Every week, the staff writers at Blue Man Hoop will take part in a roundtable discussion on a topic concerning the Warriors (click here for last week’s topic).
Klay Thompson is a polarizing figure; he is so pivotal to the Warriors and has only scratched the surface of his potential, but he has his deficiencies. With him becoming a restricted free agent after next season, it’s time to start pondering whether he’s worth the max contract that he will likely receive.
The following is a discussion by the staff at Blue Man Hoop on Thompson and how much he should be paid:
Not all “max” contracts are equal. That is the key to this discussion. Thompson is coming off his rookie deal, so his version of a max contract is significantly less than the max contract that a player like Carmelo Anthony would demand. Now, let’s assume Klay is locked in for four years at his level of a max contract. Over the past three years, we have seen improvement from Klay every year, to the point that he is becoming one of the best three-and-D players in the league.
Also, when the new TV deal arrives and the salary cap jumps as expected, Klay’s contract relative to the cap is a much smaller portion. Thus, the max is not as much of a cap killer as some might think it is.
We also have to look at it from the perspective of other players, namely Stephen Curry. Curry recently stated that playing at home could be an option in the future, and we all know that Curry was a bit frustrated with the way things worked out with ex-coach Mark Jackson. Keeping Curry happy is a priority, and if keeping Klay is a factor in that as he has stated in the past, then his contract certainly is justified.
According to the current CBA, if the Warriors were to offer Klay a max contract, his first year salary would be 25 percent of the salary cap for next season (approx $15 million) and would increase for the duration of his contract.
Based on my research, there seems to be two-tiers of “mini-max” contract players. The first tier is dominated by proven players: Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, James Harden (arguably). The second tier includes players who haven’t performed to their max-contract expectations: Gordon Hayward, Eric Gordon, Roy Hibbert, Brook Lopez.
So where does Klay belong? Unfortunately, I believe he ends up in the second tier. The current CBA forces teams to be frugal and wary of long-term big money contracts. Signing a player to a max contract is an easy way to tie up your flexibility for free agents – something we saw with the Warriors this offseason. Klay’s defense and floor spacing is invaluable to the team’s success, but a similar player could be brought in for less money. If the Warriors are serious about creating a superteam, they will have to be frugal with their spending.
And in regards to keeping the team happy, especially after losing Jackson, winning breeds happiness. I think the Warriors will likely offer Klay a five-year, $60 million contract, one which Klay will ultimately decline. And while I don’t think Klay is a max contract player, teams with cap space will be willing to offer him that money. Which results in the Warriors having to match their offer or seek out another big free agent to replace him (which is very possible).
To add onto what my fellow writer Greg Chin said, it is important to note that the second tier of max-players that he lists were all given max contracts from struggling teams desperately overpaying to keep some hope of success alive. These organizations are not jaded in their opinion of their players, but just cannot afford to lose their best upcoming player during a time of rebuilding. The Warriors are not rebuilding; they want to win right now and players who care more about winning than about their money do not take the max contract. Thompson is a max player in the sense that there will likely be a team that offers him a max contract. That team will probably be a losing team, and so my real question is whether Klay wants to take less money to win with the Warriors, or get as much money as he can on a losing team.
Basketball is a business, and in the end the bottom line for these franchises will dictate how certain teams are built.
When it comes to the Warriors and Thompson, the real question is whether or not this organization believes it already has the pieces in place to chase a championship. If not, they may want to allocate that money to compete for the key players they are interested in. If so, it’s an easy decision to offer Thompson the full max contract . The fact that they passed on moving Thompson for Kevin Love is clear indication that they trust Thompson to be a centerpiece on this squad. With David Lee‘s contract coming off in 2016 — ditto for Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala in 2017 — there should be plenty of money to pay both Warriors on Team USA.
When push comes to shove, Thompson should and will get the max, and it will be the older generation of Warriors making the decision to play for less money.
Thompson is not a max-level player right now. But should the Warriors’ management choose to offer him a max contract after next season, it will be because they believe he will develop into one. In his three years in the league, Thompson has made significant strides each year and I believe his performance in the upcoming season will form the distinction between him being regarded as an elite 3-and-D player and being hailed as one of the most promising young guards in the league. With that being said, there’s strong reason to believe he will continue to refine his offensive game and if he’s able to average close to 20 points per game, play stellar defense, and improve his decision-making as a passer, he’ll be worth the max contract.
Given the stubbornness the Warriors’ front office showed in the past few months, it seems that they are set on locking Thompson up for the long-term. I’m hoping this show of faith will result in Klay accepting less money to stay on a contending Warriors team when his contract is up. There is no doubt that he will command a max deal from other teams in the market for a shooting guard, especially one with his skill set. I foresee his contract negotiations inevitably leading to the old “money over winning/loyalty” argument a la James Harden, which is a bit unfair. No fan in his right mind would turn down an extra $10-20 million dollars.
However, as Greg Chin said, I can see the Warriors offering something in the ballpark of five-year, $60-65 million contract, but instead with him ultimately accepting it. Call me naive, but I think Klay understands how beneficial it is playing alongside someone like Curry, and would prefer to compete for a championship with Golden State instead of being the go-to-guy on a perennial lottery team.
I look at this from a different perspective:
I would put Thompson in the same class as Lance Stephenson, minus the antics. Both players deserve to be paid, however a max contract just isn’t for them. Thompson has made some serious strides each year he’s been in the league, as evidenced by making Team USA’s roster for the FIBA Basketball World Cup. I see Thompson as a superb player, just not “the” player who warrants a max contract. Thompson makes a perfect complementary guy, just like Stephenson. You wouldn’t want your whole team to be centered around them, but you would love to have them on your team.
Guard play dominates the NBA, and shooting guard is the weakest position in terms of depth in the league. Thompson is one of the best players at his position and is only improving. He is not worth the money he might get paid in the immediate future, but in the long run, it is worth it.
In today’s NBA, a max contract technically refers to what the player is worth on the open market. Because other teams with enough cap-space will offer Klay a max contract to in hopes of securing a player with the potential to revive playoff hopes, Klay will undoubtedly earn a max contract next offseason.
As exemplified by Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons, a max contract player doesn’t necessarily equate to a superstar. Klay is an elite shooter and a consistent, tough perimeter defender. There is also strong reason to believe that he will show even more signs of improvement this coming season in regards to his slashing and decision-making. As displayed by the Love saga this summer, Warriors management has shown how much they value Klay, so they will probably offer him a max contract next summer, which I don’t believe he’ll take due to more lucrative deals from other teams. While it may be possible to find another good two-way player like Klay, it will be difficult to replace the chemistry he shares with the team on and off the court.
It seems like the public consensus feels Thompson is not a max contract player.
Unfortunately, the Warriors front office certainly feels that way. Thompson is going to ask for the max and Bob Myers and Co. are going to oblige. They have set themselves up for this decision ever since they decided to not include Thompson in any Love trade. If they weren’t willing to trade him for a top-10 player, then what would be the point of letting him walk in free agency next season? Whatever Klay asks for, they are going to pay. We all know he is not a max contract player at this point. But as fans we must trust management and have faith that Thompson will grow into an extremely productive contributor.
Even if Thompson isn’t in the top tier of max contract players, there are a lot of players who make max money who are worse than Klay. At this point it’s all about keeping assets and keeping star players engaged and happy.
Is Klay Thompson worth max money when it comes to basketball? No, but is he worth max money to this franchise’s future? Yes.