Warriors' Klay Thompson returning to NBA that has changed big time

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The NBA has changed in major ways since Klay last played originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

A lot can change in 941 days. A lot of people wish the world could go back to the summer of 2019. For Klay Thompson, it was the start of a grueling rehab process, first for a torn ACL he sustained on June 13, 2019 in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, and then for a torn Achilles that occurred during a workout on Nov. 18, 2020 in Southern California. 

On Jan. 9, 2022, Thompson's long road back from recovery will be complete. The five-time All-Star and three-time champion will be announced in the Warriors' starting lineup for the first time at Chase Center, and the NBA landscape -- like the rest of the world -- has been flipped upside down since Klay last appeared in a game.

Just look at the last opponent that Thompson played, and it's clear how different the league now looks.

After he scored a game-high 30 points in 32 minutes, including two heroic free throws on his torn ACL, the depleted Warriors couldn't hang on and failed to force a Game 7. The Toronto Raptors won their first championship in franchise history, and Kawhi Leonard was named Finals MVP after bringing a banner to Canada his first and only season north of the border. 

Leonard now is in his third season with the L.A. Clippers, although he's on his own road back from recovery after partially tearing his ACL in July of last year. Kyle Lowry was the Raptors' leading scorer in Game 6, and he's now the Miami Heat's starting point guard. In fact, Pascal Siakam is the only Raptors starter from that game who still plays for Toronto. Center Marc Gasol is back to playing in Spain, and shooting guard Danny Green plays for the Philadelphia 76ers. 

The Raptors essentially became a whole new team after beating the Warriors in the Finals, and that's just the beginning. 

In the Eastern Conference, the Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons, who currently have the two worst records in the NBA, both were playoff teams. Andre Drummond still was a Piston and led the NBA in rebounds per game (15.6) and double-doubles (69). Blake Griffin, who is averaging 6.2 points per game off the bench for the Brooklyn Nets this season, also was a Piston and was named All-NBA Third Team. 

Kyrie Irving, then a member of the Boston Celtics, was actually allowed to play on his home court -- though it's unclear if Celtics fans wished otherwise, no matter his All-NBA Second Team stats. 

Out in the Western Conference, Russell Westbrook and Paul George were All-Stars and All-NBA players, for the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Los Angeles Lakers failed to make the playoffs in LeBron James' first season in Hollywood after missing a month from a strained left groin he hurt during a blowout win against the Warriors on Christmas, and the Warriors' heated rivals resided out in Houston. 

This really was the last season of the Warriors-Rockets rivalry, with James Harden leading the NBA with 36.1 points per game. The Warriors downed the Rockets in six games in the Western Conference semifinals, and Houston fans still are shouting what-ifs from all their playoff woes against the Warriors. 

Now, the Rockets are in a long, long rebuild and the only player still on Houston's roster from the last time Thompson played against them is Eric Gordon.

The Warriors' biggest rivals now arguably are LeBron's Lakers, who won the bubble Finals the first season Klay missed, and the Phoenix Suns. In Thompson's last season, the Suns won a whopping 19 games and owned the West's worst record. Along with Devin Booker and a rookie Deandre Ayton, the Suns also started Tyler Johnson, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Dragan Bender when Thompson last played against Phoenix. Even Josh Jackson and Troy Daniels played over 20 minutes for the Suns in that game. 

They now have the best record in the NBA.

And then there's the Warriors. 

When Thompson's knee buckled and he fell to the ground in agony in Game 6 of the 2019 Finals, like so many other times in the past, he was sharing the court with Steph Curry and Draymond Green. But DeMarcus Cousins and Alfonzo McKinnie joined the Big Three, too. Shaun Livingston played over 16 minutes, Quinn Cook played more than 12 and McKinnie was given over 10 minutes of action. Even Jonas Jerebko and Andrew Bogut saw the floor. 

Aside from Curry and Green, none of the above still are with the Warriors. Klay will join a starting lineup that now includes Andrew Wiggins, who was on the Minnesota Timberwolves back in the 2018-19 season. Kevon Looney again still is the starting center, and Andre Iguodala is back after two seasons in Miami, but there are so many other changes to the Warriors compared to when Klay last laced up his sneakers for a Golden State game. 

Otto Porter Jr. was with the Washington Wizards, Nemanja Bjelica suited up in Northern California but for Sacramento, Damion Lee averaged just 11.7 minutes per game as a two-way player in his first season with the Warriors and Gary Payton II played only three games in the NBA in Klay's last season.

Jordan Poole was a sophomore at Michigan, Moses Moody was a junior in high school at Montverde Academy and Jonathan Kuminga was the MaxPreps Sophomore of the Year. 

RELATED: How Klay has played after missing Warriors games in the past

What hasn't changed is how much these Warriors could use Klay once again. Even with a 29-9 record, his picturesque shooting stroke and ability to open up the court for Curry and others couldn't be more needed, even if he isn't the same player from a few years ago when he first returns. Plus, the game has only progressed even more to Thompson's strengths from long distance while players have hopped across the league with different teams. 

In a league that thrives off player movement, Golden State's dynasty was built off drafting three players: Curry, Thompson and Green. This is their home, rooted as Warriors in every sense of the word.

Don't take it for granted.

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