Payton, Porter and Looney say they want to stay. Can the Warriors keep their big free agents?

SAN FRANCISCO — The champagne buzz is still wearing off from the party in Boston and a parade is planned in San Francisco Monday to celebrate the Warriors’ fourth NBA title in eight years. But the Warriors have one eye looking forward to free agency that starts July 1.

This championship proved that, even with the core in their mid-30s, the contention window is still wide open. Pressure is on the front office to keep the roster well-equipped to run it back in 2023 and beyond.

Nine Warriors will be free agents, seven unrestricted: Gary Payton II, Andre Iguodala, Kevon Looney, Otto Porter Jr., Nemanja Bjelica, Damion Lee and Chris Chiozza are free agents. Juan Toscano-Anderson and Quinndary Weatherspoon are restricted free agents.

With Golden State boasting the league’s highest payroll, will ownership and management be willing to spend to keep the team mostly intact? Or will they lean on some of their cheaper lottery picks to cut down on the luxury tax spending?

For the 2021 season, the Warriors held a $178 million payroll pre-tax and $170 million in luxury tax payments, totaling over $346 million in payroll. They’ve led the NBA in spending in four of the last five seasons. So trends tell us Warriors owner Joe Lacob won’t shy away from spending big again. With existing contracts, the Warriors have $171 million on the books pre-tax. By their own standard, there’s room to spend.

Payton, Looney and Porter in particular were key to the Warriors’ success this season and voiced their desire to stay in Golden State.

“I always want to be back here,” said Looney, the Warriors’ 2015 first-round pick. “I want to come back and try to defend what we just won and be a part of something special again.”

The Warriors own Looney’s Bird rights, which means they have no limitations on what they can offer him. After playing all 104 games this year, regular season and playoffs included, Looney evolved as one of the team’s most valuable players and their only true center with James Wiseman sidelined injured.

The Warriors also own Payton’s early-Bird rights, which means the Warriors can offer Payton up to 105 percent of this season’s league average salary. That would be just over $10 million. Payton said he would “absolutely” love to come back to the Warriors next season, but the longtime journeyman who bounced between six G-League teams and four NBA teams is looking for a multi-year deal.

“I get to choose this time, I think so it’ll be interesting,” Payton said. “Looking forward to it though.”

Plenty of teams will be interested in Payton for his ability to defend wings despite his 6-foot-3 height, but the Warriors may feel the need to keep and pay their discovery.

Porter signed a one-year deal on a veteran minimum contract and shined, his 3-point shooting spacing the floor with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Porter’s non-Bird rights for this free agency period means the Warriors can’t offer him much. But they could offer him the luxury tax-payer mid-level exception, which could be worth $6 million.

Porter, whose career has been mired by injuries, may be willing to sign on for that.

“I do know that this team can compete again for another championship and it would be a great opportunity if I could stay here,” Porter said. “It would be amazing to be here with that group of guys again and do it all over again.”

Iguodala, 38, has yet to announce if he will retire from the league or give another season. He missed the majority of the playoffs and portions of the regular season dealing with a multitude of injuries, but his presence on the sideline was invaluable.

But if the Warriors decide to extend Andrew Wiggins or Jordan Poole — or both — there may be other money to consider flooding the books and squeezing one, if not all, of the more expensive free agent prospects out of the frame.

Plus, the Warriors could just pivot their spending habit and lean into their lottery picks. Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody can theoretically step into Porter and Payton’s roles and Wiseman can take over for Looney at a much cheaper rate.

The Warriors are not afraid to spend big, but plenty of factors may not guarantee the title team will all return.

Contributed by local news sources

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