Kawakami: Warriors’ Klay Thompson keeps going, and his price tag keeps going up

SAN FRANCISCO — Klay Thompson didn’t run down the hall into the Golden State Warriors locker room after his pregame workout Sunday, he levitating. It bounced back. He turned around at least once en route to a sort of momentary nirvana. He’s laughing. He cried.

“Man, I feel great today!” Klay shouted to one of his favorite Chase Center employees as he walked by. “Oh yeah, I feel good!”

What happened over the next few hours, to anyone who witnessed the Hallelujah Hallway, seemed inevitable at that moment: With Stephen Curry off, Klay made five of his first seven 3-point attempts, scored 25 points in the first half and finished with 32 points in the Warriors’ 118-110 victory over the extremely depleted Utah Jazz at Chase Center.

This won’t go down as a historic night for Klay, because those spots are reserved for one-off blasts and urgent playoff heroics and because Klay has already provided more than his share of those. But Sunday’s performance seemed a little heavier than just a casual loss to a sad foe simply because it was part of the Klay continuum. And because Klay, his teammates, the Warriors decision-makers and everyone in the NBA almost certainly know that this won’t be his last moment like this.

Then, on the podium, Klay was much more discreet than he was a few hours earlier. But it also seemed to add gravity to everything. This was not the time for shouting and exaltation. It’s happened before. After the match, things were more serious and lasting than that, even for Klay. Especially for Klay.

“I felt really good physically today,” Klay said. “I didn’t feel any pain anywhere. I thought that translated well into the game.”

How often do you feel this good before a match, Klay? “Eighty-two games, you’re not going to be 100 percent every night,” he said. “I mean, what have I missed, maybe three, four games this year? It’s amazing after two years of rehab and counting. So that’s something I can hang my hat on, that I’m proud of, is being sustainable during the season.

For the record, Klay has only missed four games so far this regular season, with just four remaining. He started the season poorly, which largely contributed to the team’s poor start and reignited discussions that perhaps this was the end of the line for him as an important NBA performer and can -also be the end of the Warriors dynasty. But he continued to play. He was benched in January for rookie Brandin Podziemski. But Klay kept playing. He is reinstated in the starting lineup. I continued to play.

Eventually, Klay found a rhythm, and he’s still there. Along the way, the Warriors also found a rhythm. They too continued to play.

And by the way, Klay’s 74 games played are the best on the team – three more than Curry, Jonathan Kuminga and Kevon Looney (although Looney’s only missed games were when he was healthy but Steve Kerr didn’t play it) – and quite unfathomable. for someone who missed all of the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons and part of 2021-22 due to massive back-to-back leg injuries right in the middle of his prime.

In his third season after two serious leg injuries, Klay Thompson has played in 74 of the Warriors’ 78 games thus far. “It’s something I can hold on to,” he said. (Bob Kupbens / USA Today)

Klay is no longer the same two-way All-Star he was five years ago; he’s lost his lateral defensive movement to injuries he’ll never recover from, and he’s having more flat nights shooting the ball these days than before. But at 34 years old, on a Warriors team that has been fighting for its playoff life for months now and with a contract set to expire in July, Klay is still a mainstay. He’s still the guy who can single-handedly swing a playoff series. He is always always on the field. Still dangerous.

He’s seen his NBA life flash before his eyes once, twice, maybe five times over the past few years… and he’s actually not at the end of anything. I think it’s clearer now than at any time since he tore his ACL in the 2019 Finals, and I think Klay is only getting stronger. And if he plays the next four games, he will have played in 78 games this season, matching the total he played in the 2018-19 regular season, just before his first major injury.

“I think it’s amazing because it’s easy to fall in love with great shoot nights and big results,” Klay said. “But unless you’ve had Achilles or ACL rehabilitation, it’s very difficult. To do that and in two years to go out and play, no matter what, 94 percent of the games, that’s what I’m most proud of, just being available and being a constant in the lineup . Because the NBA season is exhausting, it is long. It takes a lot of discipline to be able to do it at night. That’s one thing I’m very proud of this season, just my ability to play so many games.

Will this push the Warriors past the Play-In tournament, the playoffs and perhaps defeating one of the top-ranked teams in the West in the first round? All of that is impossible to know at this point, but at least the Warriors (24-11 since going 19-24 in late January) gave themselves a chance.

The Warriors, as Kerr pointed out Sunday, will almost certainly finish with a better record than their 44-38 record last season, which was good enough for the No. 6 seed last April; everything has been even worse this season because the West has so many good teams, which pushed the Warriors to 10th place, because of the Warriors’ slow start, because of Draymond Green’s two suspensions and because the dynasty of the Warriors is due to expire any time now.

But Kerr argues convincingly that the Warriors are truly a better team than last season — much better, deeper and younger chemistry in key spots, still led by Curry and still energized by Draymond. Oh yeah, and I still get meaningful performances from Klay.

Best Western Records (since January 28)

Team W.L. PCT.











These days, the Warriors don’t always need huge Klay nights, which is a good thing because there are fewer of them than in his prime. They have the complete game of Podziemski. They have the pure athleticism and finishing ability of Kuminga. They have Moses Moody to play defense and hit 3s. They have the Gary Payton II cover. They have Chris Paul to lead the second unit and find his own shots at critical times.

Sometimes Kerr doesn’t close out matches with Klay. Even during Klay’s rally over the past few months, even now that he’s back in the starting lineup, there are games where Kerr will accompany Paul down the stretch to maintain stability, or in GP2 to some key saves, or to Podziemski for his energy and rebound. Klay is no longer an automatic — even despite his recent 41.4 percent increase from 3-point range since mid-February, he’s still at a career-low 38.3 percent rate on the field. set of the season.

Which brings us to the next part of the continuum: the Warriors can probably continue at a relatively similar level next season with or without Klay (if Kuminga, Podziemski and Moody continue to flourish), but Klay can also probably continue at a very pupil. similar individual level next season with or without the Warriors.

They were incredible together. They might survive well separately, in a way that I can’t say for the Warriors without Curry or perhaps for Draymond without the Warriors.

One of the league’s worst-kept secrets is that Orlando, blessed with young talent but no shooters, could offer Klay a ton of money next summer. Meanwhile, Joe Lacob said the Warriors want to completely get rid of the luxury tax next summer, which is possible, but only if they are very disciplined about how much they are willing to pay to keep Klay (and/or CP3). ).

Frankly speaking, Klay is the only one of the big three who could end up being more valuable to another team than the Warriors want to pay him. The more durable he continues to be, the bigger the contract he deserves. The Warriors should absolutely try to bring him back, and not just as a sentimental gesture.

But Klay has taken control of this process. That’s because there are still several chapters left in his NBA history, and he has every right to be very proud of it all.

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(Top photo: Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)

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