First, Klay Thompson believes he should have been on the NBA’s Top 75 list, and he has an argument. In his eight full seasons, he’s reached five All-Star Games and he is also considered one of the great shooters of this generation.
Second, Thompson is coming off a two-year absence caused by a torn ACL and then a torn Achilles’ and is close to return.
That makes his motivation to come back and rejoin a 16-2 Warriors team and win a fourth championship unquestioned. Thompson, who has just been cleared for full five-on-five workouts and practice, could return by Christmas.
The league has missed Thompson’s 3-point prowess and he wants to remind his fans and critics about his talents. While he has spent his career being the secondary option to Stephen Curry, Thompson has Hall of Fame credentials. Still, his two-plus years away are an eternity in professional sports.
“Just to be running up and down the court and playing basketball, it’s truly a blessing,” he said. “Just getting back in game shape is exciting and I’ve got to stay patient. I feel great. I’m knocking shots down. I’m playing great defense. The hardest part is just simulating the game. It takes time.
“It’s hard to put a date on [my return]. Who knows when it could be? Each week it just increases. It’s a feel thing. I want to come back and be like the last time I was playing.”
The last time Thompson played, he was trying to help the Warriors to a fourth title against the Raptors in June 2019, but he tore his left ACL soaring for a dunk. That cost him the 2019-20 season. And while he was rehabbing in Southern California in September 2020, Thompson ruptured his right Achilles’ tendon, costing him another season.
The Warriors have been cautious with his rehabilitation as no player has ever torn an ACL and Achilles’ in consecutive seasons. The 31-year-old Thompson said he’s completely healthy.
“Six months ago, I was looking forward to just running, jogging,” he said. “Now I’m running, and jumping and I’m a full go. It’s incredible because I give myself credit because it takes great mental fortitude to get through two [major injuries] back to back.
“I’m lucky to play in the era I do because technology and science have allowed me to come back better than ever. The science of sport is pretty amazing. It’s not fun to watch.”
The Warriors have returned to elite status despite the absences of Thompson and former second overall pick James Wiseman (knee). Both are expected to return in the coming weeks, making Golden State the favorite to win another title.
“We are now a team that’s championship or bust and that’s a cool position to be in,” Thompson said. “[16-2] is pretty ridiculous. I don’t think the pundits saw this coming. I did because I have wholehearted belief in the guys.”
Thompson has been seen working out feverishly before Warriors games in his full uniform with headband included. But he said he realizes it will take considerable time to return to All-Star form, if that happens at all.
“You have to have realistic expectations of yourself,” he said. “I always wanted to shoot a certain percentage or average a certain amount of points, but now coming off two tough injuries I kind of scratched that. I just want to be efficient.
“I don’t care what my numbers are as long as I’m shooting and playing efficiently, and I know with time that at the end of this year or come playoff time or next year my numbers will be great again. Just two years without playing in an NBA game, I taper down the big expectations of scoring 37 in a quarter or 10 threes in a game. I plan on doing that again, but who knows when? It’s tough to say.”
What Thompson is sure of is that a fourth championship will make those voters who kept him off the Top 75 team regret their choices.
“I want a championship so bad. I wanted to be on that Top 75, I wanted some recognition and I didn’t get it,” he said. “To get recognition, you go win. I just want to win again. I want to win a fourth ring.”
FAILURE TO LAUNCH
Silas has hand
on Rockets’ rebuild
When the Rockets decided to trade James Harden in a three-team deal and take back an injured Victor Oladipo, it was the beginning of the end for their role as Western Conference competitors. It was time to start over with a slew of first-round picks and youngsters.
Oladipo turned down a possible extension from Houston and was traded to Miami for salary-cap relief and a first-round pick.
Longtime NBA assistant coach Stephen Silas has been assigned the leader of this rebuild and it’s been a bumpy and painful road so far. The Rockets lost 15 of their first 16 games this season, including a thumping by the Celtics on Monday. The Rockets responded by stunning the Bulls on Wednesday to snap a 15-game losing streak and provide Silas some relief.
With so many losses, Silas’s job security is becoming a question. Like Brett Brown several years ago in Philadelphia, Silas knows he’s going to lose on most nights because his team is painfully young and inexperienced.
Jalen Green, the No. 2 overall pick who splashed eight 3-pointers against the Celtics last month, doesn’t turn 20 until February. Starting point guard Kevin Porter Jr. is 21. Rookie Alperen Sengun is 19, so are fellow rookies Josh Christopher and Usman Garuba.
The Rockets have veteran leadership in D.J. Augustin, Daniel Theis, and Eric Gordon, but their presence is not aiding winning. Augustin is trying to stay in the NBA. Theis, a former Celtic, accepted a $35 million contract over four years, while Gordon has another year left on his contract at $19 million, so he’ll likely be a trade candidate next summer.
More than a third of the Rockets’ salary cap is occupied by John Wall ($44 million this season, $47 million player option next season), but he agreed with the Rockets not to play until a trade or resolution can be worked out. Wall, who has been injured often over the past few years, has almost no trade value at that price, meaning a buyout is likely after this season.
Wall, 31, was sitting on the Rockets’ bench in Boston and is serving as a mentor in what has become a bizarre situation.
“He’s working out and preparing himself for whatever comes next for him,” Silas said. “He’s been good for our group, good as far as watching film with guys, good as far as pulling them aside. He’s on the bench. He’s definitely a helpful presence on the bench.”
What Silas has to stress to his young players is retaining a winning attitude despite all of the losing. There are NBA games every other night and some players become accustomed to losing. Brown in Philadelphia had a similar quandary, keeping young players motivated enough to give 100 percent nightly, knowing they are likely to get pounded.
When young players get comfortable with losing, rebuilding efforts can fail miserably. Such situations have occurred in Sacramento and Minnesota. Silas wants his players to take losing personally, but not so much where it affects their psyche.
“It’s a fine line,” Silas said “It’s tough because you put so much into the preparation part. You put so much into every game that you come out disappointed and you don’t want to feel that disappointment every night. It is a tough line to draw and to walk.”
Green is a splendid talent who just needs to get stronger and more consistent. Porter can become a frontline point guard with more polish, while Sengun has been a pleasant surprise in the frontcourt.
“For our guys, they are really good kids and they are driven and trying to learn and doing their best,” Silas said. “As long as we’re moving forward, as long as our play, our execution, as far as playing hard every night, then it’s a little bit easier to swallow the disappointment of the losses. But at some point we’re going to get over this hump and this is going to be the character building we’re going to have as far as remember when?”
The difficult part about going young is most of the league’s elite prospects are far away from making an impact at the NBA level. The Rockets’ young crew will need a couple of years of seasoning, and that means taking a share of whippings before that ascension occurs.
“We’re looking at other teams that have gone through this and we’re staying positive and keeping the pressure on as far as coaching the guys and making sure that we’re at least attempting to do the right thing as much as possible,” Silas said.
“When we get through it, we’re going to look back on it as character building because when you look at it and are so disappointed that you don’t build character as a result or you don’t have the character in the first place to get through, then that’s the problem. I love my group and we’re getting through it.”
Impact of trials
felt around league
Two significant trials concluded in the past two weeks. Kyle Rittenhouse, then a 17-year-old, was acquitted of murder after shooting and killing two protestors in Kenosha, Wis., in the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting. The perception of the trial from many NBA players on social media was that Rittenhouse would have never been ruled innocent had he been Black.
Simultaneously, the trial of Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. was reaching the final stages. They were accused in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black jogger, who was approached by the white men and shot dead in a suburban Georgia neighborhood for apparently being suspected of theft.
The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown, a Georgia native, was asked about the trials after Monday’s win over the Rockets, prior to the McMichael verdict. Brown has been a social activist and outspoken on his feelings about the disparity of treatment and opportunities for people of color.
“I think my reaction is the same reaction that I’ve had over and over and over again,” he said about the Rittenhouse decision. “When it comes to a system that’s not able to protect people that are taxpayers and people that deserve to be protected, at some point, you’re tired of keeping hearing the same words being used: ‘reform.’ I’m tired of hearing the word ‘reform.’
“ ‘Reform’ doesn’t work. If I reform my garage, I might change some stuff. If I reform my house, I might reform some stuff around but it’s still the same house. The foundation our country was built on, systemic inequality, racism, etc. Until we get to the root of things, we’re going to keep having these same instances. And we’re going to keep having these same reactions.”
Two days later, Brown was asked about the verdicts in the Arbery killing. The men were found guilty of 23 of the 27 charges, including felony murder. Brown did not express pleasure or satisfaction over the decision. But he wondered why the guilt of the three men was even in question.
“I’m not sure what [the verdict] does,” he said. “To see that go in the direction that it went in is what people wanted to see, but Ahmaud Arbery still lost his life and his family is not going to ever see him again. So, yeah, the decision was made, but it should have been obvious. Shouldn’t even been a discrepancy, I feel. That’s the part in society we’re not at yet.
“And we say that’s justice, but is it? That’s all I’ve really got to say.”
NBA players are more closely following social and political matters, and their opinions should be respected because they, like us, are citizens and affected by and interested in world and American issues.
The debate as to whether players “fear” LeBron James anymore after Detroit second-year center Isaiah Stewart needed to be restrained by several teammates, coaching staff members, and security after James struck his face following a tussle for a rebound is fascinating. James, 36, remains one of the most respected and revered players in the game, but that doesn’t mean younger players won’t challenge him, especially in a situation such as this past week at Little Caesars Arena when Stewart appeared to lose control. While this current NBA generation has been accused of being too friendly with each other, there are certain younger players who aren’t as kind, and Stewart, a rugged rebounder and tough guy in the paint, is one of those players. James is not going to fight on the floor because anything he does could adversely affect his image and reputation. James is fiercely protective over how he is characterized as a player and role model. Stewart was suspended for two games for his explosion, while James received a one-game suspension for striking Stewart . . . Kemba Walker said he felt 100 percent and was ready to regain his vintage form when he signed with his hometown Knicks this summer. So far, however, Walker has posted career lows in several categories, including points per game and minutes. Walker is playing fewer than 25 minutes per game and has averaged just 5.4 minutes in the fourth quarter. What’s more, Walker has played in the fourth quarter of only nine of his 17 games and has averaged just 2 points in that span. New York coach Tom Thibodeau has opted for veteran Derrick Rose down the stretch of games. Walker is averaging fewer than 10 shots per game and a career-low 3.1 assists. He remains a sparkling 3-point shooter (40.7 percent) but his days as a full-time point guard, especially down the stretch of games, may be over. Evan Fournier, who spurned the Celtics for a four-year, $78 million package with the Knicks, is averaging 12.8 points per game in about 29 minutes. After his 32-point performance in the season opener against the Celtics, Fournier did not score more than 19 points until the Nov. 23 win over the Lakers, when he led the club with 26. Fournier scored 3 points in the Knicks’ previous game against the Bulls.