The Klay Contract Tightrope

If Klay Thompson is a businessman, he will say no thank you to a Warriors extension and wait for free agency in 2019 when he can take advantage of a mother of all contract that lands on his agent’s desk. It’s exactly what Jimmy Butler did earlier in the summer. But Butler has a wandering eye, one foot in New York and one foot in Minnesota. Klay wants to be a Warriors lifer. And he also wants to get the money he thinks he deserves which makes it all complicated.

That huge Klay Thompson 2019 free agency bill, on top of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green bills, and what DeMarcus Cousins may want, puts the Warriors in a stratosphere no NBA team has ever been in. The Warriors justify it- if they pay Klay $140 million- as the price of doing dynasty business. They project their profit margins in San Francisco will allow for the richest team payroll in professional sports history. But despite their projections, there needs to be an adult in the room on the Warriors side of things. Someone has to say no.

The Warriors are the team of Steph Curry in the regular season and the team of Kevin Durant in the postseason. Draymond Green is the combustion who keeps things afloat by leading the team in assists, rebounds, anger, dirty looks, cussing. He just leads in a Malcolm X kind of way. If it was a relay race, Durant is the anchor leg, Steph set the pace and Klay builds the lead, keeps the momentum, and assures victory.

Klay Thompson makes a Steph Curry defense palpable. He guards the best back court player. He stifled Kyrie Irving on the biggest stage, willing to let go of his ego so he could blanket Irving and turn the Cavaliers into a LeBron James has to do everything show. It was good enough to win a title. Unselfish, Klay proved his worth on a team of mega stars. He may never be first team All-NBA. He will always be an All-Star with his three point talent, until the legs give out. He will never be lead; he is the proverbial burying of the lead.

Klay Thompson has built a Hall of Fame career getting little credit. A third option only because the number one and two options are top-5 players, Joe Lacob and Bob Myers have to put a number on what that is.

This is what is real. You can’t put chemistry in an analytical blender. But here’s what the numbers say. Last season, Klay Thompson was 9th in Real Plus-Minus, when comparing him to other shooting guards. His defensive rating of 111 was the worst of his career, tied for his rookie year number. To illustrate how far Klay has fallen defensively, in 2014-15, the year of his first title, his defensive rating was 104. Since then, he has gotten worse every season.

Offensively, it is the opposite story. He had career numbers last season in field goal percentage, three point percentage, defensive rebounds, total rebounds. He has averaged 20 ppg four seasons in a row and you can pencil him in for 20 ppg this season. But he has only cracked the 20.0 PER one time, that year of his first title.

He doesn’t take a lot of shots within 10 feet of the rim, only 31 last season. He had 12 dunks all of 2017-18.  He took 1300 jump shots last season and they went in 45% of the time.  Last season, he took more shots in the second quarter, 442, than in any other quarter and it makes sense. The third and fourth are going to be dominated by Curry and Durant. Five teams bedeviled him, he couldn’t crack 40% shooting: Celtics, Lakers, Bucks, Pacers, Thunder. They used length to guard him or had dominant shooting guards he had to defend.

And so it comes down to how much the Warriors value chemistry. If they want to live in the penthouse and die on a hill with the current core then okay, mortgage everything. But legend Red Auerbach said the worst thing he ever did as a GM was keeping Bird, Parish and McHale until they were past their usefulness. He didn’t look towards the future. The message he passed on to his disciple Danny Ainge was sell high but sell before it is too late.

Jerry Buss the gambler famously said it is better to get rid of a player a year too early than have them on your roster a year too late. Had Buss paid Shaq the five year $100 million he wanted, he would have been stuck with old and hobbled Shaq not generating a return.

Being smart with All-Stars, when to say it just costs us too much, is what separates the elite front offices in professional sports. Frankly, I don’t think the Warriors are there yet. This is still too new, this first dynasty run. They don’t have enough wounds to touch. They’ll mortgage everything for Klay and eventually the dynasty will end with a bunch of jump shooters losing in the second round. Before that happens there will be a couple of more titles.

But it will end. And Klay’s ginormous salary will strangle San Francisco when it does.