It is not difficult to make a case for the Splash Brothers as the greatest backcourt of all-time.
Stephen Curry is a two-time MVP, a Finals MVP, has made nine All-NBA teams and is the career leader in three-pointers made. Klay Thompson is a two-time All-NBA player, a five-time All-Star, and ranks 11th all-time in three-pointers (and could be as high as sixth by the end of this season).
Together with the Golden State Warriors, they pair have won the Western Conference six times, winning four NBA titles. The only time they missed the playoffs together was in 2011-12, Thompson’s rookie season, when Curry played just 26 games due to injury. When Thompson missed two seasons more recently, the Warriors missed the playoffs in both years. Yet when he returned, the best backcourt in NBA history led them back to the NBA Finals and notched another championship victory.
The level of dominance that these two have accomplished together is astounding, and that’s what makes it even crazier to contemplate that all of it almost never happened. No, we aren’t talking about “what if Curry’s ankles never got stronger” or even the infamous trade offer of Klay Thompson and David Lee for Kevin Love.
The Golden State Warriors almost traded Stephen and Klay Thompson
Before that Kevin Love trade was ever on the table, back in 2011 when Thompson was freshly drafted out of Washington State and Curry’s ankles were a significant question mark, the Warriors very nearly traded the two guards for Chris Paul.
It’s not an often-discussed chapter of Warrior history, but apparently the Warriors were ready to start winning and thought that the allure of Curry and Thompson would net them a major star. According to Ethan Sherwood Strauss in his book “The Victory Machine“, Bob Myers and the Warriors offered the two for a number of star players around the league, only to be turned down. The closest they got to a deal, however, was with the New Orleans Hornets.
Hornets GM Dell Demps was open to a trade with the Warriors that would send Steph and Klay to The Big Easy and bring Chris Paul back to Oakland. In fact, the only barrier that remained was Paul himself, who didn’t want to join a woebegone franchise like the Warriors. He communicated that he wouldn’t re-sign in Golden State when his contract ran out at the end of the season, essentially squashing the trade.
Paul would instead be traded to the Los Angeles Clippers, who sent back Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Kaman and a first-round pick that became Austin Rivers. What if they had Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson instead? With Curry in line to miss most of that next season due to injury, they likely still bottom out and draft Anthony Davis. The Brow inside and two of the greatest shooters of all time in the backcourt? That’s quite the combination and it would certainly have changed the course of that franchise.
Paul, of course, wouldn’t have established Lob City with the Clippers. That likely reduces the ceiling of Blake Griffin’s career. Would Paul have signed in Los Angeles instead of Steve Nash? Would he have made his way to the Houston Rockets much earlier than before? What if he had taken a severe discount to join with buddies LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in Miami to win a title or three?
The Warriors didn’t stop shopping their young backcourt, either. The following year they tried to send Stephen Curry to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for center Andrew Bogut, only for the Bucks to reject the deal on looking at Curry’s medical information. The Warriors sent Monta Ellis instead in one of the best trades in franchise history.
Two years later they nearly moved Thompson to the Minnesota Timberwolves. As referenced above, a trade was discussed to send Thompson and David Lee to Minneapolis for All-Star forward Kevin Love. Thankfully, Jerry West and others in the Warriors’ organization championed Thompson’s fit on the team and they kept him around.
The rest, as they say, is history. Curry, Thompson and the Warriors dominated the Western Conference and the league from 2014 through 2022, including multiple battles with Paul. Now the three guards are all together on this year’s Warriors team, a “full-circle” moment from when they were almost swapped for one another.
Golden State fans can breathe a sigh of relief at what almost was, and enjoy the memories of what actually is. This year, perhaps the guards can redefine their connection in a way that brings Paul that ever-elusive NBA championship.