If Warriors don’t offer Klay Thompson max contract, then Hawks will get chance to court him

The Warriors likely will officially offer guard Klay Thompson a maximum free-agent contract at the first moment NBA rules allow it. If so, Thompson almost certainly will re-sign with the only franchise he’s ever known. Thompson has been a key part of Golden State’s three championships and their current run to the NBA finals, where the Warriors are tied 1-1 with the Raptors.

That’s how it’s likely to play out for Thompson when free agency begins July 1. But if the Warriors don’t immediately offer Thompson a max contract of five years and about $190 million, I’m told he will listen to free-agent pitches from other teams. And if that happens, the Hawks are confident they’d get a chance to persuade Thompson to sign with them.

I heard Travis Schlenk planned to make a run at Thompson as a free agent soon after the Hawks hired Schlenk as GM in 2017. I figured it was just dot-connecting speculation: Schlenk was a Warriors front-office executive when the team drafted Thompson in 2011. But since then several people in the know have insisted that Schlenk is focused on trying to sign Thompson, and now I believe that’s his plan if the Warriors provide an opening.

Thompson is an obvious fit for the Hawks’ style of play (or most any team in the pace-and-space era) as an elite shooter and off-ball shot creator. He doesn’t seem to fit their timeline. The Hawks just finished a second season of playing for the draft lottery and, with their current trajectory, probably are two years away from even contending for a playoff berth.

The Hawks aren’t a good team looking for a key piece, so in a vacuum, Thompson isn’t worth the maximum contract they can offer: four years and about $140 million. He’s a notch below the superstars who can be free agents this summer: Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis. Thompson is 29 years old and, though his jump-shooting game likely will age gracefully, he’s beginning his decline.

In context, though, signing Thompson would pay dividends for the Hawks beyond his on-court value. Schlenk has boasted that players around the league have taken notice of the Hawks’ young talent and organizational culture. Signing Thompson would signal that the Hawks are a serious franchise after years of top free agents barely giving them a look. Just getting a meeting with Thompson would burnish their reputation.

There’s a chance Schlenk will get his chance to court Thompson. It could come down to Golden State’s willingness to pay a steep luxury tax to keep Thompson and Durant. The Warriors will have increased revenue streams in their new San Francisco arena next season, but keeping every key player from their championship runs also would mean massive payroll costs.

The Warriors have paid about $66 million in luxury taxes the past two seasons, largely because of the "supermax" contract Steph Curry signed in 2017. Signing Durant and Thompson to maximum free-agent contracts would mean a luxury tax bill of more than $100 million in 2019-20. As "repeat" tax payers in 2020-21 the Warriors would be hit with a $150 million tax bill for total salary costs exceeding $330 million — and that's with minimum-salary veterans and draft picks around Durant, Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green.

During Thompson’s 10-year career he’s been underpaid relative to his value. He won’t get another chance to sign a maximum contract, unless he decides to sign a short deal and try again. Those are reasons Thompson isn’t likely to accept a “discount” to sign with the Warriors, like Durant did when he signed as a free agent in 2016.

The Warriors could decide to offer Durant the max but not Thompson, or offer each free agent less than the max. In either case, Thompson will be open to signing elsewhere. The Hawks obviously would be one of several teams pursuing Thompson, and plenty of playoff teams can easily create the cap space necessary to sign him.

If the Hawks get a chance to pitch Thompson, they can try to convince him to join up with them and immediately accelerate their timeline. They could show him that they have plenty of cap space to sign more good players, now and later. There is the clear benefit of playing alongside point guard Trae Young, who isn’t Curry but is an outstanding playmaker.

The Warriors don’t have to sell Thompson on anything. The assumption that he will stay in Golden State is so strong that his own pending free agency has barely gotten attention while league observers obsesses over Durant’s decision. The Warriors can just extend a max offer to Thompson on July 1 and be done with it.

That’s probably what the Warriors will do. It will change things if they offer Thompson less money. At that point, the Hawks will be ready to make their case to Thompson to become the top star for a team on the rise.