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Manage a Warriors roster with contract uncertainty

In his eight seasons as head coach of the Golden State Warriors, Steve Kerr has overseen the winningest team in NBA history, a league-worst team and a team with enough drama to pack a soap opera.

If Kerr has learned anything in his three-plus decades in and around the NBA, it’s that multi-millionaires handle an uncertain financial future differently. Some use it as motivation. Others let the stress of it all hurt their job performance. Perhaps the only certainty is that, for the Warriors to repeat as champions, they must prioritize what’s best for the team over their own contract situation.

It’s trickier than it sounds. An NBA player’s earning potential is limited over time. Physical statistics in a contract year often make the difference between an athlete vaulting from rich to generation rich. Whatever Poole, Wiggins, Green and even the mild-mannered Thompson say publicly in the coming months, they may wonder — at least in the back of their minds — what their performance could mean for their next contract.

It’s only people, a fact that Kerr understands well. During the 1997-98 season, Kerr — then a reserve guard for the Chicago Bulls — saw firsthand how contract frustrations can affect an NBA locker room. Scottie Pippen, at $2.8 million, was making 12 times less than teammate Michael Jordan’s $33.1 million salary. Frustrated and bitter, Pippen sulked for much of that season.

“Some guys play better when their contracts are up and some guys stress about it,” Kerr said. “Everyone is different.”

Among the extension-eligible players, Poole’s situation should be the Warriors’ top priority. If they don’t sign him to a new contract by Oct. 17, they risk matching the maximum offer from another team when he hits restricted free agency next summer.

After Golden State returns from its two preseason games in Tokyo in two weeks, general manager Bob Myers will discuss a new contract with Poole’s agent. That seems increasingly likely, though, as the Warriors wait and see how the season unfolds.

These decisions carry long-term implications. If the Warriors bring Poole and Wiggins back to their expected market value while paying Green, Thompson, Stephen Curry and the rest of the players already on their books, they’ll be looking at a total salary — salary and luxury tax — north of $500 million for 2023-24.

Myers said majority owner Joe Lacob will fire him if the team’s payroll exceeds $400 million and doesn’t win a championship, meaning Kerr will likely enter the season competing for big contracts with four key players. The good news for the Warriors is that no NBA coach is better equipped for such an assignment.

For the first five years of his Golden State tenure, Kerr’s primary responsibility was managing the Pride. By instilling a team-oriented culture, he helped the Warriors largely avoid internal turmoil, win three NBA titles and cement themselves as a dynasty.

But every roster is different, and this season should bring a new set of potential losses. Green has already made it clear he wants to extend the four-year maximum contract. No matter what happens this season, Poole and Wiggins know one of them must be gone next summer.

Even if Green signs the max extension, the Warriors could drop their projected 2023-24 salary cap from $500 million to less than $400 million with either Poole or Wiggins. This raises some important questions: Will they feel competitive with each other this season? And if the Warriors stumble? Could Poole, Wiggins and others be angry that they don’t already have long-term assurances?

“We didn’t have this particular situation,” Myers said. “But that’s the beauty of the NBA, and our job is to try to navigate what we haven’t seen. … My experience is that sometimes these things sort themselves out, and sometimes they don’t.

“Right now, it’s hard to say where it unfolds. But we like those guys. I think it’s a high-class problem.”

In the days ahead, Kerr will do what he does best: pull players aside, learn where they are mentally. That information may be more important to the Warriors’ season outlook than any lineup combination or tactical wrinkle.

Kerr can only prevent internal problems if he knows their potential exists. By understanding how Poole, Wiggins, Greene and Thompson feel about their respective contract situations, he can ease their concerns and begin to reestablish an egalitarian policy.

“I don’t really think too much about (contracts) before the season starts,” Kerr said. “I try to get a good feel for what each player is going through and help them in their own situation.”

Connor Letourneau is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: cletourneau@sfchronicle.com. Twitter: @Con_Chron




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