The Warriors refused to trade Klay Thompson and gave him $69 million instead, and it was a genius decision

The Kevin Love trade was one of the great what-if’s of the NBA season.

Specifically: what if Love got traded to the Golden State Warriors for Klay Thompson instead of the Cleveland Cavaliers for Andrew Wiggins?

The Timberwolves wanted Thompson, according to widespread reports, but ultimately Golden State refused to give up the 24-year-old shooting guard.

That decision represented a major commitment to Thompson, a commitment that the franchise backed up with a four-year, $US69 million contract extension.

Eight months later — after the Warriors had a historically good 67-win season, Thompson had the best year of his life, and Love saw his numbers dip in Cleveland — it looks like a no-brainer. But at the time it was a gamble.

It’s not like that Warriors would have been breaking up a juggernaut team by trading Thompson for Love. Before 2014-15, the Curry-Thompson Warriors never finished higher than the No. 6 seed, and only won one playoff series. Thompson, while improving, had never made an All-Star team and you could have argued his production was inflated by the Curry’s presence. Even if the Warriors projected him as a future All-Star shooting guard, you couldn’t have faulted them for trading him from the sure thing in Love.

Not only has Thompson had his best season ever — setting career highs in pretty much every statistical category while finishing 10th in the league in points per game — the Warriors signed him to a contract extension that’s going to look extremely cheap in a few years.

The Warriors basically gave Thompson a maximum extension based on a projected salary cap of $US66.5 million in 2015-16, Zach Lowe of Grantland reported at the time. Since Thompson is eligible for a max contract valued at 25% of the cap, he and the Warriors worked out a deal worth $US69 million through the 2018-19 season. This contract is such a steal because the NBA salary cap is expected to explode to around $US88 million in 2016-17. Instead of his extension starting at $US22 million per year (25% of $US88 million with 7.5% annual raises), it’s starting at ~$US15.5 million.

When asked why he would take the extension now instead of waiting for the salary cap to explode, he told ESPN’s J.A. Adande that it’s not worth leaving money on the table to chase a bigger pay day, “It really is tempting to do all that. But I’d rather have the security right now, you know?”

When you factor in Curry’s steal of a contract (he’s making around $US12 million per year until 2017-18), the Warriors not only have the best backcourt in the league, they have the biggest bargain backcourt in the league.

Golden State’s gamble paid off in more ways than one. Thompson is one of the best shooting guards in the league, Draymond Green emerged after getting more minutes at power forward (something that may not have happened with Love on the roster), and they have their two best players locked in through 2016-17 at well below market value.

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