Opinion: Warriors’ ability to absorb Klay Thompson’s absence has its limits
NBA 

As he drove toward his home in San Francisco, Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers received yet another phone call.

For once, the caller was not an opposing team’s executive pitching a trade proposal for the Warriors’ No. 2 pick of the NBA draft. It was Klay Thompson, who had informed Myers he injured his right leg on Wednesday while playing a pickup game in Los Angeles.

“It was hard to disengage mentally from it, but we had a lot of other stuff going on in terms of the draft and potential trades,” Myers said. “So I couldn’t let my mind go all the way there.”

The tactic worked at least for a few hours. The Warriors have no idea how severe Thompson hurt his right leg nearly 17 months after injuring his left ACL in a decisive Game 6 loss to the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 NBA Finals, which kept him sidelined all of last season. They will know more on Thursday when Thompson has an MRI. Warriors coach Steve Kerr and some of the training staff will travel to LA to see Thompson.

And yet, the Warriors refused to allow that dreaded uncertainty to influence their draft process. Practically, no NBA rookie could replace Thompson since he helped the Warriors win three NBA titles and cemented himself as one of the league's best shooters and defenders. Philosophically, the Warriors valued talent over positional need because that will help them adapt with or without Thompson.

Warriors guard Klay Thompson talks with coach Steve Kerr. (Photo: Cary Edmondson, USA TODAY Sports)

So the Warriors still selected Memphis center James Wiseman, who impressed them with his rim protection, athleticism and jump-shooting potential. At No. 48, the Warriors then picked Arizona guard Nico Mannion.

“We had him No. 1 on our board,” Myers said of Wiseman. “Certainly, the Klay thing made you think for a second. But it was a short amount of time. We decided to stay the course we always felt. But you have to take a pause and think about things for a second.”

Once the Warriors finished, Myers had much more time to think about Thompson’s injury.  He admittedly did not have all the details. Thompson isn’t known to be a talker, after all. But Thompson informed him that he injured his right leg in a pickup game that included other NBA players.

Myers understood why Thompson had played in such a setting. He observed that Thompson was “looking good and feeling good” during the team’s two-week mini-camp in early September. Since the Warriors had medically cleared Thompson, Myers hardly sounded surprised Thompson played a pickup game considering teams will begin training camp on Dec. 1. Still, that didn't soften the concerns.

“Klay doesn’t like missing five minutes of anything,” Myers said. “He was probably bummed out he had to leave the pickup game.”

More importantly, the Warriors became bummed they might miss him for more important games to open the season. Perhaps even longer. It offered another reminder on how the Warriors’ championship dominance ended abruptly.

Kevin Durant strained his right Achilles in Game 5 of the 2019 Finals after missing 14 playoff games with a strained right calf, which marked his last game with the Warriors before signing with Brooklyn. In Game 6, Thompson injured his left knee and has not played since. And then four games into the 2019-20 season, Steph Curry broke his left hand and returned for only one game in March.  The Warriors finished with the NBA’s worst record (15-50).

“The injuries you’ve dealt with the last couple of years, it doesn’t harden you or make it easier,” Myers said. “But I was hoping we were through all of that. Maybe we are. Maybe there is good news coming.”

And if not? Well, the Warriors would surely struggle becoming a championship contending team this season. Not when they lose their second-best shooter and best perimeter defender. Even after Thompson injured his knee, the Warriors didn't flinch with giving him a five-year, $190 million deal. He had remained valuable and durable.

Nonetheless, the Warriors still have restored enough of their championship body armor at least to become a playoff threat.

They still have Curry’s tremendous shooting, playmaking and empowering leadership style. They still have Draymond Green’s playmaking, defense and demanding leadership style. They still have a solid wing defender (Andrew Wiggins). Myers added the Warriors “have the green light” to use their $17.2 million trade exception, which he said would likely be used on wing depth regardless of Thompson’s health.

The Warriors also added Wiseman, who has sparked comparisons to David Robinson and Chris Bosh for his defense, dunking and shooting ability.  Myers feigned cautious optimism on if Wiseman could validate those comparisons. But he found it plausible that Wiseman could play 20 to 25 minutes to open the season even without a summer league.

“We feel like this is the ‘Warrior’ type of character we always look for, with a tremendous amount of room for growth,” Myers said. “We think he’ll put the time in and put the work in. We’re dropping him into the middle of our culture, and we think it’s one of the best in the league.”

Wiseman recognized that. After attending one of Curry’s camps, Wiseman gushed about the strong relationship they forged. Wiseman sounded eager to learn from Curry, Green and Kerr. And Wiseman quickly showed his support for Thompson.

“We’ve got his back no matter what, and he's going to be in great recovery,” Wiseman said. “I just can't wait to go in there and give my great contribution toward the team. Go in there and learn as much as possible, grow and adapt within that environment and play my position. All praise be to Klay, my teammate. He's going to be just fine.”

The Warriors surely hope Wiseman is right. Since Thompson's last major injury, they have struggled to win without him. They hardly sounded ready to find out if they will have to figure that out for another season. 

“You can be hopeful. You can be concerned. Probably all of those things combined,” Myers said. “Until we know tomorrow, I’ll just hope for good news.”

Follow USA TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. 

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