Another superstar trade has come and gone, and as has become the custom, Klay Thompson was involved. Kind of.
Thompson, just back from his viral journey throughout China, where he missed dunks, danced carelessly, and lost in arm-wrestling contests after being tickled, found himself in yet another leaked post-trade rumor. After Kyrie Irving was traded to Boston, there were rumblings that the Cavs, in an attempt to get the most for a suddenly unhappy Kyrie, found themselves calling up their foes in Golden State and asking if they would be interested in a Kyrie-for-Klay swap. The Warriors reportedly declined the offer.
This isn’t the first, or even the second, time that Thompson has been the part of a would-have-been blockbuster trade, which begs the question: Why does Klay keep surfacing in these post-trade rumors, and what does it tell us about his place on the Warriors?
In 2014, when Kevin Love had been made available by the Timberwolves, rumors surfaced that the Warriors were not only interested, but willing to part with Thompson (as well as David Lee and a pick, and maybe even Harrison Barnes) for Love. What a time that was for the Kevin Love trade stock. Of course, the Warriors didn’t pull the trigger, reportedly at Jerry West’s behest, and the rest is history.
But this summer Klay’s name again came up in trade rumors. When Paul George hit the market, countless teams thought up their best offers for the dynamic wing. (I even jokingly threw out there that the Warriors should offer Klay for PG straight up.) Like clockwork, when George was traded to the Thunder in a shocker, the posthumous report said that yes, indeed, the Pacers had offered George to the Warriors for Thompson. The Warriors again shot down the offer, and later George speculated that the NBA would have stopped it, anyway.
In a short interview clip with a group of reporters Wednesday, Klay spoke about China (“I didn’t really realize how viral I was going. Didn't have the internet.") and about being the subject of trade rumors.
Klay Thompson on recent rumors: "It shows the Warriors believe in me and other teams want me to be a part of their success." pic.twitter.com/B6leAYfW5a— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) August 23, 2017
It’s no news that franchises covet the superstars of other teams, but most top-flight players on contending teams won’t be traded unless they want to leave. By being on a team with three other All-Stars, though, Thompson occupies a unique position: He is a blue-chip player whose team also may be able to win titles without him. There’s little room to try and speculate about where the post-trade reports and leaks came from, why they were even released, and what went awry in each deal, but it seems clear that if the Warriors were ever to decide to break up their core to add a new face, Klay would be the first member of the group shipped out.
If the Warriors somehow don’t win a title in at least one of the next two seasons, there’s no doubt that they’ll look for changes and upgrades. Everything looks picture perfect now, but if the juggernaut underperforms in any way, an influx of new faces might be the best way to revitalize the team, and Steph, KD, and Draymond aren’t going anywhere. Thompson will hit free agency in two years, and reupping him to a max deal would mean the Warriors would have to pay a whole lot more than the $18 million he’s set to make this season, plus the ridiculous luxury taxes that would pile up if the core stays intact.
That brings us to the biggest reason that the Warriors would consider dealing the quieter Splash Brother: money. At one point or another, finances will undo the current core. Kevin Durant may have taken less money to reup with the team, but that’s a decision top players rarely make. That Thompson is rumored to be involved in trade talks may mean that when push comes to shove, he will have to decline tempting offers if he wants to stay in the Bay.
But, it’s also possible that these rumors will strengthen the bond between player and team. Thompson knows that other teams will offer stars in exchange for his services, but he also knows that his current franchise has repeatedly chosen him over outside talent. Maybe a sense of loyalty will mean more than money ever could.
The reality is this: Thompson is, by light-years, the best fourth man in the league, but that’s all he can be with superstars ahead of him. To other teams, Klay’s position looks like an opportunity for a bargain: Why not offer an unhappy, high-profile player to Golden State in a trade? The Warriors may undervalue their sweet-shooting guard because their riches have distorted the franchise’s sense of scale. But the Warriors are not stupid. They know how important Klay is to their puzzle, no matter what the depth chart or box score says. They have the player, they know his value, and, for now, they have no reason to take any deal that is less than perfect.