Last season was supposed to be a gap year for the Golden State Warriors' Splash Brothers run. Now it's looking more like a crater.
Thompson missed the entire 2019-20 season recovering from a torn ACL, but his prospects for a full return seemed stronger than most. Unlike other major stars who have suffered similar injuries (like, say, Derrick Rose), Thompson is a standstill shooter whose greatness isn't tied to his physical gifts. He was going to be fine, and with him, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green all with an extended offseason, Golden State was a good bet to pick up right where it left off.
But now, Thompson will miss yet another season, this time a torn achilles, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
If he's healthy for the start of the 2021-22 season—a big if, given the NBA's desire to go back to the normal schedule after this season ends a month later than usual—he'll be 31 with two-and-a-half calendar years between NBA appearances. Curry will be 33 by then, and Green will be 31.
They might still be good, maybe even very good. But with the Western Conference as loaded as it is, all three stars at the tail ends of their primes and Thompson coming off these two injuries back-to-back, it's hard to see the Warriors ever getting back to the level of dominance they had during their half-decade run.
Exactly how much worse are they without Klay on the court?
Thompson's importance to the Warriors is immeasurable. It was easy to overlook his contributions when Kevin Durant was in Golden State. He was slated to be the Warriors' best two-way option this season. Without Thompson on the court this year, they lose their second-best scorer and shooting threat, as well as their best perimeter defender.
On the defensive end, Thompson always takes the opponent's best perimeter threat. It allowed the Warriors to hide Curry on weaker threats.
Without him this year, they were 26th in defensive rating. The season before, they were 11th. Without him, they will be dependent on Andrew Wiggins and Eric Paschall to defend Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Luka Doncic, Donovan Mitchell, Jamal Murray and of course LeBron James, to name a few in the West. They just don't have anyone on the roster that can defend at the level that Thompson can.
Offensively, it becomes even more problematic. With just one Splash Brother, the Warriors immediately become easier to defend. Teams can lock in on Curry without having to worry about Thompson going off. In the 2018-19 season, he was their second-most effective three-point threat (minimum three attempts per game) at 40.2 percent. Teams will be more than willing to challenge Wiggins, Paschall and the rest of the Warriors to beat them while they attempt to smother Curry on every offensive possession.
Should they have picked a Klay replacement in the draft?
The injury to Klay Thompson is a deal-breaker if the Golden State Warriors as realistic challengers to the Los Angeles Lakers and other top teams in the West. And nobody in the 2020 draft would have been able to replace him.
So no, the devastating news shouldn't have had any impact on who the Warriors drafted. Their job still should have been to find the best player available, whether he was a shooter or a 7'1”, athletic center like James Wiseman.
Golden State clearly saw Wiseman as a better prospect than LaMelo Ball, and Thompson's expected unavailability shouldn't have changed its decision.
What can they do in free agency? Does this change their plans?
The Warriors don't have the same depth they had back when they were competing for titles. Veterans like Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston are gone. Kevin Durant is in Brooklyn with the Nets. Losing Thompson is devastating; there is no replacement.
Still, the team will have its $5.7 million taxpayer mid-level exception to spend, but, more importantly, a $17.1 million trade exception from the Iguodala trade with the Memphis Grizzlies. The Warriors have until Nov. 23 to use it. The answer may be Kelly Oubre Jr., who was recently traded from the Phoenix Suns to the Oklahoma City Thunder. At $14.4 million for next season, Oubre may be the best young, athletic wing experienced enough to help keep the Warriors afloat.
The Thunder seem to be tearing their roster down for youth and draft considerations. Golden State may be able to get something done for pieces like Damion Lee, Ky Bowman, Eric Paschall or, instead of active players, future draft considerations. That would allow the Warriors to chase a big man like Tristan Thompson with their mid-level, allowing recent No. 2 pick James Wiseman to get his legs under him behind a veteran.
What about the trade market? What could they get for Wiseman, Wiggins and/or future picks?
The Warriors have long had their eye on Giannis Antetokounmpo...because of course they have. Every team is monitoring the Milwaukee Bucks and their ability to get the back-to-back NBA MVP to sign a supermax extension.
Meanwhile, the Bucks are making a massive deal to acquire Jrue Holiday from the New Orleans Pelicans. Of course, their second deal for Bogdan Bogdanovic from the Sacramento Kings may have fallen apart, but they have to be confident they're keeping Antetokounmpo after giving up so many assets to New Orleans.
It's still a situation the Warriors need to monitor closely, with Andrew Wiggins, No. 2 pick James Wiseman, a future Minnesota Timberwolves first and just about everything else the team has on its roster outside of its core of All-Stars expendable. Antetokounmpo is an obvious game-changer.
If he sticks in Milwaukee, the stars that aren't on the move yet include Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo and Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal. Thus far, neither player appears to be available, though Oladipo may ultimately be moved.
The Pacers have Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, so they may not be interested in Wiseman, but a multi-team trade could be a possibility. But how about an out-of-the-box move? James Harden is disgruntled in Houston.
Could a package of Wiseman, Wiggins, multiple kids and draft picks work for the Rockets? That would be quite a culture shift, but with Thompson's injury, perhaps that shift is necessary? One last idea: Could the Warriors pry Buddy Hield from the Sacramento Kings? Perhaps that's more realistic.
Stats via NBA.com unless otherwise noted.