On the surface, the idea of Stephen Curry leaving the Warriors sounds preposterous.
It is preposterous.
Curry just led Golden State to their first championship in 40 years and was rightfully named the league’s MVP. His situation is reminiscent of Wayne Gretzky with the Edmonton Oilers in the ’80s; he’s the best young player on a club overflowing with them, none of whom have even reached their primes yet, and playing a style that’ll revolutionize their sport, while doing so better than anyone else can hope to.
Curry’s contract will expire after the 2016-17 season, but there’s no question that Warriors owner Joe Lacob will pay him the absolute maximum they’re allowed to, which will be slightly more than $34 million annually. Also, as the incumbent team, the Warriors will be able to guarantee Curry an additional year, meaning five years for $172.5 million, while if he were to leave the most he could get elsewhere would be four years for a paltry $128.1 million.
Given all of that, only a fool would leave and Curry doesn’t strike anyone as a fool. Yet there’s still a chance, however slim, that he might leave. And do you know why?
Because to quote another former MVP who led his team to a title, “Anything is possiiiiiiiiiiiiiiible.”
The mere mention of Curry bolting the Warriors at all seems silly enough, but what will really twist your noodle is the notion of him doing so to join the Charlotte bleepin’ Hornets. Mark it down though, if Curry were to leave — and for the record, I don’t think he will — the Hornets would be the squad he’d be most tempted to join.
Curry grew up in the Charlotte area and is still pretty attached to that community (for example, he’s an avid Carolina Panthers fan who participated in their pregame drum-pounding ritual on Sunday). He keeps a home there where he lives in part-time during the offseason. Curry’s father, Dell, works as a Charlotte Hornets broadcaster and the family has set its roots in that area. The Curry clan is private and deeply religious, and one of the reasons the Warriors MVP felt such an attachment to previous coach Mark Jackson was because of the team-wide emphasis he set on spirituality. It’s certainly easy enough to see the appeal for Curry to return to the Bible Belt full time, especially now that he’s a parent to two infant daughters.
He admitted to Diamond Leung of Bay Area News Group last November that he’s daydreamed of being a Hornet now and again, but that he and his family are happy with the Warriors, saying “That’s hard to get out of your head, but obviously, it has no bearing on decisions that I make down the road. It’s just a fun thought to have. The Hornets name does mean a lot to my family, and obviously I’m starting a new thing with the Warriors. I definitely feel right at home here (with Golden State).”
And that was how he felt before winning it all.
Consider that one of the main storylines for the upcoming NBA season will be whether 2015-16 will be Kevin Durant‘s last in Oklahoma City. The Thunder’s superstar forward and predecessor to Curry as league MVP is entering the walk year of his contract, and though he’s been careful about saying the right thing and remaining publicly loyal to his organization and fans, he hasn’t flat out guaranteed that he’ll re-sign there, which has just fueled speculation further.
While obviously no team can declare its intentions of wooing Durant without violating the league’s tampering rules, his hometown Washington Wizards have been the most commonly attached as a possible destination, and they’ve already taken the step of hiring Durant’s high school coach to their coaching staff, which is as brazen as it gets. Surely other teams in the league will either have the maximum amount of cap space needed to attract Durant, should he make himself available, or will form contingency plans to open up that space via sign-and-trades.
A month ago, shortly after the Hornets extended Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to a four-year, $52 million deal, David Aldridge of Turner Sports reported that Harrison Barnes‘s upcoming extension with the Warriors will be for considerably more, into the $15-16 million range, annually (and now it looks like it’s going to be more than that). This prompted Tim Kawakami of Bay Area News Group to opine that not only should the Warriors agree to that figure without blinking, but that a possible side benefit of doing so would open up the possibility of acquiring Durant down the road via sign-and-trade involving Barnes and other pieces.
The idea of Durant joining forces with Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green is enough to make one lightheaded, but it also seems like a bit of a pipe dream. If Durant bails on the Thunder for anyone, it has to be to go home to D.C., or maybe the allure and glamour of trying to save the Knicks, right? Going to a ready-made super team should be beneath someone of his stature, no? Except that LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami in 2010, and since then all the unwritten rules of superstar ring-chasing decorum have been thrown out the window. Even the Spurs have gotten into the act with LaMarcus Aldridge ditching Portland to join Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard.
Absolutely anything can happen in free agency, and it’s impossible to predict players’ (or their agents’) motivations. Who would’ve guessed that Andre Iguodala would pick the Warriors over many other suitors three years ago?
If Curry were to have pangs of homesickness, his situation wouldn’t be totally comparable to LeBron’s in Cleveland or to Durant’s. Unlike those guys, he’s already accomplished the goal any franchise has for a player they drafted in the lottery: Curry led them to a championship. It’s all gravy from here.
Also, it should be noted that his last contract was for significantly less than he could’ve demanded due to concerns about his chronically fragile ankles. Durant’s successor as the MVP will be the fifth-highest paid Warrior this season, and he’s set up to be seventh after Barnes and Festus Ezeli get their deals done. Would you blame Curry if he felt like he’s paid his dues to the organization several times over and already given the fans whatever they felt they were entitled to?
Not that any free agent should ever feel guilty about going wherever they want, but Curry’s case in particular would be one where no one remotely rational should have hard feelings, particularly if he decides to go back home to Charlotte to try to achieve the impossible for his hometown team instead of some cliche populist franchise like the Lakers or the Knicks. It’d be a noble goal, albeit an unlikely one.
Still, is the idea of Curry as a Hornet any sillier than Durant as a Wizard? Is it any more outlandish than Michael Jordan as a Wizard? What kind of odds would anyone have given you, when James was leading the Cavs to the Finals in 2007, that he’d “take his talents down to South Beach” three years later?
We just don’t know. If “The Great One” could get traded to the Los Angeles Kings, then anyone in professional team sports can go anywhere, for any reason, whether we like it or not.
Which is what makes all this stuff fun, actually.