Bob Myers warned of a possible salary cap, an indefinite financial threshold where Joe Lacob would ultimately say no. That red light came the first night of free will. The Golden State Warriors let Gary Payton II walk. They offered him the middle taxpayer tier, which is $6.4 million. He received north of $8 million from Portland, plus an additional year on an incentive deal.
The tax penalty difference — about an additional $15 million immediately, significantly more as part of a longer-term deal — set Lacob and the Warriors back. It stung many in the organization, per sources. They had found Payton and learned to not only love the person, but to understand the value of his unique skills. This resulted in winning. For the first time, they had failed to retain one of their own due to an unwillingness to meet a financial request.
This increased the urgency from the front office ahead of day two of free agency. The Warriors needed to nail Kevon Looney and find a path to rotational recovery to make up for the loss of Payton. They had originally planned his return.
Looney was sealed in the early afternoon. The final details of a three-year, $25.5 million contract have been settled in Los Angeles. It’s a good deal for the Warriors in a market they believe won’t flood Looney’s management. They’re bringing back a title-team starting center for a starting salary of $7.8 million next season, significantly less than what Ivica Zubac and Marvin Bagley just received. Additionally, the third year of Looney’s deal only has a partial $3 million guarantee, creating an extra level of flexibility if James Wiseman appears.
Looney’s reasonable number contained enough of the tax bill that the Warriors felt comfortable using some of their mid-tier taxpayer to seek a replacement for Payton’s departure. Their main target in that range, the sources say, was Donte DiVincenzo, who was supposed to have seated offers for the entire mid-tier ratepayer elsewhere.
It was a little too steep for the Warriors. They still plan to sign second-round pick Ryan Rollins, a combo guard, and need some of that mid-level to sign him to a multi-year deal. Their final offer to DiVincenzo was therefore a pledge of $9.3 million over two years with a player option in that second season. The first season costs $4.5 million.
The player option is key for DiVincenzo’s side. He has a chance to step into a winning environment, play in a likely playoff race, and resurrect a career start that once seemed destined for bigger payday. If he makes it in his first season with the Warriors, he can jump right back into the free agency market. If he doesn’t, he’s protected with a second-year player option worth $4.8 million. That flexibility and the appeal of the Warriors’ brilliance was enough to convince him to take a little less.
The market is unpredictable. A week ago, there was no reason to believe the Warriors would need to chase DiVincenzo and, even if Payton left, he would be an available replacement option. The Kings went with DiVincenzo over two second-round picks in Bagley’s trade at the final deadline. He was to be a restricted free agent. The assumption was that Sacramento intended to retain him. The team had been trying to acquire him for years.
But the Kings hijacked their plans, rescinded his $6.6 million qualifying offer, and quickly signed Malik Monk on opening day of free agency and traded for Kevin Huerter. That left DiVincenzo as an unrestricted free agent in a market that didn’t necessarily anticipate his availability. “He was rushed,” a source said.
So that left him in the Warriors’ price range and, without Payton, they pounced, he agreed and several Warriors decision-makers breathed a sigh of relief on Friday night, associating Looney’s return with DiVincenzo’s arrival, solidifying the middle of their projected rotation.
What do the Warriors get from DiVincenzo? They’re hoping it’s the pre-injury version of his Milwaukee days. DiVincenzo sought a bigger contract before tearing a ligament in his foot in a 2021 first-round playoff series against the Miami Heat. He missed six months and looked a little limited and rusty in his eventual return last December. The Bucks, unwilling to deal with tricky restricted free agency and needing interior depth, traded him for Serge Ibaka in a four-team trade at the latter deadline that brought him to Sacramento.
DiVincenzo’s numbers improved with the Kings. He looked healthier. His minutes, points, rebounds, assists, steals and field goal percentages all returned to his pre-injury form. But the Kings have kept him as a bench player for the past few weeks, despite an available starting spot. This was seen, due to a start criteria trigger, as a decision to keep his qualifying bid a few million less, thereby changing his market. It was a preface to an unlikely rift with the Kings that led to his availability for the Warriors.
DiVincenzo profiles as a replacement for Payton minutes. Warriors starting lineup and best bench player set. Here are their top six: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney and Jordan Poole. But DiVincenzo is the more established player in this mix of seventh, eighth and ninth man, presumably joined by Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga, stepping into bigger roles.
DiVincenzo is no Payton as a perimeter defender. Few people in the world could match Payton’s disruptive ability. DiVincenzo is not as long, laterally quick or bouncy. Payton led the NBA in steals every 36 minutes, got the mission from Ja Morant in a playoff run and blocked Nikola Jokic three times last season. DiVincenzo will do none of that.
But he can hold his own on the defensive side. He is 6ft 4in tall with a wingspan of 6ft 6in. He weighs 200 pounds, moves well for his height and grew up in the Villanova program, which is known for producing smart players who work well in the top-tier offensive and defensive systems.
In his 25 games with the Kings, DiVincenzo was the leading ballhandler defenseman in 84 pick-and-roll scenarios, per Synergy. Opponents only scored 78 points in these scenarios. It’s a very respectable clip. He won’t change in size and will stick with the league’s biggest wing scorers on a regular basis, but he can slip with playmakers, keepers and even wingers.
Watch him here staying in front of Poole and forcing a backcourt violation after fending off his dribble.
DiVincenzo also faced the Warriors in early January, shortly after returning from injury. Milwaukee had him babysit Poole that night. It is the type of scorer of the same size that he faces best defensively. Here he creates a steal with a high hands deflection and another possession where he follows Poole through two high screens and gets a solid contest on a missed 3.
Again, DiVincenzo is not as spectacular a perimeter defender as Payton. The Warriors lost any chance at that level of momentum when the tax hike got too big for their appetite and they let it walk to Portland. It’s a decision that could haunt them. But DiVincenzo is the best backup plan there was for the sanctioned price. He should work well in the Warriors’ defensive system, while fitting in offensively.
Payton was a rare lob threat in a guard-sized body. The Warriors found ways to use him as a high screener, screwing up opponents’ game plans and causing all sorts of confusion. Payton was an electric athlete who opened his pockets and improved his transition game.
DiVincenzo is different. He doesn’t hit as hard or put pressure on the rim as Payton. But he shoots better, spaces the ground wider and can fetch his shot more effectively than Payton, who never did.
The Warriors won’t and shouldn’t ask DiVincenzo to operate from the pick-and-roll. He was ineffective in his 80 such possessions for the Kings, per Synergy, leading to just 47 points. Those opportunities will be left to Curry, Poole and even Wiggins. But it at least has the capability in a late clock scenario. And it’s not just as a goalscorer. DiVincenzo had 89 assists in 25 games for the Kings. He can pass it. Check out this creative find.
DiVincenzo’s 92-point possession for the Kings led to 100 points, an efficiency number that sits in the 71st percentile in the league. DiVincenzo’s best season was his third season. He made 93 of his 244 catch-and-shoot 3s, a 38.1% clip. In those 25 games with the healthy-again Kings, he went 46 of 109 at catch-and-shoot 3s. That’s an even better mark of 42.2%.
Because this is apparently a Poole, DiVincenzo-themed movie shoot, let’s get back to that Kings-Warriors game in April. DiVincenzo starts possession at the bottom of the screen. Poole keeps it. Davion Mitchell drives on the left and Poole decides to stick in the paint and show Mitchell some extra body. DiVincenzo smartly cuts through the lane, flares out to the right wing and nails a catch-and-shoot 3, punishing Poole for the error.
Here he cuts the ball for a lay-up. That courtship will be needed with the Warriors.
In that third breakout season, DiVincenzo averaged 5.8 rebounds in 27.5 minutes per game. He’s a big chunk at the combo guard position. Wiggins, before a stunning playoff run on the glass, has never averaged above 5.2 in a regular season in his career. Thompson has never averaged more than 3.9 in a season. It’s part of DiVincenzo’s full game that will benefit a small Warriors team that needs to bounce back.
DiVincenzo is not the perfect actor. If he is asked to do too much offensively, he is ineffective. In a switching scheme, he’s a bit too small to trust some of the league giants. Payton’s departure robs the Warriors of some roster versatility. But they needed a seventh or eighth man in the middle tax bracket who fills a need. DiVincenzo provides that, and because of that, the Warriors were willing to use some of the mid-tier taxpayer to secure his services.
(Photo by Donte DiVincenzo: Darren Yamashita/USA Today)