What we learned about the Warriors after an inactive NBA trade deadline day

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INDIANAPOLIS — Stephen Curry isn’t the type of NBA power broker to slam tables, send subliminal messages or threaten a trade request if all his roster needs aren’t met. His tame demeanor and political answers might give the impression he’s detached from the Golden State Warriors’ bigger-picture decisions.

That isn’t the case. Curry is informed and involved. He has a communicative relationship with new general manager Mike Dunleavy. The Chris Paul trade wouldn’t have happened this summer if Curry hadn’t given the green light. When the Warriors sat on the fringe of the Pascal Siakam discussion weeks ago, he was privy to the reasons it ultimately didn’t get done.

This is how Curry described Dunleavy’s messaging to him in recent days as the NBA trade deadline neared: “We’re thinking about this. There’s an opportunity for that.” He called Thursday “very quiet, for the most part.” It came and went without his Warriors making a substantial trade. Their only movement was a minor salary dump of Cory Joseph for a future second-round pick and tax savings.

That does nothing to ease Curry’s burden. The Warriors are moving forward with the same roster that sits 11th in the Western Conference, even after a recent 5-1 surge. Some positive trends are emerging, but the mountain back to fringe contention is steep and no external help is arriving. Is Curry comfortable with that ultimate trade deadline choice from the front office?

“Yes,” he said.

The Warriors had interest in Kelly Olynyk and Alex Caruso on deadline day. They checked in on others. Multiple team sources said they made what they felt were fair offers to bolster the rotation, but, as Dunleavy would later say in his news conference, “there wasn’t a lot out there that we thought could improve us significantly at an appropriate price.”

So they stood pat.

“Until there is a material deal, you don’t get too worked up about it,” Curry said. “Especially from a player standpoint. I’m sure I probably got half of what they talk about in their meetings. There’s confidence that this is our team, this is our challenge. We have great energy, guys that love playing with each other. This last half of the season is up to us to go out and build as many wins and be a team nobody wants to play come playoff time.”

What else did we learn about the Warriors on deadline day?

• The Warriors traded $5.8 million along with Joseph to the Indiana Pacers to basically buy a 2024 second-round pick (likely to be the worst of Milwaukee or Cleveland’s) and shed about $8 million in luxury tax, according to our John Hollinger.

Curry, in that above soundbite, made sure the world knew Joseph was a valued veteran in the locker room whom he’d miss. But Joseph struggled all season in his brief stints and had been hopped in the pecking order by Gui Santos and two-way guard Lester Quiñones. Considering the savings, this was a no-brainer move that had been planned for weeks.

It opens up an extra roster spot for the Warriors, who have the 14th and 15th vacant. Don’t expect them to fill the 15th until the final day of the regular season. Don’t expect them to fill the 14th until after the All-Star break. They can keep it open for two weeks and save a chunk more cash.

Quiñones is the obvious candidate for elevation. These were his minutes totals during the five-game trip: 19, 23, 24, 24, 27. Quinones hit 10 3s on the trip, had nine combined assists the last two games and drew praise from coach Steve Kerr after the game for his energy and ball pressure. Quiñones has a different level of speed from some of the Warriors’ other backcourt options.

• Remember that 6-2 start? This is the most momentum the Warriors have had since the first two weeks of the season. All four of their wins on this trip were comfortable. Their only loss came in overtime. They’re 5-3 in their last eight games, and the two non-overtime losses were by a single point to the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers. Something is brewing.

Draymond Green is at the center of it. In the 10 games since he’s returned, the Warriors have outscored opponents by 124 points in Green’s 291 minutes. Playing exclusively at center, he has unlocked the Jonathan Kuminga and Andrew Wiggins wing combo, allowing the front office to feel more comfortable keeping Wiggins past the deadline instead of accepting the milquetoast offers at their doorstep.

It’s all about the defensive end. During Green’s elongated second suspension, the Warriors had the 29th-ranked defense in the NBA. Since he’s been back, they have a 112.2 rating, seventh best in the league during that 10-game sample. In Green’s court time, it’s been a 107.2 rating. He’s changed the calculus.

“This feels like the best version of us with the starting lineup playing the way they are,” Kerr said. “Bringing guys off the bench who are giving great energy and effort.”

Also of relevance: Green has zero technical fouls and zero flagrant fouls in his 10 games since returning.

• It should probably be noted that Curry scored 42 points in 30 minutes to rocket the Warriors past the Pacers 131-109 to close the trip. Curry made all six of his first-quarter 3s and finished 15-of-22 overall and 11-of-16 from 3.

• It was reported that the Chicago Bulls asked the Warriors for Jonathan Kuminga as part of the trade discussions for Alex Caruso. The Warriors, from what I’d been told, shut down all Kuminga trade inquiries a few weeks ago, at the start of this third-year explosion.

I asked Dunleavy whether he deemed Kuminga untouchable at the deadline.

“Virtually,” Dunleavy said. “I mean, as untouchable as guys can be in this league. He’s certainly at that level. I didn’t see a scenario where Jonathan wouldn’t be on our team after this deadline.”

With five minutes left and the Warriors trying to stretch the lead enough to rest their starters, they dialed up an action that is becoming a playbook staple, inverting a screen action with Kuminga as the ballhandler and Curry setting the pick. It scrambled the defense and led to one of Kuminga’s downhill dunks.

• The legacy factor was a question for the Warriors at this trade deadline. Would the history of Klay Thompson or Draymond Green weigh into the decision whether to move them? Does franchise legend status take anything off the table?

“You know, for me personally in this situation, I’m always going to do what’s best for the organization moving forward,” Dunleavy said. “Based on that, that’s how we’re going to operate — whether it’s this deadline, this summer, in the future. That’s sort of my statement and feeling on that.”

Somewhat of an eyebrow-raising quote.

• Paul’s $30 million expiring deal wasn’t moved. It was the type of contract, if paired with an asset (particularly one of the Warriors’ available first-rounders), that would’ve had plenty of value on the open market.

But it has value to the Warriors. Part of the reason they acquired Paul for Jordan Poole’s long-term contract this summer was because of the expiration date. It gives them more flexibility to duck the second apron this summer, but the unique nature of it also makes it a potential trade vehicle come June or July.

Paul has a $30 million non-guarantee for next season. The Warriors can let him walk, bring him back at a lowered price (if Paul agrees) or work out a trade in which they’d have to guarantee the amount of money they are bringing back in a trade. It’s what the Phoenix Suns did this summer to make the Bradley Beal deal work.

There is value to having Paul’s contract around and, the Warriors believe, still value having him on the court upon return from his hand injury after the All-Star break. Paul has gone through a shooting workout three straight days, as he continues to strengthen that hand. Gary Payton II might return this upcoming week.

(Photo of Stephen Curry and Draymond Green: Dylan Buell / Getty Images)

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