Kawakami Mailbag, Part 2: Why the Warriors called about LeBron James, the big problem with the Giants

Let’s get right to Part 2 of my regular February mailbag after Part 1 focused solely on 49ers issues and posted earlier this week.

This part encompasses the Warriors, Giants and other topics. As always, the questions have been edited for length and clarity, and I tried to pick questions on topics that were raised most frequently.

Why would Golden State inquire on LeBron James in the middle of the year? We know it’s LeBron. But it’s also LEBRON! This feels like someone outside the organization leaked this to create tension within the locker room.Kacy B.

The Warriors call teams all the time and ask about any good player possible; we only hear about a small percentage of those check-ins. As Stephen Curry said when I asked him about the ESPN report on the Warriors and LeBron, you’d be amazed by the names that are mentioned behind closed doors.

Why wouldn’t any team try to find out if LeBron really wanted out and maybe the Lakers would sell low just to be done with this? Turns out LeBron doesn’t want out, but a check-in is relatively harmless. Also, LeBron is quite friendly with Curry these days and obviously has close ties with Draymond Green. Both would’ve had to sign off on anything like this, and I guarantee both did sign off. They want to win a title. Getting LeBron would move the Warriors closer to that.

I partially agree with the assessment that the information got out via somebody outside of the Warriors, but I don’t think the goal was to destabilize the Warriors. I suspect this came from the Lakers’ side as a passive-aggressive “hey, if you really want to go” rejoinder to all the passive-aggressive signals that LeBron is sending out about his unhappiness lately.


LeBron James: ‘Not many’ seasons left in NBA career

What are the odds that the Warriors will try to land LeBron in the offseason and how might that work? Dan M.

I wouldn’t be holding my breath on this. Landing LeBron via free agency next summer is even less likely than any trade chances earlier this week, and we saw what happened at the deadline. Nothing.

The simple answer is that even if the Warriors just let Klay Thompson and Chris Paul walk as free agents and offload Kevon Looney for nothing, they still have no realistic way to get far enough under the cap line to offer LeBron a market-value deal outright. That’s why they called the Lakers at the deadline — they could’ve done it with a trade by using Klay or Paul’s contracts as the focal point, but you can’t really do that once the deals expire in July. They could theoretically try to work a sign-and-trade with Andrew Wiggins’ contract, but why would the Lakers want that?

Practically, the Warriors already have about $140 million committed next season to nine players (Curry, Draymond, Wiggins, Looney, Gary Payton II, Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, Brandin Podziemski, Trayce Jackson-Davis), which is already right at the projected $141 million cap line for 2024-25 and about $30 million under the luxury-tax line. Note: They wouldn’t be able to use the full $12.9 million non-taxpayer midlevel exception because that would take them back into the tax, which is not legal with the MLE.

OK, one last scenario: The Warriors can draft Bronny James and hope LeBron will take a near-minimum salary to play with his son. Seems very unlikely. That’s asking a lot, and some other team might take Bronny, anyway (like, say, the Lakers).

Do you think that Kuminga played so well before the trade deadline to keep himself on the Warriors, or to get himself into a better landing spot via trade? Zack L.

The genius of Steve Kerr is that he can make improvised decisions seem like part of a carefully planned process and make incremental chess moves seem like they’re impulsive. Which one was this? Probably parts of both.

But I don’t think Kuminga was motivated to keep himself from getting traded. He just wanted minutes, however it happened and for whichever team was ready to give them to him. Kuminga got regular minutes once Draymond was out. He played great. He earned a role in the lineup even when Draymond came back. And Kerr adjusted/relented/compromised through the rest of it, like all the great improvisers and/or careful planners do. Just in time.

I’d love to hear your take on how best Kerr and the crew can re-integrate CP3 when he returns. Obviously, Dario Šarić needs unlocking. But there’s a synergy build of late his slow ball might theoretically disrupt. — Sebastian M.

When the Warriors labor through yet another flurry of bad turnovers and blown leads in the fourth quarter, I think: They could use Paul out on the floor. I know many Warriors Fans have never liked CP3 and don’t want him back out there getting 25 or more minutes once he’s ready to return.

But I think Kerr will go back to CP3 closing games, probably over Podziemski and maybe Klay, too, just for the steadiness and because CP3 was actually playing quite well before the hand injury. If it works, Kerr will stick with it. But — again the improviser/planner — if it doesn’t work, I suspect Kerr will be very ready to switch CP3 out for Podziemski, Klay or GP2, depending on the matchup and the flow.

Otherwise, I think CP3 is guaranteed to lead the second unit for the 12-14 minutes that Curry rests and also play a stint or two with Curry. That’ll mean Podziemski’s minutes could get cut a bit, but he’s averaging 32.9 minutes this month. Cutting a 20-year-old rookie back to 26 minutes a game to make room for a Hall of Famer isn’t that big of a deal.

Brandin Podziemski

Warriors rookie Brandin Podziemski’s numbers since Dec. 14, his first NBA start: 30.3 minutes, 11 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. (John Hefti / USA Today)

Can Podziemski be the starting shooting guard for the next few seasons or do the Warriors need to find a bigger guard to play next to Steph?Greg A.

And do you see him as a potential Steph replacement?Kris M.

It’s probably not helpful for Podziemski — or any player — to be loaded down as a Potential Steph Replacement. Let’s stipulate that for now and forever. But yes, I think Podziemski is setting himself up for a long and productive starting career in the NBA. He’s not the ideal defensive wing, especially next to Curry. He could shoot more jumpers. He’s definitely not an above-the-rim player. But Podziemski just does productive stuff all over the court. I’m not sure he’s a 20-point scorer or a point guard or what he is exactly, but I know he already is playing winning basketball. And will only get better.

Do you think there is a sentiment now that the Warriors actually got lucky Bob Myers left? Since he left, they got off Jordan Poole contract, got maybe the steal of the draft, and even got serious in a call to trade for LeBron. — Manhar D.

I think Mike Dunleavy Jr.’s early track record is already quite good and especially good in building up the middle and back end of the Warriors’ roster. The Podziemski selection is an immediate hit, and Dunleavy doubled up on that by moving off of Poole’s contract.

But I wouldn’t knock Myers just to prop up Dunleavy, and Dunleavy wouldn’t want that, either. Different situations, different needs, different expectations. I could point out that Myers was very much involved in or was the key guy in the drafting of Klay, Draymond, Poole and Kuminga and also the acquisitions of Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Andrew Bogut, David West and Kevin Durant. To be sure, Myers had some misses with James Wiseman, Jacob Evans and others, but that’s what happens when you take a lot of swings. Myers really hit on some, he didn’t on others. End result: Four championships in an eight-year period and a continuing roster core that is still holding its own these days.

How much of a loss was Mike Brown’s departure, especially for the defense?Stan H.

I think the Warriors definitely felt Brown’s absence last season. He’s a uniquely talented, charismatic and direct guy who loudly held players accountable for their defense, and they absolutely wanted him to hold each of them accountable. You don’t just plop another coach into that role, even one as accomplished as Kenny Atkinson, and expect the same dynamic.

But just like an NBA assistant coach can only do so much, the loss of one can only affect a team for so long. This is the second season since Brown left to take over the Kings. The Warriors’ staff has plenty of defensive-minded coaches. And so much of this is tied to Draymond, anyway. When he spent much of the first half of the season either unfocused or suspended, the Warriors’ defense was unsurprisingly poor. Now that Draymond is back, the defense is connected again. That isn’t because of any assistant coach. It’s because of Draymond.

What would be best case for the Warriors next year? Is there a realistic path back to contention with a Curry/Green/Kuminga core? Zach H.

My guess is that the Warriors’ leaders are aiming for next season as the last-last-last dance of this era; they want to go as far as possible this season, but they’re probably not quite put together enough to challenge Denver, Minnesota, Oklahoma City and Boston from a likely Play-In positioning. You’ll notice, though, that Curry is still great, that Draymond can still play ferociously without (for now) getting suspended, that Kuminga and Podziemski are their best young players probably since drafting Draymond and Harrison Barnes in 2012, and that they’ll have some roster flexibility next summer.

I think they’re aiming for one more serious run in 2024-25. I don’t think they’ll spend like crazy to do it, but they’ve set up their roster so they don’t have to. And we’ll see.

Steve Kerr

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr’s future remains up in the air, but signs are pointing toward a return. (John Hefti / USA Today)

Is (owner) Joe Lacob ready and willing to make Steve Kerr one of the highest-paid NBA coaches? How much in yearly salary do you think will be Kerr’s next contract?Gerardo G.

It’s tough to argue that Kerr is worth less than the six-year, $78.5 million deal the Pistons gave Monty Williams last offseason. Kerr won’t likely want or get that many years, but he should easily eclipse the $13.1 million average. Easily. And Kerr might not get the $16 million per deal that Gregg Popovich just signed, but possibly both sides can agree the $15 million per that Erik Spoelstra got last month is a solid landing spot for Kerr.

Yes, I think Lacob knows he has to get to that ballpark. I think he will. Shall we guess a new Kerr deal in the next few months for two years, $30 million, with a mutual option for another $20 million in 2026-27?

What’s the deal with Steve Kerr and his contract? With him in his last year, why hasn’t a deal gotten done? Is it possible he won’t be back with the Warriors next year?Marc M.

Two things would’ve had to happen this season, IMO, to trigger a Kerr exit from the Warriors this summer.

One, the Warriors would have to miss the Play-In completely. Two, there would have to be no signs of development from their key young players. And as we sit here in mid-February, while both elements felt pretty shaky less than a month ago when they were 19-24 and Kuminga was in and out of the rotation, the Warriors now are well within the Play-In margin and Kuminga and Podziemski are two players with big “arrow going up” signs.

I think Kerr will sign a new deal with the Warriors. Also, as I always say, Kerr will be the coach for as long as Curry wants him to be the coach. And Curry wants him to be the coach. I mean, just look at this video after Kerr won his 500th game:

In your interview with Lacob he mentioned the plan for the summer would be getting out of the tax penalty entirely while staying competitive. What moves can they make to make that possible? — Max R.

The simplest way for the Warriors to get under the tax line would be to limit next season’s combined salaries for Klay and Paul (or whoever they acquire to replace them) to slightly under $30 million. And that number will be lower if the Warriors don’t move off of Looney’s $8 million deal for next season, which is only guaranteed for $3 million.

No, I don’t think Klay and Paul will agree to deals that will combine to cost less than $30 million next season. So, among the trio of Klay, Looney and CP3, two of those guys are likely to be off of the Warriors’ roster next season or signed to salaries drastically lower than their current ones.

Could Klay sign a Mike Conley-like extension ($11 million per year)?Nick A.

Theoretically, yes, Klay could sign for a salary that is lower than the projected $12.9 million non-taxpayer midlevel exception, which Conley just did. I’m not sure that he would. Especially since the Warriors reportedly had an offer in the two-year, $48 million range on the table in the offseason.

And there are teams with cap space that might be interested in luring Klay away. Would he leave the Warriors for a bigger deal? It’ll depend on how much bigger and what role he sees for himself with the Warriors, I think.

What’s up with Moses Moody? What does he need to do to get rotation minutes, and what is Lester Quiñones bringing that Moody isn’t? Any word on how patient/frustrated Moody is right now?Evelyn B.

And is he frustrated enough to walk after his rookie deal, no matter what the Dubs offer? — Mark B.

Moody isn’t a heart-on-sleeve guy, so it’s not easy to tell how he’s feeling. I’m sure he’s frustrated, especially now that he’s once again totally dialed out of the rotation, which will only get worse once CP3 is back. Moody isn’t a bad player at all, but he got leaped by Kuminga, isn’t as productive as Podziemski, isn’t a specialist like GP2, and doesn’t set up the offense or defend quick guards as well as Quiñones.

I don’t expect any edgy Moody quotes or histrionics during the season. Once the offseason arrives, though, it’d be no surprise if Moody’s representatives ask if they can look around for a trade.

Some of the X-subscribing Warriors fans can be extreme and rude, as journalists like yourself are well aware. Is it similar at the stadium? And do the Warriors players/coaches in general enjoy their relationships with the fan base? I hope we aren’t reviled like some fan bases.Business M.

This is a social-media thing, not a real-human thing. At Chase Center and around town, Warriors fans are mostly cordial and in a good mood. The players and coaches enjoy the live interaction. But the poisonous fan entitlement comes out on social media. And I think it’s that segment of Warriors fandom that is earning a national reputation for some real ugliness.

Jung Hoo Lee

After missing out on Shohei Ohtani in the free-agent market, Farhan Zaidi and the Giants signed Korean star Jung Hoo Lee for $113 million. (Chris Coduto / Getty Images)

What are the Giants doing? It’s hard to see a larger plan or grander vision there.Chris A.

The Giants look like the same team as last year. They are trying to tell us differently. Do you think that means that they will still make another move or trade or let the young guys play more this season?Saul N.

I’ll take a different view of this: The Giants’ repeated failures to land an elite free agent wouldn’t really be a problem if Farhan Zaidi had built up a farm system that was producing a stream of great young talent. I mean, it’s not like the Orioles have been heavy into the free-agent market over the last decade, but I think their fans are quite pleased with things right now. Same for the Diamondbacks, right in the Giants’ division. The Reds, too.

The fundamental problem in the Zaidi era is that he’s built an organization set up to capitalize on a farm system that has yet to actually produce any stars, which has put extra pressure on the free-agent chases; I think we can concede that Zaidi isn’t very good at big free-agent chases. Or just good enough to continue to finish second or third.

Zaidi has, to his credit, avoided the horrendous free-agent deals that screw up other teams for years. He has no Anthony Rendon, Trevor Story or Stephen Strasburg white-elephant contracts on his ledger. We’ll see how this Jung Hoo Lee deal works out, but I suspect it’ll be fine. Not revelatory, but fine.

But the Giants need stars. Zaidi needs them to come from the farm system. And this hasn’t happened. I don’t know when it will. The Giants tried a bunch of prospects last year, but I don’t see any stars. And if you have to dip into the free-agent market to get stars, and you’re not the Dodgers, you’re going to be in trouble.



Breaking down the Giants’ $132 million bet on Jung Hoo Lee: ‘They paid for his ceiling’

Do you think the Giants are in “Win Now” or “Soft Rebuild” mode? Cm C.

I think the Giants are in “Let’s Try to Win as Many Games as Possible, Sneak in as a Wild Card and Hope the Fans Come Back” mode. No, I don’t think they’ll print that on T-shirts.

Everyone seems to be saying that not signing Kevin Gausman was a mistake. But I seem to remember he sort of faded after the All-Star break even though he pitched well in his one playoff game. I thought the general feeling was he would regress in his new deal?Robert K.

I didn’t make a big deal of it at the time because I knew Zaidi was extremely unlikely to go to the top of the market to re-sign a 30-year-old starting pitcher with a power splitter/changeup repertoire who threw a career-high 192 innings for the Giants in 2021. It can be risky. Regression is likely.

But when Logan Webb said he really wanted his mentor Gausman back, that really got my attention. If you can afford it, and the Giants can, isn’t this exactly the risk you should and must take? And by the way, Gausman hasn’t regressed in Toronto.

Any new rumblings/rumors/predictions with the A’s moving to Vegas?John A.

It’s all the same lately. None of it indicates that John Fisher has any of this lined up. Which, as I’ve noted a few times, is very reminiscent of his previous start-stop-delay-bluster-collapse stadium efforts over the last decade.

If the A’s end up playing games in San Francisco while the Vegas stadium is being completed (with the usual caveats), would MLB get involved with those lease negotiations? Would this revenue stream be meaningful for the Giants such that they would increase payroll? Sunjeet G.

No, in the unlikely event that the A’s need to play at Oracle Park, the rent wouldn’t affect the Giants’ books very much at all. I’ve heard that this option has been considered and mostly rejected (with possible one-series exceptions here or there) and that’s backed up by A’s president David Kaval’s recent comments that they are down to three options for the interim period after the 2024 season, when their current lease expires with the Coliseum, and before 2028 or whenever a theoretical Las Vegas stadium is constructed. The three, according to Kaval, via the San Francisco Chronicle: Sacramento, Salt Lake City or more years at the Coliseum.



The A’s and John Fisher’s wobbly Las Vegas future

Do you feel Sharks GM Mike Grier has done well in regards to the rebuild? Bill W.

I can’t really comment about the Sharks right now because I don’t watch them. I don’t follow them. Every time I watch even 20 seconds of one of their games, I ask myself, why are you doing this? And then I turn the channel. The Sharks are a big blank in the Bay Area sports marketplace.

So I’ll turn this into a big-picture question: How long will Hasso Plattner want to own the Sharks? This popped into my head again because I heard that Jed York was at Wednesday’s game. Though I’m not hinting that anything is brewing, I know that the 49ers in the past had thoughts about either buying the Sharks or building them a new arena in Santa Clara next to Levi’s Stadium or both. Most of that talk ended when the 49ers moved into Premier League ownership with Leeds United, so again, I’m not saying there’s any official connection to the Sharks now.

But I think Plattner will sell the team at some point. I think the absentee ownership is hurting the product and is pretty much a can’t-win situation when the Sharks are getting overwhelmed in this market by the 49ers and Warriors. Somebody will be interested in buying the Sharks. Until then, they’re a blank.

What do you think of the upcoming Bay FC season? What do they need to do in Year 1 to make it a successful debut season? Joseph Y.

Two words: Fan service. I watched most of the “Angel City” documentary and, beyond the Hollywood star power, what struck me was the way Angel City FC worked to reach out to and embrace their fans and community and make them feel like an integral part of the team. It’s a model for Bay FC. I think this team is being run by smart people. I think they’ll get it done.

What’s your favorite restaurant lately?John B.

I can’t believe it took so long and so many times driving past, but I finally got to Red’s Java House on The Embarcadero recently. The moment I took my first bite of the sourdough double cheeseburger, I made a fast conclusion: This is my burger now. Went back a week later. Will keep going back.

Another one: Cheung Hing in San Mateo is one of my family’s favorite spots. It’s not a fancy place. Just extremely tasty, with every dish. A tip: Order the lobster lo mein. I don’t think it’s even on the menu, but order it if they’ll let you. And tell me about it.



All-49ers Mailbag: Big-game blues, big Brandon Aiyuk questions

(Top photo of LeBron James and Stephen Curry: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

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