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Warriors lobby for Klay Thompson's return after play-in loss

ByKENDRA ANDREWS
April 17, 2024, 3:39 AM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- As Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson headed to the bench with 2:13 remaining in their play-in game against the Sacramento Kings, his head hung low. He made a round of hugs with team trainers and teammates before he took his seat. After the final buzzer sounded, he took a moment before exiting the court to look back at the Kings lighting the beam.

It was possibly Thompson's last game with the Warriors. 

The 118-94 loss to the Kings sent Golden State into its earliest offseason in three years. And it sent Thompson into unrestricted free agency.

"We need Klay back," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game. "He's still got good years left. And I know I speak for everybody in the organization: We want him back. ... What Klay has meant to this franchise and as good as he still is, we desperately want him back."

Thompson didn't speak after the game, but at shootaround seven hours before tipoff, he said it wasn't difficult to keep the thoughts of free agency out of his mind as he finished the season.

"That's life," Thompson said. "Had so much success here, I'm not going to let whatever future happens make me salty about what I've been able to accomplish in a Warriors uniform. I don't let that seep in at all."

Thompson's season finale left a lot to be desired, as he was held scoreless on 0-for-10 shooting, including 0-for-6 from 3. It was just the fifth time in Thompson's career he failed to score. It was his second time under Kerr, but the other was when he was ejected 1:43 into a Nov. 23 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves

It was a performance Kerr said was tough to watch Thompson go through.

"I've watched him the last couple years fighting the feeling of devastation from injuries and I watched him this season flip his season around," Kerr said. "I saw him enjoy the second half of the season and play with a little more freedom and joy, so tonight was tough to see him struggle."

Thompson entered Tuesday's play-in game coming off what he called the "best stretch of basketball of the year." Through the last 4½ weeks of the regular season, Thompson was second on the team in scoring, averaging 21.2 points on 48.1% field goal shooting and 41.2% from 3.

The 77 games he played were his most since the 2018-19 season -- before he tore an ACL and an Achilles.

"It's about commending him on a hell of a year," Stephen Curry said. "Everyone is going to talk about one game, and I know he wanted to do better. We go through so much over 82 games, and the fact that he was able to turn his season around with a new role and adjusting ... just really having fun playing basketball and being at peace out there with it all, I'm more worried about that."

Conversations for a new deal stalled between Thompson and the organization as the season began in the fall. They never really restarted during the season, but there wasn't much concern over it as the Warriors navigated their ups and downs, Green's suspensions, the death of assistant coach Dejan Milojevic and Thompson working his way out of his personal funk.

But sources told ESPN that there wasn't much reassurance during the season that the two parties would undoubtedly work out a resolution. That is what rubbed Thompson the wrong way.

However, Green is still confident a new deal will be reached.

"[Klay is] going to make the best decision for him, the team's got a decision to make and they'll make the best decision for the team. ... I don't think there's any scenario where Klay leaves and that's the best decision for this team and organization," Green said. "[The organization] has shown nothing but respect, loyalty, love and trust. I've got no reason to think, oh man, they're not going to do right by Klay.

"I have no reason to think that our ownership group isn't going to take care of us the way we have taken care of this organization."

Green is under contract with the Warriors until the 2025-26 season, with a player option for 2026-27. Curry's and Kerr's deals have them with the team until through the 2025-26 season.

Thompson's desire is to make a deal that aligns with the rest of the Warriors' dynastic core, sources told ESPN.

"I could never see myself not with those two guys," Curry said. "I understand this league changes and there are so many things that go into it and we're not going to play forever, but we've experienced so much together and at the end of the day I know they want to win, I know I want to win, and that's all I'm worried about."

Having their season cut short by a Kings team that exhibited "total domination" was described as a horrible feeling, frustrating and upsetting.

So, alongside the desire to keep that group together is an understanding that changes have to be made for the Warriors to get back in contention in an extremely crowded Western Conference.

"This is life. This is how it works. You don't get to stay on top forever," Kerr said. "We've got an offseason where we've got a lot to think about."

But Curry said it was too early to pinpoint what exactly needs to change.

"It's raw right now," he said. "I'm just figuring out if I want to watch the playoffs or not. On April 16, this is unfamiliar territory. ... I just want to win. Whatever that means, I want to win."