Steph Curry opens up on Klay Thompson's departure: 'I just want him to be happy'

LAS VEGAS — Of course, there were tears.

This was Steph Curry on the phone with Klay Thompson, the legendary “Splash Brothers” connecting one last time as Golden State Warriors teammates and the best backcourt the game had ever seen, for a 15-minute discussion about their divergent paths that neither envisioned nor wanted. It was June 28, one day before the official start of NBA free agency, and No. 11 dialed No. 30 to let him know that it was over.

“It’s one of those things where you never think you’d ever have that conversation,” Curry told The Athletic on Sunday while at Team USA training camp. “Even to the 11th hour, when I knew all the signs were pointing towards (Thompson and the Warriors) not finding a resolution on the contract, you’re thinking, ‘Maybe it’ll be one of those things where he’d come out and say, ‘Oh, we got it done.’

“You hold out that kind of hope. But, yeah, it was a rough call. When you hear him open up on the whys (of his decision), and just how much he appreciated the friendship and being teammates and champions that we were, there’s no words that really do that justice. I know it was hard for him. You just try to keep it as cool as possible on the phone, because you don’t want to be sobbing and going through that. There was a little bit (of tears). But it’s one of those things where I know when I see him in person, I’ll be able to give him that energy properly.”

After the past season in which Thompson had struggled so mightily to adjust to the new realities of his Warriors world, with his contentious contract situation hanging over all of their heads in the most uncomfortable of ways, he had known that his Warriors days were done long before he made that final, formal call to Curry. Thompson would make his decision on where he was headed two days later when he chose Dallas over the Lakers and headed the Mavericks’ way on a three-year, $50 million deal.

As our Anthony Slater first reported on Tuesday, Thompson had asked Curry not to lobby with owner Joe Lacob, or anyone else, for his return. No outside influences. No power plays from the most powerful Warriors voice of them all that might mask the organization’s true level of interest, or lack thereof, in bringing him back. Curry ignored him, of course, telling the Golden State powers-that-be “collectively” that he very much wanted Thompson to return.

Yet, as Curry sees it now, having heard the rationale and the reflections from Thompson himself, this Mavericks move might be exactly what his friend needs after all. There was so much baggage built up from these past few years, with Thompson’s ACL and Achilles injuries costing him two-and-a-half seasons in his prime and doing irreparable damage to his place in Golden State’s plans, that packing up and moving on might be for the best.

All he cares about now is that Thompson has his passion for the game again, in its purest and most positive form. And his peace.

The following interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

So with everything you two have been through together, and done together, what was that goodbye like?

I haven’t seen him in person (since his decision), so there hasn’t been the official send-off that our history and our experience deserves. I’ll be on this (Olympics journey with Team USA) for the next six weeks, but I hope that before he’s over in Dallas that there’s a time when we can just sit down and chop it up and reminisce on all the good times. I definitely want to leave on a great note. There’s no bitterness. There’s no ill will or anything. I just want him to be happy and have a good time playing basketball like he deserves. That’s why right now, still, like I know it’s real and I know we’re moving on, but there are still more steps to take.

(The phone call) was more so just me making sure that he knew (how I felt). I didn’t want him carrying any weight of (him thinking I believed) he was making a bad decision or a wrong decision, or whatever the case was, because it was his decision. It’s a matter of him feeling like he’s doing what’s in the best interest of him and getting a fresh start that he needed. I just pray it works out, and that he, again, just has fun playing basketball, because he’d had a rough two years.

We both know that (Thompson) felt disrespected during the process. And I know that Joe (Lacob) is a businessman who can be cold at times — you and others have had contract stuff where it seems like he’ll create some distance during that time and won’t necessarily pat you on the back to make sure you’re OK during the process — but that might have been what Klay needed. Are you comfortable with the way he was treated?

It’s hard to judge that in a silo, (of) just the Klay Thompson piece. There’s so much that has happened since 2019, and when Klay came back, that it’s the juggling act of (the Warriors) making the right decision every at every turn that is in the best interest of the organization. It is a business, and they’re supposed to try to position us to be successful with all the things that (go into it). It’s not just a three-man team. But I wasn’t on the phone when he was talking to the agents. I wasn’t part of those conversations. I do know about the extension last fall (when Thompson’s agent, Greg Lawrence of the Wasserman Media Group, and the Warriors had discussions about a two-year, $48 million deal) and thinking that that was a fair offer that signified what Klay meant — outside of the length of the contract, which I know was a big deal (to Thompson).

(As has been well-chronicled, the Warriors’ decision to give Draymond Green a four-year, $100 million extension last summer while discussing a deal that was approximately half that amount for Thompson became a major point of contention.)

Klay turned (the extension) down, and, you know, we ended up here. I wish it would have gone differently, in the sense of whatever Klay needed (from the Warriors) to not feel disrespected. I can’t answer that, because that’s a Klay thing to talk about. I wish that’s how it would have gone down. But I also know that because he needed a fresh start, things were kind of looked at a little differently. And that was kind of the throughline of this whole last season. It’s a two-way street on that front. I think that’s why Klay was so adamant that I not get involved, because whatever outcome he wanted, he wanted to make sure it was a kind of a pure process. And at the end of the day, we all have to make decisions that are in the best interest of yourself. I’ll do that at times when it’s what’s right for me.

And you said that you still did use your voice on his situation, so what was your message to the team?

We want Klay back. I’m not gonna tell them what number it is (on the contract). I’m not gonna tell them (anything beyond that). Again, part of the way we operate is that there’s always conversation. When anything changes, I just want to know what’s up, to know where everybody stands. It’s not like I’m telling everybody how to think or act, because we all get paid to do our separate jobs. But, yeah, I hope that when it comes to the way organization handled it, that when we look back at it, it’s more of a two-way street conversation of what Klay needed and what the organization needed, and that there’s some middle ground there, because this is a very emotional thing all the way around. (He’s) the first one of us three to go.

So now you have me thinking about how uncomfortable last season must have been, at times for you. He’s figuring out how to come off the bench. He’s dealing with the ripple effects of the two injuries, and your individual tracks are starting to bend in a way that you hoped wouldn’t happen.

One thing he said, and he’ll probably talk about it more, but it’s just a matter of him being able to evolve with his career with the challenges that he’s faced post-injury, and what he needed to be in the best mental space to just go play basketball. Anytime you look at the Warriors jersey, we all have a certain attachment or association with success, and the (player’s) prime and the best days. And if you’re not all the way in the present, and still honoring what that looks like, I think that’s where Klay was at this whole time.

Give me your favorite Klay memory. 

(On the call with Thompson), I was talking about his (Jan. 9, 2022) game when he came back from his (Achilles) injury against Cleveland two years ago (at Chase Center), and the reception that the crowd gave him when he walked on the court for pregame shooting and I was already out there getting shots up wearing my throwback Klay Thompson sleeve jersey. It’s him walking on the court, the crowd going crazy. He was there early, and (the scene) was hyping him up because he understood. He was back in his element, back in his zone, after being away from the game for so long.

But the way that the crowd reacted to him tells you everything about his relationship with the Bay Area. He was shooting shots pregame and they were clapping like it was in the middle of the fourth quarter every time he made a shot. And I’m trying to keep a straight face, but I just became a fan in that moment. We all can talk about all the amazing games he’s had, or Game 6 Klay, all that type of stuff. But that was my favorite (memory) just because, in a very hard time, it reminded everybody how important he was to the whole franchise and this whole journey.

(Photo: Eric Espada / Getty Images)

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