For as long as the Warriors’ recent dynasty has existed, Klay Thompson has provided comic relief. In good times, stressful times, and bad times, Klay has simply remained Klay. It’s the NBA’s own, subtler, version of “Manny being Manny.” Sometimes, that means calling out the Oracle Arena fans for not being loud enough. Other times it means wearing a Louis Vuitton vest and shades to a postgame interview, as Klay did after scoring 32 points in Game 4 of the Warriors-Clippers first-round series. That feels like a long time ago.
Since that performance, the Warriors’ exuberance and Thompson’s showmanship has been tamped down by a Rockets team that has more or less been an even match for Golden State. The Warriors seem more vulnerable than ever before, and now even the team’s future is being called into question. On Wednesday, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith reported that Thompson is unhappy because “his number hasn’t been called enough” in these playoffs, and said that “he’s tired of sitting around and getting, this is a quote, the ‘crumbs’ left behind by other people.” Smith said that this information came from people around Thompson, though he didn’t speak to the Warriors star himself. Not knowing the source, it’s hard to assess how much weight we should give these comments, or whether this will matter when Thompson hits unrestricted free agency this summer. But the timing is notable.
All season, the prevailing sentiment has been that Thompson plans to stay with the Warriors long-term if they offer him a max contract. His father, Mychal Thompson, has been adamant that Klay wants to be in Golden State; coach Steve Kerr recently said that the organization wants him back; and Andrew Bogut stated that Thompson has never said anything “about wanting to leave here.” So why is there now a report about him being unhappy? Well, when a team that’s been through four consecutive Finals runs starts to struggle at an earlier stage than it’s used to, fissures, however small, tend to come forward.
Thompson is not the face of the franchise like Steph Curry, the polarizing figure like Kevin Durant, or the team’s emotional heartbeat like Draymond Green. This has its benefits. When he shines, he’s the lovable goof who can talk scaffolding and his dog while also taking down an opponent with 10 made 3s. And when he struggles, there’s not much criticism directed his way. Any downturn in his play is seen as a product of the Warriors’ larger issues, and for the most part, that’s true. I wouldn’t demean Thompson’s Hall of Fame–level talents by saying he’s a system player, but it is inarguable that he thrives in the environment the Warriors have built. Thompson is a litmus test for the Warriors’ dominance, and he’s also often the final hammer that finishes off Golden State’s opponents.
The unique position Thompson holds in the team’s ecosystem has made his performance over the past few games feel disconcerting. Thompson has shot just 38 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3 during the second-round series against the Rockets. In the Warriors’ two losses, Thompson went a combined 3-for-12 from deep. If this were any other player, we’d say that he’s going through a cold streak and move on—we’d likely even shrug it off were this happening to Thompson during the regular season. But the combination of the stage, the matchup, and the way Golden State has looked recently makes Thompson’s performances impossible to ignore. He’s not the reason the Warriors lost twice, but his struggles are a symptom of the team’s inconsistencies and lack of depth, and the way the Rockets have played them.
Thompson has had to guard James Harden on the defensive end, which has no doubt been draining. Plus, Klay is still recovering from the ankle injury he suffered in Game 6 of the Clippers series. In the past two games, as Houston has turned this series into a physical, grind-it-out test, those two details have had a larger impact on the way Klay plays. Not to mention Thompson already has played more than 40 minutes in three of the team’s past four games, after he played 40-plus minutes in just five games total during the regular season. It must all be wearing on him, and that could be what’s affecting his shot, too, which could spell trouble for Golden State.
If you doubt Thompson’s value to the Warriors, or question whether he’s a luxury on a team that already has two transcendent talents, think about this: In the regular season, there were 27 Klay Games (we’ll define that as a game in which Thompson had 25 points or more). Golden State was 21-6 in those contests, good for a .778 winning percentage, which is a better percentage than it posted when either Curry (.750) or Durant (.644) scored 25 points or more. During the postseason, Thompson has scored 25-plus only once. It was a 32-point game in L.A., and look at what we got out of that:
Folks, Klay Thompson: pic.twitter.com/KEnlFmQF5y— Paolo Uggetti (@PaoloUggetti) April 21, 2019
We are still waiting for a Klay Game in this series, though that feels more like a matter of when, not if, it’ll happen. Perhaps all this talk about his struggles and these rumors will be enough to spur him to one on Wednesday night, in what could technically be the Warriors’ last game in Oracle Arena. (Of course, if Thompson goes off, precedent tells us it probably won’t be.) If Thompson does heat up and the Warriors manage to get back to their winning ways—like they’re expected to all the way to the Finals—it would be nearly impossible to imagine Thompson wearing any other uniform come next season.