Imagine a world where the Splash Bros didn’t exist. While Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were teammates for a few years, the height of their reign didn’t start until the 2014-2015 season. Before this season, the Golden State Warriors had dismissed head coach Mark Jackson and hired Steve Kerr. The team was looking at adjusting after a period of mediocrity. One of those changes included potentially trading away Klay Thompson.
At the time, Thompson was coming off his third season, which was his best in the league. Thompson averaged 18.4 points and shot 41.7% from the three-point range. He was also making a name for himself on the defensive side of the ball. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves knew they were not going to go anywhere with Kevin Love, so they decided to cash in on their max return. During the offseason, the two teams nearly came to an agreement.
Had this trade went down, who knows if the Warriors would have been the dynasty they were for a five-year stretch. This also affects a third-party, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Love was a major part of the team’s 2016 championship team. Let’s take a look at the hypothetical situation of this trade going down.
The Trade Details
Golden State Warriors Receive: Kevin Love
Minnesota Timberwolves Receive: Klay Thompson
The trade was simple like this. The Warriors were willing to trade Thompson straight up for Love. Thompson was an All-Rookie First Team selection that was working his way up the ladder towards being a valuable starter in the league. He was 23 years old at the time, which made him a very intriguing young prospect for the Timberwolves to build around. The team had just drafted Zach LaVine, who was 19 years old, as well. The backcourt potential was there.
As for the Warriors, the team was going to get a former rebounding champion in Love, who was one of the top power forwards in the league. Kerr wanted to run an offense similar to the San Antonio Spurs, which included a lot of weak-side ball movement. He wanted more up-tempo, similar to what Steve Nash ran with the Suns from 2007-2010 when he was the general manager.
Spacing is key when it comes to this offense and Kerr wanted a stretch-four that could solidify that style. Love would be a matchup problem because he was very agile, can rebound with power, and was a solid playmaker. He was coming off a season where he averaged 26.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and shot 37% from three-point range. With Love in the lineup, it would create more room for Curry, Iguodala, and Draymond Green to have more open shots.
Jerry West Threatened To Leave The Warriors
It was reported that West threatened to leave the Warriors if the team completed this trade. According to the source, West believed that trading Thompson would be a mistake. The Warriors were a defensive-reliant team and Love was not primarily known for his defense. West had been with the Warriors since 2011 after spending time with the Grizzlies and Lakers. In his mind, this would ruin the makeshift of the Warriors.
The report also suggested that Thompson’s father, former NBA player Mychal Thompson, Warriors owner Joe Lacob, and general manager Bob Myer wanted to make the trade. In the end, both West and Kerr vetoed the trade. After looking back at what transpired next, it turned out to be a good idea.
Warriors Projected Lineup If Trade Happened
PG: Steph Curry
SG: Andre Iguodala
SF: Harrison Barnes
PF: Kevin Love
C: Andrew Bogut
As previously mentioned, the Warriors wanted Love because he was a power forward that could stretch the floor. Curry would have been the main beneficiary of this style. With Thompson in the lineup, Curry won the MVP in 2015 with a stat line of 23.8 points, 7.7 assists, 2.0 steals, and a three-point shooting percentage of 44.3%. With Love in the lineup, there is no reason to doubt that Curry would have made a run to win the MVP.
The main difference with this lineup is that Iguodala would have switched from being a sixth man, while Green would be pushed to the bench. Before you start to jump to conclusions, Green was coming off a season where he averaged 6.2 points and 5.0 rebounds. Green was not the player he is today; however, Green may have never become that with this lineup.
During the first championship season, Green averaged 11.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. This was a major jump in his game offensively, but Green also became the best two-way power forward in the league by earning All-Defensive First Team honors. Love would have taken away from Green’s development, while the team would have been an underwhelming defensive squad.
Timberwolves Projected Lineup If Trade Happened
PG: Ricky Rubio
SG: Zach LaVine
SF: Klay Thompson
PF: Corey Brewer
C: Gorgui Dieng
The Timberwolves would have been small. Who would have rebounded? Dieng would have been the team’s top rebounder. He was coming off his rookie season where he averaged just 4.8 points and 5.0 rebounds. Corey Brewer was 6-foot-9, but he was better suited as the small forward. This team would have been outrebounded every night.
Offensively, it would have taken a few years. Instead of the Splash Bros forming in 2014, there would have been many holding out for hope with what could happen with Zach LaVine and Thompson. LaVine eventually became an All-Star caliber player, but Thompson would have been older. By the time LaVine made his first All-Star appearance, Thompson had made the NBA Finals five times with the Warriors. LaVine was just a high-flying athlete that made a name for himself in the Slam Dunk Contest.
There is reason to believe that LaVine and Thompson could have been Splash Bros though given that Ricky Rubio was running the offense. Rubio was, and is, an excellent playmaker. He would have found a way to get these two open shots. With that said, the Timberwolves would have been exactly where they left off before this trade, which was last place. Keep in mind though, the following year, the team drafted Karl-Anthony Towns with the No. 1 overall pick.
Let’s start with the Warriors. The Warriors ultimately listened to West and Kerr about the Thompson trade. What did that get them? In return, the Warriors created one of the most successful dynasties in league history with Curry, Thompson, and Green. The Warriors made the NBA Finals five consecutive years, won a league-record 73 games in 2015-2016, and won three championships during that span. Thompson made the All-Star team all five years, made All-NBA Third Team two times, and made the All-Defensive Team once.
The brand Splash Bros became a worldwide trademark. Kerr wanted an up-tempo offense that generated shot after shot. He got exactly that by holding on to the player they wanted to trade. Curry is going to be the all-time leader in three-point field goals. Despite not playing the last two years, Thompson ranks 20th all-time.
As for the Timberwolves, the team made a terrible trade by acquiring former No. 1 overall picks Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins. Love joined the Cavaliers where he played in the NBA Finals four consecutive seasons, made two All-Star appearances and helped the team win their first franchise championship in 2016. Love has remained with the Cavaliers, collecting a big paycheck despite multiple injury-plagued seasons, but his impact on the team’s legacy will always be remembered.
The Timberwolves did finish last that season, which prompted the team to gain the No. 1 overall pick. The team used the pick on Towns. Eventually, the team traded their young star in LaVine for a one-year rental of Jimmy Butler. The combination of Towns, Wiggins, and Butler led the Timberwolves to their first playoff appearance since 2005 in 2018, but Butler had enough with the team’s lack of drive, which led to his exit to Philadelphia in a separate trade.
As for Wiggins, he was traded to the Warriors for D’Angelo Russell and Bennett is one of the biggest busts in NBA history. The Timberwolves could have had a young core of LaVine, Towns, and Thompson, which might have been a competitive team down the line. Instead, the team remains in the cellar of the NBA standings, while both Thompson and Love are wearing championship jewelry.
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