Klay Thompson Not Worth Golden State Warriors Whiffing on Kevin Love Trade

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 24, 2014

The approach of the NBA draft brings misinformation, smoke screens and front-office posturing designed to create negotiating advantages.

There's a good chance the Golden State Warriors are employing some of those tactics in their talks with the Minnesota Timberwolves about a trade that would feature Klay Thompson and Kevin Love switching locales.

At least let's hope that's what the Dubs are doing.

Because the alternative explanation—in which the Warriors really are genuinely considering Thompson's inclusion to be a trade-killer—is utterly baffling.

That's what the latest reports indicate, though, including this dispatch from Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein of ESPN.com:

The Golden State Warriors have hit an impasse in their trade pursuit of All-Star forward Kevin Love due to what is being described as an "organizational split" on the willingness to part with prized shooting guard Klay Thompson, according to sources close to the process.

And this, from B/R's Ric Bucher, paints things in starker terms:

If all this is true, the Warriors are blowing an enormous opportunity.

We won't belabor the point because so much has already been written—most of which is intuitively obvious as well—about how Love represents an ideal fit for Golden State. But even a brief rundown of the way he could single-handedly elevate the Dubs to serious contention is enough to make clear why allowing Thompson to be a sticking point seems funny at best and insane at worst.

Love would function as an ideal pick-and-pop partner for Stephen Curry, stretching defenses in ways no two-man combination ever has. We saw how smart teams attacked Curry with hard doubles way beyond the three-point arc last year, but they'd never get away with that if Love and his three-point range were the primary outlet option.

The scoring possibilities with those two at the point of attack are endless, and there's almost no way Golden State's offensive rating would fall outside the top five next season with them together.

Plus, the general spacing Love provides would make things easier on every Warriors player—from sneaky cutter extraordinaire Andre Iguodala to hard-charging Draymond Green. Best of all, Love could easily hide on defense with Andrew Bogut tackling (sometimes literally) the opponent's most dangerous big man.

It's hard to overstate the perfection of a Love-to-Warriors fit. And even if we put all that aside and focus on the objective basics, Love is a flat-out superstar in his prime, anxious to prove he can be part of a winner after six unsuccessful seasons in Minnesota.

And Golden State is letting a shooting specialist who has never once posted a player efficiency rating above the league average get in the way of all this?


OK, that's not fair. But it's admittedly hard to get past the temptation to denigrate Thompson when wondering how he could possibly be the figure holding up a deal for Love.

It's difficult to avoid talking about how his skills as a spot-up artist don't complement Curry's, how he's not a facilitator and how he struggles to consistently create his own shot.

All of those limitations are real, but so are the positives in Thompson's game. He's an elite shooter who has worked hard to make himself a very good perimeter defender. He has the mentality of a cold-blooded killer, especially in late-game situations when many players his age wilt.

Without question, he's a valuable player who has shown the ability to improve.

But he's not a superstar. He's not a guy who transforms a team. He's not a guy who, arguably, is a top-five player in the entire league.

There's an enormous productivity gap between Love and Thompson, no matter which points of comparison you choose.

Of course, this isn't a one-to-one assessment as far as the Warriors are concerned. By all accounts, they'd also part with David Lee and some combination of future draft picks and/or Harrison Barnes. In terms of on-court value, Golden State isn't measuring Thompson against Love.

But when it comes to finances, the two players bear some interesting similarities—ones that should push the Warriors to be even more committed to getting a deal done.

The concern with Love is that he'll simply become a free agent in 2015, leaving the Warriors (or whichever team eventually trades for him) with nothing to show for the assets they gave up to get him. While Thompson's situation doesn't figure to leave the Warriors in quite so obvious a lurch, he's still unlikely to be a part of the team beyond this season—not at a reasonable cost anyway.

Golden State has until Oct. 31 to offer him an extension. If it doesn't, Thompson will become a restricted free agent next summer. That scenario gives the Warriors far more control over Thompson's fate than they'd have over Love's (they could still match whatever offer Thompson received from another team), but the reality is that Thompson is probably going to command far more than Golden State should be willing to pay him.

The Dubs have major salary commitments to Curry, Bogut and Lee (or Love, perhaps) as it is, and if Thompson eventually commands a salary of at least $10 million per year, the Warriors would give up virtually all of their flexibility to retain him.

That's a fine way to go if the Warriors don't believe they need another near-max-level star to become a championship contender, but we know they covet another high-impact talent. Keeping Thompson at market value a year from now will foreclose any real chance of getting one.

That makes their insistence on keeping Thompson all the more baffling.

To put it in the plainest terms possible, Golden State refuses to deal a very good role player who they'll likely lose after this season for a superstar who could position them as title contenders immediately.

Seems crazy, right?

Fortunately, this is where all that talk of misdirection and smoke screens comes back into play, and it provides what could be the real explanation for what the Warriors are doing.

Golden State knows the longer Love remains in Minnesota, the less leverage the Wolves have. It also knows that if it waits until after the draft, teams offering picks will have already spent them, devaluing the packages they could potentially send to the Timberwolves for Love:

That's a spitball that, logically, sticks.

The upshot is that the Warriors may believe they can eventually force the Wolves into a position where withholding Thompson won't be a deal-killer. They know they'll have to give up Lee and other assets, but if Minnesota gets increasingly desperate, Golden State could work itself into a scenario in which it gets Love and keeps Thompson.

So when Warriors general manager Bob Myers says of a big trade: "I think probably right now unlikely. Best I can do for you. But I will say this, if you asked me last year at this time would we be in a situation to grab an Iguodala, I would’ve said the same thing," per Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News, pay a little more attention to that second part where he qualifies the term "unlikely."

The Warriors are gambling a bit here, as it's very possible the Wolves could simply move on, take the next-best offer and leave Golden State without the prize it has been coveting for weeks. Make no mistake: If the Dubs really are playing games, this is a dangerous one.

But when weighed against the possibility that the Warriors are allowing a good-but-not-great player to get in the way of elevating their ceiling to championship heights, it seems pretty darn plausible.

The Warriors are either crazy like a fox or just plain crazy.

We'll find out which as yet another perplexing NBA summer heats up.


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