BY ROGER WILLIAMS
The free agency of Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant has been a talking point over the past few months, and rightfully so. He is arguably one of the three best basketball players in the world and was the difference in the Warriors’ back-to-back championship runs. But Durant isn’t the only Warrior approaching free agency. Klay Thompson is too, and he is just as important to the Warriors cause.
Thompson’s impending free agency has not gotten much press until recently, which isn’t a surprise given how he has historically kept a low profile. But Steph Curry’s partner as the other half of the vaunted Splash Brothers is just as integral to the Warriors, as he is an all-world shooter and a stout defender (All-Defensive Second team this year).
Thompson has also had countless big games for the Warriors, like his 27-point performance to help close out the Houston Rockets, minus the services of an injured Durant, in this year’s Western Conference Semi-Finals, and his 41-point masterpiece against Oklahoma City in the 2016 Western Conference Finals. In fact, Thompson was again waxing hot in Game 6 of the recently concluded Finals, and carrying the Warriors into a potential make-or-break Game 7. But tragedy struck, as he tore his left ACL after an awkward fall following a dunk attempt in transition. Golden State ultimately lost Game 6, and the Finals.
Given Thompson’s importance, it’s only natural to wonder if Golden State can keep the other Splash Brother. Thompson has gone on record in expressing his desire to stay by The Bay. His teammates know it, too, which is why Warriors management seems unconcerned with Thompson possibly bolting.
But the best-case scenario for Golden State is to resign both Thompson and Durant (and maybe even big man DeMarcus Cousins). The league’s salary cap restrictions, though, will make that near impossible. It will entail players making sacrifices, just like the one Durant made last year when he resigned with the Warriors. The two-time Finals MVP resigned with Golden State and gave them a $9.5 million discount.
Consequently, the Warriors were able to resign Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston and keep their championship winning core intact. Then again, in an article on the highest earners in sports, Ladbrokes details how Durant is one of the top earning players in the NBA. He commands a salary upwards of $20 million a year, whether discounted or not, and has endorsement deals with Nike, BBVA, and Panini worth in excess of $30 million annually. That means a pay cut likely won’t hurt him financially. That doesn’t mean, however, that he will again take a discount, from the Warriors or any other team.
Durant has made it known that he wants max money, pointing out that he has never gotten a max contract in his career. “I never got the (massive) deal,” he once told Marcus Thompson of The Athletic. “I’ve just seen a bunch of dudes around the league making so much money, and I’m happy for them. But I know I deserve that, too. That’s the only thing I’m probably thinking about, to be honest.” Durant has a point, and he deserves to get paid. But so does Thompson, who refused to sign a 4-year, $102 million extension before the start of the season.
According to reports, the sharpshooting two-guard refused the deal because he is angling for a max contract from Golden State. That would mean a 5-year deal worth around $190 million, which would have been even higher ($221 million for 5 years ) if Thompson had made any of the three All-NBA teams. Now, in an almost cruel twist of fate, Thompson’s free agency will likely be defined by his ruptured ACL, which might lower his value around the league, forcing him to take a reduced contract.
The Warriors opened the season getting their much-deserved rings before starting their final year in Oakland. Now, as they prepare to move to San Francisco, they’re faced with important decisions that will surely impact the entire landscape of the NBA. They want Durant back, obviously, but they also need Thompson. It will be an interesting summer by The Bay, to say the least. And even more so now that both Thompson and Durant face all of next season on the sidelines after getting injured in the Finals. A twist in the story that makes for an interesting off-season and one in which the Warriors have a lot of decisions to make if they are to wrestle their crown back from Toronto and the other elite franchises in the NBA.