The Toronto Raptors created history on Friday, with the Canadian basketball side clinching the NBA Championship with a 114-110 Game 6 win against reigning champion Golden State Warriors.
The maiden title for the organisation comes less than twelve months after the Raptors traded franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for the extremely disgruntled, yet exquisitely talented, Kawhi Leonard.
The gamble the Raptors took paid off handsomely, as Kawhi steered the Raptors to the Championship, while also collecting his second finals MVP.
It didn’t come easy, but it also came with a helpful serving of luck. The Warriors were missing one of their best players in Kevin Durant, who returned for all of twelve minutes before rupturing his Achilles in Game 5.
Golden State also lost the red-hot Klay Thompson with minutes left in the third quarter of Game 6 with a torn ACL. Thompson had 30 points in 32 minutes of play, and the Warriors lost the last quarter 28-22, and eventually the finals 114-110, with Thompson out of action.
This offseason is shaping up to be a historically significant one for the Warriors. Durant looks set to decline his $31.5 million player option, which would make him a free agent, while Thompson is an unrestricted free agent as well.
If healthy, both players would command max contracts from any suitors. Despite his injury, there are reports suggesting Durant has three unofficial max contract offers on the table, equating to $152 million over four years.
Now that Thompson has a confirmed ACL injury, his summer of free agency becomes a little more difficult. Before his injury, he looked set to sign a five-year, $190 million extension with the Warriors, with the potential for him to take a pay cut if he chose to save the franchise some money.
Rival organisations, such as the Los Angeles Lakers, were reportedly planning to offer the Splash Brother a four-year, $152 million max contract to prise him away from the Bay Area.
Thompson more than proved his worth in the NBA Finals, averaging 26 points a game, while also being a menace on defence. With Durant missing almost the entirety of the finals, Thompson proved to the Warriors, and rival suitors, that he’s still most definitely a reliable number two option.
The 2019 free agency period is franchise-defining for a lot of organisations, but before this finals series it wasn’t as important for the Warriors. It was seen as a simple equation: sign Durant to a max and offer Thompson a nice contract below the max. If Durant chose to leave, then offer the max to Thompson.
This is a now the most important free agency period for the Warriors since Durant came on board. They will be hoping to keep Durant and Thompson, but now with both missing next season with injuries, how can the front office afford to pay both players max (or close to) contracts to stay?
$38 million would go to Durant to recover from a career-changing Achilles injury, while another $38 million would be required to keep Klay on the sidelines as he recovers from his knee injury.
If the Warriors commit to paying $76 million to injured players for the 2019-20 season, it means their salary cap would be all but decimated. Steph Curry is already in the middle of a five-year, $221 million supermax contract, leaving very little in the bank to pay players like DeMarcus Cousins, who signed a 1-year/$5.3 million contract as he recovered from his own Achilles injury.
Cousins will explore free agency according to reports, while Kevon Looney is also out of contract after impressing through the playoffs. His current deal of $1.5 million per season has expired, as has Quin Cook’s and Jordan Bell’s. All of these players would seek a pay rise, whether at the Warriors or elsewhere.
The Warriors have decisions to make. Do they keep their stars on the sidelines for a year and hope Curry can drag a sub-par bench to the playoffs again? Or will they let one of Durant and Thompson walk to another franchise?
The 2019 Free Agency period begins in less than three weeks, and looks to set off a significant shift in the NBA balance of power.
The Golden State Warriors dynasty is all but over, whether they sign Durant and Thompson or not.