Kawakami: Warriors’ Joe Lacob on the luxury tax, Jonathan Kuminga, Steve Kerr and the A’s

All things great, small, expensive and world-shaking are always under consideration for Joe Lacob’s Warriors, especially when the team is in a bit of flux and one more superstar next to Stephen Curry might mean all the difference between a Play-In struggle and another championship run.

All things are under consideration. Always. Even checking in with the Lakers and LeBron James out of slightly-more-than-idle curiosity (more on this in a bit).

But wait. When Lacob appeared on my podcast on Thursday, he made clear there is a specific option that was absolutely off the table at last week’s trade deadline, especially after the recent rise in the standings fueled by Draymond Green’s return from suspension as the team’s starting center, Jonathan Kuminga’s third-season breakthrough and the sustained excellence of Stephen Curry.

Even as they hovered at the fringes of the Western Conference playoff race, Lacob said the Warriors never seriously considered selling off key parts of their roster to bring the payroll down to reasonable levels from their current $400 million-plus total commitment.

“Well, first of all, backwards is never an option, not for me, not for us,” Lacob said. “I know that people would say it should be. But I don’t think we’re ever going to be sellers in a situation like this in a big way. But you know, there were things we could’ve done that might’ve looked that way, that might’ve been setting us up for something better next year. …

“(But) I think the team has found something. I think our coaching staff has found something. … I’m extremely high on what I’ve seen, we all should be, over the last, what, 11 games or so, 12 games. When Draymond came back, he’s changed everything. The lineup with Draymond at center and Andrew (Wiggins) and the ascension, of course, of JK, along with Steph and Klay (Thompson) or Steph and (Brandin Podziemski), both lineups, actually, looks great. … We’re pretty fast and great ball movement and we’re scoring and we’re playing better defense, so it impacted the trade deadline.”

That’s the reality of the Warriors’ situation — if the trade deadline had arrived a few weeks earlier, when they were several games below .500 and trailing 10 teams in the West, or if they hadn’t gone on the 7-1 run through Tuesday, before Wednesday night’s home loss to the Clippers brought them to a 26-26 record, different kinds of decisions likely would’ve been made.



Why the Warriors are moving forward with the same roster after the NBA trade deadline

The Warriors aren’t a fire-sale kind of team, but an outright losing situation might’ve led them to clear some of the payroll decks right now to point to next season instead of holding tight to whatever’s possible in April, May or maybe even June this season. It’s good to be optimistic, but it’s silly to have title dreams when and if there are no signs of imminent success.

The winning, though, came just in time to give Lacob and his front office a dual plan: Play it out with Curry, Draymond and the main core this season, knowing that they could be a very dangerous low seed in the West tournament, but also keep their payroll flexibility heading into next summer with Klay and Chris Paul’s very large expiring contracts. (Paul has a non-guaranteed year remaining after this season, so his $30 million contract for 2024-25 can either be picked up, let go, traded to another team or be part of negotiations for a lower deal with the Warriors.)

The arrival of Kuminga and Podziemski suddenly gives the Warriors a moderate revival of the much-maligned Two Timeline Plan that was launched in 2020 and abandoned relatively quickly after 2020 No. 2 pick James Wiseman’s Warriors career flamed out. And if the Warriors can count on Kuminga, Podziemski and maybe Moses Moody and Trayce Jackson-Davis into the future, they can reduce their payroll next season (and avoid the harshest aspects of the new CBA, which take effect next summer) without having to drop out of contention. Which is definitely the plan.

“You really can’t have this kind of payroll in the future without being severely impacted in terms of things you can do,” Lacob said. “We’re already in good position for this in the summer. … But honestly, we had an opportunity during this trade deadline — we had a deal that would’ve saved us literally net-net $80 million this year. That’s a pretty big thing not to do if you’re motivated by financials. … No one with a $400 million payroll wants to be a .500 team, and I certainly don’t. But there are reasons for things and things do change.”

Joe Lacob

“I think the team has found something,” owner Joe Lacob says of the Warriors. “I think our coaching staff has found something. … I’m extremely high on what I’ve seen.” (Kelley L Cox / USA Today)

The Warriors are carrying a $206 million base payroll this season, with another $100 million or so in projected luxury tax penalties thanks to repeater rates after their frequent trips past the tax line. They’re also well into the dreaded second apron, which removes a lot of tools to add players.

But next season, things could change without a major talent subtraction. The Warriors have about $140 million in payroll commitments to nine players, not counting the expiring deals of Klay and CP3, and, Lacob said, they’re aiming to get out of the tax completely next July. That would give them $31 million in wiggle room before the projected $171 million luxury-tax line to try to re-sign Klay and/or CP3 and add anybody else. They could also increase the space if they do something like off-loading Kevon Looney’s $7.6 million contract for next season, which is only partially guaranteed.

“Our Plan 1, or 1A, is actually we’d like to be out of the tax, and we think that we have a way to do that,” Lacob said. “That kind of is the plan, not just under the second apron. I’ll tell you why that’s important, because the truth is that we need to be out of the tax two years out of the next four, below the tax line, in order to get this repeater thing off our books. We don’t want to be a repeater. It’s just so prohibitive, not to say we wouldn’t do it if we had to, but you’ve gotta look at what the downside is to doing that. …

“There’s a Plan 1B, I guess, and 1B is we could go even further than that and we could make big changes if we had to. If this team were to slide all the way down and not do well the end of the year here, you know there’s gonna be big changes. But if we do really well, we might decide to go the other way. So everything’s open, we have to be flexible, I can just tell you that the goal is to not be a lottery team ever. The goal is to be competitive, the goal is to win and ideally, if it’s possible, to win championships or compete for championships.”

OK, now about that ESPN report earlier this week that Lacob called Lakers owner Jeanie Buss to ask about a trade for LeBron and also spoke to LeBron’s agent — and both the Lakers and LeBron’s representative said they were not interested? NBA rules prevent Lacob from speaking about talks to acquire another team’s player, but when I asked him if he tried to land a very big-name player last week, he didn’t rush to deny anything.

“You know me, and our fans I hope you know me and us, not just me, we have a culture that is very aggressive,” Lacob said. “We’re always going to try to be aggressive, we’re going to try to put the best team on the court, and if it costs a lot of money, it’s going to cost a lot of money. We’re willing to invest, everyone knows that. We do those things hopefully at the right time, not the wrong time. And we’re going to look at everything. When we acquired Kevin Durant many years ago, that was an incredibly aggressive move that we made. Where I think half our roster went away to accomplish that. Even though we had a really good team, we felt we could be better, and we did. We went to three finals — should’ve won all three, we did win two.

“There are these inflection points, these times when sometimes players might be available. Even if it’s not something you maybe have considered, you need to consider it. My answer to your question is I’m always looking, we’re always looking at everything. I always tell Mike (Dunleavy Jr.) and Kirk (Lacob) and everybody, nothing is off the table, nothing. So we look at everything, and if the deal’s right, the timing’s right and we have consensus generally inside, then we’ve got to consider this thing.

“As far as the reports … I’m not going to say anything about any specific player or anything. I’m just going to tell you that, you know, we’re aggressive and we’re looking at things all the time.”

LeBron James and Steph Curry

Joe Lacob can’t directly address the Warriors’ reported trade-deadline interest in LeBron James, but, he said, “We’re aggressive and we’re looking at things all the time.” (Darren Yamashita / USA Today)

Here are some other highlights from our conversation …

• Lacob’s answer when I asked him directly if he thinks this roster, as currently constructed, can contend for the team’s fifth championship of this era:

“I get it; we haven’t really overall played all that well this year. I think Steve (Kerr) would tell you that, our players would tell you that, Mike would tell you that. But I still think, maybe I’m delusional a little bit, but I believe in this roster and these players, and our coaching staff, and I really believe that we can make a run here. It just turns out that right before the trade deadline magically that happened because of a couple things that happened.

“Draymond’s suspension, as he said in his comments the other day, ironically may have long-term made us better in an odd sort of way. Because JK got to have the leash taken off and play, and he’s been fantastic. He’s just been tremendous. He is a monster. If he continues to play like this, which I think he will and get better at 21 years old, his future is unlimited. You add that to Andrew Wiggins being unlocked with this lineup, and I didn’t think he would stay playing like that, and our two rookies have been tremendous. I’ve really got to give credit to all of our scouts and Mike and Kirk and all those guys and Kent (Lacob), we nailed it in this draft.”

• There’s been some antsiness inside the organization and out about the time it took for Kerr to commit major playing time to Kuminga, maybe from Lacob himself. But Lacob said you have to credit Kerr for making sure Kuminga was ready for this big moment now that Kuminga is delivering thunderous inside scoring and high-level athleticism almost every night.

“I know there’s been a lot of concerns, why wasn’t JK playing more, did our coaching staff hold him back?” Lacob said. “Look, we can debate all that. But if you look at the bigger picture, he’s 21 years old. He did not play college basketball. And Year 3 historically is the year when players kinda take off or don’t … very rarely in their rookie year can a rookie make an impact, especially on a good team. …

“I think JK has had a tough go of it, Steve has been tough on him, but maybe at the end of the day, he winds up being a much better player and maybe Steve in the long term looks smart. I mean, that’s a possibility. It certainly could be. I think it’s Year 3, I think he’s taken off, we needed him, it turned out, the opportunity just happened to be right there, and he has fully jumped through the window and taken advantage of it.”

• Lacob confirmed a story Draymond recently told on his own podcast, that when Lacob signed Draymond to the four-year, $100 million extension last summer, he told Draymond he couldn’t lose control anymore and jeopardize the team with suspensions and emotional turbulence. Then Draymond got suspended twice in a matter of weeks early this season for on-court incidents with opponents, and when Lacob called him after his second suspension to talk about it, Draymond didn’t pick up the phone or call him back.

“I did say all that,” Lacob said of the summer meeting. “‘I need you not to let me down, I’m signing you to a big contract here.’ So that is all true. And yes, he did let me down. He let a lot of people down. He knows that.

“One thing I love about Draymond, man, he just tells you like it is. I can’t believe he came out and said that. And … this is true, I called him after it happened, the incident that caused the second suspension, and he did not return my call. I was really mad about that. That was true. … Recently when he told that story, I went up to him and I said, ‘You’re right, I was really mad at you.’ … We laughed about it.

“I love Draymond Green. I’m just going to tell you right now. I know he’s done a number of things — the fans, certainly people around the league, the league certainly, have appropriate reason to be mad at him. To be disappointed. He knows that, too. But you know at the end of the day, he’s like the brother from another mother for me. I just love him. I’ve always felt that way. He will retire as a Warrior obviously with his contract. He’s our guy. Some people may not like him. He may be a bad guy sometimes, but he’s our bad guy. He’s a tremendous winner, he impacts the game in so many ways, and he’s a basketball savant. He’s a genius. Can’t control himself sometimes, hopefully he will the rest of the year, and he knows that, but I love the guy and despite all that, I stand behind him, period.”

Draymond Green

The Warriors have been a different team since Draymond Green’s return from suspension. A recent 7-1 stretch has their season trending upward. (John Hefti / USA Today)

• Through the love and frustration, did the Warriors ever consider moving on from Draymond this season or last season, after he punched Jordan Poole during a training camp practice?

“We consider everything, and I’m not going to say it didn’t cross our minds to ship him out or something, but not really,” Lacob said. “The truth is, we all understand how important he is to winning. We understand how important he is in terms of his relationship and how he plays with Steph, who is fantastic and at the age of 35 going to be 36, just playing at a remarkable level. They just work together. It’s just something we have to ride until it cannot be ridden anymore. Honestly, maybe thought about it for a nanosecond, but no real consideration to moving Draymond.”

• Lacob on Klay’s turbulent and very emotional season:

“Honestly, I love him like a son is the way I feel about that. … He’s had a really tough time. He’s had some severe injuries, he played really well coming back from that until the playoffs last year, obviously wasn’t his brightest moment. And he’s had an up-and-down year this year. Klay’s had some great games like the Utah game (on Monday) … and he’s had some not-so-great games, I’m sure it really bothers him. But at the end of the day, I believe in Klay, I think he’s a very impactful player, and I think he’s going to come through for us in the clutch if we make another run here. I stand behind Klay Thompson, too. I know his contract’s expiring … that’s a flexibility-of-a-team thing. … I’d like to have him retire as a Warrior, that’s the bottom line.”

• Kerr also has an expiring contract and though both sides have consistently predicted that there will be a new agreement at some point, it’s still a lingering issue for the Warriors. Could this be similar to Bob Myers’ situation last season, when his contract was expiring and nothing happened and then the team’s architect walked away in the summer?

“Look Steve Kerr’s been with us for 10 years. I love, another thing about our business, continuity,” Lacob said. “Look at all those teams that kept getting a Big Three every year, didn’t win. Continuity matters. … Steve’s been here 10 years, he’s one of the greatest coaches to ever coach in the NBA. I think we will work out a deal with him. He’s a very fair human being. We’ve never underpaid people. We always pay people well. We’re fair. We have to do what’s good overall for business, obviously. … I think he does want to stay coaching the team in the future. And we want him here, to be very clear. We think he’s a great coach.

“Everyone criticizes Steve for player development, you know, ‘He doesn’t let players develop’ and this and that. Maybe there’s some truth to that in the past. You can’t say that this year. For whatever reasons, we’ve got a whole bunch of young talent that is performing very well. We’ve got a bench that’s performing very well. Steve gets credit for that. …

“I think we’ll have a contract done with Steve pretty soon. … He’s been very busy. He’s coaching this team and we’ve had issues and he’s had to focus on that. We all get that. He’s a very honorable man, and I respect him greatly. We’re going to try to get something done that he will be very happy with and that we can be happy with as well. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. I don’t think anybody else is going to have Steve Kerr as their coach.”

• Finally, since baseball fans always want to hear if Lacob is any closer to his stated general interest in buying the A’s and keeping them in Oakland if John Fisher would ever want to sell, and since the A’s announced move to Las Vegas seems to have hit some major snags, I asked if Lacob has had any recent talks with Fisher about a purchase.

“I’ve not checked in recently,” Lacob said. “It’s his team. If he decides he wants to sell, he knows who to call, that’s all I’ll say. We might be interested, obviously. We’ve said we were interested in the past. But I don’t think he’s doing that. I think he’s very committed to continue to own the franchise. Looks like he’s committed to Las Vegas.

“We’re always there. But I’m not calling anybody, it’s his team. I want to stay out of the way. We’ll cross that bridge if it or another team comes available.”



Andrew Wiggins is staying with the Warriors, now he has to back it up

(Photo of Joe Lacob at a November press conference announcing the Warriors as hosts of the 2025 NBA All-Star Game: Robert Edwards / USA Today)

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