The most disheartening NBA news of the week was the torn Achilles’ tendon suffered by Golden State forward Klay Thompson on the eve of the draft. This, after Thompson missed last season after tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament during the 2019 Finals.
Thompson was 100 percent and working out in Los Angeles when he tore the Achilles’, a non-contact injury. This means Thompson will miss two consecutive seasons before hopefully returning next fall. Thompson is one of the more liked players in the NBA, and he was looking forward to helping the Warriors return to prominence after a 15-win season.
Instead, Thompson will have to go through another arduous rehabilitation, and the Warriors will have to replace him. They already were able to acquire Kelly Oubre from the Thunder, giving them an energetic wing to join Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins.
“In regards to Klay, I don’t know what to say,” general manager Bob Myers said. “Everybody knows now, but there’s a lot on my mind. I’ve spoken to him. Spoken to some of our other players. Got the news sitting next to our owner, Joe Lacob, and [coach] Steve Kerr is 4, 5 feet away. When you get those phone calls — and I’m not comparing this to what a lot of people are going through right now. I don’t want to make that comparison because there’s people that are suffering and illnesses that can’t be cured that are going on out in the world, especially now.
“But in our job, in my job, these are those phone calls where you’re faced — the color drains from your face. And got a text message from his agent, said, ‘Hey, Klay might have hurt himself, call me.’ ”
The Warriors consider themselves one of the closest organizations in professional sports. They want to keep their trio of Curry, Thompson, and Draymond Green together until they decide it’s time to leave. With all three signed to long-term contracts, including Thompson’s extension last summer after his knee injury, the Warriors were getting the band back together for one more (or a few more) playoff runs.
Add to the equation No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman, a coveted big man, and Golden State had visions of getting back to the Finals.
“Speaking for myself and our owner and our coach and all the people I work with and our players, what hurts the most, and speaking on behalf of Klay, we will move on and we will be OK,” Myers said. “And he will be OK. But what hurts the most is the time we put into our jobs, the sacrifices we make to do what we do and to do what he does.
“And for him to have to now not be able to play basketball, that’s the pain. That’s the pain we feel, the pain we feel for him, being here from Day One, since Klay showed up nine years ago or however many years ago it was, watching his journey and growth.”
Unfortunately for Thompson, there’s no certainty he will return next season in the same form as two years ago. ACL and Achilles’ injuries are devastating despite modern technology, and Thompson will turn 32 next season.
“Nobody deserves anything like this that befalls them,” Myers said. “But this is a guy that loves basketball, bleeds basketball. We talked today and I told him, Klay, feel like basketball is for you air and water, you have to have it. And he just told me, I’ve never not played basketball — since 2000 or since whatever, however many years ago, he’s always played basketball. And it’s very hard for an athlete. Sometimes you get to stop playing on your own time and on your own terms.
“And Klay’s going to keep playing, but when it gets disrupted like this for an athlete of his caliber, it hurts. And it hurts us that care about him. I’m sure our fans that follow us feel the same way we do. I can’t sit here and say I feel good. I have confidence in our players. I have confidence in our coaches. I have confidence in our ownership. We’re going to keep moving. We’re never going to stop. But to be truthful, it hurts. It hurts me and I know it hurts our organization.”
With Thompson out and Curry breaking his hand in the first week of last season, the Warriors decided to essentially play rookies and youngsters and prep for 2020-21. Thompson had not played an NBA game in 17 months, and Curry had played only a handful of games in that time. The core was fresh, and then heartbreak.
Myers, like many GMs, is emotionally attached to his players, especially Thompson, who has been a model player and cornerstone for nearly a decade.
“In regards to how we responded last year, obviously our record was bad,” Myers said. “That hurts. That hurts if you’re a competitor. Hurt all our players. Nobody wants to lose. I admire — you learn a lot about an organization in adversity. We got some more now. Life isn’t … look, we’ve had our highs. We’ll have our lows. It doesn’t pick and choose. It just is.
“And today and last night and yesterday, it’s one of those hard ones. And as you mentioned, I admire the character, and Steve could speak more about — our team doesn’t break. I was talking to the general manager of another team the other day. They have their own issues. I said the challenge in these times is staying together when your fabric is tested. And our fabric was tested last year.
“And people don’t know it. And our record was 15-50, but we didn’t break as an organization. We didn’t falter. We didn’t start blaming people. And that’s hard to do in this day and age. There’s a lot of pressure, internal, external. Hardest thing to do in sports is keep your team connected. Winning or losing, that’s the No. 1 thing.”
These five won on draft night
The NBA conducted its first virtual draft on Wednesday, and it was wildly successful, with players in their living rooms with family members, waiting to hear where they would be spending the first stage of their professional careers.
It’s only been a few days, but there were some clear winners, teams who were able to change the perception of their franchises in one night with astute draft picks and trades. Let’s take a look at the top five:
Charlotte Hornets — Michael Jordan has been languishing as an owner for years. The Hornets haven’t improved on the floor, and they haven’t been able to draft that transcendent star who would bring fans out of their Atlantic Coast Conference trance to go to games. This time, they may have landed that star in LaMelo Ball, the flashy point guard to fell to third overall. Ball has huge potential and the ability to become a franchise player. The Hornets spent $17 million last season on former Celtic Terry Rozier, and Ball may soon take his job. The Hornets also took former Duke center Vernon Carey in the second round.
Detroit Pistons — GM Troy Weaver is making significant changes, and it started by taking Killian Hayes seventh overall. The Pistons didn’t expect Hayes to fall to No. 7, and he gives the franchise a potential generational point guard. Also, Weaver was able to trade for Isaiah Stewart, the bruising big man out of Washington, for rebounding and interior scoring. The Pistons are getting young, ridding themselves of bad contracts, and reshaping their roster. Hayes has a chance to be a star.
Sacramento Kings — The Kings obviously didn’t expect Tyrese Haliburton to fall to No. 12, but they took one of the more polished players in the draft, and then got Robert Woodard from Mississippi State in the second round. The Kings, in the post-Vlade Divac era, needed to take the best player available, and Haliburton’s presence potentially enables De’Aaron Fox to play either guard position. Sacramento has been on the cusp of the postseason the past few years, and Haliburton was perhaps the most NBA-ready player on the board.
New York Knicks — Having Obi Toppin fall to the eighth pick made things easier for GM Scott Perry. He took the hometown kid and consensus national player of the year. The Knicks need young talent. They need players ready to contribute and they also need players who want to be in New York. Toppin, the Dayton product, fills all of those requirements. He will become the team’s next power forward, playing next to defensive ace Mitchell Robinson.
San Antonio Spurs — The Spurs do everything under the radar, and in the first round they took Florida State’s Devin Vassell, an overlooked player who could turn into a 3-and-D specialist. San Antonio has been looking to get younger and wanted to take two quality players who may contribute immediately. They took a chance on Duke’s Tre Jones, the ACC’s player of the year who slipped to the second round. The Spurs have a history of turning second-rounders into standouts..
Hornets pick Carey has been shaping up
Vernon Carey was one of the most dominant big men in college basketball during his freshman season at Duke. Yet he was ranked as the eighth-best center in the draft when he decided to enter and fell to the second round, where he was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets.
He has all the makings of a prospect who will flourish into a standout despite falling to the second round. There was a reason Carey slipped. He was considered bulky for his frame (6 feet 10 inches, 270 pounds at Duke) and there have been questions about whether he could compete with today’s stretch centers.
The Hornets desperately needed toughness in the paint and they were ecstatic to nab Carey, whose father, Vernon Sr., played eight years as an offensive lineman for the Miami Dolphins.
“He can’t really tell me anything basketball-wise, but just like the hard work and just like what it takes really from a mind-set standpoint,” Carey said of his father. “I just try to carry that within myself and just to apply it on the court — not only on the court, but as a young man. So that’s the advice he gives me.”
Carey may have been one of those prospects who would have flourished in workouts against his center competition prior to the draft, but he didn’t have the opportunity. The Hornets hope Carey’s offseason 30-pound weight loss will help his NBA production. Charlotte has been desperate for an impact center for nearly a decade.
Carey said he heard the criticism regarding his weight and decided to do something about it. He focused on changing his diet and used the pandemic to focus on his goal.
“I mean, just after the season, just me hiring a chef,” he said. “I felt like that was a part that played a huge role in it and just me working hard on my body over the time that I had, over the time up until the draft today.”
The Hornets scored big in the draft by nabbing LaMelo Ball with the third overall pick and College of Charleston point guard Grant Riller at No. 56. There is opportunity for Carey. Cody Zeller and Willy Hernangomez are the only two centers on the roster. Charlotte is building its roster with youth and Carey can be part of that bright future.
“Definitely, me being in better shape is the first thing,” he said. “Just me being more mobile. I feel like those are the two main things. That’s something I definitely feel like with me dropping 30 pounds, that’s definitely a positive.”
The Hornets realize they aren’t going to attract a major free agent, so they have to build through the draft. Getting the flashy Ball along with a potentially dominant big man in Carey could build a pick-and-roll combination for the next decade. The Hornets are hoping Carey’s Duke pedigree and the motivation of being passed by in the first round will turn him into a formidable big man.
“I feel like it’s kind of similar with what I had with Tre [Jones] this past year, to run certain situations, like pick-and-pop or pick-and-rolls,” Carey said. “Just playing basketball, really. I feel like he’s the type of player you could just play basketball with. I feel like I’m just excited to get out there.”
Gordon Hayward went against the grain in opting out of the final year of his maximum contract with the Celtics. Because of the uncertain free agent market and limited teams with cap space — most of which were non-playoff teams — attractive potential free agents such as DeMar DeRozan and Andre Drummond opted into the final year of their contracts. DeRozan reportedly is not happy in San Antonio, but he would rather earn the final $27 million of his contract and perhaps be traded by the deadline than opt out and likely receive less than that on the open market or be forced to accept that with a team not likely to compete for a championship … Troy Weaver is making a splash in Detroit in his first few months as general manager. He already has shipped out Tony Snell, Luke Kennard, Boston product Bruce Brown, and Thon Maker, and brought in Tony Bradley, Rodney McGruder, Trevor Ariza, and Dewayne Dedmon. Weaver, in his first GM job, promised to overhaul the roster, adding younger talent and tougher players The club was able to nab Killian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart in the draft … It’s interesting the Celtics found a taker for French center Vincent Poirier, moving him to the Thunder for a protected 2021 second-round pick and cash considerations. Since the Celtics did not send a draft pick back to the Thunder as incentive, Oklahoma City may actually find a roster spot for Poirier, whose performance last season for Boston may have been one of the team’s biggest disappointments. The Celtics were hoping the overseas product would add depth and toughness to the center position, but they quickly found out in training camp he was far from the player they believed they signed. He was unable to defend pick-and-rolls and looked lost on the floor in his early appearances. That took him out of the rotation and the Celtics spent the season in need of another quality center. The Celtics didn’t consider using Poirier even during the bubble, when their struggles guarding big men were glaring. President of basketball operations Danny Ainge has scored over the years with players from overseas, but Poirier is reminiscent of Vitor Faverani, a second-round pick who reported to camp out of shape and spent one listless season with the Celtics.