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

LAS VEGAS – Steve Kerr's current main responsibility is to make sure the historically strong group of superstars for Team USA men's basketball gets the job done at the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics and brings home the gold medal.

The Warriors coach is also not unaware of one of the biggest news in the NBA right now, Klay Thompson moving to the Dallas Mavericks in free agency. Before answering questions from UNLV's Mendenhall Center on the opening day of Team USA training camp on Saturday, Kerr thanked Thompson for his stellar career in a Warriors jersey.

“I want to say thank you to Klay Thompson for 13 incredible years, 10 of which I was there for,” Kerr said. “What he did for the team, the organization, the Bay Area and for me personally — the relationship we have, all the incredible successes, but most importantly, going through all of this together has been so meaningful and amazing.

“We'll miss Clay. We wish him all the best. These things rarely go exactly the way you want them to, where you get to prepare it and implement it and all go out together. We were hoping it might happen, but it didn't and we wish Clay all the best.”

“We love him and we're going to miss him. Clay, if you're watching this, thank you for everything.”

Thompson was 24 and entering his fourth season as a Warriors coach when Kerr took over from Mark Jackson as head coach. Kerr was 49 at the time and beginning his first experience as a coach in any capacity. The Southern California natives, who have a love for the beach, were a perfect fit for each other.

Bolstering a backcourt talent that included two of the greatest shooters of all time — Thompson and Steph Curry — the former Warriors shooting guard became an All-Star in Kerr's first year as head coach. They also won their first title together in the 2014-15 season, starting five straight trips to the NBA Finals and fitting in for three rings.

That 2014-15 season was Thompson's first as an All-Star. He earned the honor five consecutive years, was named All-NBA in his first two seasons coached by Kerr and was named to the All-Defensive team in 2018-19.

All of the emotions of Thompson turning the page and starting a new chapter have yet to fully hit Kerr. The two spoke during Thompson’s decision, and Kerr says he now has “a really good overview” of the 34-year-old’s mindset, which he feels is best for him at this stage of his career. After playing three years at Washington State, the only basketball homes Thompson knows are in the Bay Area at Oakland’s Oracle Arena and San Francisco’s Chase Center.

The playing career that Kerr lived included six different cities that served as his NBA home: Phoenix, Cleveland, Orlando, Chicago, San Antonio and Portland. Change may be necessary, even essential for some. Of course, Kerr wanted Thompson's path to the Hall of Fame to be straight.

It’s taking a turn in Dallas, though it won’t hurt his reputation in their hearts as their longest-tenured coach.

“I completely understand,” Kerr said. “Sometimes in life, we all need a change. 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 explain why Clay is leaving. … It's going to be really weird on media day when he's not there.”

Battling two leg injuries — a torn ACL in Game 6 of the 2019 Finals and a torn Achilles in November 2020 — has been heartbreaking for Thompson. The past few years have been a struggle mentally and physically that Thompson could never have imagined. How could he have done this?

He was sent to the bench for the first time under Kerr last season, replaced by a rookie, Brandin Podziemski. As Thompson's body and game changed, so did his role on the Warriors. He felt disrespected, even though the Warriors offered him a contract last offseason that was $2 million less than the one he signed with the Mavericks, and more than $7 million per season than his new contract.

What may seem like bad blood from an intense divorce between player and front office is nowhere close to Kerr's everlasting love for Thompson, and vice versa. They spent glory days together, and Thompson felt the deep pain of being sidelined for two-plus years of his prime before the Splash Brother returned to the court, celebrating as champions once again.

And the two likely shed a tear as they discussed Thompson’s departure.

“It's never easy when these things start to end, but the biggest thing is that the relationships last,” Kerr said. “The memories last. Clay will have a statue outside of Chase one day. He will always be beloved by his teammates and coaches and our fans.

“It's never easy, but I think it's going to work out OK for everybody.”

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