As of late, the Golden State Warriors have started winning more games, but at the start of the year, they were struggling to put things together. Their bench is a big-time issue, as it ranks as one of the worst second units in the league.
They let a few players go this summer, and their current bench players haven’t lived up to expectations, but according to sources who spoke to Sean Deveney of Heavy Sports, the one move the team was most upset about was the loss of Gary Payton II.
“If there is anything that the guys on that team, around that team, are upset with, it is letting Payton go, letting him get paid somewhere else like he did,” a Western Conference executive told Deveney. “Everyone understands that with the [luxury] tax, it was really tough to bring him back, but they could have kept him and let [Kevon] Looney walk because, in theory, it would be easier to replace a big guy.”
Payton signed a three-year, $28 million contract with the Portland Trail Blazers this summer. He was a crucial part of Golden State’s success during their championship season, working his way up the totem pole, eventually appearing in 71 games.
So far this season, Payton has been unable to play in any games for Portland. He underwent offseason surgery to “address a core muscle” issue. While he still hasn’t been cleared to return to play, Payton was “cleared to increase conditioning and on court activity” at the beginning of the month.
Warriors Wanted Looney Back
It may have been a bit easier for the Warriors to replace Looney, as adding extra big man depth would have been simpler than finding another defensive-minded guard, but the team has a deep respect for Looney.
The executive said that the entire team wanted to keep him around, making it an easy choice for Golden State.
“Looney means a lot in that locker room, and it is tricky playing center for the Warriors, so they felt they had to keep him,” the executive said. “But losing Payton has really hurt that bench.”
Last year, Looney was an integral part of the Warriors’ playoff run, and he played in every single regular-season and playoff game. This year, he’s putting up solid numbers once again.
The 26-year-old center has appeared in all 21 of the Warriors’ games so far this season, playing 22.9 minutes per game. He’s averaging 6.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.1 assists on 64.4% shooting from the field.
Warriors Experimenting With Bench
Looney has been a great piece for the Warriors, but he’s a starter. Payton was a part of the bench unit. Head coach Steve Kerr has been experimenting with the bench all year, and his latest idea is to place Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins with the bench late in games.
“That reality has sent coach Steve Kerr searching for the past month, rearranging second-unit combinations on a regular basis,” Anthony Slater wrote for The Athletic. “This past week — culminating in the 124-107 blowout of the Clippers on Wednesday night — it seems Kerr has finally landed on a strategy with lasting potential. Draymond Green is now the conductor of a second unit that also includes the scorching Andrew Wiggins, shooting a career high from the field (50.6 percent) and from 3 (43.4 percent).”
With Payton gone, as well as guys like Otto Porter Jr. and Nemanja Bjelica, the Warriors have been figuring things out on the fly when it comes to the bench