SAN FRANCISCO – Klay Thompson’s past few years have been powered by perspective. The perspective of losing in the NBA Finals after winning the previous two, the perspective of two devastating leg injuries that took away two-plus years of his career, the perspective of coming back to be a champion yet again and now entering a new season following one where the Warriors fell unprecedentedly short in the playoffs.
Stepping off a plane in China for the first time in four years gave him another moment to take a step back and soak everything in.
Basketball has given Thompson so much, but the game also took away so much for a period and challenged him with new battles nobody can prepare for. Neither is witnessing and fully feeling the way he still inspires so many all across the world, making Thompson remember himself the joy he first felt having a ball in his hands and putting a jersey on.
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“When I was a kid and in love with this game, I never would have thought I would have a chance to inspire people across the globe and now that I’m here, able to do it, that’s what keeps me going,” Thompson said Monday at Warriors Media Day. “I just can’t believe there’s people who watch us, who stay up till 2 a.m., 3 a.m., whatever our start time is and they are dedicated to our season.
“I got to see that again this past summer when I went with ANTA. It was really special and cool to connect with fans in China and the Philippines. I gained so much motivation from that trip.”
Thompson felt at home this summer. Home in his visit back to China and the Philippines and home back on the hardwood.
He admitted last summer to fighting a mental block going into the season. Thompson’s comfort zone is two places: The court and the ocean. But his relationship with the former had been strained. The star shooting guard wasn’t part of pickup games and scrimmages all summer long. When he tore his Achilles in the 2020 offseason after completing rehab from a torn ACL, Thompson did so while playing a meaningless pickup game in Southern California.
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This summer, Thompson didn’t turn down opportunities to play – he invited them.
Pickup games and scrimmages were back to being part of his routine. Thompson worked with Chris Brickley and Jordan Lawley, two heavy-hitters in the training world. He was back to his happy place and the Warriors should be better for it.
“It was great,” Thompson said, “got to play some ball. Just have fun while doing it and that's always what we love to do as basketball players is play pickup and sharpen our skills, and when you have time off, make the most of it and that's what I did.”
His teammates have taken notice, too. The proof is there in Thompson’s mental state as much as it is in the on-court product.
“Klay is in a great spot,” Gary Payton II said. “Captain Klay. You know he's on the water a lot and he's on the court, so I think that's the two things he loves the most. And it's great to see him 100 percent. He looks 100 percent to me.
“Mentally, looks like he's in a great place. Just happy and ready to go, excited about this year.”
The 2023-24 season will mark Thompson’s 13th overall, 11th when taking into account the two seasons he missed. He and backcourt mate, fellow Splash Brother Steph Curry, have been a deadly sharpshooting tandem for more than a decade. Curry has seen Thompson at his highest and been there for him at his lowest.
Even he admits, the version that is showing up to training camp this year is not the same as who walked into the building a year ago.
“I know it's mostly just comparing to his experience last summer, and I think it's night and day different, even the way he's talking, by the way he approached it and the progress that he's going through this year or this offseason – the confidence that he has in himself and his body to hit the ground running starting tomorrow in practice and leading through training camp and preseason,” Curry said. “It's always a great sign when he's locked in mentally and physically, and to take advantage of the offseason, it's hard work.
“It's a lot of reps and a lot of commitment to the unglamorous stuff that we have to do in the offseason to prepare your body and the fact that he's speaking that game, and saying that he put the time in and it's showing in the way that we've seen him on the court makes a big difference.”
During last February’s NBA All-Star break, Thompson gained more perspective from a Warriors coach who has been a brotherly figure to lean on in trying times. Thompson joined Bruce Fraser at his Baja home, a place that has served as solitude for the two in the past and one they could use for their own personal growth as well. Thompson left the trip more focused on being a complete player and evolving at this portion of his career.
That continues to be his mindset moving forward and should serve as a guide in him checking off another goal of returning to All-Star form. He last did so in the 2018-19 season when he finished the year averaging 21.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists while shooting making 241 3-pointers at a 40.2 percent clip.
Thompson this past season averaged 21.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. He led the NBA in 3-pointers, making a career-high 301 triples, and shot 41.2 percent from deep. However, Thompson’s season was more a wave of highs and lows instead of constant improvement, and his 117 defensive rating was a career low.
It took Thompson only four games into the regular season to be ejected for the first time in his career, letting his emotions of a tough offseason and incredibly slow start boil over. That shouldn’t be the case this season, allowing him to have his eyes on Indianapolis.
“It's a goal of mine, and I think it's attainable,” Thompson said. “It's just how hard I want to work and how ready I'll be opening night, so it's up to me. I'm not going to lie to you, it is a goal of mine. It's always an honor to play in the All-Star Game, and you get used to it.
“When you don't go for a while, you kind of feel left out.”
Where Thompson could also feel left out right now is his contract situation. Curry still has three more years left on his current deal and Draymond Green agreed to a four-year, $100 million contract the moment free agency began over the summer. Then there’s Thompson, who will be an unrestricted free agent next summer if an extension isn’t met.
“I think it’s possible,” Thompson said of signing an extension by the Oct. 24 regular-season opener. “And if not, life is still great. I’m still playing basketball in my 13th year in the NBA, so I have no complaints.
“Whatever the future has in store, I’ve done so many great things in this uniform and I know there are many more memories to create. Whatever happens, life is great. I can’t really complain. I’ve had an incredible run here and I look forward to making more great memories with the guys.”
Perspective continues to power Klay Thompson, finding peace in writing his story, no matter when he’ll put pen to paper for his Warriors future. One day at a time, one dribble at a time, one shot at a time, the only way the four-time champion knows.