In the summer prior to Steve Kerr ever coaching a game for the Golden State Warriors, they remember him walking through randomly open office doors to plead his case. To whomever would listen, he tried to persuade them to his way of thinking: We cannot trade Klay Thompson.
The package available to Golden State for Minnesota’s Kevin Love had become a live wire within the Warriors. The proposed deal had supporters in the highest levels of the franchise. Some were adamant to do the trade, some torn, but Kerr never, ever blinked.
No way, he told everyone. He had come to coach the Splash Brothers – Klay Thompson and Steph Curry – and his insistence played a significant part in swaying ownership and management to keep Thompson.
They never regretted the decision – not when the Warriors won the NBA championship two years ago, not when Thompson saved the season in the conference finals against Oklahoma City a year ago, and not Monday night, when the Warriors wouldn’t have traded Thompson for any player on the planet.
Klay Thompson scored 60 points – without a fourth-quarter appearance. Klay Thompson had a 30-point quarter and a 40-point half, and Thompson couldn’t miss. Those arms of teammates and fans reaching for the sky on every basket made it look like some kind of a revival inside Oracle Arena.
This has been the story of the NBA this season: I’ll top you. On a night when Russell Westbrook delivered his sixth consecutive triple-double (32 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists), and James Harden dropped 37-8-8, and Memphis’ Marc Gasol buried the New Orleans Pelicans in double OT with a triple-double, everyone else turned out be a mere opening act.
The Warriors are the best show in sports, because they have three superstars with the talent to give everyone else one of these headaches. Curry and Kevin Durant have formed a genius partnership, but it’s only worked because they’ve made room for Thompson, too.
He doesn’t demand the ball, nor ask for much of the spotlight, but Thompson never wants his politeness mistaken for indifference. He cares deeply about his craft, and one of the Warriors’ top priorities has been to make sure that the arrival of Durant hasn’t suffocated him.
Across 60 points in 29 minutes Monday night – the best three quarters out of an NBA scorer since Kobe Bryant’s 62 against the Dallas Mavericks in 2005 – Thompson had set himself apart for history. For Warriors general manager Bob Myers, Thompson is one more victory in player evaluation, one more draft-night coup.
Five and half years ago, a call had come into Myers inside the Warriors’ facility. Within 48 hours of the 2011 draft, the San Antonio Spurs had flown in Thompson for a clandestine workout and meeting with Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford.
Myers had known the Spurs were aggressively pushing for a trade into the Toronto Raptors’ fifth spot to draft Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas, a move the Warriors wanted to make themselves. Short of that deal, Myers had a sneaking suspicion that the Spurs were moving toward a Plan B: cutting a deal to bound over the Warriors’ 11th overall pick and take Thompson.
Golden State believed this, too: At No. 10, the Milwaukee Bucks wanted to draft Thompson as well.
“Consensus was hard with our group,” Myers once told me, “but we had it with drafting Klay.”
History changed course on draft night, when the Bucks traded out of No. 10 and the Sacramento Kings moved into the spot – wanting Jimmer Fredette.
Before long, the Spurs were finalizing a deal to get to No. 15 for their own franchise-changing player: Kawhi Leonard.
“What had felt desperate had now become a hope,” Myers told me. “We had hope we could get him now.”
The Warriors did get Klay Thompson, and never let him go. On his way to 60 points on Monday night, on the Warriors’ way to 18 victories in 21 games, they’ve never once regretted it.