Success boils down to acceptance amid shifting role for Warriors' veteran

Golden State Warriors v Utah Jazz
Golden State Warriors v Utah Jazz / Alex Goodlett/GettyImages

For the first time since his rookie season in 2012, Klay Thompson's name was not announced as a part of the starting five for the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night against the Utah Jazz.

Instead, rookie guard Brandin Podziemski assumed the role of starting shooting guard, marking his 15th start of the season. Despite his recent struggles, the news came as a shock to Warriors fans and Thompson himself, who was informed of his benching in a one-on-one meeting with head coach Steve Kerr on Thursday morning.

It was a tough pill to swallow for the five-time All-Star, as he certainly wears his pride and emotion on his sleeve — but as Thompson highlighted postgame, "you can do two things — you can pout, or you can go out there and respond."

Not only did he respond, but Thompson did so like the four-time NBA Champion that he is, lighting up the Jazz for 35 points on 13-of-22 shooting from the field, including 7-of-13 from three-point range.

As he navigates the physical and mental challenges of being an older player in the NBA, it will be critical for Klay Thompson to grasp what is needed of him, adapting his play to fit within his changing role at the Golden State Warriors

In his 28 minutes off the bench on Thursday night, Thompson did exactly what was needed and then some, notching what he described as his "best performance of the season."

"I learned some things about myself tonight that I'm gonna carry with me throughout the whole season. [I learned that] you can still play for your teammates, play for the fun of the game, play for the Dubs and not the name on the back of the jersey... and that's when I'm at my best."

Klay Thompson

The decision to bench Thompson had been pondered by Kerr for some time, and perhaps it wasn't all that shocking to see it come to fruition a day after the Warriors' inexcusable collapse at home against the Los Angeles Clippers, in which Thompson mistakenly committed an intentional foul in the final seconds that all but sealed the Warriors' defeat.

"I mean I deserved it really," said Thompson, who was in visible frustration watching the final minutes of Wednesday's contest from the sideline before he re-entered the game for the closing possessions.

Nobody is harder on Klay Thompson than Thompson himself, and he'd be the first to admit that it's been a rocky year for the 34-year-old, on par with the Warriors' season as a whole. The veteran shooting guard has sustained a 17-point average but has seen his percentages dip drastically across the board, shooting just over 42% from the field, and 37% from three-point range — not terrible numbers by any measure, but certainly underwhelming by Thompson's standards.

"It’s been a tricky season for him and for us. There’s a lot of transition happening. Some of our younger guys are coming on. It’s not as easy to do what Klay did five, six years ago for him. I think this could be a good balance to get the best out of Klay and get the best out of our team."

Steve Kerr

At this stage in his career, Klay Thompson faces a pivotal moment of acceptance. He must come to terms with his evolving role, understanding that he is no longer the unconditional long-range sniper he once was, but rather a 12-year veteran whose responsibilities may vary from night to night.

This difficult transition confronts every professional athlete, as time and injuries take their toll, but by acknowledging his shifting status with humility, Thompson can still greatly contribute to a winning brand of basketball that has characterized the Golden State Warriors franchise for nearly a decade.

While he maintained that the move isn't permanent, Steve Kerr said he plans to continue starting Brandin Podziemski in place of Thompson after the All-Star break, adding that "Klay coming off the bench gives [the team] a lot of firepower."

Thompson and the 10th-seeded Warriors will get a much-needed week off before they resume their quest to climb the Western Conference standings and solidify a spot in this year's postseason.