What was supposed to be a night full of possibilities for the Golden State Warriors turned out to be a disaster. Armed with the No. 2 overall pick in Wednesday’s draft and all the options that came with it, the franchise lost its collective breath when news broke that Klay Thompson had suffered a potentially devastating injury while working out in Southern California. On Thursday the worst fears were confirmed: Thompson will miss all of next season with a torn right Achilles tendon.
You want to talk about a gut punch.
Beyond feeling awful for Thompson, one of the most well-liked players in the NBA and a guy who just genuinely loves to play basketball, the first question was whether this last-minute news might impact how the Warriors approached the draft. It didn’t appear to do so, as they took the player to whom they’ve been consistently connected throughout the draft process in James Wiseman.
It should’ve been a night of celebration for the Warriors, who fully expected to be back in championship contention with Steph Curry and Thompson back healthy and Wiseman slotting as the missing-piece big man. Now that Thompson is out, so too is that plan.
So what’s Plan B? It starts with Kelly Oubre Jr., whom the Warriors acquired from Oklahoma City on Thursday, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. To sign Oubre as an over-the-cap team, the Warriors are using the $17.2 million trade exception — via the deal that sent Andre Iguodala to Memphis last year — to absorb Oubre’s $14.4 million salary for next season. His deal is done at the end of this season, so the Warriors aren’t committed to him beyond 2021, at which point the hope is that Klay will return.
You have to give the Warriors’ ownership credit. They’re putting their money where their mouth is. As an over-the-tax team, the Warriors have to eat massive penalties on top of every dollar they spend. Per ESPN’s cap guru Bobby Marks, here is what the Warriors are paying for Oubre between his salary and the tax penalties it carries:
Yes, you’re reading that right: The Warriors’ ownership, at it stands right now, could’ve saved $82 million had they just decided not to use that trade exception, which could’ve been easily rationalized in Thompson’s absence; paying that kind of money for a team that no longer feels like a title contender could reasonably be viewed as borderline crazy.
But Joe Lacob once vowed that the Warriors will never be outspent, that as long as he’s around, money will not inhibit GM Bob Myers’ ability to put the best team he can possibly assemble on the floor, and he’s certainly keeping his word on that even in a brutal economy. Myers said on Wednesday that he’d been given the green light to spend that trade exception before the injury to Thompson even happened.
Read that quote above and ask yourself if that sounds like an owner who’s done spending. The Warriors still have a $6 million taxpayer mid-level exception to use, and they will likely have more money to dole out in the form of a $9.3 million Disabled Player Exception, which they applied for on Thursday, per ESPN’s Marks. Longtime Warriors reporter Monte Poole said on Wednesday the Warriors have their eyes on four potential big-man additions when free agency opens Friday.
If the season were to start right today, the likely starting five would be Curry, Oubre, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green and Wiseman, with Kevon Looney (who they might still look to offload in a deal that saves a bit of cash) and Eric Paschall off the bench. That’s a team that can still compete, but the burden on Curry to return to his supernatural ways just got a lot heavier.
Ultimately, there’s just no way to sugarcoat this. With Thompson out, the Warriors might’ve just gone from a top three or four title contender to a team that could well have to battle to make the playoffs in an absolutely loaded Western Conference. But any thought that they might halfway-subtly punt on this season in the wake of the Thompson news appears to be gone. The Warriors are still going for it. No matter the cost.