Steve Kerr thanks Klay Thompson, understands why Warriors icon left – NBC Sports Bay Area & California

LAS VEGAS – Steve Kerr is currently primarily responsible for ensuring that a historically strong group of superstars for the U.S. men’s basketball team gets the job done at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris and takes home gold.

The Warriors coach is also no stranger to one of the biggest stories in the NBA right now, with Klay Thompson set to join the Dallas Mavericks in free agency. Before Kerr could even take questions from UNLV’s Mendenhall Center on the opening day of Team USA’s training camp on Saturday, he took the time to first thank Thompson for his iconic career in a Warriors jersey.

“I just want to thank Klay Thompson for 13 incredible years, 10 of which I was there for,” Kerr began. “What he’s done for the team, the organization, the Bay Area, for me personally — the relationship that we have, all the incredible success, but more importantly, getting through it all together has been so meaningful and so amazing.

“We’re going to miss Klay. We wish him the best. Things rarely go the way you want them to, where you have to think it through and execute it and everyone goes out together. We were hoping that would happen, but it didn’t and we wish Klay the best.

“We love him and we will miss him. Klay, if you’re watching this, thank you for everything.”

Thompson was 24 years old and entering his fourth season as a Warrior when Kerr replaced Mark Jackson as his head coach. Kerr was 49 at the time and entering his first coaching experience in any capacity. The Southern California natives, with an affinity for the beach, were a perfect fit.

Riding on the brilliance of a backcourt featuring the greatest shooters of all time in Thompson and Steph Curry, the former Warriors shooting guard became an instant All-Star in Kerr’s first year as head coach. They also won their first title together that 2014-15 season, beginning a streak of five consecutive trips to the NBA Finals and fitting for three rings.

That 2014-15 season was also Thompson’s first as an All-Star. He earned the honor five years in a row, was named All-NBA in his first two seasons as Kerr’s coach and was named to the All-Defensive team in 2018-19.

All the emotions of Thompson turning the page and starting a new chapter haven’t fully reached Kerr yet. The two spoke about Thompson’s decision, and Kerr says he got a “really good description” of the now 34-year-old’s mindset about what he felt was best for him at this point in his career. After playing three years at Washington State, Thompson’s only basketball home in the Bay Area has been at Oracle Arena in Oakland and the Chase Center in San Francisco.

Kerr’s playing career spanned six different cities that served as his NBA home: Phoenix, Cleveland, Orlando, Chicago, San Antonio and Portland. Change can be necessary, even required for some. Of course, Kerr wanted nothing more than for Thompson’s path to be a straight shot to the Hall of Fame.

It’s a detour in Dallas, but it won’t affect his position in the heart of his longest-serving coach.

“I totally get it,” Kerr said. “Sometimes we all need a change in life. Just a fresh start, whatever it is. No matter what profession you’re in, sometimes you just need a change, and I think that’s it. That’s the easiest way to describe why Klay is leaving. … It’s going to be really weird on media day if he’s not there.”

Dealing with two leg injuries — a torn ACL in Game 6 of the 2019 Finals and a ruptured Achilles tendon in November 2020 — took a heartbreaking toll on Thompson. The last few years have been a mental and physical battle Thompson could never have imagined. How could he?

He was benched for the first time last season under Kerr, replaced by rookie Brandin Podziemski. As Thompson’s body and game changed, so did his role with the Warriors. He felt disrespected despite the Warriors offering him a contract last season that was $2 million less than he signed with the Mavericks, and more than $7 million per season compared to his new deal.

What may feel like bad blood over a bitter player-front office rift doesn’t begin to match the love Kerr will always have for Thompson, and vice versa. They shared the glory days together, feeling the deep pain of Thompson sitting out two years or more in his prime before celebrating as champions again the year the Splash Brother returned to the field.

And there were likely some tears shed as the two discussed Thompson’s departure.

“It’s never easy when these things run out, but the most important thing is that the relationships last,” Kerr said. “The memories last. Klay will have a statue outside of Chase one day. He will be loved forever by his teammates, coaches and our fans.

“It’s never easy, but I think it will work out for everyone.”

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