Kelly Oubre Jr. doesn’t sound long for Warriors, which raises questions why they didn’t trade him at deadline

Kelly Oubre Jr. came to the Golden State Warriors as the fire extinguisher inside the “break in case of emergency” glass case. He wasn’t going to save the entire house, but the hope, after Klay Thompson tore his Achilles shortly before the opening of training camp, was that he could salvage enough of a thankfully strong structure to keep the thing standing. 

It didn’t exactly work out. 

Oubre, who cost the Warriors over $80 million including taxes, started out historically bad, becoming the first player in NBA history to go 0 for his first 11 from 3 over the first two games of the season, and by the end of his first month and change, he was averaging just 12 points on 22-percent 3-point shooting. 

He had some moments, and his finishing athleticism and pesky defense (though it rarely pays off) will always be tantalizing. Golden State was minus-5.0 points per 100 possessions when Oubre was on the court, per Cleaning the Glass, but to be fair they were a net positive in their two most often-used Oubre lineups as long as James Wiseman wasn’t playing. 

  • Curry, Oubre, Wiggins, Toscano-Anderson, Green: Plus-9.0 in 324 minutes
  • Curry, Oubre, Wiggins, Green, Looney: Plus-5.8 in 401 minutes

Still, as the season wore on it became increasingly clear that Oubre, who struggled to fit alongside Curry and looked flat-out lost at times trying to navigate Golden State’s ball- and player-movement offense, hurt the Warriors more than he helped. He missed 15 of the final 20 games, and in those 15 games without Oubre, the Warriors were 12-3. 

Oubre is a free agent this summer, and Steve Kerr has made it pretty clear that if Oubre were to return to Golden State, it would most likely be in a bench role. Perhaps he would start until Klay Thompson returns, but the general feeling is Kerr does not see Oubre as a penciled-in starting player on this team moving forward. On more than one occasion, Oubre has been clear that he doesn’t see himself as a bench player. He was asked about that topic again recently when speaking to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports on his Posted Up podcast:

“I don’t even want to speak and elaborate on much on that situation,” Oubre said about the Warriors seeing him as a bench player. “But all I’ll tell you is that it put fire in my heart. It added more fuel to the fire.

“Being 25 years old, the way that my career has been shaping out, the growth that I’ve shown in my career to go from the 15th pick to continuously have my numbers grow each and every year and my role and opportunity on the team to grow each and every year, to have a year where my opportunity is lessened, and then as the year goes on I’m put into this category of trying to shape out the future of the organization when I haven’t been given a fair opportunity to show what I can do on a large scale – yeah, it is unfair.”

It’s interesting that Oubre thinks he wasn’t given a fair opportunity to show what he can do. He started most of the season, even when he was playing as poorly as anyone in the league. He played 30 minutes per game in all, and his usage rate was basically the same as it was the year previous in Phoenix, which was his best season as a pro. He only took one fewer shot per game in Golden State than he did in Phoenix. He was playing next to Stephen Curry, who should, in theory, have given him more space to operate than he’s ever had in his life. 

But Oubre never really figured out how to play with Curry, whose impromptu off-ball movement requires everyone else to be on their toes as equally instinctual screeners and movers so as to free him up without getting in his way. Oubre got in his way a lot. His shot selection is suspect and his aggressive defense works against him more than it works for him. It’s expected that he will be looking for a multi-year deal for somewhere in the vicinity of $20 million. 

If another team is willing to give him anywhere near that, the Warriors, who are already buried beneath a mountain of tax money, are almost certain to let him walk. It doesn’t really sound like Oubre wants to be back in a bench role anyway. Which begs the question: Why didn’t the Warriors trade Oubre at the dealing rather than potentially losing a guy that cost them north of $80 million for nothing? The offers for Oubre obviously didn’t inspire the Warriors, who still believed they had a shot to make a late playoff run. 

There is another option: The Warriors could do a sign and trade involving Oubre, which would bring them back some kind of value, but the catch is it would hard cap them as they try to fill out the rest of the roster. And who’s to say there’s anyone out there that will pay Oubre what he wants and also has something the Warriors want in return? We’ll see what happens, but as it stands right now, the emergency decision to shell out $80 million for Oubre only to miss the playoffs anyway is looking like a very costly misstep. 

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