Bob Myers warned of an eventual salary cap, an undefined financial threshold at which Joe Lacob would definitively say no. This red light came on the first night of the free hand. The Golden State Warriors ran Gary Payton II. They offered him the middle taxpayer which is at $6.4 million. He received over $8 million from Portland plus an extra year on an incentive contract.
The difference in the tax penalty — about an extra $15 million right now, much more during a longer-term deal — caused Lacob and the Warriors to balk. According to sources, it has stung several in the organization. They had found Payton and not only loved him but understood the value of his unique skills. It meant winning. For the first time, they had failed to keep one of their own because they were unwilling to meet a financial demand.
This increased the urgency of the front office towards the second day of free agency. The Warriors had to pin down Kevon Looney and find a way to restore rotation to make up for the loss of Payton. They originally planned for him to return.
Looney was sealed early afternoon. The final details of a three-year, $25.5 million deal were finalized in Los Angeles. It’s a steal for the Warriors in a market they didn’t expect would swamp Looney’s direction. They’re bringing back the starting center for a title team for a starting salary of $7.8 million next season, significantly less than Ivica Zubac and Marvin Bagley just got. Also, Looney’s third-year deal only has a $3 million partial guarantee, giving an extra level of flexibility if James Wiseman shows up.
Looney’s reasonable number included the tax bill enough that the Warriors felt comfortable using a portion of their mid-level taxpayers to find a replacement for the late Payton. Their main target in this area, according to sources, was Donte DiVincenzo, who was believed to have mid-level full taxpayer seat offers elsewhere.
That was a bit too steep for the Warriors. They still have plans to pick Ryan Rollins, a combo guard, for the second round and need some of that middle tier to sign him on a multi-year deal. So their final offer to DiVincenzo was a two-year, $9.3 million pledge with a player option that second season. The first season costs $4.5 million.
The player option is the key from DiVincenzo side. He has a chance to enter a winning environment, appear in a likely playoff run and rekindle an early career that once seemed destined for a bigger payday. If he does that in his debut season with the Warriors, he can go straight back into the free agency market. If he doesn’t, he’s covered with a second-year player option worth $4.8 million. That flexibility and the allure of the warrior’s shine was enough to convince him to take a little less.
The market is unpredictable. A week ago there was no reason to believe that the Warriors would have to go after DiVincenzo and even if Payton left that he would be an available back-up option. The Kings picked DiVincenzo over two second-round picks in the bagley trade by the last deadline. He should be a restricted free agent. The assumption was that Sacramento intended to keep him. The team had been trying to win him for years.
But the Kings changed plans, rescinded his $6.6 million qualifying offer and quickly signed Malik Monk on free agency’s opening day, trading for Kevin Huerter. This left DiVincenzo an unqualified free agent in a market that didn’t necessarily dictate his availability. “He was bruised,” a source said.
That kept him in the Warriors’ price bracket and without Payton they pounced, he accepted and several Warriors decision-makers breathed a sigh of relief on Friday night, pairing Looney’s return with DiVincenzo’s arrival and solidifying the middle of their projected rotation.
What do the Warriors get in DiVincenzo? They’re hoping it’s the pre-injury version from his Milwaukee days. DiVincenzo was looking 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 was looking a little battered and rusty by his eventual return last December. The Bucks, not wanting to deal with tricky restricted free agency and needing inner depth, traded him for Serge Ibaka in a four-team trade that 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 percentage all returned to his pre-injury form. But the Kings kept him on the bench in recent weeks despite an available starting spot. Due to an entry criteria trigger, this was seen as a move to keep his qualifying offer a few million lower and transform his market. That was a prelude to an unlikely split from the Kings that led to his availability for the Warriors.
DiVincenzo profiles as a replacement for the Payton protocol. The Warriors starting line-up and the best bench player have been determined. These are their top 6: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney and Jordan Poole. But DiVincenzo is the most established player in this mix of seventh, eighth and ninth men, presumably along with Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga, who are stepping into bigger roles.
DiVincenzo isn’t Payton at full-back. Few in the world could match Payton’s disruptive ability. DiVincenzo isn’t as long, laterally fast, or springy. Payton led the NBA in steals per 36 minutes, earned the Ja Morant contract in a playoff series, and blocked Nikola Jokic three times last season. DiVincenzo will not do any of this.
But he can keep up on defense. He’s 6’4 with a wingspan of 6’6. He weighs 200 pounds, moves well for his size, and was raised in the Villanova program, known for producing intelligent players who excel in both offensive and defensive systems level work fine.
In his 25 games with the Kings, DiVincenzo was the main defensive ball handler in 84 pick-and-roll scenarios, according to Synergy. The opponents only scored 78 points in these scenarios. That’s a very respectable clip. He won’t scale up and remains a regular with the league’s biggest wingers, but he can slip with point guards, scoring guards and even some wings.
Watch here as he stays ahead of Poole and forces a backcourt injury after putting away his dribbling.
DiVincenzo also faced the Warriors in early January, shortly after returning from injury. Milwaukee had him guard Poole that night. It’s the kind of equal goalscorer he’s best up against defensively. Here he manages a steal with a textbook hands-up deflection and another possession, chasing Poole through two tall screens and getting strong competition on a missed 3.
Again, DiVincenzo isn’t nearly as spectacular a full-back as Payton. The Warriors lost any momentum at that level when the tax spike exceeded their appetite too much and they ran it to Portland. It’s a decision that could haunt her. But DiVincenzo is the best backup plan out there for the sanctioned price. He should fit well into the Warriors’ defensive system while fitting in offensively.
Payton was a rare praise menace in a body the size of a guard. The Warriors found ways to use him as a high screener, messing up opponents’ game plans, and causing all sorts of confusion. Payton was an electrifying athlete, slashing pockets and beefing up his 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, spreads the ground further and can make his shot more competently than Payton, who never did.
The Warriors will not and should not ask DiVincenzo to operate from the pick and roll. He was inefficient with his 80 such possessions for the kings per synergy, resulting in just 47 points. Those opportunities are left to Curry, Poole and even Wiggins. But he at least has the capability in a late-clock scenario. And not just as a goal scorer. DiVincenzo had 89 assists in 25 Kings games. He can pass. Check out this creative find.
DiVincenzo’s 92-point possession for the Kings resulted in 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 three-pointers, a 38.1 percent clip. In those 25 games with the Kings looking healthy again, he went on catch-and-shoot 3s 46 of 109. That’s an even better 42.2 percent mark.
Since this appears to be a Poole, DiVincenzo themed movie session, let’s go back to that April Kings Warriors game. DiVincenzo begins possession at the bottom of the screen. Poole guards him. Davion Mitchell drives to the left and Poole decides to paste the paint in and show Mitchell an extra body. DiVincenzo deftly slices through the lane, flares to the right wing and nails a catch-and-shoot 3 that punishes Poole for the mistake.
Here he cuts the ball off for a layup. This sense of judgment is used by the Warriors.
During that third season, DiVincenzo averaged 5.8 rebounds in his 27.5 minutes per game. That’s a big hunk on the combo guard position. Wiggins has not averaged more than a 5.2 in any regular season in his career before a stunning postseason on the glass. Thompson has never scored more than 3.9 in a season. That’s a part of DiVincenzo’s overall game that will benefit a smaller Warriors team that needs to recover.
DiVincenzo is not the perfect role player. When asked to do too much offensively, he’s inefficient. In a swap scheme, he’s a little too small to trust some of the league’s giants. Payton’s departure takes away some lineup versatility from the Warriors. But they needed a seventh or eighth mid-level taxpayer who fit the bill. DiVincenzo delivers that and because of that, the Warriors were willing to use a portion of the mid-level taxpayer to secure his services.
(Photo by Donte DiVincenzo: Darren Yamashita / USA Today)