SAN FRANCISCO — Golden State Warriors swingman Klay Thompson participated in a full team practice on Tuesday for the first time since tearing his left ACL in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals and his right Achilles in November 2020.
“It’s so exciting,” Thompson said. “Just to be running up and down the court and playing basketball, it’s truly a blessing and it makes coming to work so easy. The boring stuff’s behind me, and now it’s just getting back in game shape — I got to stay patient because I can be an overeager person to get out there and play, but I’m just incredibly grateful to be out there. The work the training staff and I have done over the last two years is really paying off, and it’s hard to put into words how grateful I am to be playing basketball again.”
Thompson, who was cleared for 5-on-5 work with members of the Warriors’ support staff last week, has been in great spirits as his return to game action inches closer. While the Warriors have been hopeful that Thompson could return around Christmas, coach Steve Kerr reiterated Tuesday that no return date has been set and they want Thompson to continue to build up his strength and stamina after being off the floor for so long.
“We don’t have a target date,” Kerr said. “What we have is a number of weeks ahead of us for certain where we’re going to play it out, keep letting him scrimmage as often as possible so that he’ll build that endurance. And I would think within a few weeks we’ll be able to finally sort of get a target date, but we don’t have one right now.”
For his part, Thompson seems content to continue putting in the rehab work and let his body tell him, in consultation with the Warriors’ medical staff, when he’ll be ready to play in games again.
“I don’t want to come back and be a shell of myself,” Thompson said. “I want to come back like I was the last time I was playing and I was one of the best players in the world.”
Teammate Kevon Looney noted how much “joy” Thompson’s first full practice in over two years brought the team.
“Klay looked good,” Looney said. “Especially for someone who had been out that long. You can still tell that he’s got work to do, and he’s been working hard, he looks good, he looks like an NBA player, he looks like a top-notch athlete already. So I’m excited to see him get back on the court. He gets better every day, every week, so I’m excited to see the next step he takes.”
Thompson knows he’ll be on a minutes restriction whenever he does return, but he also understands that he’ll be joining a team that has exceeded early expectations and is riding a league-best 15-2 record into Wednesday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers. He didn’t hesitate when asked whether he felt the Warriors could win a title this season.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “We’re 15-2. That’s a great indicator of [championship readiness], and our defense, I think it’s top three in the league as well as our offense — and I’m not even out there yet. Think about that. Really think about that. I’m more motivated than ever as well. I want a championship so bad. More than anything.”
Kerr continues to preach patience as Thompson starts to ramp up what he can do on the floor.
“The biggest thing is he hasn’t played in 2½ years,” Kerr said. “So while the Achilles is structurally sound, there’s been no ill effects; it’s just a matter of building strength and endurance, especially the endurance part, it just takes time. It takes a while. So even though he’s playing full bore, and he practiced full bore just now, he needs to keep doing this over and over and over again every day, really blow it out. Get his conditioning back, his endurance back. So we’re going to be very patient with Klay, too.”
Thompson, who said he doesn’t “fear getting hurt again” because of the “freak” nature of his past two injuries, said he has been motivated by critics who are doubting whether he and the Warriors can get back to the top.
“I wanted to be on that top [75 list]. I wanted some recognition. I didn’t get it, and that’s fine. You know how you get recognition? You go win. I just want to go win again. I want to win a fourth ring,” he said. “Not being able to compete for the last two years, I feel like I have a lot of pent up energy to prove — not to anybody else, but to myself, I’m still one of the best.”
In a side note to Thompson’s return to practice, Kerr said second-year center James Wiseman still hasn’t been cleared to participate fully in practice as he continues to recover from a meniscus tear in his right knee.
“The injury, the meniscus tear, is an injury where it’s not really like a linear improvement, like an ACL or an Achilles. You kind of know, you can kind of map it out,” Kerr said. “Meniscus tear, you can’t really map it out as easily because there’s more possibility for a variance in how long it’s going to take to recover. So James is doing fine. There’s no structural issue and we’re just being very, very cautious. He’s doing one-on-one stuff, 2-on-2 stuff, drill work, but [the medical staff] is not yet comfortable allowing him to scrimmage. So we’re just trying to stay patient and do the best thing we can for James — he’s such a young guy. We just want to be very cautious with the injury.”