THE SERIES OF deals that helped the Golden State Warriors prolong their run atop the NBA — a thread that goes back to Kevin Durant and spins forward indefinitely — began with what promised to be an uncomfortable exit interview.
Days after a crushing NBA Finals defeat that seemed to bury the Warriors dynasty under the weight of injuries, Bob Myers, the team’s president of basketball operations, sat down with Andre Iguodala.
Myers looked at Iguodala and delivered a hard truth: “We might have to trade you,” Myers says.
As any diligent organization would, the Warriors after the 2019 Finals were bracing for Durant’s potential departure in free agency — perhaps to the New York Knicks or Brooklyn Nets. In internal spitballing sessions, they batted out sign-and-trade options, hoping to convert Durant’s roster spot — in the event he left — into a youngish veteran who might help them transition eras.
They prepared as quietly as they could. They wanted Durant to stay. The Knicks had nothing of interest. The plucky Nets, though, they had an outgoing free agent with some upside: D’Angelo Russell. If Durant left, maybe the Warriors could convince him — and the Nets, and Russell, and Russell’s agents — to agree to a double sign-and-trade deal?
That would subject the Warriors to a hard cap, forcing them to dump a big contract: Iguodala’s. In the exit interview, Myers braced for Iguodala’s reaction.
“I remember him looking at me like, ‘I understand,'” Myers recalls. “He wasn’t like, ‘Screw you.’ He was as professional as you can get. He’s so smart, he wasn’t shocked by it.”
As ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported, Myers met with Durant and Rich Kleiman, Durant’s business partner, after Durant had made his decision in the early hours of free agency to try to persuade them on the double sign-and-trade. Durant and Myers are close. As Shelburne reported, Durant did not love the idea of getting traded. The Nets had no incentive to help the Warriors; they could have signed Durant outright. But Myers emphasized how a double sign-and-trade arrangement could help both franchises; Durant could leave behind a player, and the Nets could get an extra draft pick for their troubles.
They eventually agreed on a double sign-and-trade deal that sent a top-20 protected first-round pick in 2020 to Brooklyn. The Warriors sank so far the next season, the pick never conveyed; the Nets will instead receive a 2025 second-rounder.
When news of the potential deal broke, Russell and one of his agents were on a helicopter ride above Los Angeles with Gersson Rosas — then the Minnesota Timberwolves president of basketball operations — as part of the Wolves wooing of Russell. Wolves brass suspected the Warriors were closing in on something with Russell, sources say. They wanted to go through the full recruitment anyway, knowing the Warriors might flip Russell later, sources say.
Rosas had left a car for Aaron Mintz, one of Russell’s main agents, at the L.A. headquarters of Creative Artists Agency, sources say. The car was something of a test: If Mintz showed for the chopper tour, the Wolves were in the game. Mintz didn’t show, though he had other free agency meetings that day, sources say.
Steve Kerr, the Warriors coach, was vacationing in Hawaii as Golden State searched out teams with space to take on Iguodala’s contract. Kerr was only checking his phone occasionally. When Myers struck a deal with the Memphis Grizzlies, he called Kerr. No answer. Myers had to execute.
When Kerr retrieved his phone, he saw a text from Myers explaining the trade — which sent Iguodala and a top-four protected 2024 first-round pick to Memphis.
“I was crushed,” Kerr says. “Like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe we are losing part of our soul.'”
Kerr called Iguodala. “He said something like, ‘Sorry, coach, I’m not surprised,'” Kerr remembers. “He probably knew it was coming before I did.”
Notifying Kerr was not Myers’ toughest post-trade conversation. “The harder one was when I called [Stephen Curry],” Myers says. “They are friends. Steph knows what Andre means to the team. There’s a respect level. You see how much Andre supports Steph publicly and privately. Steph knows that.”
Curry digested the news as Myers spoke.
“Steph is never demanding,” Myers says. “He wants to understand, and he deserves that. I had to explain, we need to give ourselves options, and if we don’t do this, we don’t have many. I had been with Steph for seven or eight years, so there’s trust.”
The Warriors knew Russell might prove an awkward fit alongside Curry and within the Warriors’ motion offense. Could the Warriors survive on defense with the Russell-Curry-Klay Thompson trio once Thompson returned from a torn ACL?
The safer route might have been letting Durant walk; keeping Iguodala and both first-round picks that went out; and filling out the roster with the midlevel exception. Golden State examined that path and asked one hard question, sources say: How does it get us an impact player who might be ready to help Curry, Thompson, and Draymond Green soon?
Russell might not have been that player, but he was 23 and rising. With Thompson out, the Warriors needed a veteran to soak up minutes. Minnesota’s interest in Russell would not dry up. Golden State believed the Knicks might have interest too, sources say.
“That [Iguodala] trade was a great example of why the coach should not be the general manager,” Kerr says. “If I had been in charge, I wouldn’t have done the deal, and we wouldn’t be sitting here with Andrew Wiggins and [Jonathan] Kuminga.”
THE RUSSELL-TO-MINNESOTA rumblings never ceased after the Warriors dealt for Russell.
“The rumors were around, almost even in that summer [of 2019],” Wiggins recalls. “I was prepared for anything.”
Curry broke his hand in the Warriors’ third game of the 2019-20 season, joining Thompson on the injury list. Golden State was 5-24 as Christmas approached. After a 3-0 start that resulted in some premature braggadocio on social media, the Wolves fell apart — entering January with a record of 12-20.
Internally, they began to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns growing discontented, sources say. Towns had several years left on his contract, but superstars were leveraging exits earlier and earlier. In five seasons, Towns and Wiggins had accomplished little at the team level — aside from the 74-game Jimmy Butler experience that produced one playoff win and ended in melodrama so fiery, it inspired an entire “Game of Zones” episode. Towns and Russell were close friends with open interest in playing together.
The Wolves had tried everything to reach Wiggins — to tap into the intensity that seemed only to run hot when Wiggins faced a team that had traded him. Tensions burst on Jan. 22 at the Chicago Bulls. The Wolves had allowed players to bring spouses and girlfriends on the road trip, an unusual concession for which Wiggins (among others) had pushed, sources say. Maybe, the Wolves hoped, family would inspire him.
At halftime, Wiggins was 1-of-4 with four turnovers. Ryan Saunders, then the Wolves coach and a fervent backer of Wiggins, screamed at Wiggins in the locker room.
“I don’t even remember what he said,” Wiggins recalls now. “But he’s still my guy.”
Saunders was so intense, he began feeling chest pains, sources say. Team doctors examined him for potential cardiac issues. They concluded Saunders had pulled a muscle in his chest yelling at Wiggins, sources say. Team officials like to say Saunders loves Wiggins so much, berating him almost broke his heart. (Wiggins had 22 points in the second half. He and Saunders remain close.)
By then, the Wolves and Warriors were deep into on-again, off-again negotiations over a potential Wiggins-Russell deal. Some within Golden State’s brain trust would have done the deal straight up; some wanted picks as compensation given the tepid market for Wiggins and the Wolves’ apparent lust for Russell; a few were wary of Wiggins’ contract, sources say.
“There were months of conversations,” Myers says. “Probably as much as any trade I’ve ever done.”
Wiggins’ agents pressed Myers behind the scenes, sources say: Were the Warriors interested in Wiggins as a player, or was he salary fodder for the next trade? (Russell and Wiggins are both represented by Creative Artists Agency.) Myers insisted they liked Wiggins.
Kerr was among those intrigued.
“The biggest thing was not our offense; it was our defense,” Kerr says. In Durant, Iguodala, Thompson, and Shaun Livingston, Golden State had lost all its rangy wing defenders. “We desperately needed length and athleticism on the wing. For me, it wasn’t so much about how [Wiggins] might fit the way we play. It was, ‘Man we need a body like that.'”
The Warriors initially asked Minnesota for two unprotected first-round picks and two second-rounders, sources say. Rosas grew so incensed by what he viewed as overaggressive demands, he briefly cut off talks, sources say. Myers stepped in and relented on the first-rounders: One would be enough, provided it was unprotected. With the trade deadline about four days away, Myers indicated the Warriors would settle for a top-one protected first-rounder.
Rosas said no. About two days passed, sources say. The night before the deadline, Myers called Rosas and asked for the most Minnesota might concede on pick protections. Rosas suggested a pick protected around the top seven, eight, or nine selections, sources say.
“I went to bed thinking we were not going to get a deal done,” Myers says. “Deals die over picks all the time.”
On deadline morning, the two sides hashed out final terms: Minnesota would send a top-three protected pick in the 2021 draft — the pick that became Kuminga. Since the pick was not unprotected, the Warriors also asked for a 2021 second-rounder that ended up No. 36. Minnesota agreed. Golden State included Omari Spellman and Jacob Evans to duck the luxury tax; the Wolves ended the year a hair over the tax. Jordan Poole, then a struggling rookie, does not appear to have factored into that fringe salary conversation, sources say.
AFTER SOME EARLY hiccups, Wiggins has been about as advertised on defense. He has done a serviceable job on Jayson Tatum in the NBA Finals so far, and his work on Luka Doncic was a swing factor in the Western Conference finals. Wiggins has amped up his rebounding in the postseason on both ends.
The fit on offense took longer, in part because Curry and Thompson were hurt during Wiggins’ first few months with the team.
“Like most guys, it took him a couple of months to feel comfortable with all the off-ball movement,” Kerr says.
Wiggins agrees. “In this system, you have to move a lot,” he says. “A lot of the positions are almost interchangeable.”
The Warriors asked Wiggins to jack more 3s. Wiggins has obliged, hitting 38% from deep as a Warrior. “Same shot, just more reps,” Wiggins insists.
Wiggins also can manufacture buckets one-on-one when the Warriors’ beautiful game runs into roadblocks. He’s not Durant, obviously, but even the Warriors need that kind of self-creation against elite playoff defenses.
Is Wiggins a better player than he was in Minnesota or is he the same player in a better situation? He averaged 17 points this season, and he’s at 15.8 in the playoffs; it’s not as if he has exploded. His 2-point shooting is the same as ever. He has fallen off at the line. He’s still an average (at best) passer for his position.
Wiggins has always been an underrated cutter, a skill the Warriors’ system amplifies in everyone around Curry and Green — and one that has been handy in this series when Boston stashes its centers on Wiggins. He has also won respect for his durability.
The “is Wiggins actually better?” debate isn’t relevant to the Warriors — yet. They have Curry, Green, and Thompson in their primes; Wiggins is doing what Golden State needs in that context well enough that it is three wins from the title.
Wiggins’ play and the Warriors reaching this level again has probably changed Golden State’s medium-term calculus. Lots of rival executives have long assumed Golden State would let Wiggins’ deal expire after next season; it would be too expensive even for this money-printing juggernaut to pay Curry, Thompson, Green, Poole, and Wiggins big-money contracts, and wasn’t the point of Kuminga and Moses Moody to step into the Wiggins role — only on rookie-scale contracts?
Golden State letting Wiggins walk for nothing always seemed slightly dubious given its tendency to recycle big-salary roster spots. Now the Warriors might be too good — and Wiggins too good in his role — for them to go that route.
Poole is up for an extension this summer. Deals for Thompson and Green expire after the 2023-24 season, though Green could opt out a year earlier. Factoring in realistic sub-max estimates for those five players — plus Gary Payton II and Kevon Looney — Golden State’s payroll could hit the $475 million mark, including luxury tax penalties, per an analysis from ESPN’s Bobby Marks. That is unprecedented. (The Payton/Looney deals are not trivial. Given tax implications, the difference between realistic deals for them and minimum contracts might amount to $50 million, per Marks.)
Depending on the team’s appetite for that kind of spending, it could raise uncomfortable questions: Do the Warriors have to choose between Wiggins and Poole? Or even worse: Does the choice become two among Wiggins, Green, and Thompson? The Warriors are paying a league-record $346 million in salary and tax this season, and rivals are already grumbling about Golden State’s competitive spending advantage, sources say. (Tens of millions in Golden State money gets spread to those teams via revenue-sharing and payouts to teams who don’t pay the tax.)
Officials from several teams — both front-office executives and team governors — have in the last few years proposed tweaks to the tax system that might provide some relief on specific contracts tied to homegrown players. (They are similar to some I theorized about in 2018: Maybe some third and fourth contracts to players a team drafted only count a certain percentage for tax purposes? Or perhaps such tax discounts only apply to maximum contracts late in a player’s career?) Depending on specifics, such proposals — should they ever be enacted — might not even help Golden State.
It’s unclear whether Joe Lacob, Golden State’s governor, has been among the loudest voices pitching such ideas, but common sense suggests he’d favor them. It’s hard to imagine Thompson or Green in another uniform.
Wiggins might not be able to stick to this supporting role forever, either. Curry will get older and slow down someday. Can Wiggins assume a larger load if Kuminga, Moody, and James Wiseman (remember him?) aren’t ready in time?
Next season will be telling. The Denver Nuggets and LA Clippers are coming for the throne. The Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns, and Dallas Mavericks aren’t budging. The Los Angeles Lakers still have LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Wolves are rising, and the Utah Jazz want to remain competitive. How do the Warriors fare if the West is healthier, deeper?
But that’s next season. The Warriors are focused on Boston — on adding another ring. Wiggins isn’t their best or most important player, but they would not be here without him.
“He’s in a completely different role here,” Kerr says, “and it’s been a perfect fit.”