Klay Thompson

Klay leaves Sacramento, possibly Warriors, with sour taste in mouth

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SACRAMENTO – Seven hours before Tuesday night’s tipoff in the NBA Play-In Tournament between the Warriors and Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center, Klay Thompson tried his best to convince reporters his uncertain future wasn’t on his mind whatsoever. 

“Nah. That’s life, man,” Thompson told reporters. “I’ve had so much success here, I’m not going to let whatever the future happens make me salty about everything I’ve accomplished in a Warriors jersey. I don’t let that seep in at all.”

If the Warriors’ 118-94 loss to the Kings was Thompson’s final game in a Golden State jersey, every second he spent on the court was hard to watch. Thompson couldn’t handle the Kings’ physicality offensively. On defense, the Kings targeted him, and players blew right past him. His signature picturesque shot was unrecognizable, sadly fading into the night. 

Thompson took three shots in the first quarter. He missed all three. Another two attempts were unsuccessful in the second quarter, making him 0 of 5 in the first half with three missed 3-pointers. The second half was just as bad. 

With the Warriors down 15 points, 91-76, going into the final 12 minutes of a season that sure seemed to have finally closed the book on a dynasty, Thompson had taken eight shots and missed all eight. None of his four 3-point attempts trickled through the net. 

The fourth quarter couldn’t save Klay. One of the greatest shooters the game has ever seen, and ever will see, let it fly two more times. Both were behind the 3-point line, and both clanked off an unkind rim. Thompson’s final stat line: 32 minutes, zero points, 0-of-10 shooting and all six threes failing to find their home. 

Walking across halfcourt with the Warriors down 26 points and two-plus minutes to go after a Keegan Murray three, Thompson dropped his head and began slowly walking to the Warriors’ bench. Reality had fully set in. Klay knew his night was done, and possibly his career in blue and gold. 

Steve Kerr emptied the Warriors’ bench, where four future Hall of Famers – Thompson, Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Chris Paul – sat and stared.

“It was tough; I love Klay so much,” Kerr said after the Warriors’ loss. “What he’s meant to me in the 10 years we’ve been together – I’ve watched him the last couple of years fighting the feeling of devastation from injuries. I’ve watched him this year really flip his season around with his approach and saw him really enjoy the second half of the season and play with a little more freedom, a little more joy. 

“Tonight was tough to see him struggle.” 

Not once in his 11-year career had Thompson taken this many shots without sinking a single one. Three times as a rookie he ended a game without making a shot, and he did so once this season, missing his only attempt against the Minnesota Timberwolves before being ejected less than two minutes into the game. None of those instances compare to Tuesday night. 

His counterpart at shooting guard for the Kings, Keon Ellis, went undrafted in 2022 and spent 16 games in the NBA last season. The Kings converted Ellis’ two-way contract into a standard NBA contract two months ago. Ellis scored 15 points on two fewer shot attempts than Thompson. He went 5-of-8 shooting overall, was 3 of 4 from deep, swatted a game-high three blocked shots and his plus-27 was the second-best of the game. 

Ellis also is 10 years younger than Thompson. The mileage on his body compared to Klay’s hasn’t even begun. No matter how badly Thompson wanted to rev his engine for one last drop of gas to get him going, his tank appeared to be bone dry. 

Thompson made a goal of being an NBA All-Star again this season. Didn’t happen. He came off the bench for the first time in his career and averaged his fewest points per game since his second year in the NBA. Thompson also played 77 regular-season games, his most since sustaining two devastating season-ending leg injuries. He made 268 3-pointers, tied for the third-most in his career, and led the league in free-throw percentage – missing only 10 all season. 

All before hitting unrestricted free agency this summer at 34 years old. 

Thompson didn’t speak at the podium in Sacramento. He left the locker room before any media member could get a word out of him. Though he’s expected to speak Wednesday at Chase Center, the three people who have been with him the longest – Kerr, Curry and Green – didn’t hesitate in expressing their love and admiration for Thompson, as well as their hopes for next season and beyond.

Green said he can’t envision a situation where Thompson being in a different jersey is the best decision for the team or the player. Curry said he can’t imagine a world where he isn’t teammates with Thompson or Green. Kerr spoke for the entire organization, stating how badly Golden State needs Klay Thompson, the person and the basketball player, to remain a Warrior.

“We need Klay back,” Kerr said. “I know he had a tough night tonight, but what he represents for us, the spacing, we’re not a deep shooting team. We’re a little top-heavy. Klay’s presence means so much to the spacing on the floor, to the flow of the offense. He’s still got good years left. 

“I know I speak for everybody in the organization. We want him back. Obviously there’s business at hand and that has to be addressed with Klay’s representatives and [Warriors general manager Mike Dunleavy Jr.] and [CEO Joe Lacob], but what Klay has meant for the franchise, as good as he still is, we desperately want him back.” 

Nostalgia brings smiles. Sometimes hurt is a big part of looking back at the good old days, too. 

Before walking down the visitor’s tunnel, Thompson stopped, turned around and took everything in, from Kings fans celebrating to the remaining Warriors fans holding onto yesteryear. The four championships never will be taken away. Neither will Thompson’s 14 3-pointers made in one game, the time he scored 60 points on 11 dribbles or the birth of Game 6 Klay, when every time Thompson shot the ball, his right hand tickled the heavens. 

What’s ahead now is the great unknown, a yellow light that will either turn green for the Warriors and Thompson alike, or a red one bringing this all to a screeching halt for good. Klay can always count his rings and look back at all the good times. Whatever is next, though, the empty, sour taste he leaves Sacramento with will take a long time to wither away.

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