With the Golden State Warriors leaving Saturday’s classic encounter with the Oklahoma City Thunder victorious, they prolonged their season for at least 48 hours by forcing a game seven.
On Monday night, back at their home, Oracle Arena, they will attempt to progress to a second straight NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who they beat to the championship in 2015.
The Warriors have already managed to keep their season going twice, after preventing possible elimination by winning games five and six to tie the series at 3-3.
For two of Golden State’s players, however, this continuation in the playoffs has allowed them to delay any thoughts of what may be to come after this season.
Both Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli will carry on focussing solely on their play, but it would be remiss to believe they do not both have a slight thought about what may be to come when this summer arrives.
Barnes and Ezeli will both be out of contract with the Warriors come the end of the season and will therefore head into free agency once the market opens on the first of July.
They will surely be in high demand, and even with the current salary cap increases that will take place, it looks nigh-on impossible for Golden State to cling on to both members of their squad, particularly with the impending thought of having to offer Steph Curry a new contract next year.
The duo will both be looking for a huge pay increases and, as they are both restricted free agents, the Warriors would have to match the figure another team offers to keep either player, which will be especially difficult in the case of Barnes, who is expected to be offered a max contract by a number of teams.
One of those sides are reportedly the LA Lakers, who may also take an interest in Ezeli as well, as current Golden State assistant coach Luke Walton will be taking the short trip to coach the Lakers from next season and may want to take some of his current players with him.
LA now have the funds to make big moves this summer after being freed from one of the highest paid contracts in basketball with Kobe Bryant’s retirement, but they will be one of many teams courting Barnes, who has been a starter for two years on a Golden State team that has won 140 regular season games in the past couple of seasons.
Ezeli will also be looked at by a number of franchises, as he has shown throughout his playing time in the past season particularly that he is more than capable of being an above average starting center in the NBA, with only his track record of being extremely injury-prone looking like it will hold him back.
Kevin Durant: The Decision
There is also one key decision which could impact the future for both players; whether Golden State make a run at Kevin Durant during the offseason. If Barnes and Ezeli, and possibly one more, both move on from the Warriors it should allow them enough cap space to make a serious offer for Durant.
Some have also mentioned the possibility that the Warriors could try this move and, even if it fails, decide to extend Curry a year early and then build around the current team, minus Barnes and Ezeli, with whatever funds remain.
Who is more important?
Although Barnes, at this moment in time, is the much more valuable of the two players, for the amount of money he will be expected to receive it seems very difficult for Golden State to talk themselves into believing he is worth it.
He is currently the least important starter, although age is in his favour. But at key points, he is still benched for Andre Iguodala, like in Saturday night’s thriller, when Steve Kerr suddenly opted to start Iguodala for the second half.
Barnes has not helped his cause by not playing incredibly well throughout the season or playoffs. Usually it is expected that a player will up his game drastically looking for a higher contract but Barnes has not done so, which may indicate he is closer to his potential ceiling than some think.
Ezeli is therefore the more likely to be the one the Warriors try to hold on to this summer, with Andrew Bogut’s contract running out in 2017, when he will be 32, Ezeli’s age and potential are very much in his favour.
The two players will both be looking for their big payday’s come July, but is the money enough to leave a franchise that just had the best regular season of all-time?
The summer will certainly be an extremely interesting one for Golden State, whether they chase Durant or not, and the future of some key squad members could be hanging in the balance of the result at Oracle on Monday night.