The Golden State Warriors wasted little time in having things go south this season. They started off an exciting — and dare I say, convincing — 5-1, before promptly falling on their face. Every attempt to stand back up only resulted in them slipping and splatting even more dramatically than the time before, like a cartoon character repeatedly trying to stand up on ice, failing more and more ludicrously each time.
They’ve gone 14-23 since. They bookended a five-game winning streak in mid-December with a six-week stretch without consecutive wins and a five-week, still active stretch without consecutive wins. Gary Payton II has been injured thrice and Draymond Green suspended as many times. Chris Paul broke his hand. Jonathan Kuminga leaked that he had lost all faith in Steve Kerr, only to do a swift 180.
And so on and so forth.
And as the Dubs switched from contender mode to damage repair mode to help-oh-my-god-the-sky-is-falling-do-something-for-the-love-of-god-do-something mode, we’ve all found ourselves looking closer and closer to next Thursday’s trade deadline. It seems to already be determined that the Dubs will shake things up; we just don’t yet know how.
With that exciting deadline creeping nearer, reports, rumors, and speculation have hovered over the Warriors.
Rumors beget interest and interest begets sensationalism. And so we’ve come to live in a Warriors world in which the headlines aren’t perfectly aligned with the reality. National reporter Shams Charania set those headlines ablaze a few weeks ago when he said, “The mindset in Golden State right now is everyone but Steph Curry is on the table.” Nevermind that the next words out of Charania’s mouth were, “That’s their mindset. Now realistically, there’s an asterisk,” before detailing how the team intends to keep building around Green, Kuminga, Klay Thompson, Brandin Podziemski, and Trayce Jackson-Davis.
But those important details don’t make for good headlines, so they were conveniently ignored.
We know now, of course — beyond Charania’s elaboration — that everyone is not actually on the table. Jonathan Kuminga may have made himself untouchable in my eyes with his recent play, but it’s not a new thing for the Warriors: after a recent game, The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson II stated of a hypothetical Kuminga trade that, “Multiple team sources said the Warriors have no plans to do so and never did.”
I think we can add Thompson to that bucket.
Before continuing, I want to make something clear: this belief is based purely on my own analysis and speculation. I’m not reporting anything, and I’m not passing on anything I’ve heard. I’m just saying that the Warrior’s ain’t gonna trade Klay; and they never were going to.
There are countless reasons why, but perhaps none bigger than this: Thompson is still pretty damn good at basketball. His slow start to the season has made some people a touch slow to realize just how well he’s playing now. Over his last 20 games, he’s averaging a clean 20.0 points per contest, and shooting 42.2% from deep. His defense, while a far cry from his All-Defense days, has rebounded steadily. He ranks 125th in the NBA in EPM despite that brutal start to the year. Take a look over the best lineups and teammate pairings that the Warriors have used this year, and Klay is a staple.
Right now, Thompson is closer to being part of the solution than he is to being part of the problem, and that’s before even accounting for the example he’s set for the team’s younger players, in openly and publicly taking a lesser role to benefit the team. While you could make the case that getting rid of Andrew Wiggins would be addition by subtraction, you cannot make that case with Thompson; there would need to be a very nice return to negate the loss of Klay’s floor-spacing and 20 nightly points.
Can the Warriors get that return? No, almost assuredly not.
Two types of team would be interested in Thompson and his $43 million expiring contract: a good team trying to load up for the playoffs, and a bad team trying to clear salary obligations. The former is going to want to trade future pieces (draft picks and raw projects) which surely doesn’t interest the Warriors and their Steph-Curry-is-about-to-turn-36-sized window. The latter is likely going to want to saddle Golden State with another large contract. Are the Warriors better if they swap Thompson for Zach LaVine? And do they want to have LaVine for three more seasons after this one, while owing him $138 million?
I suspect the answer to both questions is a two-letter word that we all learned at a very young age.
It only takes that surface-level examination to arrive at the conclusion that a Thompson trade is likely off the table. We can stop here. But if you want to dig deeper, the rest of the case only supports Klay’s untouchability.
There’s the well-documented relationship between Thompson, Green, and Curry, who will go into the Hall of Fame together, have their jerseys retired together, and have their statues placed next to each other at Chase Center. Curry has long maintained a desire to retire a Warrior, and if I had to harken a guess as to the only things that could jeopardize that, it would be the team getting rid of Thompson, the team getting rid of Green, or the team getting rid of Kerr. The Dubs are fighting an uphill battle to course correct this season, and it’s hard to imagine their stars trudging on without their beloved brother; especially since a Thompson trade isn’t going to return the type of MVP talent that can make a competitor overlook having their feelings hurt.
Thompson’s future contract status also looms large. While the team would like to shed some salary — especially if they’re not being competitive — doing so with Thompson’s contract could prove disastrous. The Dubs hold Klay’s Bird rights, meaning they can sign him to any contract this offseason, even though the team is well over the cap (though they’ll still owe the tax penalties). If the Warriors trade Thompson for matching salary that they don’t retain beyond this season, then they’ve lost that avenue for spending extra money to improve their roster. Their best hope would be to acquire a player under contract for a few more years like, again, LaVine. But that opens up a can of worms in and of itself. As mentioned, LaVine’s deal pays him $46 million annually for three seasons after this one. If the Warriors re-sign Thompson to a three-year deal this offseason for $80 million, then they’ll save $58 million in salary alone by not making that swap ... and that $58 million in salary is compounded by a few hundred million in tax penalty savings.
It’s much simpler and more fruitful for the Warriors to chase fiscal savings by trading Wiggins or not exercising Paul’s $30 million option for the 2024-25 season. Thompson wants to finish out his career in the Bay Area, and even if he rejected the team’s preseason offers, I have little doubt that team and player can find a middle ground this summer.
It’s hard to envision a realistic trade in which the Warriors improve this season by trading Thompson; and it’s equally hard to envision a realistic trade in which the Warriors improve long-term by trading Thompson. It’s even harder still to imagine that such a move would do anything but irreconcilably fracture a locker room that the team has been trying desperately to patch up for the last year-and-a-half.
So don’t worry, Dub Nation; Captain Klay has many treks across the gorgeous waters of the bay remaining.