As Klay Thompson walked into the Bill King Interview Room, longtime Warriors media relations official Raymond Ridder said “He’s even excited to do media.”
“No I’m not,” Thompson joked as he sat.
For the next 19 minutes, Thompson fielded questions about his rehab process, his teammates, the 15-2 team he believes is championship-caliber and more. He answered candidly, thoughtfully and energetically. He did so while constantly fidgeting with the microphone, eventually wrestling it out of its holster.
Thompson isn’t back to NBA action yet. He’s still climbing the Twin Peaks-sized hill of recovery from a torn ACL and torn Achilles. But he’s back to being himself, practicing with the team. And Tuesday, for the first time since Media Day, Thompson was back behind the podium.
The most notable takeaway: Thompson is itching to return after over two years, and he’s as driven as ever.
“Oh, yeah!” Thompson said when asked if the 2021-22 Warriors can win a championship.
“We’re 15-2. That’s a great indicator. And our defense, I think it’s top-3, as well as our offense. And I’m not even out there. Think about that. Really think about that. I’m more motivated than ever as well. I want a championship so bad. More than anything.”
Before addressing the media, Thompson went through individual shooting drills in the Chase Center’s practice court. He’s been cleared for full practice, and has scrimmaged 5-on-5 in four-minute bursts, he said. Players on the court with him include his brother Mychel Thompson, free agent guard Dante Exum, and staffers Leandro Barbosa and Zaza Pachulia. He also played with Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga, and Juan Toscano-Anderson for the first time Monday.
During the shooting drill Tuesday, Thompson moved smoothly, running from the arc to the baseline and back before receiving passes. The lift on his jumper looked normal, and he grew visibly frustrated after misses – which, in classic Klay Thompson fashion, were rare.
“It’s so exciting just to be running on the court and playing basketball,” Thompson said. “It’s truly a blessing. Makes coming to work so easy. The boring stuff’s behind me. I’m just getting back in game shape. It’s really exciting. I’ve got to stay patient because I can be an overeager person. But I’m just incredibly grateful to be out there.”
Thompson said he feels like himself on the court, but needs to build his conditioning up to game speed. The four-minute games he’s been playing now will be extended out weekly.
Just six months ago, Thompson was just looking forward to jogging. The toughest part of his two-plus year rehab was mental, he said. But he’s grateful for modern sports medicine and doesn’t fear reinjury.
“I give myself credit,” Thompson said. “It takes great mental fortitude to get through not one rehab, but two.”
The five-time All-Star spent last summer with the also-injured James Wiseman, mentoring the young center with perspective and book recommendations — the latest being “Young, Black, Rich and Famous.” Wiseman, along with rookies Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, is the future of the franchise, Thompson said.
The wing expects to come back with less bounce than he had before the two major injuries. But he said “my game isn’t predicated on jumping 12 feet high.” A dip in athleticism won’t hurt the career 41.9% 3-point shooter as much as it might a high-flying slasher.
Still, it’s important for Thompson to set realistic expectations for himself. Coach Steve Kerr said that even if Thompson never got injured, two years without playing presents an immense challenge.
In the past, Thompson would set specific goals like shooting percentage. He’ll be on a minutes restriction whenever he debuts, and he said he just wants to be efficient.
“I don’t care what my numbers are,” Thompson said “I know with time, whether it’s toward the end of this year come playoff time or next year, my numbers will be great again. Two years without playing an NBA game, you’ve got to taper down big expectations of scoring 37 in a quarter or 14 3s in a game. I plan on doing that again, but who knows when.”
The team Thompson will rejoin is an NBA-best 15-2. He praised Jordan Poole, saying he sees a little of himself in the third-year guard who’s averaging 18.4 points per game.
Seeing Poole mesh with Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, Thompson considers this team “championship or bust.” And he’s quick to note they’ve been so impressive even without him.
“I feel like i have a lot of pent up energy to go out there and prove, not to anybody else, to myself, that I’m still one of the best,” Thompson said. “We’ve got the core. We’ve got the Finals MVP, two-time MVP, the DPOY, champions. We’ve got the core. We’ve got the youth. We’ve got the role players who are showing why we went after them. I just want to win another championship again.”
So, when exactly will he return?
“It’s really hard to say. Because it’s definitely a feel thing. It’s hard to put a date on it. Who knows when it could be? But it will be in the first half of the season. Hopefully the first trimester. That’s a third, right? Trimester? Hopefully sooner rather than later. I’m really excited to get back to ball.”