Pick any of the NBA hot topics from the offseason -- be it the influx of big money or gruesome injuries or the latest superteam assembly -- and there's a connection to Klay Thompson.
We're not used to placing Thompson at the axis of the NBA news wheel. Maybe we should start training for it. He wound up there for a reason, not by sheer chance. It's the same explanation for why the ball keeps finding its way to him in the Golden State Warriors' new faster-paced offense.
Thompson is emerging as one of the best shooting guards in the league. It's why the Warriors wouldn't part with him in Kevin Love trade talks, which left the Minnesota Timberwolves to send Love to Cleveland to bolster the LeBron James homecoming squad. And it's why Thompson is angling for a maximum contract extension, which could go as high as $89 million over five years (as detailed by ProBasketballTalk).
The new wrinkle this week: the NBA's massive upcoming television rights deal, which will bring in more than $24 billion from ESPN and Turner Sports. That means everything will shoot up: team values, salary caps and player contracts. The rub is the deal doesn't kick in until 2016, meaning players who sign contracts over the next year could feel like someone who buys an iPhone right before the new version is introduced.
If Thompson wants in on the gold rush on the horizon, he could always sign a one-year deal, then become a restricted free agent in 2016.
"It really is tempting to do all that," Thompson said. "But I'd rather have the security right now, you know?"
That's the response you'd get from 99 percent of the players, but keep in mind Thompson was playing with the U.S. men's national team in Las Vegas when Paul George went down with that leg-bending, career-altering injury in August. The unthinkable happened right in front of him, and that memory sticks with Thompson.
"It does a little bit, I won't even lie to you," Thompson said. "When I play though, I don't even think about it. I'm sure Paul wasn't when it happened. You can't let it hold you back."
It might not stop him when he plays, but it could stop him from rolling the dice come contract time. That's one reason NBA general managers count on keeping drafted players well beyond the expiration of their rookie contracts. It's too hard for players to turn down the first chance at big dollars after the suppressed salaries of the rookie scale. (Even when, in this case, the "what" they might be turning down could be an extra $4 million a year.)
The Warriors could actually be the ones gaining security from a max deal right now. Locking in Thompson could seem like a bargain once the NBA revenues roll up in a couple of years. Early projections have the 2016-17 salary cap estimated at almost $90 million (it's at $63 million this season). The Warriors could have their backcourt of Thompson and Stephen Curry for under $30 million combined, which would be about 30 percent of the salary cap. Compare that to the 50 to 57 percent of the cap that duos such as Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose/Joakim Noah and Dwight Howard/James Harden eat up this season, and imagine the flexibility that would give the Warriors to build around their stellar guards in 2016-17.
The Warriors could also learn from Curry's contract. It seemed risky when the Warriors signed Curry to a four-year, $44 million extension in 2012 after ankle injuries limited Curry to only 26 games in the lockout-shortened season. They made the right bet. Curry played in 78 games in each of the next two seasons, leading the league in 3-pointers both times. In 2014 you can make a case that Curry's a top-15 player, but you won't find him in the top 30 NBA salaries.
"I was in a different situation because of injuries," Curry said. "But I told myself, 'Once you decide what you're going to do, stick with it and don't ever second-guess it.' I felt like the year after I signed my deal, things could have been a little more lucrative.
"It's selfish and human nature to look around and see [other contracts]. You're not hating on anybody; you're happy for everybody that's making money for themselves and using the game for benefit. For me, I just feel like I'm blessed to be paid well to play a game I love, and hopefully be able to stay healthy long enough to get two more deals before I'm done."
The Warriors should be happy to hear Curry seems more intent on cashing in than leaving, especially if salary-cap rules continue to let home teams guarantee more lucrative contracts. Golden State changed coaches and nearly made a big change to its roster this summer. The Thompson negotiations offer the Warriors a chance at stability. (Curry, meanwhile, won't become a free agent until 2017.)
"We've got a good thing going," Curry said. "For us to hopefully have some long-term security for us to be together and knowing that we can focus on trying to build something truly special, championship-caliber, we feel very capable of that. So we'll see."
It's almost unheard for two players whose height doesn't add up to 13 feet to provide the foundation of a championship team. But if the league is going to become increasingly perimeter-oriented, the Warriors might as well try it with these two. Curry averaged 23 points and eight assists last season; the other only players to match that stat tandem since the turn of the century are James and Gary Payton. Thompson, coming off a career-high 18 points per game last season, was a big part of the USA's gold-medal performance in the FIBA World Cup and looked fierce in two preseason games in Los Angeles this week, scoring a total of 45 points. He's ready to take the next step.
So the question is whehter he's ready to sign by the Oct. 31 deadline for rookie contract extensions. Although reports have Thompson and the Warriors some $2 million to $3 million a year apart, the team exudes a feeling that it'll get to a number that makes Thompson happy. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr even said, "He's about to get a huge payday. Life is good."
As for Thompson, he says, "I'm confident. I think both sides know I want to stay with this organization. I really love the Bay, I love the organization, the front office, my teammates. I'm confident we can get it done."