The Golden State Warriors are not all-in on winning basketball games.
That’s a statement worth qualifying, as the Warriors have committed a lot of resources and spent a lot of money in recent years to continue competing at a high level. This summer was no different, with the Warriors trading Jordan Poole not for salary relief but for an expensive veteran in Chris Paul who can help them to win this season.
The Warriors have one of the most expensive payrolls in the league and have been living in the luxury tax for the past few seasons. Owner Joe Lacob deserves some recognition for greenlighting such an expensive team. This season the Warriors are roughly $41 million over the luxury tax line and will incur a bill of $188.16 million or so on top of the $207.24 million payroll that they have. This is not a team that has limited itself in the big picture by financial concerns.
Under the surface, however, this is a franchise that is also pinching pennies. They took advantage of a new wrinkle in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) to go into the season with just 13 players under contract, something that they could do for up to 14 days in a row before filling that 14th roster spot (they can do it for another 14 days later in the season).
The Golden State Warriors are trying to save money
Rather than have another player on the roster, therefore, the Warriors saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by going into the season with just 13 players. It’s possible to spin that fact as the front office and coaching staff have a lot of confidence in the 13 players they did have, and that’s certainly true, but at its heart that was a move to save money.
With that 14-day window drawing to a close, the Warriors needed to sign a 14th player. We theorized here that they could bring back one of the veterans they had in Training Camp, be that Rudy Gay or Rodney McGruder, or they could sign a veteran in free agency, with Danny Green being a particularly interesting option.
The Warriors went a different route, signing former second-round pick Gui Santos to a partially guaranteed contract, with $75k of that deal guaranteed and two more non-guaranteed seasons tacked on.
The 55th pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, Santos is a 6’8″ forward from Brazil who spent last season playing with the Santa Cruz Warriors. He averaged 12.7 points, six rebounds and 2.2 assists per game in the G League last season, solid but certainly not eye-popping numbers.
Why did the Warriors sign Santos? It certainly wasn’t for him to help this season. He is both young and has a long way to go before he is ready to contribute to a winning basketball team. He shot decently well at Summer League this past July, but this isn’t a player like Trayce Jackson-Davis with something to offer in his first season.
The plan heading into the season seemed to be for the Warriors to hold onto Santos’ rights, let him play in the G League again and develop his skills, then look at potentially signing him next year to a two-way contract. Why then did the Warriors sign Santos to a full deal?
The answer is to save money. The new CBA added a “second-round pick exception” that allows a team to sign its own second-round picks to a contract that is both longer than a veteran minimum deal and costs the Warriors less against the luxury tax. Because they had previously drafted Santos in the second round he was grandfathered into this new exception, and the Warriors could sign him for less money than they would have spent signing Danny Green or Rudy Gay.
Dan Feldman of Dunc’d On noted that if the Warriors keep Santos all season the team would save $6,414,812 relative to signing a minimum-salary free agent for the same length of time. That’s the cost of signing a player who could theoretically step in and help if the Warriors are injured or need a spark.
That doesn’t even include the possibility of the Warriors waiving Santos later in the season (due to his light guarantee), allowing him to go back to Santa Cruz. They could ride another 14 days without a 14th player, then re-sign Santos (assuming he clears waivers, which he likely will).
Now, it may seem on the surface like no big deal here. The Warriors have 13 players they are comfortable playing, so the odds of them needing to play their 14th man seem low. The odds of a player signed to a minimum deal two weeks into the season being one who would significantly help the Warriors also seem low.
Yet it was only last year that the Warriors, wracked by injuries to multiple key players, had to lean on two-way players like Ty Jerome and Anthony Lamb just to make it through the season. This is a veteran core that has dealt with injuries and absences over the past few seasons, and it’s not out of the question they have to deal with them again this year. If that happens, the Warriors won’t be turning to Gui Santos to step up.
If the Warriors wanted to maximize their chances of winning every game, of getting the best possible seeding and being set up for the best postseason success, they would be taking advantage of every team-building tool at their disposal. Instead, they are putting smart minds to work on how to save Joe Lacob every possible dollar. While spending big in the grand scheme, they are also working hard to save money in the small scheme. They have a garage full of luxury vehicles and are cutting out coupons from the newspaper.
It may not end up mattering to the Warriors’ chances this season that they wasted the 14th spot on a player who won’t help them win this season. It’s also theoretically possible that Santos develops quickly and becomes a key contributor sooner rather than later.
Let’s just agree to tell it like it is. The Golden State Warriors signed Gui Santos to a contract in order to save their owner a few million dollars. That doesn’t make Lacob a bad owner, Mike Dunleavy a bad GM, or Santos a bad player. But for a team purporting to be all-in on pursuing another title with Stephen Curry, this was a move that prioritized savings over winning.