Barber: Why Warriors' messaging changed on Klay Thompson
SAN FRANCISCO — When we went to bed Monday night, there was a chance Klay Thompson would return to the court after the All-Star break, and also a chance that he would miss the entire 2019-20 season while rehabbing an ACL tear. When we fired up the laptops Tuesday morning, there was still a chance that Klay Thompson would be back after the All-Star break, and still a chance that he would sit out the entire campaign.
And yet the entire conversation surrounding the Warriors’ wounded shooting guard had shifted. In the course of one interview, it migrated from the optimistic end of the prognosis to the we’re-doomed end.
That interview was a conversation between Warriors head coach Steve Kerr and Logan Murdock, who covers the team for NBC Bay Area. In a mostly standard preview of the coming season, Kerr reframed our perception of Thompson’s comeback.
“It’s unlikely that he’s going to play this year,” the coach said. “So we have to understand that.”
Kerr added: “Generally, an ACL for a basketball player is a full-year recovery, and if it’s a full year for Klay, that puts him out for the season.”
Kerr’s math was correct. Thompson had knee surgery on July 2. Even returning April 2, a couple weeks before the start of the postseason, would represent a slick nine-month recovery.
“I wasn’t announcing anything,” Kerr said early Tuesday afternoon, as Thompson undermined his caution by scooting around and shooting baskets on a nearby court. “He’s doing great with his rehab. Still possible that he could play. I forgot with modern media that ‘unlikely’ is gonna become, on the ticker, ‘out for the year’ and all that stuff. So probably my mistake for opening my mouth.”
It was breaking news that wasn’t quite news at all, because nothing truly had changed. The Warriors never said Thompson would be in the lineup for the last few weeks of the regular season.
In fact, general manager Bob Myers had kicked off Warriors Media Day on Sept. 30 by saying, “First on the injury front, because I know that’ll be a question — Klay, you’ll get to talk to him at 2, but he’s doing fine. We’ll have another update on him probably around the All-Star break. Don’t construe that as if we think he’ll be back by the All-Star break, that just means we’ll have an update then.”
In other words, Myers said nothing on Sept. 30 that directly contradicted what Kerr said to NBC Bay Area more recently. And what they uttered makes perfect sense.
When I interviewed Dr. Robert Nied, one of the Warriors’ team doctors, last week, he told me: “With the NBA, everyone wants to know immediately exactly what’s going on, exactly how long things are gonna take. Some of it is just managing those expectations.”
That’s what the Warriors are doing here. They are managing your expectations. If the team sets an aggressive goal for Thompson to return, and if his reattached ligament fails to meet that goal, the disappointment will be inevitable. If, on the other hand, they tamp down expectations, the only surprises will be happy ones. “Expect the worst, hope for the best” — motto of the 2019-20 Warriors.
It makes perfect sense. But it still begs a question: Why didn’t the Warriors take this approach all along? And if you claim they did, I will redirect you back to Media Day at Chase Center, when Kerr was asked, “Given the talent and experience Steph (Curry) and Draymond (Green) have together, what do you expect they can do to help transition everything both on the court and behind the scenes this year?”