Kawakami: Warriors’ Klay Thompson keeps going, and his price tag keeps going up

SAN FRANCISCO — Klay Thompson didn’t jog through the corridor back into the Golden State Warriors’ locker room after his pregame workout on Sunday, he levitated. He bounced. He spun around at least once on his way to some kind of momentary nirvana. He laughed. He whooped.

“Man, I feel great today!” Klay yelled to one of his favorite Chase Center staffers as he moved on by. “Oh yeah, I feel great!”

What happened over the next few hours, for anybody who witnessed the hallway hallelujah, seemed inevitable at that point: With Stephen Curry given the night off, Klay made five of his first seven 3-point attempts, scored 25 first-half points and ended up with 32 points in the Warriors’ 118-110 victory over the extremely depleted Utah Jazz at Chase Center.

It won’t go down as a historic Klay night, because those spots are reserved for unique detonations and urgent playoff heroics and because Klay has provided more than his share of those already. But Sunday’s performance felt a little weightier than just another casual defeat over a sad-sack foe simply because it was part of the Klay continuum. And because Klay, his teammates, the Warriors’ decision-makers and everybody else in the NBA almost certainly know that this won’t be his last moment like this.

Afterward at the podium, Klay was much more subdued than he was a few hours earlier. But that seemed to add gravity to everything, too. It wasn’t the time for shouts and exhilaration. That came before. After the game, things were more serious and more lasting than that, even for Klay. Especially for Klay.

“I just felt really good body-wise today,” Klay said. “I didn’t feel any pain anywhere. I thought that translated over nicely to the game.”

How often do you feel this good before a game, Klay? “Eighty-two games, you’re not going to be 100 percent every night,” he said. “I mean, what have I missed, maybe three, four games this year? That’s incredible after two years of rehab plus. So that’s something I can hang my hat on, be proud of, is being durable during the season.”

For the record, Klay has only missed four games so far this regular season, with only four left to play. He started the season out poorly, which contributed plenty to the team’s poor start and revved up talk that maybe this was the end of the line for him as a significant NBA performer and maybe also the end of the Warriors’ dynasty. But he kept playing. He was benched in January for rookie Brandin Podziemski. But Klay kept playing. He got back into the starting lineup. Kept playing.

Eventually, Klay found a rhythm, and he’s still in it. Along the way, the Warriors have found a rhythm, too. They’ve kept playing, too.

And by the way, Klay’s 74 games played is tops on the team — three more than Curry, Jonathan Kuminga and Kevon Looney (though Looney’s only missed games have come when he’s been healthy but Steve Kerr didn’t play him) — and pretty unfathomable for somebody who missed the entire 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons and part of 2021-22 due to back-to-back massive leg injuries right in the middle of his prime.

In his third season back after a pair of major leg injuries, Klay Thompson has played 74 of the Warriors’ 78 games so far. “That’s something I can hang my hat on,” he says. (Bob Kupbens / USA Today)

Klay isn’t the same two-way All-Star he was five years ago; he lost lateral defensive movement to the injuries that he’ll never get back, and he has more flat nights shooting the ball these days than he used to. But at 34, on a Warriors team that has been fighting for its playoff life for months now and with a contract that will expire this July, Klay is still a stalwart. He’s still the guy who can tilt a postseason series all by himself. He’s still just always on the court. Always dangerous.

He’s seen his NBA life flash before his eyes once, twice, or maybe five times over the last few years … and he’s not actually at the end of anything. I think that’s clearer now than at any point since he tore his ACL in the 2019 finals, and I think Klay is only getting stronger. And if he plays the next four games, he’ll have played 78 games this season, which is the total he played in the 2018-19 regular season, right before his first major injury.

“I think it is amazing because it’s easy to fall in love with the great shooting nights and big scoring outputs,” Klay said. “But unless you’ve been through an Achilles rehab or ACL, it’s very difficult. To do that and in two years to come out and play, whatever, 94 percent of the games, that’s what I’m most proud of, just being available and being a constant in the lineup. Because the NBA season is strenuous, it’s long. It takes a lot of discipline to be able to do it nightly. That’s one thing I’m very proud of this season, just my ability to play this amount of games.”

Will this push the Warriors through the Play-In Tournament, into the playoffs and maybe to a first-round upset of one of the top-seeded teams in the West? All impossible to know at this point, but at least the Warriors (24-11 since they were 19-24 in late January) have given themselves some chance at this.

The Warriors, as Kerr pointed out Sunday, almost certainly will finish with a better record than their 44-38 mark last season, which was good enough for the No. 6 seed last April; everything has just felt worse this season because the West has so many good teams, which has shoved the Warriors into the No. 10 spot, because of the Warriors’ slow start, because of Draymond Green’s two suspensions and because the Warriors’ dynasty is due to expire any time now.

But Kerr argues persuasively that the Warriors really are a better team than last season — far better chemistry, deeper and younger in key spots, still led by Curry and still energized by Draymond. Oh yeah, and still getting significant performances out of Klay.

Best records in the West (since Jan. 28)

Team W-L Pct.











These days, the Warriors don’t always need huge Klay nights, which is good, because there are fewer of them than in his heyday. They’ve got Podziemski’s all-around game. They’ve got Kuminga’s pure athleticism and finishing ability. They’ve got Moses Moody to play defense and hit 3s. They’ve got Gary Payton II’s shut-down coverage. They’ve got Chris Paul to run the second unit and find his own shots at crunch time.

Sometimes, Kerr doesn’t close games with Klay. Even during Klay’s rally over the last few months, even now that he is back in the starting lineup, there are games when Kerr will go with Paul down the stretch to keep things steady, or to GP2 for some key stops, or to Podziemski for his energy and rebounding. Klay isn’t an automatic anymore — even through his recent surge of shooting 41.4 percent from 3-point distance since mid-February, he’s still at a career-low 38.3 percent rate on the full season.

Which leads us to the next part of the continuum: The Warriors probably can keep going at a relatively similar level next season with or without Klay (if Kuminga, Podziemski and Moody continue to bloom), but Klay also can probably keep going at a very similar individual level next season with or without the Warriors.

They’ve been incredible together. They might survive OK apart, in a way that I can’t say for the Warriors without Curry or possibly Draymond without the Warriors.

One of the worst-kept secrets in the league is that Orlando, loaded with young talent but not with shooters, might offer Klay a ton of money next summer. Meanwhile, Joe Lacob has said the Warriors want to get all the way out of the luxury tax next summer, which is possible, but only if they are very disciplined about how much they’re willing to pay to keep Klay (and/or CP3).

Put bluntly, Klay is the only one of the Big Three who might end up more valuable to another team than what the Warriors want to pay him. The more durable he continues to be, the larger the contract he deserves. The Warriors should absolutely try to bring him back, and not just as a sentimental gesture.

But Klay has seized control of this process. That’s because there are several more chapters left in his NBA story, and he’s got every right to be very proud about all of that.



Five observations: Steph Curry rests, Jonathan Kuminga returns in Warriors’ win over Jazz

(Top photo: Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)

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