Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.
Long before Kevin Love teamed up with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in Cleveland this summer, the Warriors were in a golden position to add the three-time All-Star and one of the most versatile offensive players in the game to a 51-win team on the rise.
All they had to do was give up shooting guard Klay Thompson as the headliner of a package going to Minnesota, and Love was theirs. Timberwolves President Flip Saunders coveted Thompson as the Warriors inquired about Love early in the summer.
To the surprise of many, the Warriors declined to include Thompson, a very good fourth-year player but not believed to be of Love’s caliber, in their offer and Saunders held firm. Talks broke down and Love eventually landed in Cleveland when James decided to return home.
Two months into the season, the Warriors’ decision has been validated. Thompson has emerged as a star alongside Stephen Curry and the Warriors are an NBA-best 26-5.
“For me as a new coach, what I saw was maybe the best backcourt in the NBA and a chance to keep the group together,” coach Steve Kerr said. “And that’s pretty powerful, especially when you know you’re already pretty good.”
After spending the summer with Team USA, Thompson has blossomed into so much more than a shooter, showing an ability to put the ball on the floor and create his own shot while still playing strong defense.
Meanwhile, the Cavs have languished while trying to fit all their new parts together. In Golden State, the main pieces of the roster have been together for years, and that familiarity and chemistry is paying dividends.
“Whatever lineup we throw out there, I feel like we have the ultimate high confidence to play well,” Curry said. “That comes with the experience of going through a couple of playoff series together and falling short of our expectations before. And now being even more hungry as a group to get to the next level. That’s a huge bonus for us.”
Here are some things to watch in the NBA this week:
CAVS SANS LEBRON: With King James out for at least two weeks with knee and back injuries, the Cavaliers are in trouble. They play the 76ers, Rockets, Warriors and Kings this week as they try to stay afloat in the muddled East.
HAWKS ROLLING: They have reeled off 18 wins in 20 games to jump to the top of the Eastern Conference and face a tough slate of games this week. They visit the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday, host the Grizzlies on Wednesday, visit the Pistons on Friday and host the Wizards on Sunday.
SPURS SLOG: A brutal December finally behind them, the defending champion Spurs see the schedule lighten a little bit this week with games against the Pistons, Suns and Timberwolves. They went 8-10 in December, their first losing month since Feb. 1999 and the most losses in a month since Tim Duncan joined the team in 1997.
JOSH SMITH EFFECT: The Pistons are 5-0 since a stunning decision to waive Smith and eat the rest of his contract. The Rockets picked him up but are an underwhelming 3-3 with him.
FREE-FALLING WOLVES: They have lost 11 in a row to fall to 5-27. They host Denver on Monday, Phoenix on Wednesday, visit Milwaukee on Friday and host San Antonio on Saturday.
STAT LINE OF THE WEEK
Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City: The reigning MVP wasted no time getting back to form after missing six games with a sprained ankle. He put up 44 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists to beat the Phoenix Suns 137-134 on Wednesday night. His monster line was even bigger considering Russell Westbrook got ejected after playing just 17 minutes.