Golden State Warriors

Klay for Love? No question (but that isn’t the entire question)

It speaks to the phenomenal loyalty and passion of Warriors fans that there’s even a question whether Golden State should part with Klay Thompson in any deal that would net Kevin Love. Many teams’ fans become more critical the longer they watch a player, but not Warriors fans.

A prime example is Monta Ellis. Instead of focusing on how Ellis’ habits minimized Stephen Curry’s offensive impact while shining a white-hot light on the pair’s combined defensive ineffectiveness, many Warriors fans were loathe to give up on their biggest star (at the time, anyway). There were times when Ellis shot a high percentage from the floor. There were times when Ellis won games singlehandedly. There were even times when Ellis looked good on defense, when his all-too-frequent defensive gambles resulted in steals that led to transition dunks. He was always fast and exciting.

If he could just put it all together …

Andrew Bogut Klay ThompsonWhat makes it doubly hard to imagine a world with Thompson is how well he filled the void Ellis created. Ellis is a slasher; Thompson spreads the floor not just with his great range, but with a fundamentally perfect and lightning-quick release. Thompson’s presence allows Curry to defend the weaker offensive guard at all times. Mark Jackson and Bob Myers have called Thompson a “top five shooting guard,” and some have given him the label of “best two-way guard in the game.” While the latter can be debated, it’s pretty difficult to dispute the former point.

Warning: here’s where we drench everyone with a bucket full of water and ice cubes.

Just because Thompson has shown continued improvement since joining the NBA doesn’t mean he’s going to be a star in two years. It doesn’t even mean he’s going to be an All-Star, although that would probably be likelier in Minnesota as the No. 1 option than it would in Golden State.

Thompson’s turnovers have gone down since his rookie season (although he seems to commit at least one silly turnover — stepping out of bounds, for instance — every other game). But his assist rate is low and his rebounding rate is poor. He went from 3.6 rebounds per 36 minutes in his rookie year, to 3.8 during the 2012-13 season, to just 3.1 this past season. Thompson improved as a penetrator (yes!) in 2013-14, but he still attempted just 2.3 free throws per 36 minutes.

Thompson is a hard worker, he’s extremely low maintenance (something Jackson championed often), and he’s extremely durable. But he’s not wildly athletic and still has a ways to go to be an All-NBA type player … something Love already is (second team, twice).

Love is and has always been better than Thompson, and Love is just one year older. Thompson’s range and on-ball defense are not enough to counteract Love’s enormous advantages as a rebounder, passer, foul-absorber (as opposed to Thompson, who commits too many fouls), and finisher.

Consistency cannot be ignored, either. Love had 50 games last season with a “game score” over 20 (game score is a measure created by John Hollinger to determine a player’s productivity in a single game). Thompson had eight. Love’s game score was below 10 only six times, while Thompson had 41 such games (including three games with a negative score).

In short: the Warriors would be foolish to turn down a deal where they’d get the best player (by far) while dumping David Lee and his hefty salary (along with his slowly deteriorating game) in the process.

“Splash Brothers” is a cute nickname, but that’s not a reason to ignore a realistic way to pair Curry with a true star, not just a group of really good players that includes a guy who could become an All-Star if everything fell into place. Thompson is going to get paid like an All-Star no matter what within a couple years, and the Warriors probably aren’t keen on being the team that signs those checks.

As Tim Kawakami described perfectly, the Warriors are led by a poker-playing owner, Joe Lacob, who isn’t going to allow Myers to overplay the team’s hand. Everyone on the team is available for a price (even Curry, unless you believe the Warriors would say “no” to a Curry-for-Durant swap … didn’t think so). The real question: what is the Warriors’ overarching plan?

— If they take back Kevin Martin (I agree with Kawakami that Martin is subpar overall, but that’s another column), they’re zooming into some pretty high payrolls and resulting tax payments.

— Trading away their 2015 first round pick isn’t optimal, but that’s easier to swallow since they presumably should be drafting in the mid- or high-20s.

— Are the T-Wolves holding out for Thompson and either Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green? Barnes is one thing, but a combination of Green and Iguodala could help erase a lot of what they’d be losing defensively with Thompson. Also, a sneaky-fun part about the trades that have been discussed is that it would open up minutes for Green as a “glue” guy, which means 25-30 mpg playing anywhere from the two to the four.

— Barnes … well, you know my stance on Barnes. HOWEVER, the “Thompson vs. Barnes” competition for the fifth starting spot may have hampered Barnes’ growth more than I can even fathom, so I can see why the Warriors would be hesitant to include him in a deal that already features Thompson. Chad Ford reported that the Warriors are looking to flip Barnes for a 2014 first round pick, so who the hell knows.

— Minnesota’s pick in next week’s draft (No. 13) could also be at play.

There is so much going on here, and the fun (and frustrating) part is we don’t know how these negotiations are progressing. But we do know they’re progressing.

If Minnesota is asking for Thompson, Green, a 2015 first-rounder and massive salary relief, then maybe the Warriors have to look elsewhere to improve their team. If they keep Thompson, great. A team can definitely win with a Curry/Thompson backcourt with both players in their mid-20s. If a great offer comes along … it’s time to wish Thompson well and thank him for all his hard work.

Thompson isn’t a franchise building block, but he’s a tremendous asset — especially right now, with a ceiling that’s still high and a salary that’s still relatively low. That’s how the Warriors should view him. Based on recent reports, it appears they agree.

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