Paul George's inside effort at Warriors thwarted, Klay Thompson's departure inevitable

There’s no need to wait for documentaries and years of context to sort this out: Saturday night’s events will be remembered as a liminal moment of a liminal offseason, at the threshold point of a significant part of Golden State Warriors history.

Initial analysis: So far not so good! (But I'll check back in a week or two for a final verdict.)

Klay Thompson is set for free agency and — barring a dramatic mood shift — the Warriors and Thompson are fully prepared for his fairly imminent departure from the Bay Area. An NBA source this weekend indicated that some amicable farewells have been shared between Klay and high-ranking members of the Warriors organization.

And Paul George, who was a home run target for the Warriors to acquire this offseason, finished the final year of his contract with the LA Clippers and became an unrestricted free agent, which basically cut off any realistic path for the Warriors to acquire him as they don’t have the cap room to sign him as a free agent.

The decision came after intense negotiations between the Warriors, George and the Clippers lasted until Saturday afternoon's deadline to decide on George's contract, and the Warriors believed at times they were on the verge of acquiring the 34-year-old small forward, team sources said.

The Warriors had agreed to give George the maximum four-year extension when he came in. They believed they had proposed a variety of trades that the Clippers could and would accept. Stephen Curry and Draymond Green were 100 percent in agreement. George had given strong indications that he wanted to join the Warriors. But the Clippers never agreed to any version of the trade, and now George is a free agent and essentially out of the Warriors’ reach.

There's a lot that needs to happen before free agency begins on Sunday. And the current big-board tally is that the Warriors are about to lose one of their three dynasty players and one of the most popular athletes in Bay Area history, they didn't acquire the great two-way wing they were looking for, they've included Andrew Wiggins, among others, in trade talks, and now they have to decide whether to guarantee Chris Paul's $30 million contract for next season and figure out whether they can turn it into a trade.

No net gain. A fundamental loss. There's still a lot to be done. And what's at stake is the final step to Curry's peak.

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The Warriors don't have the cap room to sign Paul George (seen here with Luka Doncic) as a free agent. (Jerome Miron / USA Today)

Let's take a look at what happened over the last few days and see what the Warriors will try to do next:

• Any potential PG13 trade between the Warriors and Clippers was always going to be complicated, but Warriors executives thought they had the puzzle figured out. From what I've heard, some combination (but certainly not all) of Wiggins, CP3, Jonathan Kuminga or Moses Moody and a future first-round pick have been in discussions with the Clippers.

There were versions that would have limited the Clippers' long-term money liability; there were versions that would have increased future benefits. I'm told the Warriors likely wouldn't have included Wiggins and Kuminga in any offer, but that it never got to that point. If that was the thing that would have closed the deal … who knows.

My sense is that money concerns weigh heavily in the Clippers' favor. If PG13 leaves as a free agent, they get nothing back… but they also get off the other apron and have more roster mobility.

• If the Warriors had included Kuminga in a package for George, that would have been a risk in itself. The Warriors would have given up their most valuable young player for an older player with injury problems and would have had to pay him more than $260 million over the next five years, essentially putting the Warriors in the luxury tax.

But PG13 would have been an immediate and elite 1B scoring option after Curry, far better than any player the Warriors have had in that role for years, and he could handle the toughest perimeter defensive assignments. Who will step into those shoes for the Warriors now? Maybe Kuminga will get some of that. Maybe Moody. Maybe even Brandin Podziemski. It's all a work in progress. The Boston Celtics proved again that playoff series are won by tough, two-way wings, and the Warriors are still quite needy in that category. That's why they pushed so hard for George.

• There will be time later to discuss Thompson's incredible legacy with the Warriors multiple times, and he deserves every single one of them. Game 6 in Oklahoma City itself probably deserves about 100 of them. Getting back to shooting free throws — and getting back on defense! — after blowing his ACL in the 2019 Finals should earn him a thousand more memorials.

I'll just note that, looking back, many of his actions and emotions over the final few months of last season were probably signs that he was getting ready to move on, from his frequently acrimonious news conference moments to his struggle to downplay his importance on the court, and even that last evening after the final regular-season game at Chase Center, when he wandered into the locker room asking his teammates to go ride on the boat with him.

CP3 and Moody agreed to it, partly because it was an honor to ride in that boat with Thompson, but also, I thought, because they knew it was important to him that night.

• Thompson didn’t like his experience last season and said so many times. He didn’t like sitting on the bench for a few games behind Podziemski. He didn’t like the questions we asked about his future. He didn’t like the national attention on his occasional struggles, including his 0-for-10 shooting night in the play-in game against the Sacramento Kings. He In fact I don’t like that the Warriors put more priority on upgrading the roster than bringing him back this offseason.

More broadly, I think Thompson didn't like the comparisons to his other era, when he could guard anybody before his two big toe injuries and turn any game into a personal part of NBA shooting history. He wanted a fresh start. He's going to get one. He's also going to come to Chase Center with his new team and want to beat the Warriors; maybe not too bitterly, maybe a little bitterly, but it'll be fun to watch.

• Thompson probably wasn't going to be the starter if he stayed with the Warriors this season. It was going to be Podziemski. Or Moody. Or someone else. I'm not sure Thompson wanted to do this again, and I imagine the Warriors wouldn't have liked it either. It seems like a cold conclusion to this incredible tenure, but it was inevitable.

The Warriors will not be better without Thompson. They will miss his shooting, his personality, his sarcastic humor, everything else. There will be a statue of him outside the arena. He will always be warmly welcomed wherever Warriors fans are. Yes, the Warriors will miss him. But with Thompson's permission, they will get something in a sign-and-trade deal when he leaves, and they probably won't be too much worse off. They will be younger and probably more athletic.

And we'll see what else they can add over the next week or so.

• The Warriors could use the CP3 contract as a version of a trade exception — they could negotiate with Paul to keep him guaranteed at any amount acceptable to both sides and use that to balance out a trade if a good trade comes along.

If the Warriors can't find a trade, they could release CP3, get under the apron and luxury tax and maybe even under the cap line (depending on what kind of money they get back in a potential Thompson sign-and-trade). They could see what else they can get for Wiggins. As it is, they'll have the taxpayer midlevel exception of $5.2 million and could get up to the non-taxpayer midlevel of $12.9 million if they move Wiggins and get very little money in return.

• I'll use another quote from Thompson from that crucial season-ending news conference to end this article. Thompson was asked his reaction to Curry, Draymond and Steve Kerr saying how much they wanted him back. Thompson again said these words in April, but they seem especially apt right now.

“It means a lot,” Thompson said. “I mean, we've been through a lot of ups and downs. Whether it's losing championships, winning championships, missing the playoffs, we've been through it all together, so it means a lot. I'm just grateful for the moments I had with him. Like, that was pretty historic.”

Yes, it was. Past tense now.

(Top photo of Klay Thompson: Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

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