NBA free agency 2024: Warriors did the best they could after losing Klay Thompson, but was it the right path?

For a long time, fans were hoping for yet another kumbaya moment between Klay Thompson and the Golden State Warriors that would lead Thompson back to the Bay Area.

After all, it wouldn't have been the first time fans had to navigate rumors of Thompson going elsewhere, with the Los Angeles Lakers seeming like a perpetual threat to finally wrestle him loose and end the first real golden era of basketball in the broader Oakland/San Francisco area.

The Lakers reportedly tried to land the veteran All-Star who's widely regarded as the second-best shooter of all time. Yet, of all the teams to persuade Thompson to pick up his bags and seek new adventures, it was the Dallas Mavericks who closed the door on one of the best backcourts in NBA history.

It took $50 million over three seasons, plus the allure of playing with Luka Dončić, to pry him away. But pry him away they did, which left the Warriors with a sudden identity crisis.

How do you replace someone who helped you win four championships and played an integral part of your franchise for 13 years?

As we came to learn, the Warriors found the right answer: You don't.

Instead, general manager Mike Dunleavy Jr. pivoted to a collective solution to replace Thompson — or rather, the idea of Thompson.

Buddy Hield and De'Anthony Melton are now Warriors, and both are expected to play significant roles. Hield, one can argue, might be the lone two guard in the league who has the will to step into a similar offensive role as Thompson's, given his confidence and shooting prowess. If Thompson and Stephen Curry were the league's best shooters, Hield was never far behind, frequently matching them in both volume or percentage in recent years.

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - NOVEMBER 22: Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors talks with Stephen Curry #30 during the second half of the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Footprint Center on November 22, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Warriors 123-115. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
With Klay Thompson gone, Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors have an uncertain future. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The 31-year-old is an outright sniper who has connected on 39.2% of his 8.7 3-point attempts since the 2019-20 season, primarily off the catch, which will suit the Warriors just fine.

With Hield filling Thompson's offensive responsibilities, Melton will take care of those on the other end. Melton's defense has actually been quite a bit more effective than Thompson's of late due to the latter's ACL and Achilles injuries, which robbed him of some movement and quickness.

Essentially, the duo of Hield and Melton stands a decent chance of providing the Warriors with depth they didn't have before, to the point where one can make a reasonable argument that Golden State could be better than last season.

The franchise also signed Kyle Anderson, one of the league's most reliable all-around backup forwards, who can mimic the actions of Draymond Green when the All-Star is off the floor and safeguard the Warriors from major drop-offs.

Overall, the Warriors came out of this summer better than most expected. For a franchise that puts a major emphasis on being competitive, that's good news.

A larger, overarching question remains. One that even the most devoted Warriors fan will acknowledge is hanging over this franchise like a Jumbotron with loose cables.

Where, exactly, are the Warriors headed?

Melton, Hield and Anderson are league veterans who have been around for a while. None can be categorized as a young player anymore, which brings up some potentially uncomfortable long-term discussions about the Warriors' young core of Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, Brandin Podziemski and Trayce Jackson-Davis.

The organization finally saw Kuminga, and to a lesser extent Moody, break out after years of limited production. Podziemski hit the ground running. Even Jackson-Davis, a late second-rounder in 2023, played 68 games and produced per-minute numbers that resembled those of a starter.

It would make sense, then, to further lean into this youth movement. Instead, it seems the idea of supplying Curry with playable veterans is the route the Warriors have chosen.

While there is no right or wrong in this situation, as the franchise clearly wishes to appease one of the best players in NBA history, the Warriors will eventually have to make a call on the future.

If Curry sticks around for another three or four years, all of the aforementioned young core won't be considered young anymore, in which case a hard reset will be challenging. If the Warriors decide to walk the path of the draft in the late 2020s, it will take at least two or three years for any rookie to hit a level where they're aligned with Kuminga, Moody, Podziemski and Jackson-Davis in production and influence.

By that time, Kuminga and Moody will be in the late stages of their second contracts and could theoretically become flight risks, with several clubs angling to make real plays for them as soon as they hit the market.

Should that happen, the Warriors would need to hit the big red reset button once again, which delays a proper rebuild by years, potentially pushing the organization into the 2030s before it finds its footing anew.

Perhaps, though, that is the price of enjoying a dynasty that lasted for nearly a decade.

The seamless transition that every contender hopes to have, going from elite core to young core and reaching the top of the NBA mountain once again — all within a brief period of just a few years — has never quite worked. Not unless we're inclined to include the 1950s and 1960s Boston Celtics, when the league had in the neighborhood of eight teams. And we're not inclined to include them, as the NBA is now a 30-team juggernaut, which might see two more join the party soon enough.

Nevertheless, as cliché as it sounds, the Warriors find themselves at a crossroads, map in one hand, compass in the other, and the legacy of Stephen Curry clouding their judgment.

Regardless of which path the Warriors choose, all anyone can hope for is their commitment to seeing it through.