playoffs.
Lamb used 43 of his 50 available two-way games. Jerome used 36. With JaMychal Green in good pace, it’s easier for the Warriors to turn off and save Lamb’s remaining seven games. Jerome is needed until Curry returns. The longer they wait before a conversion decision, the more pro rata tax they save and the more information they accumulate.
Lamb’s argument is based on position. The Warriors are thinner in the frontcourt. In the playoffs, especially if JaMychal Green’s shot leaves him again, it’s easier to see Lamb getting minutes of rotation as a stretch option in a small ball environment than Jerome entering a zone picture back who should have Curry, Payton, Poole, Thompson and DiVincenzo in the crease.
But the context guiding the situation could change. An unlikely takeover candidate could emerge before March 1. Injuries could reconfigure the picture again. A continued drop in the rankings could make a young player’s unsecured check for next season a bigger priority.
(Anthony Lamb top photo: Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)