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NBA trade rumor: Warriors aiming to both acquire Kevin Love, pay Klay Thompson max contract

The Warriors are reportedly insistent on acquiring Kevin Love without giving up Klay Thompson, whose rising market value almost guarantees having to pay him a max contract. But is Thompson worth keeping at that cost, especially if the "cost" includes Kevin Love?

Thearon W. Henderson

With guys like Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward getting paid big bucks this offseason, it's almost a given that Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson will get the max money he reportedly desires.

That leaves the Warriors in a bit of a financial bind in terms of how they can both keep Thompson and add Kevin Love (with the assumption of a lucrative extension) to their payroll in the future.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News explored the issue of how the Golden State Warriors could keep Klay Thompson in light of his rising value at some length last night, concluding with the following points.

Last question: Does Thompson's ballooning long-term price make it more likely that the Warriors would be willing to put him into a Love deal?

Last answer: You'd initially think so.

How can they fit Love's expected massive deal in with Thompson and all the rest, even if Lee goes to Minnesota in the projected trade?

Wouldn't Thompson have to go, too?

But again, I've heard that the Warriors believe they don't get into title contention with Love unless they keep Thompson, too.

I'm told the Warriors have done the spreadsheet work and believe Thompson can still be squeezed in.

The question about whether the Warriors can keep Thompson is one thing: Kawakami is correct in that they could do so if they don't get Kevin Love by finding a way to move David Lee or Andre Iguodala's contract; if they do get Love, they could accommodate a max contract Thompson by moving Andrew Bogut or Andre Iguodala in addition to trading Lee in the package for Love. The latter is probably preferable to the former, but the point is that it's not an impossibility in theory.

But the bigger issue is whether the Warriors (or Wolves) should pay Thompson that money.

SB Nation's Eddie Maisonet already discussed the question back in late-June and GSoM's own Andy Liu went into some additional detail about what amounts to a "decent" or "solid" season for Thompson. To summarize the observations from those two pieces: Thompson is a very good player - arguably better than his peers who have already earned max contracts this offseason - but is highly dependent on a dynamic point guard like Stephen Curry to be productive offensively, which renders him as more of an elite role player than a franchise cornerstone. Thompson is a player that needs to be surrounded by other elite players to be part of a title team rather than "The Man" who you'd begin with and look to surround with others.

In an ideal world, you probably wouldn't imagine that it makes sense to pay max money for a very good player, even if that initially sounds more semantic than strategic; in reality, with players like Hayward and Parsons getting max contracts, that imagined notion that max contracts are reserved for the best of the best goes out the window - the market, abnormal and artificially constrained as it is in the NBA, dictates that Thompson can absolutely should earn that kind of money.

And that's the conflict between basketball and economic reality that Maisonet was discussing with Thompson: do you really pay Thompson that kind of money when you have the opportunity to pay Kevin Love, unquestionably the elite player who would elevate a team's standing in the league hierarchy, similar money instead? Or put in more loosely economic terms: is the insistence upon keeping Thompson at that maximum wage worth the opportunity cost of potentially missing out on Kevin Love, unquestionably the elite player who would elevate a team's standing, at a similar wage?

Obviously, the Warriors are absolutely correct that a core of Curry-Thompson-Love (along with the faith in Harrison Barnes' potential) is the foundation of a contender. Yet you can re-frame the Thompson question from a Minnesota Timberwolves perspective to better understand why the Warriors' offer is really not all that great for them: if you're a rebuilding team that isn't currently close to contending for a title with Love, is it really worth allocating a max contract to Thompson instead of just maintaining flexibility under the cap? Or do you just take the risk that Love, who is very much worth that contract, will have a change of heart if the Wolves can magically pull a playoff season out of a hat (a la the 2013-14 Portland Trailblazers) OR walk and leave the team with cap flexibility for the future?

This is why the notion that the Warriors somehow present an offer that the Wolves won't turn down - or even the best among mediocre offers - doesn't entirely make sense. Yes, Thompson is a good enough that he would have to be included for the Warriors' offer to be competitive; no, that's not exactly a great financial situation for the Wolves to be in. That leaves the Wolves with very little reason to take a deal from the Warriors without Thompson and every reason to wait and see what other offers might come in after the heavyweight free agents of this offseason land. For that reason, the notion that the Warriors have leverage or are wise to continue posturing, if that is what's happening, doesn't entirely makes sense.

If, for example, the Cleveland Cavaliers land LeBron James, Key Dae of SB Nation's Canis Hoopus reasonably states, "...the Wiggins route isn't really worse than paying a huge amount of money to a Klay Thompson long term. The Wolves could do a lot worse than a kid to run the wings and get after it on defense. Wiggins would cost less and can be more than Klay, so that's a risk worth taking." I suppose you could quibble with that - and even note that the scenario is unlikely to play out anyway - but again it comes down to whether a team really wants to pay for a very good player instead of someone with potential to be more than that at some point down the road, the latter being a much better bet for a rebuilding team. And, as mentioned multiple times a Canis Hoopus, the Chicago Bulls or Houston Rockets could also come up with a superior offer to the Warriors' best offer after free agency plays out.

The bottom line is that there's no reason to spend max money on multiple players simply to field a roster that will be on the edge of contending for a bottom four playoff seed - ideally, sometimes (as in this case) in conflict with what the market yields, you'd spend max money to move closer to becoming a contender or give yourself the flexibility to add the pieces with which to do so in the future. And yet the paradox the Warriors face is that Klay Thompson's rising value means they cannot possibly keep him without paying him the max but might have the opportunity to spend similar money on a better player by trading with the Wolves, who have even less reason to pay Thompson the max money the market dictates.

As flexibility under the salary cap becomes more important due to restrictions as you approach the salary cap/apron/luxury tax line, passing on this Thompson conundrum to the Wolves and essentially allocating that money to Love would be a wise move. With Livingston on board to replace some of what Thompson does defensively and the potential dominance of a Curry-Love pick and roll combo, the Warriors would be in much better position to contend down the road by trading Thompson now. As Andy tried to explain, that's not quite as much an indictment of Klay Thompson's development as a commentary on what it takes to contend in the Western Conference now and for the duration of Curry's contract - how a team manages cap room is becoming more important and Love is just a better "deal" than Thompson.

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