Why the Warriors must trade Jordan Poole before next season

Jordan Poole may be 23, but he already knows the wayward NBA fans well.

Just seven months ago, after signing a four-year, $140 million extension with the Golden State Warriors, Poole was widely touted as the future face of the franchise. Now, the blogosphere is abuzz with potential business scenarios involving him.

Such is the pressure that this huge extension has brought. Regressing in his fourth NBA season, Poole has become the Warriors’ most logical candidate to become a salary cap victim this summer.

Whether that happens depends on how management views its progress — or lack thereof. But even before Poole signed his life-changing contract last October, there was reason to believe he was not a good investment. The Warriors need to at least assess his league-wide market value to see if they can turn him around for an All-Star level player.

If that proves impossible, they should consider getting rid of his contract in a salary dump. The NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, which takes effect July 1, leaves little room for the Warriors to improve their roster. Of the players this team could handle losing, Poole might be the best trade chip.

Many franchises could use a talented young scorer with a hard work ethic. But as last season unfolded, it became clear he was uncomfortable with the Warriors. Poole’s skill set suggests he would be better off being a team’s go-to option. A creative playmaker who is at his best with the ball in his hands, he struggled at Golden State with a read-and-react system that demands precision.

As well as shooting significantly worse from the field and 3-point range last season than in 2021-22, Poole has seen his turnovers soar from 2.5 to 3.1 per game. Then there was his dodgy pairing alongside Stephen Curry. Poole averaged 26.1 points without Curry, but only 17.8 with him.

It may seem obvious: when a shooter of Curry’s caliber is on the ground, the other four players are bound to score less. But it’s no coincidence that Poole has long been better as a substitute starter with injured Curry than as a second-unit leader. The traits that make Poole great – swagger, flash, bravado – aren’t always so accessible coming off the bench.

With Curry and Klay Thompson entrenched as the Warriors starting backcourt, Poole would have to wait at least a year, if not more, to break the first unit. It’s probably a schedule Golden State can’t afford. For the Warriors to maximize what’s left of 35-year-old Curry’s best, they need to get back into title contention next season.

That would require the 2021-22 version of Poole, who benefited from sharing a second unit with Otto Porter Jr. and shot 44.8% from the field (36.4% from 3-pointers). The problem is that the new ABC is deeply stripping luxury tax teams like the Warriors of their mid-level taxpayer exceptions. With reserve guard Donte DiVincenzo set to turn a resurgent season into a big payday elsewhere, Golden State’s bench is set to get worse — not better.

Some within the organization want to believe that Poole’s difficult year was only once, which is fair. He had to deal with the domestic backlash of Draymond Green hitting him in pre-season training.

These two never seemed to completely get past the incident. And instead of leaving Green, the Warriors seem determined to keep him.

“If Draymond isn’t back (next season), we’re not championship contenders,” head coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday. “We know that. He’s so important to winning and for who we are. I absolutely want him back.

Kerr also expressed his support for Poole, going so far as to reiterate that he is a “founding” player. Actions speak louder than words, however, and Kerr couldn’t justify playing Poole in critical times during the playoffs.

His matador defense means he has to be very productive offensively just to be a useful player. But after averaging 17 points on 50.8% shooting (39.1% from 3-point range) in the 2022 playoffs, he’s only averaged 10.3 points on 34.1% shooting (25.4 percent from 3-point range) this playoff.

The Warriors outscored opponents by 4.9 points more with Poole on the floor in the playoffs than with him out. His response to those issues — poor body language, near-constant complaints to referees, terse postgame interviews — wasn’t exactly encouraging for a team that was to pay him $28.7 million next season.

If the Warriors maintain the status quo, their total payroll between salaries and luxury taxes will top $500 million. It’s a non-runner for an aging band with no guarantee of title contention. With Green ($27.6 million next season if he chooses his option), Thompson ($43.2 million), Curry ($51.9 million) and Andrew Wiggins ($24.3 million) under contract, Poole’s big salary is the most expendable.

That’s not to say the Warriors are eager to part ways with him. By blossoming from overwhelmed rookie to key cog in an NBA champion, Poole earned considerable goodwill from franchise decision makers. Kerr reminded reporters on Tuesday that – even in a down year – Poole averaged a career-high 20.4 points and “helped us win a lot of games.”

But if we’ve learned anything over the past season, it’s that Poole might be in a better position to post showy stats for a lottery-bound side than chasing another title with Curry. The likes of the Rockets and Wizards would surely listen if Golden State offered them Poole in a trade.

He should make those calls. Poole is a good player, but he doesn’t belong in the Warriors’ long-term plans.

“It comes with it,” Poole said of the trade speculation. “You find ways to learn and adapt and grow. Not really much.

Contact Connor Letourneau: cletourneau@sfchronicle.com

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