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Stephen Curry and Steve Kerr discuss Klay Thompson’s departure from the Warriors
Stephen Curry and Steve Kerr discuss Klay Thompson’s departure from the Warriors

LAS VEGAS – Before Steve Kerr and Stephen Curry could begin their month-long quest for gold at the Paris Olympics, the decorated NBA coach and his two-time MVP guard had to cope with the departure of Klay Thompson as a free agent, the end of an often glorious era for the Golden State Warriors.

Nicknamed the Splash Brothers as they established themselves as the best shooting backcourt in NBA history, Curry and Thompson won four championships and reached six NBA Finals since working together in 2011. With Kerr taking the reins in 2014 and Draymond Green captaining the defense, Golden State reached five straight Finals from 2015 to 2019, winning an NBA-record 73 games during the 2015-16 season. Although Thompson missed the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons with ACL and Achilles tendon injuries, the Warriors rebounded and won the 2022 championship.

“It sucks,” Curry said Sunday after a USA Basketball training camp when asked about his reaction to Thompson’s departure. “It’s one of the hardest things to process because I never imagined this would be a reality. I always wanted to ride off into the sunset with (Thompson and Green) and have an opportunity to stay relevant from a winning perspective while we did it. … I just want him to be happy. He deserves that. He deserves to enjoy basketball for as long as he wants. It really sucks that he’s not going to be playing with us.”

Entering this summer, Curry (15 years), Thompson (13 years) and Green (12 years) were the NBA’s longest-tenured players, and Kerr (10 years) was the NBA’s third-longest-tenured coach. But Thompson, 34, decided to sign a three-year, $50 million contract with the Dallas Mavericks after more than a year of unsuccessful negotiations with Golden State. His departure opened a new chapter for the free-spending Warriors, who were trying to trim payroll and avoid the NBA’s new, punishing “second apron” salary bracket.

Kerr, who replaced Gregg Popovich as coach of the US team after the Tokyo Olympics, thanked Thompson for “13 incredible years” shortly after the opening of the Olympic training camp on Saturday at UNLV.

“Going through all of this together was so meaningful and so incredible,” Kerr said. “We’re going to miss Klay. We wish him the best. These things rarely work out the way you want them to when you think it out and do it and everyone goes out together. We were hoping that could happen, but it didn’t happen. We wish Klay the best. We love him and we’re going to miss him.”

Last season, it seemed a foregone conclusion when Thompson was benched for the first time since his rookie season and averaged fewer than 20 points for the first time in a decade. In his final game with the Warriors, he went pointless, hitting 0-of-10 field goals in a play-in tournament loss to the Sacramento Kings.

Kerr said Thompson came to the conclusion that he needed “a fresh start,” adding that the five-time All-Star struggled to adjust after injuries cost him two years of his prime. The Warriors, who already had long-term contracts with Curry and Green, didn’t make Thompson an offer he liked for 2023, and the two teams were never able to reach much agreement before free agency opened.

After signing a five-year, $189 million maximum contract in 2019, injuries prevented Thompson from regaining his All-Star form, particularly on defense, hurting his market value. Curry said he was kept apprised of key updates during Thompson’s contract negotiations, which dragged on for nearly 18 months. Thompson, however, instructed Curry not to intervene on his behalf.

“That doesn’t mean I listened to him,” Curry said.

But when Thompson decided to join the Mavericks, Curry offered no resistance.

“He needed a change,” Curry said. “It wasn’t a situation where I felt like I had to convince him to stay. He knew exactly what he meant and still means to our organization, to me as his teammate and to Draymond. It’s one of those deals where you have to trust that he’s making the right decision for himself.”

Thompson, who averaged 17.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists and shot 38.7 percent of his three-pointers last season, will join a Dallas team that unexpectedly advanced to the Finals before losing to the Boston Celtics in five games. With Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving as the lead ball handlers, Thompson will serve as a utility shooter who can help fill the void left by the departure of starting forward Derrick Jones Jr. to the Los Angeles Clippers.

“Before (his injuries), Klay didn’t need a lot of counseling,” Kerr said. “The last few years, he’s needed it. I’m amazed at his ability to come back from those injuries to help us win another championship and play at the level he played at. It’s funny: People say he had a bad year, but look at his numbers. A lot of guys with those numbers these days sign for $220 million. Klay has done an incredible job for us. The last few years have been very rough on him, no doubt about it. We’ve all tried to help him through those times. It makes sense in his heart to get a different change of pace, change places, leave California and play on a different team.”

During the Warriors’ heyday, Thompson was Curry’s relatively quiet and quirky sidekick, known for his game-winning shots, love of boating, and his dog Rocco. Career highlights included 11 three-pointers in the 2016 Western Conference Finals Game 6 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, 60 points in just 29 minutes in the 2016 win over the Indiana Pacers, and an NBA-record 14 three-pointers in the 2018 win over the Chicago Bulls.

Thompson, a 2011 lottery pick out of Washington State, ranks sixth on the NBA’s three-point list and has made at least 10 three-pointers in a game nine times, more than any player in NBA history except Curry. The Warriors announced last week that his No. 11 jersey will one day be retired and will hang in the rafters at Chase Center.

Golden State began the process of trading away by signing defensive-minded guard De’Anthony Melton, do-it-all forward Kyle Anderson and wing Buddy Hield. The Warriors waived guard Chris Paul before free agency as a cost-cutting measure, so Curry must return from his first Olympics to a team that will look very different.

Kerr, a five-time champion as a player, was a member of the Chicago Bulls’ “Last Dance” team that won the championship in 1998 before Michael Jordan’s second retirement led to a split in the roster. The dissolution of the Bulls’ dynasty helped Kerr approach Thompson’s departure pragmatically.

“I never dreamed that this thing would go on for another five or six years and Steph, Klay and Dray would retire together and I would retire with them,” Kerr said. “I never had that thought. I’ve been in the league a long time, whether it’s in Chicago or anywhere else, and it’s never easy when these things end. The most important thing is that the relationships and the memories remain. Klay will have a statue in front of (center) Chase one day. His teammates, coaches and fans will love him forever.”

NBA

By Everly