The Warriors have extended qualifying offers to both guards Anthony Morrow and C.J. Watson. Morrow’s qualifying offer is a one-year deal worth $1.029 million. Watson’s is for one year, $1.25 million.
Being tendered qualifying offers mean both guards will be restricted free agents come Wednesday at 9:01 p.m. In order to have the right to match any offer sheet they would sign (despite the salary cap), the Warriors first needed to extend a minimum contract (plus bonus) to the Warriors. Not extending the qualifying offer is the equivalent to the Warriors’ waiving their rights to the player.
That is what happened with power forward Anthony Tolliver and center Chris Hunter. The Warriors did not tender them qualifying offers, giving up their right to match. Tolliver and Hunter will both be unrestricted free agents.
So what does that mean for Morrow and Watson?
It means that the Warriors have some control over their destiny and possibly have limited the amount they can coupe this offseason. Both Morrow and Watson have said they want to return to the Warriors but will also see what options are out there for them on the market. If another team signs them to an offer sheet, the Warriors have 7 days to match or top the offer.
Watson knows this process all too well. It’s his second-consecutive offseason going through it. Last summer, Watson was a restricted free agent. But he could not get a team to sign him to an offer sheet because the Warriors made it known they would match. Watson had designs on playing for Orlando, which was in need of a back-up point guard. But Orlando, knowing the Warriors would match, never extended an official offer to Watson. Signing a player to an offer sheet locks up that salary cap space until the team with the rights makes the decision. The Magic didn’t want their salary cap space locked up for seven days, especially knowing the Warriors would match anyway.
The Warriors turned down a sign-and-trade offer from Orlando. And Watson turned down a three-year, $5.4 million contract offer from the Warriors, settling for the $1 million qualifying offer he was tendered last June. Normally, that would make a player an unrestricted free agent the following season. But a team retains the right to restrict players who have three seasons or fewer experience in the league.
Watson may not have to worry this time about the Warriors being so adamant about keeping him. If Watson gets a contract offer from another team, especially if it’s of significant value, don’t be surprised if the Warriors let him walk. The rise of point guard Stephen Curry, the acquisition of veteran point guard Charlie Bell, and holes at the SF position, make it easier for the Warriors to not match. Not to mention the minutes Monta Ellis is sure to see at PG.
Morrow is another story. Though Ellis expects to dominate minutes at SG, Morrow can play some at small forward, as he did last season, so minutes still exisit for him. The Warriors certainly still have an affinity for Morrow, the sharp-shooter they discovered and groomed. With that said, if Morrow secures a sizeable offer from another team, such as a multi-year deal at the mid-level rate (figured to fall between $5-$6 million), it would make for a tough decision.
Golden State isn’t working with much wiggle room as far as salary cap space. Is it worth it to use it on Morrow, who plays a position at which the Warriors are deep? The presence of Ellis, the emergence of Reggie Williams, the plans to add a true SF, all give Warriors reason for pause – especially if Kelenna Azubuike returns to form. Still, because of his special skill and work ethic and status as a fan favorite, losing Morrow could be risky.
The Warriors also liked Tolliver, especially coach Don Nelson. But the minutes available for him are scarce at best with the drafting of Baylor power forward Ekpe Udoh. Ditto for Hunter with the acquisition of center Dan Gadzuric of Milwaukee.