The Grizzlies and Warriors had similar postseasons. Each rode the backs of breakthrough point guards—Mike Conley and Stephen Curry, respectively. Conley proved that he can effectively lead a sharp offense, and flashed a nasty floater that was roughly as blockable as a Dirk turnaround J from the elbow. Curry’s Playoff numbers—23.4 ppg, 8 apg, 3.5 threes (40 percent)—don’t begin to explain how electric he was. For three straight first-round games against Denver he was damn near unstoppable, giving the underdog Ws a 3-1 series lead they would never relinquish. Game 1 against San Antonio—a heartbreaker, ultimately—was as amazing a Playoff performance as you’ll see from a guy with five career post-season games under his belt: 44 points on 18-of-35 shooting, 6 treys, 11 dimes.
The guys around the two points guards were tremendous as well. Memphis’ Marc Gasol cemented himself as the League’s premier center on both sides of the ball. Zach Randolph absolutely dominated the Clippers’ Blake Griffin and OKC’s Serge Ibaka—a pair of the League’s top young power forwards. When Tony Allen went up against two of the NBA’s elite offensive weapons, Chris Paul and Kevin Durant, he held his ground, as we all knew he would. The team ran out of gas and, like Golden State, got bounced by San Antonio, but, for a while, had us all thinking about how they’d match up with Miami.
Curry’s supporting cast, led by Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, a one-legged David Lee, a surprisingly spry Andrew Bogut and super-subs Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, was incredible. Throw in a head coach who everybody loves and a second-round opponent who nobody loves, and the Warriors quickly became the team that anyone without a horse in the race pulled for.
Any hoops fan would love to see these two teams make a deep Playoff run again in 2014, but sometimes boring off-the-court stuff gets in the way of awesome on-the-court stuff. Memphis has a potentially mega-cheap owner who is unforgivably allowing coach Lionel Hollins to walk, and might force the roster to be at least partially stripped down. The Warriors will face a hefty tax bill if they retain the team that made such a magical run last month.
Before we dive in deeper, there are a few things to know while reading. Also, if you want to read up more on why the new CBA makes being below the luxury tax line so important to these teams, you can do so right here.
Four Things To Remember
—”Estimated Tax Line” is my predicted $70.5 million number. The real tax line is a little less than that now, but next year it should increase slightly (since the salary cap will). If a team is over the tax line, it pays the luxury tax.
—”Currently Sorta Guaranteed ’13-14 Payroll” is what’s guaranteed for next year as of now, plus some assumptions about upcoming player and team options.
—”Projected Amount Over Tax Line” takes the Currently Sorta Guaranteed ’13-14 Payroll and subtracts the Estimated Tax Line from it. It tells us how far over the tax a team is. The number can deceive since it doesn’t factor in upcoming offseason moves.
—”Projected Tax Owed For ’13-14 Season” uses the Projected Amount Over Tax Line to dictate how much money the team’s owner will pay in taxes for next year’s roster. Again, it’s based on the current roster, so the real number will likely be different from one the listed in the chart. For instance, the Warriors’ projections use only the 11 guys currently locked into the ’13-14 team. Still, it gives us a good idea of what’s going on.
Tax Owed For
|Key Free Agents|
|$70.5 million||$57,567,539||$0||$0||Tony Allen|
It seems like there’s growing belief that the Grizzlies are going to have to move Zach Randolph this summer for financial reasons. They don’t need to do that. If the team doesn’t extend qualifying offers to Austin Daye (over $4 million) or Jon Leur (over $1 million) and declines the team option on Donte Green (over $1 million) while Jerryd Bayless opts out of his contract, the payroll will be a tick over $57.5 million.
Cap holds for unused roster spots cut into that a little bit, but they’ll still be about $11 million below the dreaded tax line. Of course, Memphis needs to re-sign Tony Allen. I love Allen, but his offense is limited and I don’t see him making more than, say, $6-8 million annually. From there, they’ll have at least a few million left to spend on benchwarmers before hitting the luxury tax. If owners really want to improve the team, they’ll have the Mid-level Exception (~$5 million for non-taxpayers and ~$3 million for taxpayers, which the Grizz might be) to sign a guy—don’t count on them using it, though.
Back to Z-Bo. Trading Randolph would be a huge mistake for Memphis for endless reasons. Here are three:
1. His trade value isn’t very high. Randolph is 31 years old and is owed more than $34 million over the next two years. Memphis can afford him since they have such clean books other than Prince’s ugly contract. He also fits their offense perfectly, but other teams might not be that interested in a traditional power forward who doesn’t run very well or stretch the floor.
2. The Grizzlies need him. Their advantage over other teams is the Randolph-Gasol duo. Memphis doesn’t get much scoring on the perimeter, rather they patiently run the offense through their bigs. If they move Randolph for, say, the Nets’ Please Someone Take This Package We Swear It’s Valuable offer of MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries’ expiring contract and multiple first-round picks, Memphis would be a much worse team. They have quality depth at power forward in Ed Davis and Darrell Arthur (and Humphries would be added to the mix), but those are 15-25 minute players—Z-Bo is a 35-40 minute player, and he brings it every night. He’s also a key chemistry guy, something that can’t be overlooked when talking about a team that came together so perfectly this postseason.
If they want a wing scorer for Randolph, then they should have held onto Rudy Gay and dealt Z-Bo in February. But they shouldn’t want a typical perimeter scorer. Volume shooters have a tendency to slack defensively, and Memphis thrives on team defense. Moving Randolph would create a defensive hole at power forward, and potentially open up one at shooting guard or small forward as well.
3. They don’t have to do it! If they end up wildly overpaying for Allen, and rookies and minimum guys take the team over the tax, they can easily get back under. If Allen ends up with a more reasonable, but still high, figure like $8 million in the first year of his contract, Memphis should be clear of the tax. They’d have about $3 million left to spend on the final three roster spots before striking the tax line—more than enough since they don’t own a first-round pick.
Alternatively, they could let Allen walk in free agency and avoid hovering around the tax line. This would be very dumb and very cheap, but at least it would allow them to keep Randolph, and likely sign Allen’s replacement with a free-agent exception.
A team whose payroll falls just below the luxury tax will cost about $70 million next season. If owner Robert Pera isn’t willing to pay that much for a Conference Finals team with a great fan base, he doesn’t deserve the team. Plus, if ownership is so concerned about hitting the luxury tax this season, they shouldn’t have flipped Jose Calderon for Tayshaun Prince as the last leg of the Gay trade. Calderon is a free agent this summer, while Prince still has two years and nearly $15 million left on his contract. They just as easily could have gotten Corey Maggette’s expiring contract from Detroit to pick up 15 minutes per night at the 3, or simply dealt Calderon elsewhere.
Moving Z-Bo makes no sense from a basketball perspective, and there’s no need to move him for financial reasons, either.
Golden State Warriors
Tax Owed For
|Key Free Agents|
|$70.5 million||$70,885,328||$385,328||$577,992||Jarrett Jack|
Back in December of 2011, the Warriors had a simple decision to make. Needing to create enough cap room to offer restricted free agent DeAndre Jordan a contract, they could have used their amnesty clause on anybody, erasing the victim’s salary from the books. Andris Biedrins (three years, $27 million remaining) was the obvious choice, especially considering the Dubs were trying to sign his replacement. Instead, Golden State opted to cut Charlie Bell, who had just one year and $4 million left. Bad, bad choice.
Five months later, the team made an equally indefensible move, flipping Stephen Jackson for Richard Jefferson. Jackson’s ugly contract (nearly $10 million annually) expires this summer (I.e. will not be a headache next season). RJ’s hideous deal pays him more than $11 million next season (I.e. the worst migraine imaginable).
As a result of those two absurd moves, the team will be paying Biedrins (10-21 for the entire season) and Jefferson (only relevant ’13 Playoff moment was missing a pair of free throws in the fourth quarter of a game the Ws lost in OT) over $20 million next season.
That’s a big deal considering that Andrew Bogut and David Lee, admittedly key pieces to Golden States’ success, will earn north of $28 million next year. The good news is that Bogut, Biedrins and Jefferson all expire a year from now, but the Warriors will have some financial problems before they get there. Stephen Curry’s max contract kicks in next year, increasing his salary from roughly $4 million to roughly $10 million. Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes will combine to make over $6 million on their rookie contracts, which are total bargains, but still. Meanwhile, Brandon Rush will pick up his $4 million player option for the upcoming season.
All of it is palatable since the team can avoid the luxury tax with a little maneuvering. As you can see above, the team is only about $400,000 above the tax with that team. But two guys integral to Golden State’s Playoff run are missing—Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack. It’s likely that both will be free agents this summer (Landry has a player option), and the Warriors are going to struggle to bring them back.
Perhaps a veteran big man and a bigger workload for Draymond Green can piece together what Landry brings to the table, but Jack will be nearly impossible to replace for cheap. In Playoff clutch time (final five minutes, five-point game) Jack was 6-9 from the floor and 8-10 from the stripe during Golden State’s amazing run. Comparatively, Curry was 6-25 and 4-4 in such situations and Thompson was 3-6 and 0-0.
Jack was the Dubs’ best late-game scorer in their biggest games, and took control of the offense when Curry’s ankle problems popped up again. Sure, a free agent to-be like CJ Watson would give the Warriors 20 good-enough minutes off the bench, but Jack is far more than a backup point guard. He was absolutely vital to Golden State’s post-season success, and the Warriors will not be the same team if he signs elsewhere.
But signing the duo would immediately push the Warriors deeper into the luxury tax. If they shell out, say, $15 million annually to keep the tandem, that will put the team about that much over the tax. A team $15 million over the tax line would have to pay about $30 million in taxes next year.
Curry, Thompson, Barnes, Lee, Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green are the only guys locked up for the ’14-15 year. Those six will earn about $35 million total that season. That leaves more than enough money to add on Jack and Landry’s contracts and still not hit the salary cap, let alone the tax line. Eventually they’ll have to deal with extensions for Thompson and Barnes, but Lee will be off the books by then. If they’d prefer to keep Lee over any of those three (likely Barnes), they can move any of them to prevent dipping into the tax.
No team ever keeps an entire roster around forever, and the Warriors won’t either. But if ownership ponies up extra money next season, Golden State can keep their core together for years to come.