On Monday, the internet invented a rumor.
Brian Scalabrine was on XM Radio, and said he had "heard this weekend" that Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson might be available in trade, and that the Celtics were involved in talks. Scalabrine is a former NBA player, and a current analyst for both CSN New England and Yahoo Sports. So understandably, people freaked out a little bit. Scalabrine quickly backtracked, saying he'd read it somewhere, and it was eventually traced back to a random site, citing another random site as the source of a rumor. Here's what happened.
How a fake trade rumor starts
If you, yes you, dear reader come up with a trade idea, and then posit that idea as "speculative rumor," you're saying, "well, this didn't happen, but it could happen." This is the same kind of mechanism that has created so many fake news sites that all of your relatives won't stop incessantly sharing on Facebook. The reason these sites exist is simple. Clicks. Millions of clicks built off the fact that NBA trade rumors are consistently the most high-traffic commodity when it comes to NBA coverage.
Aggregation is a powerful tool, and when used responsibly on sites like (hopefully) this one, it not only provides the reader with perspective and insight on current news on a given subject, but hopefully draws your attention to quality writing, analysis, and journalism. However, when used incorrectly, it produces random nonsense that Steve Kerr then has to be asked about at media availability.
So this was not a rumor. Some person had an idea for the Celtics to trade for Klay Thompson and then another site ran with it as a "rumor" and then Scalabrine read it and decided to share it with the world. The Warriors denied (and laughed at) it and the whole world moved on.
But there is something curious here. Random rumors about the Warriors trading Stephen Curry aren't going to pop up. No one's talking about the Rockets looking to move James Harden. "LeBron James trade Cavaliers" doesn't return anything on Google except the sign-and-trade in 2010. The conversation about the idea of trading Thompson started within the past week, and that's what gave way to a fake rumor which then briefly turned into a fake rumor being nationally discussed.
So, the rumor's fake, but the question is real. Should the Warriors trade Klay Thompson? Here, let me put it in a sub-headline for you.
Should the Warriors trade Thompson?
I'm tempted to just say no and leave it at that, but it is an interesting idea. Here's what the idea comes down to. Do you keep an asset you don't need, in the event that someday you do need it, over acquiring different assets which address real issues?
Thompson is averaging 18.8 points per game, which is above his career average, but below last year's average of 22 points per game. He's averaging just one fewer shot than last year, and shooting a lower percentage. Mostly because he started the season in an extreme slump. That's changing, though. In the last five games, Thompson is averaging 21 points per game, shooting 49 percent from the field and 44 percent from 3-point range. Both of those numbers are better than his average last season.
So again, the quick answer on whether the Warriors should trade Thompson is no, based on how good he remains. The issue that arises is how unnecessary Thompson's game seems with Kevin Durant on board. And indeed, by and large, the Warriors have been successful with two things: terrific half-court defense and the combination of Durant and Curry. More often than not, one of their two stars takes over for a quarter and that's enough to seal the game.
Against the Suns on Sunday, they managed to get all three stars going. Curry, Durant, and Thompson all went for 30 or more. That's the ideal, but it's a difficult thing to bring together. Draymond Green has adapted and figured out how to fit in with this team. He's leading the squad in assists and back to playing top flight defense. Sure, he's not the megastar, lauded as a super-weapon like he was last year, but he got his max contract 16 months ago, he has a title, and this team is destroying people like they were supposed to. That makes the medicine go down.
But for Thompson ... it's more difficult. For example, last season, Thompson took 15 shots or fewer in a game 28 times, or about one out of every three games. He's taken less than 15 in half of the Warriors' games this season. Thompson vowed in preseason he wouldn't be "sacrificing" anything and that's been his attitude. When Thompson gets the ball, he's firing. He's averaging fewer seconds per touch this season, and shooting at the same rate, via NBA.com's player tracking data. In short, Thompson has a harder time finding looks, and is gunning when he gets them, as he has to, in order to keep up.
But we're still talking about a really small difference. He's averaging 2.5 fewer shots per 100 possessions, about 1.6 less per 36 minutes. It's notable, as his his dip in production, but he didn't fall off a cliff or anything. He's just not quite as big of a component, and that's to be expected with the arrival of Durant. In fact, Curry has actually taken fewer shots compared to last year (slightly) at 2.6 fewer shots per 100 possessions with Durant around. Green and Andre Iguodala have both taken a little over one shot fewer as well.
That's the data. Those are the facts. But perception matters, and it certainly feels like Thompson is just kind of stuck into the rest of the structure. He's jammed into the side. They just don't need Thompson. He's good, great even. He's just not necessary for what they're being successful with. And on the other side of it, they could really use better bench production. They were 19th in bench production last year and have slid to 28th in scoring this season, via HoopStats.com.
The Warriors have always been about getting ahead of things. They won 73 games last year, reached the NBA Finals, and were a good quarter from a second straight title ... and they decided to blow up the infrastructure around their star players in order to acquire Durant. They are nothing if not bold. The Warriors are more proactive than any team in the league about getting ahead of issues. It's why they have young contributors constantly flowing into the system like Kevon Looney and Patrick McCaw instead of just relying on minimum-contract veterans. The Warriors have Anderson Varejao and David West just like the Cavaliers have Richard Jefferson and Mo Williams. The Cavaliers have Kay Felder and Jordan McCrae, but they don't play as significantly into the rotation as the Warriors' youngsters.
So there is an argument to be made for the Warriors trading Thompson. They might make the roster, 1-15 better, if you judge "better" as "having fewer weaknesses." But that's just one way of looking at it. Here's the real reason the Warriors shouldn't (and in almost all likelihood won't) trade Thompson.
Good vs. great
We pick apart weaknesses as a sports society. It's what we do. The Warriors are a 1.5 games back of the Clippers for the lead in the Western Conference. Are they more vulnerable than most, including me, expected? Sure. The concerns about their rim protection and overall roster strength are legitimate.
However, the same things that have made the Warriors great continue to be true. They are at their best when they go small, with the "Mega Death" lineup featuring Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Durant, and Green. That is still their most dangerous lineup and the most difficult to counter. It only works for stretches, and it's a grind to play, which is why Kerr doesn't play it all the time. But moving Thompson for more size means surrendering what makes the Warriors great.
It should be noted, this is what made the 2015 and 2016 teams so great. They had the capacity and strength with Andrew Bogut to do both. Play small and dominate, play big when needed, and have a great bench. But they didn't have Durant. That's the problem with any and all criticism of how Golden State constructed this team. Ultimately, you get back to, "yeah, but they have Kevin Durant." And you just can't ever reach a place where you say, "not having Durant and having a better surrounding core and more even balance of players and roles is better than having all of these problems and Durant."
There's also the chemistry factor. The Warriors have played together and enjoy playing together. Their balance of egos and attitudes works. Green is a catalyst, Curry is the demure, calm icon, Thompson is both quiet, quirky, and somehow laid back and intense at the same time.
Finally, the last reason the Warriors are unlikely to go the route of trading Thompson is that sure, most of the time you don't need him, and hopefully, maybe, the Warriors won't need Thompson or any of their other stars to go nova. But if they do? It's good to have a guy who can do what he did in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals.
Sure, but what if they did?
Right, so, we've established this isn't happening and why. But look, stranger things have happened. Thompson may get tired of a lesser role and want more. The chemistry could erode. Warriors management could legitimately get freaked out about their rim protection and interior defense. Draymond could kick him between the legs "on accident" too many times in practice. Who knows? So let's pretend for a second they considered it.
The good thing with Thompson is that he's so good, you're going to get some team to offer up a whole package of assets, and you don't just have to trade him to a contender. The two biggest targets are the teams with a vested interest in immediate improvement, combined with the right number of assets. Or as you know them, the Denver Nuggets and the Boston Celtics. Here's a brief list of five teams that would lineup if the Warriors were to look to trade Klay Thompson ... which again, they're not.
Yes, this makes sense. The Celtics have the rapidly-deteriorating-in-value Nets pick in a swap, along with another Nets pick next year. They can offer Avery Bradley to fill in for Thompson as a spot-up shooter and Bradley is an even better defender than Thompson (who's already great). They can add Jae Crowder for depth, Marcus Smart for backup point guard, and throw in Amir Johnson as an upgrade over David West. They likely can't make all those pieces work in terms of matching salaries but the combinations work in terms of getting value return.
The problem is that Boston does not have a rim protector. They themselves are missing that component and struggle with rebounding more than anything. So there would have to be a third team involved if the Warriors were to address that key need.
Gary Harris is young, a good shooter and scorer who went to Michigan State so he and Draymond have something in common off the bat. He's smaller, but so is Bradley, and Harris has great defensive upside. Jusuf Nurkic gives the Warriors a young big who is a monster presence inside and a terrific rebounder. And Wilson Chandler is an early Sixth Man of the Year candidate, also represented by Roc Nation, who reps KD. Throw in the Nuggets' pick this year and the Memphis Grizzlies' first-round pick and that's a really good package. Denver would want Thompson because they desperately, desperately need a two-way star shooter to build their franchise around. Thompson being on a multi-year deal mitigates their risk.
Sounds crazy, right? And no, I'm not talking about an Anthony Davis deal. The Warriors need rim protection? There's Omer Asik, right there. Want someone more mobile? Alexis Ajinca. Need a good backup point guard? Tim Frazier. Looking for a good wing bench role player? How about Solomon Hill? Want a playmaker? Tyreke Evans is there, except he's hurt. Salaries are tough there, as is his play style, though the Warriors are playing JaVale McGee now, so literally anyone works in this system. Throw in a Pelicans first rounder which could be super valuable and that doesn't look so bad. (Note: Yes it does. This is what we're talking about with Thompson trade targets.)
Yeah, they have Devin Booker. What's the only thing better than one great shooting guard? Two! Throw Brandon Knight in as a good backup veteran point guard, Alex Len or Marquese Chriss as a rim protector big, and P.J. Tucker as a wing, along with (again) a first-round pick. That's not crazy, and gives the Suns Bledsoe-Booker-Thompson as a 1-2-3 along with a young set of bigs still.
Nerlens Noel, naturally, is the cornerstone of any deal. You pick up the Lakers' first-round pick, Jerryd Bayless, and whatever other pieces you want (maybe Robert Covington III?) along with the Sixers' first-round pick. That's a pretty good deal and gives Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid a dynamic shooter scorer to play with.