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GSW Free Agent Targets 3: Frontcourt
A series by Perks from @GSWReddit
This is a planned four part series by Perks from GSW Reddit. I’ve been bugging him to contribute to Dub Nation HQ for a while and he finally kindly agreed. - Eric
The series so far:
An earlier draft of Part 3 appeared on Reddit.
2021-22 Depth Chart
Jordan Bell (UFA)
The frontcourt on paper looks filled up, but the Warriors will certainly be making a couple of tweaks at least around the fringes. They could use a floor spacer and maybe an experienced veteran to supplement their group.
Kevon Looney's player option deadline is on August 1st and according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Looney has exercised his option and will be back with the Warriors next season. Following an injury-plagued 19/20 campaign, Looney came back strong and had arguably the best season of his career. He’s established himself as a key rotational player for the Warriors and depending on what sort of additions they make in the offseason, he should be penciled in as their starting center for now.
Juan Toscano-Anderson after multiple seasons with the Santa Cruz Warriors and bouncing around from non-guaranteed deals to two-ways finally has a guaranteed contract for next season and is not going anywhere. He's carved himself out a role in the rotation and can be presumably penciled in as Draymond's understudy moving forward.
Eric Paschall is an interesting case as his status is a bit up in the air. After a 1st Team All-Rookie campaign and a strong start to this last season as a scoring small-ball 5, he was underwhelming the rest of the way, capped off by an injury that would sideline him for the rest of the season. There's no doubt that Paschall is talented, but he's a bit of an odd fit on this roster as a tweener 4/5 who doesn't quite have an outside shot and isn't capable enough defensively yet. Although his contract is guaranteed for next season, it's conceivable that the Warriors might look to move him for some sort of low-level asset, if possible, in order to free up a roster spot for someone who might complement the roster a little better. But if not, it will be an important contract year for him to show some improvement and at the very least he can be a situational spark plug and scoring punch off the bench.
Alen Smailagić's contract will fully guarantee on August 6th, although in all likelihood the Warriors and his representation will agree to push that back until after Summer League or even Training Camp, so he can participate in those team activities. However, outside of that, it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that Smailagić won't be back on the roster. He reportedly has suitors in Europe and otherwise could make his way to Santa Cruz to continue his development.
Jordan Bell will be an unrestricted free agent, no longer eligible for a two-way. Outside of considering him for a training camp invite, there's next to no chance Bell is on the roster next year. He was just brought in this past season as injury insurance for the post-season.
The frontcourt is probably not the biggest priority for the Warriors, but they should at the very least explore upgrading around the margins and adding a little more depth and versatility into the mix.
The Warriors already last year, when they still had Marquese Chriss, were looking to add a veteran into the mix (Marc Gasol, Aaron Baynes, Serge Ibaka, Dwight Howard, Nic Batum) so we should expect them to add at least one big in free agency.
The Warriors will be looking for a big who can space the floor and knock down a 3-ball. Ideally, that player should also be a capable passer who can make reads out of the post and elbow, as well as being able to offer some rim protection or defensive switchability.
The draft has a number of intriguing frontcourt prospects (Franz Wagner, Alperen Sengun, Kai Jones, Jalen Johnson, Usman Garuba, Isaiah Jackson) the Warriors could take a look at. However, it seems more reasonable to expect that they may look to address this need in free agency with a veteran addition to supplement the young James Wiseman.
The MLE would probably be better served on a wing so the Warriors will have to go bargain-hunting, although, for the right frontcourt player, it could make sense to commit the MLE to them.
Tier 0 | Priced Out: Richaun Holmes, Kelly Olynyk, Cody Zeller, Nicolas Batum, P.J. Tucker, Andre Drummond
These are all high-end quality players who will surely command more than the Warriors are able to pay. However, if anyone one of them were to become available, they are options that should be pursued.
Tier 1 | MLE: Blake Griffin, Rudy Gay, Paul Millsap, Daniel Theis, Nerlens Noel, Khem Birch, Robin Lopez
Following calls for being washed with his play in Detroit, Griffin looked rejuvenated with Brooklyn this past season as a small-ball 5. The Nets will most likely prioritize re-signing him and he should see significant offers in free agency otherwise.
Gay has been someone the Warriors have been interested in for a few years now and it seems like now might be the time for him to move on from San Antonio. Although he's getting up there in age, as a floor-spacing 4 who shot 38.1% from three last season, coupled with his scoring prowess, and veteran playoff experience, he would be a very solid addition for the Warriors.
Millsap similarly is another veteran floor-spacing 4 who can get buckets, and is also a well-regarded passer, something the Warriors really covet in their bigs. If the Nuggets move on from him, he might be obtainable with the MLE.
Theis is a more traditional, defensive-minded center that is looking for MLE-and-above offers on the market. Given that Theis’s skillset overlaps a bit with Looney, the Warriors are probably better served going in a different direction with their MLE.
Noel clicked on the Knicks this last season as their shot-blocking, defensive anchor. However, with Mitchell Robinson returning, Noel might look to move to a team where he would start, with the Toronto Raptors and Sacramento Kings already reportedly showing interest. The Warriors could definitely make use of a rim-protecting, rebounder like Noel, but they might not be able to offer him a significant enough role.
Birch has been a seamless fit in Toronto and it seems like a given that they will prioritize re-signing him. He's a bit of an undersized, do-everything type of center which the Warriors have in Looney, so if he were to be available for the MLE, they probably pass on him for someone else who brings something different.
Lopez is another player the Warriors have expressed interest in the past. He had a good season with Washington, but with Thomas Bryant returning from injury and the emergence of Daniel Gafford, he's probably the odd-man-out. Lopez as a rim-protecting rebounder, who can score, and playmake, would be a solid fit on this roster, but probably not worth all of the MLE for the Warriors.
Tier 2 | MLE-Minimum: Nemanja Bjelica, Enes Kanter, JaVale McGee, Jeff Green, Gorgui Dieng, Dewayne Dedmon, Mike Muscala
Bjelica was underwhelming for the Heat and probably won't be returning to them. As a sharpshooting big man with playmaking chops, he would be a solid addition for the Warriors as a floor-spacing option, despite his defensive deficiencies. However, he reportedly is considering a return to Europe so the Warriors would have to sell him on a significant role here.
Kanter the 11pts-11rbs scoring machine is a defensive-sieve who wouldn't be a great fit for the Warriors and they should probably look at other players instead who would be better suited for their playstyle.
A McGee reunion could be interesting since he did resurrect his career here as a rim-running, rim protector, however, the Warriors probably envision Wiseman, at the minimum, in a similar type of role next season so it could be too overlapping.
Minimum-contract poster boy Jeff Green had a great season with Brooklyn and will be looking to break out of that typecast for a significant salary increase. Brooklyn will most likely look to bring him back since he was a great fit on their roster, but if were to shake loose he could be an interesting pick-up for the Warriors.
Dieng and Dedmon are both big centers that can offer some floor spacing. Dieng made a mid-season switch from Memphis to San Antonio that wasn't super successful. Dedmon was out of the league for the majority of the season before signing with Miami and instantly hitting it off. He's already expressed interest in re-signing with them. However, both of them should be fairly affordable additions who would fit well on this roster.
Muscala had a solid season on a tanking Thunder team and is expected to move on to a team with more lofty aspirations. As a floor-spacing 4 who can provide a scoring punch off the bench, he would be a great and affordable fit, and the Warriors might even be able to convince him to take a minimum deal.
Tier 3 | Minimum: Dwight Howard, Hassan Whiteside, Mike Scott, Markieff Morris, Willy Hernangomez, Alex Len, Carmelo Anthony, Patrick Patterson, Ersan Ilyasova, Trey Lyles, Meyers Leonard, Marquese Chriss
Howard is someone the Warriors were interested in last off-season. He would give them much-needed size as an interior presence with his rebounding, finishing, and shot-blocking. As an experienced veteran who could play in spurts, he would be a solid get for the minimum.
Whiteside would offer some of those same qualities, although he doesn't have the veteran savvy of Howard, and would come with some frequent vexing mistakes and lapses in concentration. But if the Warriors could fix the bemusing Javale McGee, surely they could do the same to Whiteside?
Scott and Morris would both add some veteran depth and floor-spacing at the 4, although Morris has already signaled his intent to run it back with the Lakers. Hernagomez had a fairly solid season as a reserve with New Orleans and would be a solid depth addition if available at the minimum.
Len, after a poor start with the Raptors, found his footing in Washington and would be an inexpensive addition to bring in some size, vertical spacing, and rebounding.
Anthony has revitalized his career as a roleplayer in Portland these past two seasons. Although he's getting up there in age, he could provide some useful scoring and floor spacing off the bench at a bargain price.
Patterson and Ilyasova are both aging vets who probably wouldn't be able to play a significant role at this point, but could offer veteran mentorship and potentially a little floor-spacing in limited minutes.
Lyles would be an interesting buy-low candidate. He's relatively young and although has struggled with consistency, could potentially perform in a specific role off the bench providing some floor spacing and rebounding.
Leonard in theory would actually be a very solid fit as a floor-spacing center, but he missed last season through injury and it's hard to see an organization like the Warriors looking past his transgression from last season.
Chriss, of course, we all know and love. Not hard to imagine the Warriors bringing him back, at the very least on a non-guaranteed training camp contract to see how he looks post-injury.
Tier 4 | Pass: James Johnson, Frank Kaminsky, Ed Davis, Solomon Hill, Boban Marjanovic, Taj Gibson, DeMarcus Cousins, Luke Kornet, Semi Ojeleye, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Stanley Johnson, Harry Giles, Moe Wagner, Bismack Biyombo, Cristiano Felicio, JaKarr Sampson, Jared Dudley, Udonis Haslem, Anderson Varejão
Most of these guys wouldn't have much to offer, although you could probably make an argument for some of them, but in all likelihood, the Warriors just bring back Chriss before they considered any of them.
Non-Unrestricted Free Agents
A couple of non-Unrestricted Free Agents who might hit the market:
There's a decent chance that Markkanen doesn't receive a qualifying offer from Chicago and will hit the open market, although, it’s hard to imagine that he wouldn’t be able to get above Taxpayer MLE offers in free agency. Collins is a bit of a different story. Portland reportedly doesn’t plan to extend a qualifying offer for him and due to his extensive injury, his market value has taken a huge hit. The Warriors should probably stay clear of him, even if he could be available in their price range.
Baynes had an absolutely dreadful season for Toronto and almost certainly will not get his contract guaranteed. He's getting up there in age, but he could be an interesting buy-low candidate for the Warriors. He's someone they pursued this last off-season and the Warriors were apparently his second choice behind Toronto. As a bruising big man who can shoot the 3-ball and inhale rebounds he, in theory, would be a solid fit and might be worth a flyer on a minimum to see if he still has something left in the tank, especially if he looks like himself during the Olympics.
Wilson and Bradley are two fringe-level prospects on tanking teams that might look to move on from them to try out other players in their place. If they were to become available, they should be around the minimum level on the market, but the Warriors should pass on both and instead look for some dependable, veteran additions instead.
Portis is the pick of the lot here as he should be opting out of his player option for better offers in free agency following a solid season as a stretch big. He's played himself into the MLE and above range, so the Warriors probably don't have a realistic shot at obtaining him, but they should at least reach out to see if he's a possibility or not.
The frontcourt market is pretty deep at all levels, so the Warriors should be able to bring in some veteran help. Although they might not necessarily be able to get a dependable rotation player without using the MLE, they can hopefully at least get someone who could play a specific role off the bench at a bargain price. Their starters and backups (Green, Looney, Toscano-Anderson, Wiseman) are pretty much locked in barring a larger trade (JTA can also slide to the 3 if need be), so the Warriors will have 1-2 theoretically spots at the 4/5 depending on what they decide to do with Paschall. It seems like a given that at least one veteran will be added (most likely someone who can stretch the floor).
Given the rumors of the Warriors' interest in Kevin Love, if he were to be bought out, and their previous interest in Marc Gasol, who's uncertain standing with the Lakers might make him available for trade or waived otherwise, a couple more options might open up as possibilities.
Ideal Target: Nicolas Batum
According to Steve Kerr, the Warriors “tried hard” to get Batum last off-season before he eventually joined the Clippers and it would be surprising if they didn’t try hard once again to get him. Batum would be a perfect fit on this roster. He’s an experienced veteran, shot 40.4% from three last season, can score, playmake, rebound, and defend at some level. He could fit into a variety of lineups as a 4, a 3, and at times a small-ball 5. Depending on what other moves the Warriors make he’d most likely even be a part of their closing line-up. The biggest question will be whether or not he could be available for the Taxpayer MLE. Similar to Blake Griffin, Batum turned a lot of heads with his renaissance in LA this season after many thought he was washed in Charlotte and he should be sought after as a shooter with size, which is a premium in this league. However, he will still be receiving $8.9M yearly from the Hornets the next two seasons which might factor into his decision.
Realistic MLE Addition: Rudy Gay
The Warriors have been linked to Gay in some capacity almost every off-season in which he’s been a free agent (2017, 2018, 2019), so it’s not hard to imagine that once again they’ll be taking a look at him and this time it might actually finally come together. While Gay will be turning 35 in August, he can still play at a high level and would be a great fit on this roster. His ability to stretch the floor and get buckets would give the Warriors the type of dependable, offensively dynamic big man they haven’t had since Mo Speights.
Realistic Minimum Addition: Mike Muscala
Muscala would offer some of those similar qualities at a hopefully more affordable price, if Gay were to once again be out of the Warriors price range. He’s a career 36.8% shooter from behind the arc, who can score off the bench, and grab a couple of rebounds. While he leaves some room to be desired defensively, if the Warriors are looking for a capable, big floor spacer who can give them a scoring punch, it would be hard for them to reasonably do much better than Muscala on a minimum.
Buy-Low Candidate: Aron Baynes
If the Warriors were once again to miss out on their top targets, Baynes might be an intriguing option they could pivot to. After an impressive season in Phoenix where he shot 35.1% from three and put up 11.5ppg and 5.6rpg, he made a big move to Toronto that turned out disastrous. He became borderline unplayable in the end for the Raptors and finished the season posting 6.1ppg on a career-low 44.1% FG and horrific 26.2% 3PT. At 34 years of age, these might be the early signs of decline for Baynes, but if the Warriors feel his season up North was more of a fluke and they could still get something out of him, he might be worth a flyer on a minimum deal as their third center.
What are your thoughts on the frontcourt? Will the Warriors use either of their picks to draft a big? Will they bring in a veteran? Will they use the MLE to do so? Or try to rummage the bargain bin for a minimum-level addition?