Almost a year of anticipation for Warriors fans was obliterated Thursday when it was confirmed that Klay Thompson tore his right Achilles and likely will miss the entire 2020-21 NBA season.
The Warriors spent the better part of a year plotting their return to the NBA spotlight. Their gap year had ended and with Steph Curry and Thompson both fully healthy they were planning to put the league on notice.
Thompson's injury almost certainly is a death blow to their 2021 title chances. It feels like Deja vu.
Last fall, the Warriors entered the season with Thompson expected to miss the entire season while rehabbing a torn ACL. But with Curry, Draymond Green and D'Angelo Russell, they were expected to be competitive. Curry broke his hand four games in and the gap year was born.
Fast forward to Thursday and the feeling is the same. Andrew Wiggins has replaced Russell and No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman now is in the fold. But Thompson is someone whose absence can't be filled. The Warriors will just try to patch over it. They have to in order not to waste another year of Curry's prime. They'll look to add two or three pieces who can, they hope, combine to give them 75 percent of what a fully healthy and ultra-motivated Thompson would have given them.
But how? And to what end?
To answer the second part, yes things undoubtedly are much darker now than 24 or 48 hours ago. Instead of emerging from their gap year, the Warriors have plummeted back into a cavern of the unknown, forced to find a new way back toward the light.
Thompson's injury knocks the Warriors down a couple of pegs on the NBA ladder, yes. But at the moment there is no NBA superteam dominating the league as the Warriors once did. No Goliath decimating the league, zapping the other 29 teams of any hope that they were playing for anything other than second place.
The Los Angeles Lakers are talented and have the best duo in the NBA. But they are flawed and LeBron James is another year older. The quick turnaround from the bubble could hamper LA out of the gates. The Clippers have their own issues to deal with as they look to rebound from a meltdown in the Western Conference semifinals. The Milwaukee Bucks added Jrue Holiday but still are trying to add more pieces after their (illegal) sign-and-trade for Bogdan Bogdanovic fell through.
It's hard to see now. But there is hope. It starts with No. 30. The NBA is a superstar league and the Warriors still have one of three best players in the NBA in Curry.
After a year spent listening to talk of his and the Warriors' demise, Curry was itching to start zipping up his critics. More weight will be put on him with Thompson out, but as long as he's lacing them up, the Warriors have a puncher's chance.
More will be asked of Green. He needs to find his old form, or something close to it, if the Warriors are to contend. The pressure on Wiggins will be amplified, but he's only 25 years old and should thrive next to Curry. The talent of a No. 1 overall pick still is there and the Warriors must find a way to unlock it.
As for the rest of the roster, the Warriors must use their three chips -- the $17.2 million trade exception, $9.3 million disabled player exception they will apply for due to Thompson's injury and the taxpayer exception -- to get Curry enough help to maximize his Year 32 season.
The need is obvious. The Warriors need wings -- wings who can shoot and defend multiple positions. With Thompson gone, they need two, probably three to feel like they've done all they can to give Curry the requisite pieces to try and keep a fading dynasty on life support.
President and general manager Bob Myers has said the Warriors were receiving a lot of calls about their trade exception and that Thompson's injury could impact how the Warriors use it.
That trade exception allows the Warriors to add a player who makes up to $17.2 million, The candidates have been widely discussed, but one in particular now stands out: Kelly Oubre Jr.
The Warriors' reported interest in Oubre has been well-documented this offseason. He recently was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Chris Paul deal. The 24-year-old is a high-energy, rangy wing who plays well in transition and can guard one through three. His 3-ball has been iffy early in his career but it is improving.
The Thunder own what feels like half the draft picks between now and 2027, so it's unclear what they would want in addition to the trade exception to part with Oubre. Oubre's $14.4 million contract would swell the Warriors' luxury tax bill, but they can't back down from the promise to spend to contend and still be able to look Curry in the face.
Oubre is the ideal target to start filling the void left by Thompson and all reports suggest the Warriors and Thunder are close to striking a deal to send the young wing to the Bay.
As for the $9.3 million disabled player exception, the Warriors' list of targets is a little smaller. The exception allows teams over the cap to use the same amount of money as the mid-level exception (or half the injured player's salary whichever is lower) to add a player for one season.
They could use DPE to try and trade for Houston Rockets forward P.J. Tucker, who is in the final year of his contract. The Rockets are in disarray, but would they really want to help out their old rival? Owner Tillman Fertitta wants cap relief, but I don't think he'll go for it.
The best way to use the DPE will be in free agency where they could target Jae Crowder, Marcus Morris, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jerami Grant or Danilo Gallinari. Of those five, Crowder and Morris seem like the most realistic option to take a one-year deal and look to hit the market again when it's more stable next offseason.
Crowder is a multi-positional defender who fits in well as a low-usage role player. He's an unreliable shooter but can get hot from 3-point range. Morris wouldn't appear to be a culture fit with the Warriors. The ball often sticks when it gets to him and his buy-in on defense is questionable.
If the Warriors can get Oubre and Crowder, that would give them two players who can fill around 65 percent of what Thompson brings.
Using their remaining taxpayer mid-level exception on a wing like Austin Rivers or Avery Bradley would be the final stroke in a master plan to avoid disaster.
Bradley is a great defender and reliable shooter from 3-point range when given the proper amount of looks. Adding Bradley would also weaken a Lakers team that relied on his bulldog mentality to help establish their defensive identity.
If Bradley is off the table, Rivers could be a good fit as a tough, secondary ball-handler who can knock down open shots and play solid defense.
If the Warriors can supplement Curry, Green, Wiggins and Wiseman with three athletic wings who can defend multiple positions and knock down open shots then they will have done all they can to fill 75 percent of what they are missing with Thompson once again sidelined.
The other 25 percent can't be made up. It's unique to Klay and something the Warriors will have to try and survive without.
This is all the Warriors can do to stomach a blow they never expected and give Curry enough support to mount a charge in the Western Conference.
They owe it to Curry, and Thompson, to do all they can to maximize a year in which they were supposed to announce their return to the NBA's mainstage. They still can make this year worth it. They just have work to do.