Warriors: Klay's Back. And How Things Have Changed
(originally written 1/8/22)
Warriors superstar SG Klay Thompson has not played an NBA game in a long time.
After displaying durability matched only by a select few from the day he entered Golden State's starting lineup in 2012, Thompson suffered two of the worst types of leg injuries an athlete can suffer. Back-to-back.
Out of all the NBA players you'd anticipate suffering that fate, Thompson would have ranked in the bottom 2%. Seriously. The guy had only missed 25 regular-season games (and one playoff game out of 124) in his whole eight-year career—and one of them was to attend a funeral. If COVID was a thing before June 2019, and Thompson caught it before a big game, he'd have been the league's leading candidate to simply WILL the virus out of his system with Campbell's soup and a little Robitussin.
That may sound silly, but the man thought he could essentially will himself through his torn ACL minutes after the fact.
The league Thompson will return to on January 9 is, by and large, the same one he left. The hoop is still 10 feet high and the court is still 94 feet long. They have not introduced the red, white and blue ABA ball. Tackling is still not allowed. Neither is running more than two steps with the ball. Nobody fudged with the three-point line.
Four of Thompson's 2019 teammates are still around. (Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney and Andre Iguodala, who left and returned). His 2019 head coach, Steve Kerr, is still around. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, James Harden, Joel Embiid, Paul George, Giannis Antetokuonmpo and Curry are still the big dawgs of the NBA. DeAndre Jordan still can't shoot a lick. Russell Westbrook is still careless with the ball. Kyrie Irving is still...unique. Embiid still gets under everyone's skin. Harden still has the beard.
All signs point to Klay Thompson returning to the Warriors lineup Sunday, 1/9/2022. Unless, of course, John Dickinson of 95.7 The Game is right about Stephen Curry's injury throwing those plans off...
So Thompson should not be overwhelmed trying to re-familiarize himself with playing in the NBA. Not EVERYTHING has changed.
But much has.
For example...there were two full-time female officials back in 2019. Today there's six, with four additional part-timers per NBA.com. Good for them. (Side note: I think we're all well past the point of caring about a referee's gender so long as they can do the job and from what I've seen, all but one of the new additions are at least competent.)
Thompson's Warriors no longer play at Oracle Arena; his season debut will mark his first game at the Chase Center, which opened to basketball in October 2019. While no other new arenas have opened since June 2019, some have been renamed, including:
⦁ The Staples Center (Lakers/Clippers), now known as the Crypto.com Arena
⦁ The Chesapeake Energy Arena (Thunder), now known as the Paycom Center
⦁ The Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Pacers), now known as the Gainbridge Fieldhouse
⦁ The American Airlines Arena (Heat), now known as the FTX Arena
⦁ The Pepsi Center (Nuggets), now known as the Ball Arena
⦁ The Quicken Loans Arena (Cavaliers), now known as the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse
⦁ Whatever They Called The Center That Year (Suns), known as the Footprint Center for the time being
⦁ The Jazz also modified their arena name (Vivint Arena, from Vivint Smart Home Arena)
(Yes, I know that really only about two NBA arena names are actually worth remembering—the Knicks' Madison Square Garden and perhaps the Bulls' United Center—but Thompson may need to know these things in case he ever sends for his dog Rocco.)
The Warriors and Hawks slightly modified their logos. The Rockets changed theirs.
As if Thompson didn't have enough stars to defend, F Luka Doncic (Mavericks) and G Trae Young (Hawks), rookies in 2018-19, have blossomed into legit superstars. G Ja Morant and F Zion Williamson have entered the league and taken flight with the Grizzlies and Pelicans, respectively—though the latter might miss this season. C Nikola Jokic of the Nuggets and F Jayson Tatum of the Celtics have upped their games, to MVP heights in the former's case.
Officially, Thompson was "teammates" with 17 now-ex Warriors who came and went without playing a single game with him. Including onetime nemesis Kelly Oubre.
Four of Thompson's 2018-19 teammates haven't played in the NBA since the '19 Postseason, either. C Andrew Bogut and G Shaun Livingston retired, F Jonas Jerebko faded away, and F Marcus Derrickson likely frightened off any potential suitors.
The Suns, Bulls, Cavs and Grizzlies are good again. The Magic, Pistons, Rockets and Thunder now stink. Nothing has really changed regarding the Kings, who allowed Thompson's record 37-point quarter back in 2015 and are just deficient enough to do so again.
And while Klay rehabbed, stuff went on. Including...
The Raptors who beat the Warriors in the 2019 Finals have largely disbanded, with F Pascal Siakam and G Fred VanVleet the only remaining Raptors who played in those Finals. F Danny Green, who committed the unfortunate foul that led to Thompson's ACL tear, has since won another title with the 2019-20 Lakers. He's been with the 76ers since then.
Klay Thompson (shown with then-commissioner David Stern) was drafted #11 overall by the Warriors out of Washington State in 2011.
C DeMarcus Cousins, Thompson's 2018-19 teammate who knows a couple things about leg injuries himself, has joined the Lakers, Rockets, Clippers and most recently, the Bucks—who let him go just this weekend.
G Rajon Rondo, a 2019 Laker, has joined the Hawks, Clippers, Lakers again, and as of a few days ago, the Cavaliers.
G Mario Chalmers has returned to the NBA. So have G Joe Johnson, C Greg Monroe, F Lance Stephenson, and others who'd presumably played their final NBA game before Thompson's injuries—only to find opportunities when COVID depleted NBA rosters in late 2021.
21 franchises combined to make 27 head coaching changes from the end of the 2019 Finals through today. (Only the Warriors, Heat, Spurs, Bucks, Hornets, Jazz, Nuggets, Raptors and Pistons have the same head coach now as when Thompson last played.)
G Kevin Porter has entered the league (via the 2019 Draft), gotten himself kicked off the Cavaliers after a projectile-launching tirade, joined the Rockets, and gotten himself suspended by the Rockets after a projectile-launching tirade.
Sadly, NBA legends Sam Jones, Kobe Bryant, Elgin Baylor, Paul Westphal, Jerry Sloan, Mark Eaton, David Stern, Tommy Heinsohn, Wes Unseld Sr., and K.C. Jones headed off to the big hoop court in the sky.
A few words in closing...
When Thompson takes the floor shortly after 5:30pm (provided he starts) on 1/9/2022, it'll be a moment unlike any other in Warriors history. It'll be right up there with the most moving moments in NBA history. Thompson is very well-liked and—save for ex-TrailBlazer F Zach Collins—very well-respected around the league; among Warriors fans, he is absolutely treasured. No one in Chase Center will be seated when Thompson's name is announced. The ovation could go five full minutes.
(Note how quickly Collins' career tanked after mixing it up with Thompson a few years ago. The hoop gods did not approve.)
It's not just about the three titles Thompson helped deliver to Golden State, or the 14 threes he hit against Chicago, or the 37 points in one quarter against Sacramento, or any of his other achievements or accolades.
We Dubs fans will be on our feet, applauding, cheering and fighting sobs, because we know that Thompson would do it for us. He is as down-to-earth of a superstar as the league's ever known, the type that would genuinely thank each of his supporters one by one if it were at all practical or feasible.
I have zero doubt that if Thompson knew his local butcher, for example, was returning to work after 2.5 years away for health reasons, he'd make a point of being at that shop to welcome said butcher back. (And to grab a couple of steaks.)
On 1/9/2022, we fans won't just be celebrating the return of one of our favorite basketball stars.
We will be celebrating something good happening to a person who truly deserves it, especially after such a recent spate of bad luck.
I, for one, won't try very hard to fight my sobs. Neither should you.