How Much Should Klay Thompson Be Worth to Golden State Warriors?

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How Much Should Klay Thompson Be Worth to Golden State Warriors?
David Zalubowski/Associated Press

It's gambling season for the Golden State Warriors and their sharpshooting off-guard Klay Thompson.

One way or another, the Dubs are about to place a massive bet on Thompson's future. Whether that happens on the trade market or at the negotiating table, they'll have to decide if it's time to sell the sniper's stock or buy all the available shares.

Golden State could easily convince itself that Thompson is worth a substantial investment.

In three NBA seasons, the 24-year-old has already established himself as one of the league's premier perimeter threats. He's a quality-plus-quantity contributor from distance. He's finished among the top three in three-point makes each of the last two seasons (second with 223 in 2013-14, third with 211 the year prior), while converting 40.9 percent of his attempts over that stretch.

He's also emerged as one of the team's top backcourt defenders, an impressive feat considering the Warriors wrapped up this past campaign with the NBA's third-best defensive efficiency, via NBA.com. His development has served as Golden State's answer to Stephen Curry's deficiencies at that end, with Thompson acing the defensive tests that Curry can't pass. Note this tweet by ESPN Stats & Info from Golden State's Round 1 playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers:

There's plenty of value in what Thompson brings to the hardwood. However, it falls on Golden State's decision-makers to determine how much he's worth to the team's title pursuit.

Thompson is good, but is he max-contract good? Now that he's eligible to receive his first contract extension, that's one of the questions the Warriors will have to answer this offseason.

If that seems like a strange inquiry, it shouldn't. According to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports, that's reportedly the rate Thompson will attempt to secure on his next deal:

That would be an incredible—if not egregious—price to pay for the player that Thompson is today.

He would need to make serious strides in his game to warrant a contract number close to that range. He's not the most efficient scorer (career 43.5 field-goal percentage), which is troubling considering how important scoring is to his impact on the game. He averaged 18.4 points a night this past season, but tallied forgettable marks in rebounds (3.1) and assists (2.2).

The market has valued players who can score, shoot and defend. It has not, however, pegged players with similar skill sets as max-contract talents, as Bleacher Report's D.J. Foster noted:

Overpaying for production is problematic for any team in the league, but it's particularly concerning for the Warriors.

They've already paid a premium on their current core. The Warriors have more than $64 million already on the books for the 2014-15 campaign, via ShamSports.com, and another $50-million-plus committed to the 2015-16 payroll.

Even if they wanted to handsomely reward Thompson for his play, they might have trouble finding the funds necessary to do so.

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

"With Andrew Bogut, David Lee, Curry and [Andre] Iguodala all making eight figures per season moving forward, there just isn't much room for Thompson," ESPN.com's Ethan Sherwood Strauss observed.

That's all assuming that keeping Thompson is part of the team's plans.

Judging by the trade winds swirling around the franchise at the moment, that's an awfully large assumption to make.

The Warriors are said to be in the running for Minnesota Timberwolves superstar Kevin Love, who may be forcing his way out of Minneapolis. The 25-year-old has reportedly informed his employer that he plans to opt out of his contract next summer and "has no interest in a contract extension to stay in Minnesota," sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne.

The ESPN scribes also learned that the Warriors "are among the potential trade destinations that intrigue Love."

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

The Dubs, desperate to find a secondary star capable of relieving some of the defensive heat felt by Curry, have not surprisingly been plotting their way to the front of the race for Love ever since. When an All-NBA performer singles out a club as a potential landing spot, that team has no choice but to listen.

Golden State has apparently done more than listen. It has, according to Stein, opened the door to potentially including Thompson in a deal for Love:

Nothing is official yet, and it sounds that the Timberwolves and Warriors are bouncing trade ideas off one another. One potential deal, relayed by Thompson's father, Mychal, during an appearance on ESPN LA 710 AM, involves Minnesota sending Love and Kevin Martin to Golden State in exchange for Thompson, David Lee and a future first-round pick.

Thompson is the Warriors' trump card in the Love sweepstakes. The shooting guard could provide immediate assistance to Minnesota, while potentially adding a lot more in the coming seasons.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News opined that the Warriors might not need to show their best hand yet. Not before attempting to turn these talks more heavily in their favor:

The Warriors could refuse to take Martin...in any trade.

...Or the Warriors could refuse to put their 2015 first-round pick in any deal.

Or the Warriors could say that they'll only include Thompson if they get Minnesota's (No.13) pick in this draft (which could lead to a replacement for Thompson).

...Or the Warriors could say, we'll take Martin back ONLY if Minnesota ADDS a first-round pick and takes back Marreese Speights.

In other words, Golden State has options.

Keeping Thompson, however, does not seem to be one of them. If the Warriors want to land a big fish, they'll have to part with some valuable assets in return.

The price might seem high, but consider the player the Warriors are pursuing. Love wrapped the 2013-14 campaign ranked third in rebounding (12.5), fourth in scoring (26.1), third in player efficiency rating (26.9) and eighth in made threes (190), via Basketball-Reference.com.

Players cut from his cloth, of which there are maybe a handful of in the NBA, do not come cheap. The Warriors might envision an All-Star future for Thompson, but Love has an All-Star present.

"As good as Thompson is, Love is already a top 10 player at any position and just a year older," NBC Sports' Dan Feldman wrote. "...You don’t pass on a player like that, at least if you’re confident you can re-sign him, due to Thompson."

Golden State wants to win now. Teams do not (or should not, at least) carry this type of payroll and sacrifice this many draft picks (the Warriors have shipped out a pair of first-rounders and each of their next five second-round selections) without expecting to contend for a championship.

With that motivation in mind, this is not the time for the Warriors to choose potential over proven production.

Would there be risks involved in this type of transaction? Absolutely.

Thompson's ceiling has yet to be set. If he tightens his handles and improves his court vision, he could become a really good, perhaps even great player.

He also has the support of arguably the most important player in the Bay Area hoops world: Curry.

"I love playing with him; he makes me better, I try to make him better," Curry said, via Kawakami. "... So definitely want him to continue to be my backcourt mate and keep pushing, keep growing together."

Might Curry's opinion change if losing Thompson meant adding Love? One could argue that a best-case scenario involves landing Love without giving up Thompson, but it's hard to imagine the Timberwolves signing off on such a transaction. Not to mention the financial hurdles the franchise would then be putting in its path moving forward.

Should the Warriors trade Klay Thompson in a deal for Kevin Love?

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Losing out on Love wouldn't be the end of the world. The Warriors are fresh off a 51-win season and have freed themselves of the constraints former coach Mark Jackson placed on the offense. There are plenty of avenues to improvement that don't involve looking outside the franchise for more help.

If the Warriors lost their pursuit because of a refusal to trade Thompson, though, that would be disastrous. He's not a player worth passing on a transcendent talent like Love.

And again, Thompson is not a max-contract player. A low end eight-figure salary might be too steep a price to pay.

Betting too heavily on Thompson's future, either in terms of an expensive extension or by blocking a potential move for Love, could be a crushing blow to a franchise that has positioned itself to take the next step toward contention. A realistic assessment of Thompson's worth could be key in the Warriors' attempt to keep climbing the NBA ladder.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com. 

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