The Golden State Warriors just had themselves one of the best bad seasons in NBA history. After five straight Finals and three championships, they needed a rest. Stephen Curry, who broke his left hand in late October, wound up playing five games. Klay Thompson, recovering from ACL surgery, didn't play any.
By finishing with the worst record in the league, the Warriors, along with Atlanta and Cleveland, have the highest possible odds of landing the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming 2020 draft, and they're guaranteed nothing lower than the No. 5 selection. This after they traded rental asset D'Angelo Russell for the rights to Minnesota's 2021 first-round pick, which holds immense value as a likely lottery pick in a deep class.
So here the Warriors are with a championship-ready roster set to come back healthy and rested with the draft equity to also set up their future. Usually, teams have one or the other. That the Warriors have both provides them the most precious of all team-building commodities: Options.
One of those options is to trade Thompson.
To be clear, there has been no reporting of any kind of potential Thompson trade even being whispered about at this point. This is a thought exercise for the moment, but one that could potentially become a real dilemma as Golden State's brass charts the most promising path forward.
"When you start talking about these blockbuster trades, which we don't even know who might end up becoming available or how these playoffs might have an impact, but yeah, every team, or most every team I should say, is always thinking about their assets and what it might take to maybe have a chance to get in those conversations," a league exec told CBS Sports. "In Golden State's case, I think they would probably have to consider including Klay in those kinds of talks if they were really serious. But to me, the bigger question is what are they going to do with their [draft] picks?"
The picks to which this executive is referring are the Warriors' 2020 and 2021 first-rounders, the latter of which will come via the Timberwolves as it was part of the D'Angelo Russell-Andrew Wiggins swap.
Warriors GM Bob Myers has openly admitted the very obvious fact that he is considering trading those picks, either for a ready-made contributor or simply to move down in this year's draft and pick up another asset that could continue to fill the war chest they might eventually try to empty for a superstar.
So let's just say it: We're talking about Giannis Antetokounmpo. Or, on a lower level, perhaps a Joel Embiid or a Bradley Beal. If the Sixers flame out in this year's playoffs and eventually give up on Embiid and Ben Simmons ever fitting together, would Golden State be ready to pounce? Beal hasn't been quite the player Thompson has been to this point in their respective careers, but he's probably the better prospect moving forward as he's almost four years younger and not coming off ACL surgery.
Draft picks have never been more valuable in the NBA than they are right now, and by trading those picks the Warriors would be cashing in the chance to let this dynasty run the latter portion of its course while keeping the cupboard stocked for a smooth and successful transition into a post-Curry era.
But if Giannis, in particular, were to become available, if you ever were to sense the Bucks starting to worry he might leave in 2021 to the point that they might start exploring options to get ahead of losing him for nothing, you mortgage whatever you have to.
In that case, future picks, even high lottery picks, are not enough to get in the game for these types of players. Adding, say, an Andrew Wiggins, who's widely regarded as a negative asset, or even Draymond Green, who doesn't figure to age well at all, to make the money work wouldn't get it done. Being that Stephen Curry is obviously off the table, Klay is Golden State's best asset, and it just so happens that he may be a diminishing one.
In fact, John Hollinger of the Athletic -- who spent seven years as the Memphis Grizzlies' vice president of basketball operations -- recently ranked the five-year, $190 million max extension Thompson signed last summer as the single-worst contract in the entire NBA moving forward. Per Hollinger's valuation projections, Thompson would have to produce like a top-15 player in the league over the next four seasons for the Warriors to get their money's worth.
Thompson probably wasn't that kind of player even before the ACL injury, but he wasn't far off. Top 25 would be an easy case to make, though to be fair it's the back end of that deal that could look particularly bad with Thompson set to make $43.2 million in 2023-24, when he'll be 34.
In the short term, however, Hollinger projecting Thompson as the "20th-best non-rookie shooting guard" for the 2020-21 season feels like an egregious undervaluing of probably the second-greatest shooter in history who is still in his prime and has also -- at least pre-ACL -- been a borderline All-NBA defender.
If the Warriors were to consider moving Thompson, they certainly wouldn't be attaching a "20th-best shooting guard" tag to him, and one league source who spoke with CBS Sports believes Thompson would "definitely" be deemed more valuable than that on the open market.
But there are questions. The age. The ACL. And perhaps most interestingly, what would Thompson look like outside the context of Golden State's system and star power? He doesn't create his own shots. He benefits greatly from the space Curry creates and the high-IQ passers Golden State has employed over the last half-decade. If Thompson had to be a No. 1 option with defenses able to focus more specifically on tracking him, would he put up the same kinds of numbers?
"You can't say yes or no, but I would say it's not likely," a former NBA player and current Eastern Conference executive told CBS Sports. "I personally put a lot of weight on how your shots are created. How much do you have to do offensively, and how much is done for you?"
This isn't to suggest Klay hasn't pulled his weight over the years in Golden State. You take him off that team, it's hard to imagine them winning a title, let alone three. Thompson might not be a No. 1 option, but there's great value in a player of his caliber not needing to be a No. 1 option, who is content in the knowledge that he's going to fire a ton of 3-pointers and be called upon to guard the toughest scorers in the league without ever truly getting the credit he deserves.
This no-frills, just-hoop mentality, and humility, has endeared Thompson to his peers and fans alike. People love Thompson. The Warriors love Thompson. And that's what they'd really struggle with if the time ever came to consider trading Thompson. It's the history. The relationship. The respect. It's the 60 points in 29 minutes. It's the 37-point quarter. It's Game 6 of the 2016 conference finals when Klay momentarily saved a 73-win season. It's Game 6 of the 2019 Finals, when Klay limped out from the tunnel to make two free throws and tried to keep playing on a torn ACL.
This would be personal. You think Curry lobbied hard to keep the Warriors from replacing Mark Jackson as coach? He would not be happy with seeing his splash brother depart. Their relationship has grown on and off the court. Their legacies are intertwined as probably the two greatest shooters and perhaps the best backcourt in NBA history.
But business is business. The Warriors surely didn't like parting ways with Andre Iguodala, but they did it. Every team has to guard against paying players -- especially their own homegrown players to which they're emotionally connected -- more for what they've done in the past than what they project them to do over the life of the deal.
When the Clippers gave Blake Griffin a five-year, $173 million max extension in 2017, it was more for the player Griffin had been than the oft-injured, athletically compromised player he was about to become. By trading Griffin to Detroit, the Clippers were able to start building themselves into the frontline championship contender they are today.
There are a lot of similarities between Griffin and Thompson -- relatively equal players in their primes with injury concerns moving forward. When the Clippers lost Chris Paul to the Rockets, immediately showing Griffin the money was a signal that they weren't giving up on contending. It was emotional. When they sat down and figured out the business, they got off that contract the minute they could.
The Warriors are certainly not looking to get off Thompson's deal in the same way. That Clippers team had never made it past the second round even with Chris Paul, so there was no reason to believe Griffin was going to lead them into some prolonged stretch of contention as a lone star. The Warriors have won three titles with Thompson, and they have every right to believe he can help them win one or two more.
But there are some of the same dynamics in play. When Kevin Durant left Golden State, immediately re-upping Thompson was a signal that the band intended to play on. But imagine if the Warriors could, in theory, get their hands on Giannis or Embiid. Would the nostalgia of the fading dynasty Klay helped build outweigh the opportunity to build a brand-new one?
When the Warriors first considered trading Thompson for Kevin Love back in 2014, his best years -- and the team's best years -- were still in front of them. Five years, three championships and a thousand memories later, when, exactly, would be the right time to look down the road again?