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Inside the Warriors’ failed bid for Paul George, Klay Thompson’s inevitable departure

Inside the Warriors’ failed bid for Paul George, Klay Thompson’s inevitable departure

No need to wait for documentaries and years of context to sort this out: Saturday night’s events will go down as an offseason threshold moment at a threshold point for a fairly large portion of Golden State Warriors history.

Initial Analysis: Not good yet! (But check back in a week or so for the final verdict.)

Klay Thompson is set for free agency and — barring a dramatic shift in mood — the Warriors and Thompson are more than prepared for his somewhat imminent departure from the Bay Area. Fully prepared, an NBA source noted this weekend, some friendly farewells were shared between Clay and high-ranking members of the Warriors organization.

Also, Paul George, the Warriors’ main acquisition target this offseason, has served out the final year of his contract with the Los Angeles Clippers and become an unrestricted free agent, cutting off any realistic path for the Warriors because they don’t have the salary cap space to sign him as a free agent.

This came after very serious negotiations between the Warriors, George and the Clippers leading up to Saturday afternoon’s deadline for George’s contract decision and after the Warriors believed — multiple times — they were close to signing the 34-year-old small forward, according to team sources.

The Warriors agreed to give George a maximum extension of four years upon arrival. They believed they had suggested several different forms of trade that the Clippers could and would accept. Stephen Curry and Draymond Green were 100 percent on board. George gave strong indications that he wanted to join the Warriors. But the Clippers never agreed to any version of the deal, and now George is a free agent and out of the Warriors’ reach.

That’s a lot to mention, all before free agency begins on Sunday. The current tally suggests that the Warriors are on the verge of losing one of their three dynasty players and one of the most popular athletes in Bay Area history, and they don’t get the great two-way winger they were seeking. We’ve even got Andrew Wiggins among others stuck in trade talks, and they should… Now they have to decide whether to guarantee Chris Paul’s $30 million contract for next season and see if they can move him in a trade.

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No net gains. One foundational loss. There’s a lot left to do. All that is at stake is the final stage of Prime Carry.


The Warriors don’t have enough salary cap room to sign Paul George, shown here with Luka Doncic, as a free agent. (Jerome Miron/USA Today)

Let’s take a point-by-point look at what’s happened over the past few days and how that sets up what the Warriors will try to do next:

• Any potential round-robin trade between the Warriors and Clippers was sure to be complicated, but Warriors executives thought they had solved the puzzle. And from what I’ve heard, a combination (but certainly not all) of Wiggins, CB3, Jonathan Kuminga, or Moses Mudiay as well as a future first-round pick have been floated in discussions with the Clippers.

There were versions of the deal that would limit the Clippers’ long-term financial obligations; There were versions of the deal that would increase future benefits. I was told that the Warriors probably would not have made an offer for Wiggins and Kuminga, but it never came to that point anyway. And if that’s what would have sealed the deal… who knows.

My understanding is that financial concerns have weighed heavily on the Clippers’ side. If PG13 leaves as a free agent, they get nothing in return… but they also get a second-round pick and more roster maneuverability.

• If the Warriors had put Kuminga in a trade for George, that would have been a risk in itself. The Warriors would have traded their most valuable young player for an older player with injury issues and would have been due more than $260 million over the next five years, which would have essentially tied the Warriors up to the luxury tax.

But PG13 would have been an instant, elite scoring option 1B alongside Curry, is far better than anyone the Warriors have had in that role in years, and could draw out most of the tough defensive assignments. Who will play these shoes for the Warriors now? Maybe Kuminga will get some of it. Maybe Modi. Maybe Brandin Podzemski too. This is all a work in progress. The Boston Celtics have proven once again that winning playoff series is done by strong two-way wings, and the Warriors are still in dire need of that class. That’s why they tried so hard for George.

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• There will be time later for many more full-length reflections on Thompson’s incredible Warriors legacy, and he deserves every one of them. Game 6 in Oklahoma City alone is probably worth about 100 of them. Getting back to shooting free throws — and back on defense! — after his ACL injury in the 2019 Finals should get another thousand memories.

I’ll just point out, in retrospect, that a lot of his actions and emotions in the final few months of last season may have been signs that he was getting ready to move on, from his frequent moments in his press conference to his struggles to adjust to his game. His importance on the field was diminished that last night after the last regular-season game at Chase Center, when he wandered into the locker room and asked teammates to ride in his boat with him.

CP3 and Moody took it upon himpartly because it was obviously an honor to get into that boat with Thompson, but also, I thought, because they knew it was important to him that night that they did it.

• Thompson did not like his experience last season and said so. Many times. He didn’t like sitting on the bench for a few games behind Podziemski. He didn’t like the questions we asked about his future. He didn’t like the national attention for his occasional struggles, including an 0-for-10 shooting night in a play-in loss to the Sacramento Kings. he truly I didn’t like that the Warriors placed a higher priority on figuring out how to upgrade the roster than bringing him back this offseason.

I think Thompson didn’t like being compared to himself from another era, before his two serious leg injuries, when he could guard anyone and turn any game into a personal piece of NBA shooting history. He wanted a fresh start. And he’s going to get it. He’s going to come to Chase Center with his new team and he wants to beat the Warriors; maybe not bitterly, maybe a little bitterly, but it’s going to be fun to watch.

• Thompson probably wouldn’t have been a starter if he had stayed with the Warriors this season. It would have been Podziemski. Or Moody. Or someone else. I’m not sure Thompson would want to go through that again, and I don’t think the Warriors would have liked him either. It may seem like a cold end to this incredible period, but it was inevitable.

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The Warriors wouldn’t be better without Thompson. They will miss his shooting, his personality, his sarcastic sense of humor and everything. He will have a statue outside the square. He will always be warmly received wherever there are Warriors fans. Yes, the Warriors will miss him. But they’ll get something in a sign-and-trade deal, with Thompson’s permission, when he leaves, and they probably won’t be much worse off for it. They will be younger and perhaps more athletic.

We’ll see what they can add in the next week or so.

• The Warriors can use the CP3 contract as a version of the trade exception – they can negotiate with Paul to put the collateral in any amount that both sides agree to and use that to balance the trade, if there is a good deal.

If the Warriors can’t find a trade, they could release CP3, getting below the salary cap (depending on what kind of money they’d get back in a potential deal to sign Thompson). They could see what they can get for Wiggins. Right now, they’d have a $5.2 million taxpayer mid-level exception and could get to the $12.9 million non-taxpayer mid-level exception if they traded Wiggins and got significantly less money in return.

• I’ll use another quote from Thompson from that momentous end-of-season press conference to close this thread. Thompson was asked about his reaction to Curry, Draymond and Steve Kerr saying how much they wanted him back. Again, Thompson said those words in April, but they seem especially appropriate now.

“It means a lot,” Thompson said. “I mean, we’ve been through the highs and lows. Whether it’s losing a championship, winning a championship, not making the playoffs, we’ve been through it all together, so it means a lot. It makes me feel grateful for the times I got to spend with them. They were really historic moments.”

Yes it was. Past tense now.

(Top photo of Klay Thompson: Rocky Widener/NBAE via Getty Images)