SAN FRANCISCO – When visualizing the return of Klay Thompson, the Warriors are trying their best to keep a straight face. They realize the NBA knows the impact he can make, but there is restraint because there is mystery.
How much time will he need to shake off the rust? How much can they reasonably expect of a man who has not played a game 30 months? Will his lateral movement allow him to defend at his formerly high level?
What the Warriors have seen while observing Klay’s workout sessions – in which he looks about as ready as possible for someone who is a month or two from being cleared – is so encouraging it borders on giddiness.
“Klay’s imminent return is a huge factor for our team,” coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday before Thompson went through semi-private drills on the primary court at Chase Center. “There’s a sense of anticipation and energy that is directly linked to Klay’s return.
“Andre (Iguodala) coming back to the team adds to that. There’s just a really good sense of who we are and what’s ahead, and everybody is very excited about that.”
Kerr watched it unfold over five full seasons, each one ending with a trip to the NBA Finals. There’s no mistaking the optimism stemming from Thompson’s workouts. The team is feeling it.
“For a guy who is not on the floor, not able to play, he’s in the gym as much, if not more, than everybody else,” rookie wing Moses Moody said after practice. “He’s doing what he can on the court, doing what he can off the court. In the weight room.
“It’s going to be scary when he finally gets to unleash two years of frustration. I wouldn’t want to be on the other side of that.”
Thompson has not played since sustaining a torn left ACL in the June 2019 NBA Finals. After more than a year in post-surgery rehabilitation, he ruptured his right Achilles’ tendon in November 2020. Another surgery, another year of rehab.
With the Warriors, minus center James Wiseman and Thompson, off to a 5-1 start. It’s tempting to wonder who high they might fly with a healthy roster. Wiseman is expected to return in the next two to three weeks, with Thompson possibly back before the end of the calendar year.
This will not require much of an adjustment, as Klay might be the ultimate plug-in-and-play machine insofar as he can dominate a game without dominating the ball.
“He’s still really good at shooting,” Kerr said. “He’s still 6-foot-7. He’s still a really big, strong guy for a guard. All the things that made him great, that’s what we’re excited about.
“On the injury front, we’re seeing his progress. It’s more incremental, more week to week rather than day to day. But we can see him getting stronger, getting more comfortable and getting quicker with his cutting and lateral movement. It’s all very exciting. We’re thrilled to at least, finally, have the light at the end of the tunnel.”
The Warriors are carving a winning path, and they’re doing it without a five-time All-Star who was one of the NBA’s top two-way players. There’s comfort in that. There’s more comfort in knowing they’re creeping closer to the day he reenters the starting lineup.