OAKLAND — Not for a fraction of a second could the Warriors consider turning the page on Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Not after what those two men have done for the franchise.
Moreover, not after what the franchise has done to itself.
The Warriors are among the elite franchises in sports because when the current owners took over in 2010, they immediately began stressing quality and culture. They insisted on a standard and have remained committed to it.
That’s what it took to rinse away the stains of what the Warriors once were and rebrand them well enough to become a destination.
They can’t give that up now, not when they’re months away from moving into the cash cow that is Chase Center. Durant and Thompson have done enough to earn max deals, and the Warriors are smart enough to recognize that.
“We value those guys at the highest level,” president/general manager Bob Myers said Friday. “I wouldn’t be a very good GM if I didn’t understand how valuable they are to our own team.
“They’re both fantastic. Those are guys that you do everything you can to keep within your organization.”
The only reason the futures of Durant and Thompson are in question — at least outside the organization — is because both are headed for free agency, and both sustained injuries over the last few days that could impact their appeal, if not their effectiveness.
Durant underwent surgery Wednesday to repair his right Achilles tendon, which ruptured Monday night during Game 5 of the NBA Finals in Toronto. He is expected to miss roughly one year.
Thompson incurred a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Thursday night in Game 6, in which the Raptors prevailed to win the NBA championship. He will miss most of next season.
Paying players who can’t be expected to perform until 2020-21 might seem wasteful, but it also sends a message that makes its way around the NBA. In short, it says the Warriors take care of their players.
That’s how you dig a franchise out of the kind of hole the Warriors were in before Joe Lacob and Peter Guber assembled a group to buy the team from former owner Chris Cohan, who watched the bottom line much more closely than he did the product.
Lacob, the team’s CEO, didn’t specifically address Durant and Thompson late Thursday night, but he made it clear that he’s not willing to dial down standards or expectations.
“It’s been a great seven-year playoff run and five-year Finals run,” Lacob said after the Game 6 loss. “We have a lot to be proud of. We’ll figure out a way. You can rest assured we’ll figure out a way to be very competitive going forward.”
That’s where the Warriors are these days. That’s how they think. Nothing less than the best.
They realize the slightest notion of walking away from two All-Stars because they’re “damaged goods” would send the Warriors back to where they were 10 years ago, when the playoffs were a pipe dream and the league’s best players wanted no part of the franchise.
Durant chose the Warriors over the Celtics, Clippers, Heat, Spurs and Thunder. The Warriors made themselves a destination at the very same time Durant was in his prime.
KD turns 31 in September and will be 32 when he returns. Thompson turned 29 in March and will be 30 when he’s able to suit up. They own multiple championship rings and should be able to chase a few more — if they remain teammates.
“Those guys are highly important to us and deserving of being rewarded in the right manner,” Myers said.
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“It’s hard to find high quality people, and both of them are that. You try to keep those guys within these walls the best you can.”
If that means eating $70 million or more — the combined salaries of Durant and Thompson — next season, so be it. The product might be temporarily compromised, but the positive image will remain intact. In the NBA, that’s worth more than money.