Bob Myers warned of an eventual salary limit, an undefined financial threshold where Joe Lacob would finally say no. That red light came on the first night of free agency. The Golden State Warriors let Gary Payton II walk. They offered him the taxpayer mid-level, which sits at $6.4 million. He received north of $8 million from Portland, plus an extra year on an incentivized deal.
The difference in the tax penalty — somewhere around $15 million extra in the immediate, a whole lot more throughout a longer-term deal — caused Lacob and the Warriors to balk. It stung several in the organization, per sources. They’d found Payton and grown to not only love the person but also understand the value of his unique skill set. It translated to winning. For the first time, they’d failed to retain one of their own due to an unwillingness to meet a financial demand.
That upped the front-office urgency heading into the second day of free agency. The Warriors needed to nail down Kevon Looney and find a path toward rotational recovery to make up for the Payton loss. They’d initially planned on him returning.
Looney was sealed in the early afternoon. The final details of a three-year, $25.5 million deal were hashed out in Los Angeles. It’s a bargain for the Warriors in a market they anticipated wouldn’t flood cash Looney’s direction. They’re bringing back the starting center on a title team for a starting salary of $7.8 million next season, substantially less than Ivica Zubac and Marvin Bagley just received. Plus the third year on Looney’s deal only has a partial $3 million guarantee, creating an extra level of flexibility if James Wiseman pops.
Looney’s reasonable number contained the tax bill enough that the Warriors felt comfortable using a portion of their taxpayer mid-level to search out a replacement for the departed Payton. Their top target in that range, per sources, was Donte DiVincenzo, who was believed to have sitting offers for the full taxpayer mid-level elsewhere.
That was a bit too steep for the Warriors. They still have plans on rostering second-round pick Ryan Rollins, a combo guard, and need a chunk of that mid-level to sign him to a multi-year deal. So their final offer to DiVincenzo was a two-year, $9.3 million pledge with a player option in that second season. The first season comes in at $4.5 million.
The player option is key from the DiVincenzo side. He has a chance to enter a winning environment, perform in a probable playoff run and resurrect an early career that once seemed destined for a larger payday. If he does that in his debut season with the Warriors, he can walk right back onto 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’ shine were enough to convince him to take a bit less.
The market is unpredictable. A week ago, there was no reason to believe the Warriors would need to chase down DiVincenzo and, even if Payton did depart, that he’d be an obtainable replacement option. The Kings opted for DiVincenzo over two second-round picks in the Bagley trade at the last deadline. He was set 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 rerouted their plans, rescinded his $6.6 million qualifying offer and quickly signed Malik Monk on the 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 plan for his availability. “He was squeezed,” said one source.
So that left him in the Warriors’ price range and, without Payton, they pounced, he accepted and several Warriors’ decision-makers were breathing a sigh of relief Friday night, pairing the Looney return with the DiVincenzo arrival, solidifying the middle of their projected rotation.
What are the Warriors getting in DiVincenzo? They hope it’s the pre-injury version from his Milwaukee days. DiVincenzo looked in line for a bigger contract before tearing a ligament in his foot during a 2021 first-round playoff series against the Miami Heat. He missed six months and looked a bit limited and rusty upon his eventual return last December. The Bucks, not wanting to deal with a tricky restricted free agency and needing interior depth, dealt him for Serge Ibaka in a four-team trade at this past deadline that landed him in Sacramento.
DiVincenzo’s numbers improved with the Kings. He looked healthier. His minutes, points, rebounds, assists, steals and field-goal percentages all rose back to his pre-injury form. But the Kings kept him as a bench player in the final weeks, despite an available starting spot. It was viewed, because of a starter criteria trigger, as a move to keep his qualifying offer a couple million lower, altering his market. That was a preface to an unlikely breakup with the Kings that led to his availability for the Warriors.
DiVincenzo profiles as a replacement for the Payton minutes. The Warriors starting lineup and best bench player are set. These are their top six: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney and Jordan Poole. But DiVincenzo is the most established player in that seventh, eighth, ninth man mix, presumably joined by Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga, walking into larger roles.
DiVincenzo is not Payton as a perimeter defender. Few in the world could match Payton’s disruptive ability. DiVincenzo isn’t as long, laterally quick or bouncy. Payton led the NBA in steals per 36 minutes, was given the Ja Morant assignment in a playoff series and blocked Nikola Jokic three times last season. DiVincenzo won’t be doing any of that.
But he can hold up on the defensive end. He’s 6 foot 4 with a 6-foot-6 wingspan. He’s 200 pounds, moves well for his size and grew up in the Villanova program, known for producing smart players who operate well within the highest level offensive and defensive systems.
In his 25 games with the Kings, DiVincenzo was the primary defender on the ballhandler in 84 pick-and-roll scenarios, per Synergy. Opponents only scored 78 points in those scenarios. That’s a very respectable clip. He won’t upsize and regularly stick with the biggest wing scorers in the league, but he can slide with point guards, scoring guards and even some wings.
Check him out here staying in front of Poole and forcing a backcourt violation after poking away his dribble.
DiVincenzo also faced the Warriors back in early January, soon after returning from injury. Milwaukee had him guard Poole that night. It’s the type of like-sized scorer who he matches up best against defensively. Here he is creating a steal with a textbook hands-up deflection and another possession where he tracks Poole through two high screens and gets a strong contest on a missed 3.
Again, DiVincenzo isn’t near as spectacular a perimeter defender as Payton. The Warriors lost any chance at that level of dynamism when the tax spike became too much for their appetite and they let him walk to Portland. It’s a decision that could haunt them. But DiVincenzo is the best backup plan that was out there for the sanctioned price tag. He should work well within 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 opponent game plans and causing all sorts of confusion. Payton was an electric athlete who slashed to open pockets and juiced up their transition game.
DiVincenzo is different. He doesn’t slash with as much force or put pressure on the rim as Payton. But he shoots it better, spaces the floor wider and can go get his shot more proficiently than Payton, who never did it.
The Warriors won’t and shouldn’t ask DiVincenzo to operate out of the pick-and-roll. He was inefficient in his 80 such possessions for the Kings, per Synergy, leading to only 47 points. Those opportunities will be left to Curry, Poole and even Wiggins. But he at least has the capability in a late clock scenario. And it’s not just as a scorer. DiVincenzo had 89 assists in 25 Kings games. He can pass it. Check this creative find.
DiVincenzo’s 92 spot-up possession for the Kings led to 100 points, an efficiency number that tracks in the 71st percentile of the league. DiVincenzo’s best season was his third season. He made 93 of his 244 catch-and-shoot 3s, a 38.1 percent clip. In those 25 games with the Kings, looking healthy again, he went 46 of 109 on catch-and-shoot 3s. That’s an even better 42.2 percent mark.
Because this is apparently a Poole, DiVincenzo-themed film session, let’s go back to that Kings-Warriors game in April. DiVincenzo begins the possession at the bottom of the screen. Poole is guarding him. Davion Mitchell drives left and Poole decides to stick in the paint and show an extra body at Mitchell. DiVincenzo smartly cuts through the lane, flares to the right wing and nails a catch-and-shoot 3, punishing Poole for the mistake.
Here he is cutting off the ball for a layup. That court sense will be needed with the Warriors.
During that breakout third season, DiVincenzo averaged 5.8 rebounds in his 27.5 minutes per game. That’s a big chunk at the combo guard position. Wiggins, before a stunning postseason on the glass, has never averaged more than 5.2 in any regular season in his career. Thompson has never averaged more than 3.9 in a season. That’s a part of DiVincenzo’s complete game that’ll benefit a smaller Warriors team that must rebound.
DiVincenzo isn’t the perfect role player. If asked to do too much offensively, he’s inefficient. In a switching scheme, he’s a bit too small to be trusted on some of the league’s giants. Payton’s departure strips the Warriors of some lineup versatility. But they needed a seventh or eighth man in the taxpayer mid-level range that fit a need. DiVincenzo supplies that and, because of it, the Warriors were willing to use a chunk of the taxpayer mid-level to secure his services.
(Photo of Donte DiVincenzo: Darren Yamashita / USA Today)