Optimistic Kerr, Warriors know Klay's return is X-factor


MVP finalist Stephen Curry, contract extension completed, is back. So, too, is Defensive Player of the Year finalist Draymond Green. Early impressions of lottery picks Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody are positive. Free agency delivered professional shooters Otto Porter Jr. and Nemanja Bjelica, along with the return of insightful family member Andre Iguodala.

It’s enough to fire up the optimism machine as the Warriors await the start of training camp next month.

But their ceiling will be almost entirely determined by an altogether different force – the effectiveness of Klay Thompson.

He’s the season-ceiling X-factor. It’s an enormous “X,” and the Warriors know it.

“With a healthy Klay Thompson, I think we're right there with everybody,” team president Bob Myers says. “But I don't know when, or how, I expect him to come back healthy. I don't want to put any pressure on the date because it's not going to be at the start of the season. It's not going to be the first game.”

Coach Steve Kerr, in a recent interview with NBC Sports Bay Area, expresses the same thought.

“I think that’s the idea,” he says of Thompson missing a significant portion of the early season. “That’s what we’re expecting. We’ll plan accordingly, and whenever he’s back, he’s back.”

The conclusion, then, is that the Warriors probably won’t have any idea how good they can be until early 2022, at the soonest. The first third of the season could be devoted to defining roles, cultivating center James Wiseman and the rookies – and fighting like honey badgers to stay above .500.

“It’s hard to really gauge where we are against the rest of the Western Conference,” Kerr says. “There’s a lot of great teams, and we haven’t even had a practice to put the group together.

“But I’m very excited about the potential. It feels to me that we’re going to be back in a situation where we can compete on a nightly basis. Just knowing that is exciting, but we’ve got a lot of work ahead to prove this.”

Work, as in seeing whether Wiseman can make a discernable leap from his truncated rookie season. Work, as in seeing how much the rookies might be able to contribute. Work, as in establishing a starting shooting guard – Jordan Poole? Andrew Wiggins? Porter? – as the squad awaits Klay’s return.

If Thompson returns to the starting lineup and plays, say, 45 of the last 50 regular-season games, mostly at a high level, the Warriors are a top-four team in the Western Conference and capable of a deep playoff run.

If Klay is moderately productive, the Warriors are looking at 45 or so wins and, a mid-seed playoff berth and winning at least one postseason round.

If Klay struggles, or misses most of the season, the Warriors are capable of making the postseason. Thriving once there is, um, unrealistic.

It’s mid-August, and the Warriors can’t begin to project what’s ahead for their biggest 2021-21 TBD.

“It’s going to be a play-it-by-ear thing,” Kerr says. “The main thing is he’s progressing well, he’s in a great frame of mind, in a really good place. It’s exciting just to think about him coming back. All the players and coaches are excited, just to know he’s on track is awesome. 

“We’ll just see where he is come training camp and trust the training staff to work with him and give us the advice that we need, and we’ll go from there.”

RELATED: Poole has "great chance" to start with Klay out

The Warriors conceivably could open the season with wing combo of Wiggins and Porter, who would move into the opening created by the departure of Kelly Oubre Jr. That would enable Poole to remain in his suited role as offensive engine off the bench, with Juan Toscano-Anderson and Iguodala being the glue of the second unit. 

Any chance of Golden State soaring beyond 50 wins and then scaring opponents in the postseason relies on Thompson’s availability and proficiency. The Warriors know all too well how they look when he’s not available at all.

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