Warriors get: Forward Jason Thompson
This is the second in a series of trades that has saved major money for the Warriors with limited on-court implications. Earlier this month, Golden State traded David Lee to the Boston Celtics for Wallace, who will make about $5.4 million less this season. Now, the Warriors have traded down in salary again, ultimately going from Lee's $15.5 million salary to $7.0 million for Thompson.
Since Golden State is in the luxury tax, the actual savings to the team are many multiples the difference in salary. I estimate that the Warriors shaved their tax bill from $42.6 million with Lee (assuming they fill their 15th roster spot with a player making the veteran's minimum) to $18.5 million with Thompson, a $24 million difference. Add in the actual salary and we're talking $32.5 million in payroll savings -- about $12 million of that specifically attributable to this trade.
Remarkably, Golden State managed to shed that much payroll without giving up almost anything in the way of draft assets. Swapping Lee for Wallace didn't cost anything at all, and this deal required merely swapping rights on this year's first-round pick -- something that's unlikely to cost the Warriors much more than a pick or two, if that. Golden State also paid $1 million in cash as part of this trade, per a source familiar with the deal, a small amount relative to the total savings.
What makes this particular trade so good is the Warriors also appear to have gotten a better fit on the court. While Wallace was unlikely to contribute after playing just 286 minutes for the Celtics last season, Thompson could be useful replacing Lee as a backup big man. While Thompson has been a low-percentage scorer given his small role in the Sacramento Kings' offense, the Kings were better defensively with him on the floor. He's dramatically overpaid, but Thompson is overqualified for the role of fifth big man and provides insurance in case of injuries.
The one downside for Golden State here is that Thompson's contract, unlike those of Lee and Wallace, extends beyond this season. He's guaranteed $2.8 million of his $7.0 million salary for 2016-17. Fortunately for the Warriors, assuming they re-sign Harrison Barnes, they're likely to be in the sweet spot between the salary cap and the luxury tax where they don't have to count dollars, and the guaranteed portion of Thompson's contract would be a small price to pay for their savings while in the tax this year.
Given how well Golden State made out here financially, I'm a bit surprised the Sixers were unable to drive a harder bargain. While there's a reasonable chance that the Thunder or Heat end up with a better record than the Warriors next season, enabling Philadelphia to swap up, it's unlikely the Sixers improved that pick more than a couple of spots.
Of course, Philadelphia might not need a lot of incentive to add payroll. The Sixers still stand around $15 million under the salary cap, and will have to spend something like $8 million to reach the salary floor. So making a move like this doesn't prevent Philadelphia from taking on further bad contracts down the road. And the Sixers may have put more value on 2016-17 cap room, meaning that shedding Thompson's guaranteed money was a win for them. Philadelphia additionally could simply waive Wallace, clearing what might be the scarcest resource for Sam Hinkie right now -- roster spots.
So there are multiple reasons to believe the Sixers are better off for having made this trade. The question is simply whether Philadelphia might have been able to get something more in return.