Could Jonathan Kuminga be an X-factor in West finals?

That Kuminga’s readership can even be in the same stratosphere as Curry’s speaks to the rookie’s burgeoning celebrity† Perhaps it should come as no big surprise, then, that I have received questions at every phase of these playoffs about Kuminga’s role: When will he play? Why doesn’t he play more? Will he return to the starting lineup?

After logging a DNP in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals, Kuminga could be aimed to crack the conference-finals rotation against the Mavericks. Below is The Chronicle’s latest Warriors mailbag, which leads with why Kuminga might be a factor in this series:

@kanewman: Can Kuminga stay with Luka?

with Gary Payton II (elbow) and Andre Iguodala (neck) sidelined by injuries, the Warriors don’t have many palatable options for guarding Luka Doncic. Andrew Wiggins will defend Doncic most of the game, but what about when Wiggins sits? Klay Thompson is not the All-Defensive-Team stopper he once was.

It’s possible Steve Kerr gives Kuminga a chance against Doncic in Game 1. Though Kuminga still has a lot to learn defensively, he is big, strong and quick-footed. I think he could at least do a decent job of staying in front of Doncic. But if the Warriors are in the bonus, they’ll want to avoid this matchup. Kuminga can be a bit foul-prone against crafty scorers.

@vincent93661651: Do you think the Warriors can keep the core of Curry, Thompson, Green and Looney with Wiggins, Poole, Porter and Payton next season, or is the luxury-tax burden too big?

I will spare you all the salary-cap minutia and get right at the bottom line: It’s highly unlikely that the Warriors bring back all those players next season. Kevon Looney is expected to sign a multi-year deal with Golden State this summer worth roughly $6 million a year, and the Warriors want to sign Jordan Poole to an extension that could be around four years, $100 million.

Combine that with the fact that Draymond GreenCurry and Thompson are due to earn a combined $122.7 million — $3.5 million over the total projected salary cap — in 2023-24, and Golden State needs to be judicious with the rest of its roster decisions. As I’ve written beforethe most logical way for the Warriors to cut salary is to trade Wiggins before he hits unrestricted free agency in summer 2023.

But even if Golden State moves Wiggins shortly after this season, it could have a tough time bringing back Otto Porter Jr. and Payton. Those two are expected to command well more than minimum contracts in free agency this summer. And given how much money the Warriors have tied up in their core, they might have issues spending so much on role players like Porter and Payton.

Of the two, I’d say that Payton is slightly more likely to return than Porter. The Warriors see Payton as a potential franchise building block, and the broken left elbow he suffered in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals should make him more affordable this summer. Having to miss games at this stage of the season is a lost opportunity for someone who would have been the Warriors’ best defender on Doncic, performances that could have boosted his value in free agency.

@UWaryr: With the teams being more small-ball oriented and injuries to GPII and Andre, does Moody have a chance to play?

I doubt it. if Moses Moody was going to earn meaningful minutes in these playoffs, he already would have.

Kerr is understandably reluctant to play rookies in high stakes games. Even though Kuminga was downright brilliant at times toward the end of the regular season, he has struggled to carve out a consistent niche this postseason.

Odds are Moody, who’s far less physically gifted than Kuminga, will continue to be relegated to garbage time. Kerr has shown that he prefers using Damion Lee to round out the rotation.

@perdidonospac1: What starting lineup will probably give the Warriors the best offense-defense ratio in Game 1?

I expect Golden State to start Looney just to match up with Mavericks center Dwight Powell. But odds are that this series will be small-ball heavy, with Powell and Looney playing sparingly.

In other words, the starting lineups might not matter much. Green will see plenty of time matching up against Maxi Kleber at center. There could also be times when the Mavericks go even smaller, rolling out a lineup of Doncic, Jalen Brunson, Reggie Bullock, Dorian Finney-Smith and Spencer Dinwiddie.

On the off chance that Dallas goes all-in on small ball and starts Kleber in place of Powell, the Warriors would be wise to start the three-guard lineup of Wiggins, Green, Curry, Thompson and Poole. I expect Poole to have a big series† With Curry commanding so much defensive attention, Poole should have room to make plays and knock down shots.

@BagOfWords: How is GPII doing? Any chance he plays in the Western Conference finals?

Payton has been getting in some conditioning work, and the Warriors have yet to rule him out for this series. However, Kerr called it a “long shot” that Payton would return at any point in the West finals. I wouldn’t bet on it.

@DubNation_PH: Who would the Warriors match up better against in the Finals: the Heat or Celtics?

If I’m the Warriors, I’d prefer to face the Heat over the Celtics. Boston has been the best team in the NBA over the past few months. And if anyone can devise a defensive game plan to contain Curry, it’s probably the Celtics.

But I must say, I was thoroughly impressed by what the Heat did in Game 1 on Tuesday — particularly in the second half. Jimmy Butler has probably been the best player in these NBA playoffs not named Doncic. I just think that in a best-of-seven series, the Warriors’ firepower and depth would be too much for Miami.

@DrDreNoCal: Can we please have Looney play at least 24 minutes a game this series? Thank you.

I understand the sentiment, but it’s unlikely. As I mentioned earlier, this projects as a small-ball-centric series. Though Looney should be in the rotation, I’d be surprised if he averaged more than 15 minutes per game.

Part of what makes Looney so valuable is his ability to stay ready. He was a relative non-factor for much of the Western Conference semifinals, only to corral 22 rebounds and be the Warriors’ Game 6 MVP when they needed him.

Who knows? Perhaps Golden State will have to rely again upon Looney’s size, experience and basketball IQ at some point in this series.

Should Curry only attempt 10 shots a game if the Mavs are smothering him like last time, or do we work harder and take sketchier shots?

It’s no secret that the Mavericks plan to do all they can to stop Curry, which should free up Poole, Thompson and others for open looks. I know it’s cliché, but the Warriors will do whatever gives them the best chance to win. There is a world where Curry averages less than 20 points per game in this series, and Golden State still makes the NBA Finals.

But after being relatively quiet in the first two rounds (by his lofty standards), I get the sense that Curry is eager to reasset himself on a national stage and deliver some playoff masterpieces. Don’t be shocked if he forces the issue in this series and scores 40-plus points in multiple games.

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

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