Say Anything: the Warriors and Kelly Oubre belong together long-term, but can it work?
An intriguing player that fits in well - and sadly, that's exactly why Golden State may not hang on to him
In the ‘80’s classic, Say Anything, the most memorable scene is the closing moment when Lloyd Dobler stands outside the house of his love and silently holds up his boom box.
His face blank, and yet somehow hopeful and resigned at the same time, holds the look of a man who knows what he wants, but will accept whatever fate hands him. It’s a scene that has become symbolic of taking one last shot. There’s something there, and you know that it’s worth hanging on to. As film critic Roger Ebert describes it:
The romance between Diane and Lloyd is intelligent and filled with that special curiosity that happens when two young people find each other not only attractive but interesting - when they sense they might actually be able to learn something useful from the other person.
For Oubre and Golden State, there’s a mutual benefit. The Warriors invested heavily to bring Oubre on board, with an eye for a role this season, and perhaps beyond. Or maybe they’ll trade him. It’s all very uncertain, and that’s part of the charm.
Mostly though, there’s an undeniable fit. The Warriors really need an athletic wing that isn’t on a max contract, but also isn’t a total tire fire - that’s Oubre, in all his beautiful glory. He’s said that he’d ‘really love to make this a home’ so all the Warriors need to do is reach out one more time.
Once in a lifetime
The investment in Oubre goes beyond just this one year. It’s an important audition to test the relationship before the Warriors lean in even more heavily on the intriguing, long-armed slasher. Because Oubre came to Golden State with his Bird Rights, the Warriors could re-sign him next offseason - a valuable tool to the cap-constrained team.
It’s very Byzantine, but the bottom line is that the Warriors have four players consuming 75% of the team’s cap room, which means they have a lot of roster spots to cover, and not enough money to fill those spots with good free agents, barring trades or whatever. It’s the ‘whatever’ that allowed Golden State to add Oubre via the Traded Player Exception (TPE) - a contract vehicle so expensive that the team was unlikely to use it, had Klay Thompson been healthy.
Because of the Warriors’ salary cap situation, this new signing came with a hefty price tag: 68 million dollars of extra luxury tax. Combined with Oubre’s $14.4 million base salary, the signing cost upwards of $82 million. For a single season.
According to Patrick Murray, the added cost pushed the Warriors’ total cost of player salaries and taxes to around $300 million. That’s at least $100 million more than the Warriors have spent on player salaries and luxury taxes at any point prior.
It was, despite his early protestations to the contrary, weighing on Oubre’s mind.
“When I first got here, to the Warriors, I was feeding into all the pressure of the salary-cap stuff, the contract year. You know, the new team that I would really love to make this a home for me in the future.
"I was kind of putting too much pressure onto myself.”
Like a relationship, trying too hard in basketball is one of the best ways to ensure failure. And sure enough, Oubre was mostly a disaster in the beginning of the season. Over the course of the first two months of the season, he averaged 12 points while shooting an abysmal 22.8 percent from beyond the arc.
Since then though, Oubre has emerged as one of the few reliable tools in the Warriors’ mostly barren tool box. He’s the Warriors third leading scorer (15.4 points per game), third in steals, and fourth on the team in both rebounds and blocks per game. Not only is Oubre important now, as the team fights tooth and nail for their playoff lives, but moving forward.
But can this last?
Oubre represents one of the very few opportunities the Warriors have to add an established talent next season. Not the only path, but one of a select few, barring trades.
Because of those Bird Rights that Oubre holds, the Warriors are allowed to pay him whatever they want next season. And this is where the duality of Oubre’s situation comes into focus.
The better Oubre plays for the Warriors this season, the higher his asking price in the upcoming offseason will be; and on the flip side, the path to an affordable Oubre next season means he probably mostly sucked this season. The ideal fan outcome, of course, is maximum Oubre. Be awesome, run up your cost, and get paid, sir!
He fits in so well as a Klay Thompson fill in (minus the shooting) that it’s not hard to imagine Oubre finding a home here in Golden State.
Even more immediate than next offseason though, Oubre may play a large role in the Warriors current free agent hunt. He’s a near prototypical wing player in the modern NBA, quick on his feet, with solid defensive chops, and a mental toughness that keeps him in the game whether his shot is falling or not, so Oubre has market value.
And it’s not that the Warriors want out from Oubre - if anything, it’s the opposite - but take a gander at the Warriors salary structure and let me know who on this list gets traded for a roster upgrade?
This is the conundrum that Bob Myers recently called a “balancing act as far as what makes sense now, but doesn't hamper us in the future.” As much as everyone would like the Warriors to bring in an upgrade somewhere to help alleviate some of Curry’s burden, it’s not clear where the capital comes from to swing a returning talent that would directly lead to a meaningful increase in wins.
Oubre is the most fungible asset, but he’s also one that the team is far from eager to part with.
Kelly Oubre knew how much the Golden State Warriors were paying for his services. One of the best available wings on the market, the Warriors needed Oubre (or someone very much like him) as soon as Klay Thompson crumpled to the floor of an LA practice court.
Now, the Warriors are stuck in a mire of a playoff chase and Oubre has emerged as one of the most important supporting players this year. Do well, and the Warriors will be lucky to have him back - if they can afford him. The future of Oubre and the Warriors is very much up in the air, but the fit appears to be worth hanging on to… if both sides can make it work.