Warriors lobby for Klay Thompson's return after scoreless performance in play-in loss

ByKendra Andrews ESPN logo
Thursday, April 18, 2024
Warriors' Klay Thompson speaks on play-in loss, free agency
Golden State Warriors' Klay Thompson speaks on the team's play-in loss and his upcoming unrestricted free agency

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Golden State guard Klay Thompson didn't want to spend too much time thinking about his future during his exit interview on Wednesday, just one day after his and his team's season came to an abrupt end -- and just one day after he possibly played his final game for the Warriors as he heads into free agency this summer.

"Considering it's April 17th, I don't think I have to pivot that quickly," Thompson said. "When is free agency? July 1st? Yeah, I got some time. I got some time."

Perhaps Thompson hasn't thought much about who he will be playing for next season, but his teammates Stephen Curry and Draymond Green have thought about what it would be like if Thompson wasn't to return.

Following their loss to the Sacramento Kings in the play-in tournament, Curry said he couldn't imagine not playing alongside Thompson, while Green said there isn't "any scenario where Klay leaves and that's the best decision for this team and organization."

Warriors coach Steve Kerr simply declared they needed Thompson back.

"It means a lot," Thompson said about his teammate's and coach's sentiments. "I mean, we've been through the highest of highs and lows. Whether it's losing a championship, winning a championship, missing the playoffs, we've been through everything together, so that does mean a lot. It makes me grateful to have the times I've had with them. Like, that was pretty historic stuff."

Thompson's season one of Evolution. After a slow start to the regular season, Thompson was sent to the second unit one game ahead of the All-Star break. He then went on to put together what he categorized as his best basketball of the season through the final three months, earning his starting spot back.

Through all of that, Thompson said the biggest lesson he learned this season was to not be a "frontrunner" -- not shying away from bad moments and just embracing the great ones, something he admittedly has done in the past.

However, it also helped inform him of his greatest priority moving forward.

"(I) want to keep winning," Thompson said. "I mean, when you've been a part of winning seasons, you don't really want to go away from that. So I would like to win again. One for the thumb would be nice. I still think it's in reach ... other than that, just got to think about that, what will really make you happy in the last few years of your career."

The question for Thompson through free agency will be if he feels he can accomplish that somewhere other than Golden State. A source told ESPN that Thompson values winning more than monetary compensation, so as long as the Warriors find was to show their appreciation for Thompson -- whether it be money or something else -- he would likely stay in the Bay Area.

On Tuesday, Draymond Green said he was confident the organization would find the right way to take care of Thompson, as it has all of the other pillars of the Warriors' dynastic core.

When asked if he felt the ownership group has shown him that effort, Thompson said he wasn't sure how to answer the question.

"Every year I give my best effort. And the ownership group has been great. I have nothing but positive things to say about them," Thompson said. "I don't really know how to answer that. I mean, it's up to them, but at the end of the day whatever happens, it's all gravy. It's been such a freaking special run."

There is a desire for any new contract Thompson strikes with the Warriors to align him with the two years remaining on Curry and Kerr's deal.

As for if this would be the last contract of Thompson's career?

"Maybe," he said. "I don't know. When that time comes, I mean I'm not trying to put an expiration date on my career. That's kind of something you just go by feel."

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As Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson headed to the bench with 2:13 remaining in their play-in game against the Sacramento Kings, his head hung low. He made a round of hugs with team trainers and teammates before he took his seat. After the final buzzer sounded, he took a moment before exiting the court to look back at the Kings lighting the beam.

It was possibly Thompson's last game with the Warriors.

The 118-94 loss to the Kings sent Golden State into its earliest offseason in three years. And it sent Thompson into unrestricted free agency.

"We need Klay back," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game. "He's still got good years left. And I know I speak for everybody in the organization: We want him back. ... What Klay has meant to this franchise and as good as he still is, we desperately want him back."

Thompson didn't speak after the game, but at shootaround seven hours before tipoff, he said it wasn't difficult to keep the thoughts of free agency out of his mind as he finished the season.

"That's life," Thompson said. "Had so much success here, I'm not going to let whatever future happens make me salty about what I've been able to accomplish in a Warriors uniform. I don't let that seep in at all."

Thompson's season finale left a lot to be desired, as he was held scoreless on 0-of-10 shooting, including 0-of-6 from 3. It was just the fifth time in Thompson's career that he failed to score one point. It was his second time under Kerr, but the other was when he was ejected 1:43 into a Nov. 23 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

It was a performance Kerr said was tough to watch Thompson go through.

"I've watched him the last couple years fighting the feeling of devastation from injuries and I watched him this season flip his season around," Kerr said. "I saw him enjoy the second half of the season and play with a little more freedom and joy, so tonight was tough to see him struggle."

Thompson entered Tuesday's play-in game coming off what he called the "best stretch of basketball of the year." Through the last 4 weeks of the regular season, Thompson was second on the team in scoring, averaging 21.2 points on 48.1% field goal shooting and 41.2% from 3.

The 77 games he played were his most since the 2018-19 season -- before he tore an ACL and an Achilles.

"It's about commending him on a hell of a year," Stephen Curry said. "Everyone is going to talk about one game, and I know he wanted to do better. We go through so much over 82 games, and the fact that he was able to turn his season around with a new role and adjusting ... just really having fun playing basketball and being at peace out there with it all, I'm more worried about that."

Conversations for a new deal stalled between Thompson and the organization as the season began in the fall. They never really restarted during the season, but there wasn't much concern over it as the Warriors navigated their ups and downs, Green's suspensions, the death of assistant coach Dejan Milojevic and Thompson working his way out of his personal funk.

But sources told ESPN that throughout the season, there wasn't much reassurance that there would undoubtedly be a resolution between the parties. That is what rubbed Thompson the wrong way, more than anything.

However, Green is still confident a new deal will be reached.

"[Klay is] going to make the best decision for him, the team's got a decision to make and they'll make the best decision for the team. ... I don't think there's any scenario where Klay leaves and that's the best decision for this team and organization," Green said. "[The organization] has shown nothing but respect, loyalty, love and trust. I've got no reason to think, oh man, they're not going to do right by Klay.

"I have no reason to think that our ownership group isn't going to take care of us the way we have taken care of this organization."

Green is under contract with the Warriors until the 2025-26 season, with a player option waiting for him in 2026-27. Curry's and Kerr's deals also have them with the team until the end of 2026.

Thompson's desire is to hopefully strike a contract that aligns with the rest of the Warriors' dynastic core, sources told ESPN.

"I could never see myself not with those two guys," Curry said. "I understand this league changes and there are so many things that go into it and we're not going to play forever, but we've experienced so much together and at the end of the day I know they want to win, I know I want to win, and that's all I'm worried about."

Having their season cut short by a Kings team that exhibited "total domination" was described as a horrible feeling, frustrating and upsetting.

So, alongside the desire to keep that group together is an understanding that changes have to be made for the Warriors to get back in contention in an extremely crowded Western Conference.

"This is life. This is how it works. You don't get to stay on top forever," Kerr said. "We've got an offseason where we've got a lot to think about."

But Curry said it was too early to pinpoint what exactly needs to change.

"It's raw right now," he said. "I'm just figuring out if I want to watch the playoffs or not. On April 16, this is unfamiliar territory. ... I just want to win. Whatever that means, I want to win."

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