What was supposed to be a night full of possibilities for the Golden State Warriors turned out to be a potential disaster. Armed with the No. 2 overall pick in Wednesday’s draft and all the options that came with it, all optimism went out the window when news broke that Klay Thompson, while ramping up his workouts in Southern California with the fast-tracked 2020-21 season approaching, had suffered what is feared to be a “significant Achilles injury,” per Yahoo’s Chris Haynes.
You want to talk about a gut punch.
This has the makings of a knockout.
We’ll stay as positive as possible for the time being. Thompson, who of course missed all of last season after tearing his left ACL in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, is expected to undergo imaging on Thursday to determine the exact injury and the severity. But word travels quickly on these kinds of things. When players from all over the league are sending prayers, it’s almost certainly not good.
Beyond feeling awful for Thompson, one of the most well-liked players in the NBA and a guy who just genuinely loves to play basketball, the first question was whether this last-minute news might impact how the Warriors approached the draft. It didn’t appear to do so, as they took the player to whom they’ve been consistently connected throughout the draft process in James Wiseman.
It should’ve been a night of celebration for the Warriors, who fully expected to be back in championship contention with Steph Curry and Thompson back healthy and Wiseman slotting as the missing-piece big man. If Thompson has indeed ruptured his Achilles, all that’s out the window.
If it’s a partial tear, even a six-month absence would cost Thompson the entire regular season, and would the Warriors really rush him back even if they managed to make the playoffs without him on the heels of an ACL and Achilles tear? By that point, Thompson wouldn’t have played in an NBA game in two full calendar years, and the Warriors still owe him over $122 million through 2024. As urgent as this window feels for a Warriors franchise trying to make a few more title runs with Curry set to hit 33 years old this season, they can’t afford to be entirely shortsighted.
So what now? Let’s say it’s a full tear and Thompson is out for the season: Would the Warriors get extra aggressive in the trade market to try to replace Thompson, to whatever extent they can, in the short term? Would they think about moving the Wolves’ 2021 first-round pick — which they acquired in the D’Angelo Russell trade and could wind up a top-five pick in a stacked draft class — for a ready-made contributor? Would they dare throw Wiseman into a deal if it meant, say, a player like Marcus Smart? Would they get in the Danilo Gallinari game? Would they think about eating Eric Gordon’s contract for a guy who can score in Thompson’s absence and provide depth upon his return?
Late Wednesday night, Warriors GM Bob Myers said that even before Thompson’s injury, he had been given the “green light” from Warriors ownership to use the $17 million trade exception that came as a result of the 2019 deal that sent Andre Iguodala to Memphis, and that he would indeed use that money to acquire wing depth if the right opportunity were to arise, as relayed by Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated.
That’s not a light decision from Warriors management. As a team operating north of the luxury-tax line, that $17 million could cost Golden State north of $50 million depending on what other roster moves they make. In all, the Warriors could be saddled with a $350 million-ish roster that, without Thompson, likely couldn’t compete for a championship, a figure that becomes even harder to swallow in a year where gate revenue might be entirely lost without fans in attendance.
There’s just no way to sugarcoat this. If Thompson has indeed torn his Achilles, the Warriors might’ve just gone from a top three or four title contender to a team that might not make the playoffs in an absolutely loaded Western Conference. If that becomes the reality, might the Warriors be willing to halfway-subtly punt on yet another season for a better draft pick in a monster 2021 class, which they could couple with Minnesota’s pick, and perhaps Wiseman, to lay a rock-solid foundation for the future?
It’s hard to imagine that. Again, Curry will be 33 before this upcoming season is over. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime player. Like a team with LeBron James, conventional wisdom would suggest you drain that player for every bit of championship contention that he’s worth and worry about the future, well, in the future. This is an almost impossibly fine line for the Warriors to navigate. Suddenly they’re trying to plan for the present and future at the same time, and one of the players that were supposed to be a bridge between the two might’ve just suffered an injury that could, no exaggeration, change the course of his career and the entire franchise forever.