Golden State Warriors v Sacramento Kings
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The Golden State Warriors paid roughly $350 million in combined player salaries and luxury taxes last season. That figure is projected to be even higher this season. Those numbers represent, by far, the most expensive rosters in NBA history. Warriors management has willingly paid those enormous tax bills for the sake of fielding championship-caliber rosters, but last season, Golden State was eliminated in the second round of the postseason. This season? They are just 26-26 through 52 games.

The Warriors are still in win-now mode, but ownership is hoping to do so on a somewhat more affordable budget next season. Most fans have assumed, at the very least, that the team would try to find a way beneath the new second apron before penalties for exceeding it start to kick in next season. Warriors governor Joe Lacob appeared on The TK Show with The Athletic's Tim Kawakami, and he indicated that while nothing is set in stone, he'd like to go even further. In a perfect world, Golden State would duck the luxury tax entirely next season.

"Our Plan 1, or 1A, is that we'd like to be out of the tax, and we think that we have a way to do that," Lacob explained. "That kind of is the plan, not just under the second apron. I'll tell you why that's important because the truth is, we need to be out of the tax two years out of the next four 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. So, that's the plan, is to try to do that, and we think we can keep our team together and retain even the players that are, we might be able to bring players back at different numbers and so on."

Next year's projected tax line currently sits at $172 million. As of today, the Warriors have roughly $137 million committed to eight players for next season. Klay Thompson or Chris Paul is not among those players, and that figure only accounts for the $3 million guaranteed portion of Kevon Looney's $8 million salary. This essentially means that if the Warriors want to stay under the tax entirely for next season, they'd have around $35 million to potentially bring back Thompson, Paul, and Looney and fill out the rest of the roster.

Is that possible? Well, it depends on how badly they want those players back. Thompson has indicated he is open to a smaller role, and that would inevitably come with a smaller contract. It seems likely that rookie Brandin Podziemski will eventually supplant him as Golden State's starting shooting guard. Paul's future is a bit less certain. He technically has a $30 million salary slated for next season, but it isn't guaranteed. He doesn't have Thompson's lengthy history with the team and might prefer to play in a different market or for more money elsewhere. Further complicating matters in a longer-term sense is the strong recent play of Jonathan Kuminga. He becomes extension-eligible over the summer, and while he will still have a low cap figure next season thanks to his rookie deal, he'll certainly get a hefty raise that kicks in for the 2025-26 season.

There are tangible, on-court reasons to avoid the second apron. Starting next season, being above that line comes with tangible roster-building repercussions. Those teams will not have a taxpayer mid-level exception available. They won't be able to aggregate salary in trades. Most dauntingly, they'll have first-round picks seven years out frozen for trade purposes. Stay above the second apron long enough, and those picks get locked at the end of the first round. No team wants to stay above that line for long. But the repeater tax hit only relates to team finances. That doesn't mean the Warriors should blindly pay it, as repeater tax rates will rise significantly in this new CBA, but the immediate priority is that second apron line.

In that interview with Kawakami, Lacob also made it clear that while the goal is to get below the tax, it's not one he is firmly committed to. 

"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," Lacob said. "If this team were to slide all the way down here 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."

Predicting Golden State's future right now feels almost impossible. This is a .500 team that is shifting more and more responsibility onto its young players... yet it also tried to trade for LeBron James before the deadline. The Warriors are getting pulled in a number of directions. The goal is to retain a winner around Stephen Curry, but there's no surefire path to doing so. The Warriors will see how this season pans out, and once they have a clearer idea of what their future looks like, they'll decide how best to proceed moving forward.