The perfect and poetic timing of Klay Thompson's 13 seasons of splash for the Warriors


It was all about excellent timing, cohesion, competitive urgency and the perfect amount of deadpan spontaneity to make it feel fresh, funny, harrowing and occasionally poetic.

It was all about Klay Thompson being true to himself within the Golden State Warriors’ construct and most everything working out just fine. With Klay standing next to Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, why wouldn’t it work out? And now that Klay’s singular Warriors tenure — 13 seasons of fire and splash — is coming to an end, you can look back and understand how it all aligned. How many ways it could’ve gone wrong. How Klay just ambled into the franchise and fit with everybody as the dynasty started and evolved.

And how Klay’s rough final season and looming departure this offseason to the Dallas Mavericks in a reported sign-and-trade deal that would likely get the Warriors a trade exception is a blaring signal that what held the Warriors’ dynasty together — and won four championships — is now unalterably coming undone.

Yes, the Warriors might be put together in another successful way, maybe swiftly but probably over a longer haul. The Warriors recovered from the loss of Kevin Durant, and predictions of the dynasty’s immediate demise, to win their fourth championship three years later and they might figure out something now, in the waning days of Curry’s prominence. But it will be different without Klay. It will be harder. And it will feel much less connected to the greatest days.

The step back started a while ago, but the emotional dividing line is this offseason and this exit. Perfect timing as always, Klay. Absolutely perfect timing.

All of the towering rises and deepest low points in Klay’s Warriors career were about timing. Ideal timing. Stunning timing. Terrible timing. Comeback timing. Let’s just run through some of it:

• In June 2011, Klay was hand-picked by Jerry West to be drafted at the perfect time to be the perfect running mate for Curry, in a way that Monta Ellis never could be. Would Curry have been great if he’d never had Klay by his side? Yes, unquestionably. But there’s zero doubt that for Curry to reach his zenith, he needed a backcourt partner with size, who could be a lethal shooting threat without needing to dribble the ball, who could guard just about anybody and who was most content in a quieter corner of this loud circus.

Klay embodied all of those things so completely that for decades into the future he will be shorthand for championship-building: If you’ve got an alpha superstar, what you need next is a Klay. Then you will start counting championships (if you have a Draymond, too).

Klay flourished because he had Curry as a teammate, of course, but together they were the greatest shooting backcourt in NBA history, and full credit to former head coach Mark Jackson for calling it out early and making sure they kept hearing him say it.

• Klay came of age as a two-way star at the most necessary time, a few years into his career, just as the Warriors’ dynasty was getting ready to launch in 2014-15. Klay’s defense in the early championship years was always under-recognized (ask James Harden about it) and his toughness was a bedrock of the Warriors’ identity.

• Also, as the pressure grew, Klay’s wry humor became more and more recognized and more and more important. He turned into “China Klay” during offseason trips. He signed toasters. And he was the vital comic relief during the Warriors’ Hamptons trip to recruit Durant, breaking up the room after Durant, Curry and others were seriously weighing what was best for Nike (Durant’s shoe company) and Under Armour (Curry’s).

Hey, will this be good for Anta, too? Klay asked.

• Klay put together his greatest moments with magical timing: his 37-point third quarter in January 2015, when the Warriors’ engines were really beginning to roar; his epic 41-point performance (with a then-playoff-record 11 made 3-pointers) in Game 6 of the 2016 Western Conference finals in Oklahoma City is the most amazing single performance of this era; and I’ll always point out that Klay’s 60-point torrent in three quarters in December 2016 made witnesses out of two particularly accomplished teammates — Curry and Durant, both at the peak of their powers.

Klay Thompson


In 13 seasons with the Warriors, Klay Thompson won four NBA titles, made five All-Star Games and made the fourth-most 3-pointers in the NBA in that span. (Jed Jacobsohn / NBAE via Getty Images)

• Klay’s quiet competitiveness really helped drive the Warriors in the middle of the dynastic run, when Curry was established as a statesman of the game, Draymond was burned into his agitator role, and the locker room probably needed a bit more from Klay. Who delivered.

“I’m not going to mention names of competitors, but he’ll walk around the facility and carry these grudges,” Bob Myers once told me of Klay. “You know, he has this deep-seated respect for the game. So anytime anybody kind of goes for individual accolades over winning, he gets so upset. He despises the individual pursuit of greatness in lieu of team success.”

Klay was the Warriors mainstay who’d flash two, three then four fingers to heckling crowds to signify the titles won, who even barked about his rings to key opponents, who blurted out that of course he wasn’t going to give up shots upon Durant’s arrival and who fired back at all slights in the minutes after winning Title No. 4.

So it was no shock that Klay wrestled so publicly with his dwindling role on the Warriors last season. It was right there in front of us. With Klay, it usually was.

• Klay suffered his most grievous injuries with the absolute worst timing. His ACL tear came in Game 6 of the 2019 finals, when Klay was at his very best, at the peak of his prime, pushing the Warriors hard enough to give them a shot in that series against the Toronto Raptors. Then the injury. Then free agency. Then he got a max deal from the Warriors. Then he tore his Achilles the next autumn to lose another season-and-a-half, and there went his prime.

• And now the fateful timing to be the first foundational figure to hit free agency after the Warriors’ best chances to continue the dynasty have mostly faded away. Remember, Draymond’s deal came up a year ago, after the Warriors made it to the second round of the playoffs and could still conceive of grander things. And Curry has already signed multiple max extensions and will be offered as many as he wants to sign.

Klay’s negotiation this time around was darkened by a struggling season, from both the team and player, and a wipeout loss in the Play-In Tournament, when Klay himself went 0 for 10. The timing was awful. The timing was fate. The contract came up exactly when the Warriors were wondering if it was worth it to bid against other teams and maybe against themselves to bring Klay back, when Brandin Podziemski and Moses Moody might already be moving to grab a lot of his minutes. And the contract came up when Klay clearly was ready to try something else, even to the point of taking less money to do it.

If this negotiation had happened last summer, it’s likely that Klay and the Warriors would’ve been in far sunnier places and would’ve agreed to extend this relationship. But it came up this summer, when the tide had turned another way.

Is this the end? It’s the official end of existing at the highest level, a signal that the golden days are, indeed, over. But they’ve actually been over for a while. Klay’s decline was part of that. Yes, his comeback from the injuries was incredible and helped make the 2022 run seem almost unreal. But there was a toll taken in the journey back that Klay is paying now, unless there is a career rejuvenation coming with his next team. And there was a toll on the Warriors, too — because they won it in ’22, they had to keep relying on the veterans who got them that title. It was common sense.

And mostly, the decline was caused by missing on the James Wiseman pick, by Jonathan Kuminga and Moody not yet landing as playoff performers, by Jordan Poole falling off a season ago, by Draymond’s issues (which helped start Poole’s descent) and by Andrew Wiggins and Kevon Looney’s performance plummets. And now they’ve lost out on Paul George, couldn’t get anything for Chris Paul and Klay is moving on.

Unless the Warriors can pull off something dramatic — owner Joe Lacob and general manager Mike Dunleavy Jr. added versatile guard De’Anthony Melton for the midlevel exception on Monday and absolutely will be trying to do more — their major achievement this offseason might just be getting out of the second apron and well under the luxury-tax line. No, they don’t hang banners for doing that.

How will Curry react to all this? I don’t know. He’s been very patient with the situation, and he’s remained positive. He’s almost certainly not going to give up on a team that still has Draymond, Wiggins, Kuminga and Podziemski. But Curry will want to see what else the Warriors do. And if this next season fully drums the life out of the dynasty. It really might.

Players get old. We especially notice when it happens to the great ones because they matter the most. Klay mattered to everything that’s happened to the Warriors the last 13 years. When he declined, the franchise declined. And now he’s gone. They still have Curry and Draymond, but they will be gone, eventually, too. They will diminish. The light will dim. It already has. Klay’s leaving isn’t the cause of all that, but it is the proof of it.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Kawakami: Inside the Warriors’ Paul George attempt, Klay Thompson’s likely exit

(Photo of Klay Thompson celebrating the Warriors’ 2022 title: Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)



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