Warriors’ Curry, Thompson could’ve been Timberwolves
MINNEAPOLIS — As assistant coach Luke Walton edged Warriors guard Stephen Curry in an impromptu 3-point contest after the team’s morning shootaround, most of the club’s players sat in the Target Center stands underneath the basket and cheered, jeered and laughed.
"We’re not going to talk about that," Curry, the NBA’s leader in 3s made every year since 2011, told reporters with a grin afterward.
But what the All-Star point guard did discuss was a cohesive group that’s hummed to the league’s best record, is on a franchise-record 12-game winning streak and can set another club mark with a road win Monday night at Minnesota. A victory against the injury-riddled Timberwolves would be Golden State’s best-ever eighth consecutive victory away from Oracle Arena.
And if the Wolves and Warriors had done some things differently, the bunch would look considerably different.
Fellow "Splash Brother" Klay Thompson was reportedly close to being traded to Minnesota in a deal for Kevin Love this past summer. Curry was on the board when the Wolves drafted fifth and sixth overall in 2009, but former president of basketball operations David Kahn went with Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn instead.
Heck, even first-year coach Steve Kerr nearly ended up in the Twin Cities as a player.
But in the Bay Area basketball world these days, it’s all about continuity — the kind that has players from all over the globe clowning at workouts and manhandling the opposition at both ends of the floor.
"What happens in this game, I think, is the longer a group is together, the better they become," said Kerr, whose team ranks second in the league in field-goal percentage and first in opponent field-goal percentage. "That made our job as a new staff much easier, the fact that these guys were already good, they were already familiar with one another."
After months of dialogue within the front office, including heavy input from Kerr — who replaced fired Mark Jackson after the Warriors won 51 games and made a second straight playoff appearance — owner Joe Lacob and general manager Bob Myers opted to keep the gang together rather than make a splashy trade or free-agent signing.
Namely, that meant nixing inclusion of Thompson in any trade talks regarding Love. Had Thompson been available, there’s a good chance he’d be in Minnesota with Love and perhaps Kevin Martin would be joining Curry, Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut in Oakland.
Multiple offseason reports noted trade conversations between Myers and Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders. But they never progressed to include Thompson, a deal-breaker in Saunders’ eyes.
"I liked Klay when he came out" in 2011 after three years at Washington State, Saunders said. "I followed him a lot in talking to (his father) Mychal (Thompson, whom Saunders played with at the University of Minnesota) a lot. . . . I thought last year he was the best two-way two-guard in the league, and he continues to play that way."
Kerr saw an opportunity to coach what’s regarded as the game’s top backcourt, and Love eventually joined LeBron James in Cleveland in the deal that brought Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thad Young to Minnesota.
"You can never take winning for granted in the NBA, because there’s a very delicate balance," Kerr said. "You never know if the pieces are really going to fit until you see it. . . . When you’ve got a team that’s just won 51 games, that’s been in the playoffs a couple years in a row, that’s young and growing together, you don’t take that lightly.
"I think that was a huge factor in our decision to keep this group together."
Thompson signed a four-year, $69 million extension last month, keeping him at the center of the Warriors’ championship aspirations. It’s where he preferred to be all along, rather than go from contender to cellar dweller hoping to rebuild under new personnel chief and coach Saunders.
Thompson is just the latest example of what might’ve been in Minnesota.
Curry’s emergence as one of basketball’s premier guards has caused Wolves fans to lament Kahn passing on him in 2009. Rubio may yet join Curry atop the league’s best backcourt members, but Flynn fizzled out after two years in Minnesota and is now out of the league.
Drafted seventh overall that year by Golden State, Curry used to mull the possibility of playing in the Upper Midwest instead of the West Coast. But that hypothetical has become a distant memory, he said Monday.
"It’s obviously a fun debate for a lot of people, but things happen for a reason," said Curry, who ranks sixth in the NBA in scoring and assists this season. "I would’ve had to buy a couple more jackets, but that’s about it."
Kerr would’ve, too, had the Cavaliers not matched the multiyear offer sheet the Wolves signed him to in 1990. Kerr went on to play three full seasons in Cleveland before winning championships with the Bulls and Spurs, overseeing the Suns’ front office and landing his inaugural head coaching gig.
Some said Kerr was overpaid when the Wolves essentially negotiated a $600,000-per-year, three-year deal for him.
"I wasn’t that good," joked Kerr, who had been drafted by Phoenix in 1988 but traded the following offseason. "That’s a hell of a lot of money for me at that point. That kind of helped jumpstart my career."
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