If the Golden State Warriors had won Game 7 of the NBA Finals on Sunday (or Game 6 last Thursday or Game 5 last Monday), then they would be seen as a potential dynasty. Had they headed into the offseason as back-to-back champions, they would be expected to at least try to lure Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant, but otherwise their goal would be simple: Bring back as much of the roster as possible.
Keeping everybody would be complicated, as Golden State has four unrestricted free agents and four restricted free agents, including starting forward Harrison Barnes and backup center Festus Ezeli. Now, though, after the Warriors came up short Sunday, there is a whole lot of uncertainty about how they will handle the summer.
"All I can say is I will be very aggressive," Warriors owner Joe Lacob said, via ESPN's Marc Stein.
Five questions about where Golden State goes from here:
1. Can they get K.D.?
Thanks to Stephen Curry's laughably team-friendly contract, the Warriors can realistically make Durant the third Splash Brother without completely gutting their roster. Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green will make a combined $44.1 million next season, and the salary cap is reportedly going to jump to $94 million. If Golden State is serious about this -- or about chasing another big-name free agent -- then it could clear enough space for a maximum contract before getting a commitment, like the San Antonio Spurs did when they shipped Tiago Splitter to Atlanta last year.
The Warriors could explore dumping the contracts of Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala, who are each on the books for a little more than $11 million next season. Shaun Livingston could conceivably be on the market, too. The first order of business for Golden State should be figuring out just how important it is to create immediate flexibility. Given that Lacob said the team plans to be aggressive, perhaps it is more important than it was a week ago.
When it comes to Durant, though, all of this could be moot if he decides he wants to stay with the Thunder. They pushed the Warriors to the brink of elimination in the Western Conference finals and he could very well be thinking, "Why join them if you can [almost] beat them?" Perhaps Golden State's crushing defeat has emboldened the organization to chase Durant against the players' wishes, but it's hard to imagine that it helped its chances of landing him.
2. What to do about Harry B?
This was a divisive topic all season, and then he went 5 for 32 in the last three games of the Finals, bricking open 3s to the point that the Cleveland Cavaliers barely needed to defend him. Barnes is a restricted free agent and a max salary for him would start at $22 million. It sounds totally bonkers, but he could still get that kind of money.
The argument for paying him: His shot fell apart at the worst time, but overall he has been an integral part of the team. His ability to play power forward in small lineups makes him valuable, as does the fact he is just 24 years old. If he improves as a playmaker in the next couple of seasons, then a max contract will not look so silly.
The argument against it: Can you imagine a world where Barnes is the highest-paid player on this team? That could have a detrimental effect on chemistry, and it might just be a misallocation of resources. Barnes fits just fine here, but a split could be best for both sides if he wants an opportunity to expand his game and Golden State can acquire other role players.
The most logical scenario: The Warriors do whatever they can to upgrade the position, but they will max Barnes out if they do not find a better option.
3. So, what if they let Barnes walk?
This is where things get interesting. CBS Sports' Matt Moore suggested that Golden State could go after Chandler Parsons or Nicolas Batum if it cannot sign Durant. Both could slide into the starting small forward spot, though there are minor issues -- Parsons' knee has been a problem, and Batum can't shift to power forward as easily as Barnes did.
The Warriors do not just have to look at "replacements" for Barnes. It could target versatile wings who won't make the max, like Kent Bazemore, Jared Dudley, Courtney Lee, Marvin Williams, Joe Johnson, Solomon Hill, Allen Crabbe or Moe Harkless. And, assuming they miss out on Durant, they would be crazy not to at least give star big man Al Horford a call.
On Monday, the Mercury News' Tim Kawakami reported that Golden State wants to sign Dirk Nowitzki. As wacky as that news may be, it means Golden State is open to making major moves. The Warriors know they have built something that is attractive to free agents who want rings, and as long as their championship window is open, they might as well use it to their advantage.
4. What about Ezeli?
This is yet another conundrum. Like Barnes, Ezeli has become a scapegoat of sorts. Golden State coach Steve Kerr never seemed to fully trust him in the playoffs, but decided to sub him in halfway through the fourth quarter of Game 7. That didn't end well.
The Warriors have not forgotten, though, that the 26-year-old Ezeli looked like a capable starting center when Bogut was hurt early in the season. There aren't a lot of 7 footers with his combination of physicality, length and athleticism, and some of the guys who do have that -- Bismack Biyombo and Hassan Whiteside, for example -- are set to sign massive contracts soon. Ezeli wasn't the same after having knee surgery in February, but he's still on track to get a hefty offer sheet as a restricted free agent.
Draymond Green might be the best center in the league when he plays the position, but he can't do it for heavy minutes every night. Bogut is 31 years old and will hit free agency a year from now. While Ezeli's knee trouble is concerning, there's a credible argument that Golden State should be prepared to pony up $15-18 million a season for his services.
If the Warriors elect to move on, there will be big-name frontcourt options (Nowitzki, Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol) and under-the-radar ones (Miles Plumlee, Willie Reed, Dewayne Dedmon) available in free agency.
5. Big picture, what is this offseason about?
Golden State general manager Bob Myers is in the rarest of positions. He is in charge of a team with financial flexibility, but he doesn't necessarily have to change anything. After a 73-win season, there would be nothing wrong with having a quiet summer.
Myers, though, has to think about more than just next season. Even with the rising salary cap, there will be more difficult decisions coming up. A year from now, Curry will be in line for a mega-deal, and Iguodala, Bogut and Livingston will all join him as unrestricted free agents. The Warriors don't know if they'll get hometown discounts like the San Antonio Spurs always seemed to, and they don't know if guys like Kevin Looney and James Michael McAdoo will be a part of their future.
Durant, Barnes and Ezeli are the big names here associated with Golden State's summer, but what does Myers say when Bogut's agent wants to talk about a contract extension? What happens if Marreese Speights, an unrestricted free agent, says he wants to sign the biggest contract of his career? The Warriors will assuredly look at least a little different next year, and it shouldn't be surprising if they do something big.