Why did Klay Thompson choose the Mavericks over the Lakers and put the Warriors in his past?

The meeting was supposed to be about Klay Thompson and his future in free agency.

But when the group of four settled in for a 90-minute dinner at the Bottle Inn Italian restaurant in Hermosa Beach, Calif., on Sunday night, just a block away from all those luxury homes in The Strand Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Golden State Warriors legend decided to focus on the great Dallas Mavericks star who came alongside the team’s president of basketball operations, Nico Harrison, to recruit him: Michael Finley.

Thompson spent his formative years in nearby Orange County, was an accomplished shooter at Santa Margarita High School, and always highlighted the late great Kobe Bryant as a One of his main inspirations in basketball. His father, Michael, had won two titles with the Lakers during the Showtime era before becoming the team’s longtime broadcaster. But at this point, with the Lakers waiting in the wings and even LeBron James promising to take a big pay cut if it meant Thompson would wear the purple and gold jersey, he wanted to learn all about life as a Dallas Maverick. And so began a series of questions for Finley, the Mavericks’ vice president of basketball operations and a former All-Star who had his best seasons in Dallas from 1996 to 2005.

Thompson, who was also joined by his agent, Greg Lawrence of Wasserman Media Group, asked about his career and the era in which the 51-year-old Finley played. He asked about the Dallas scene and life in Texas, the Mavericks fans and the arena environment that came with them. Thompson is a true basketball player, no matter where he is, and his appreciation for Finley’s journey and insight was so genuine that dinner attendees saw him as the quintessential Klay. Finley, at the guest of honor’s request, agreed to share his institutional knowledge as Thompson neared a final decision.

Thompson had watched the Mavericks’ NBA Finals and told those close to him how he envisioned fitting in, creating space for Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving on the offensive end while bringing his championship credentials to their up-and-coming program. His time with the Warriors was coming to an end by then, with league sources saying that contract proposals from Thompson to the Warriors nearly two weeks ago were met not only with refusals but with a clear lack of counteroffers. League sources say that a week before free agency began, Thompson was convinced the Warriors had no interest in bringing him back.

The two-year, $48 million deal that could have been in the works last summer, when extension discussions were in that range, is gone. The same goes for offers below that number. After Thompson’s turbulent final season with the Bay, when frustration over his contract extension situation and a significantly reduced role made it difficult to enjoy the game, this opportunity for a fresh start seemed more appropriate with every conversation he had within his group.

Thompson routinely spoke on the phone and texted with Irving, his old rival from the Warriors-Cavaliers Finals of years past, and an expert if there was one on the subject of career-fixing in the dim lights of Dallas. He had spoken on the phone with Mavericks coach Jason Kidd, who won a title with the Mavericks in 2011, who offered to cut short his family vacation to attend the recruiting meeting. (Thompson told him it wasn’t necessary.) It’s unclear whether Thompson had been in touch with Doncic, as he was busy competing with the Slovenian national team in the FIBA ​​Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Greece, but it’s understood the franchise star was excited about the prospect of being added to their starting lineup.

The Mavericks didn’t get an answer that night, as Thompson decided to add a good night’s sleep to the decision-making equation. But the next morning, as the Lakers waited for their chance to convince Thompson to attend, they sent word that a second in-person meeting wouldn’t be necessary. He was headed to Dallas on a three-year, $50 million sign-and-trade deal, with the Warriors eventually receiving two second-round picks in return.

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The irony, given the reasons he was unhappy with the Warriors, is that money was a secondary factor in his decision to go with the Mavericks. Thompson, who knew the $43 million he earned last season with Golden State wasn’t going to buy him happiness, chose Dallas primarily because he saw it as his best chance to win a fifth title.

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So far, Klay Thompson is the star the Mavs have been unable to sign.

A deal with the Lakers would have been even more lucrative, league sources say, as there were discussions about a four-year, $80 million deal for Thompson if they could convince the Warriors to cooperate in a sign-and-trade that would have sent D’Angelo Russell back to the Warriors (or a third team). League sources say he’s had phone conversations with James and new Lakers coach J.J. Redick that have all been positive, with Lakers president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka staying in touch with Lawrence, but the appeal of the Lakers’ position simply didn’t match what the Mavericks had to offer.

Money, of course, had something to do with his apparent disrespect for the Warriors. They gave Draymond Green a four-year, $100 million extension last summer, only to have Thompson come in for talks about a deal that would total roughly half that amount. Thompson was upset about the way Warriors owner Joe Lacob kept his distance. All seasonand chose not to allay his concerns about whether he was still part of their plans.

The latest example of this difficult dynamic came in mid-May, when league sources said Thompson accepted an invitation from Lacob to play golf with him and a few friends at the prestigious Riviera Country Club in Palisades, Calif. The two had a good time, league sources say, but never once did they discuss whether they would stay together in basketball. As Thompson learned that day, Lacob prefers not to discuss business matters while playing.

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In truth, the rift between Thompson and the Warriors was tied to their differing views on the devastating injuries that cost him two and a half seasons of his prime and forever changed him as a player. On the Warriors’ side, there was a sense that their choice to give him a five-year, $189 million contract just a month after he suffered an ACL injury in the 2019 Finals was proof enough of their appreciation for him.

In addition, Thompson suffered a torn Achilles tendon. During off-season training Heading into the 2020-21 season, it’s been a terrible start from a team perspective. For Thompson, who can rightly cite the Warriors’ 2022 title and his pivotal role in it as redemption, there will always be the unfulfilled hope that they’ve made him feel wanted one last time.

The Mavericks, in turn, did just that. They met him where he was, figuratively and literally, respecting his four rings and making clear that he was their top priority going into the postseason. They kept their meeting in that back room of the restaurant, where it was quiet, conversational, and informal in ways that perfectly matched Thompson’s off-court vibe. And in the end, with Harrison and Finley there to explain why the Mavericks could offer such relief from the turmoil of his Warriors days, Thompson decided to pursue his basketball peace.

Required reading

Slater: How Klay Thompson’s 13-Year Warriors Career Unceremoniously Split
Kawakami: The Poetic Timing of Klay Thompson’s 13-Season Win with the Warriors

(Photo: Theron W. Henderson/Getty Images)

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