Back in the fall of 2012, coming off a season limited to just 26 games by ankle injuries, the Golden State Warriors signed Stephen Curry to a four-year, $44 million extension of his rookie contract. After three straight All-Star berths and All-NBA selections, back-to-back NBA Most Valuable Player awards — including the first unanimous MVP victory in league history — and an NBA championship, it’s probably fair to say Steph’s in line for a raise this summer, when he reaches unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career.
No matter the price tag, you’d expect there’d be no shortage of suitors for the services of the most defense-devastating shooter the NBA has ever seen. But Curry said during a new podcast conversation with Tim Kawakami of the Bay Area News Group that he can’t even fathom leaving the Bay come season’s end:
“I can’t,” Curry said. “Like I’ve said from Day 1 when I was first asked about free agency, this is a perfect place to play. Bay Area fans are amazing, our organization’s amazing, we’ve put together an amazing team that’s competing for championships every year.
“There’s really no reason that I can see right now that would draw me elsewhere.
“And we’ll see what happens. But that’s kind of a great position to be in and one that allows me to just focus on just playing good basketball this year and winning a championship and letting the rest of that handle itself.”
Curry has in the past said that leaving the Warriors holds no interest for him. He has also said, though, that he has “always had thoughts about playing at home” in Charlotte, N.C. — which, ICYMI, has an NBA team! — and that while “it’s hard to see myself anywhere else” besides Golden State, “curveballs happen all the time.”
There’s nothing wrong with leaving the door slightly ajar, of course. But when a two-time MVP nears the open market — especially after we’ve seen MVPs pull up stakes in search of greener pastures in two of the last three summers — any ambiguity piques interest and inspires arched eyebrows.
That said, Curry staying 10 toes down in the Bay looks to be by far the most likely outcome once this season ends, considering:
• It’s difficult to envision him finding a new employer better positioned to compete for NBA championships than a Warriors team that has won two straight Western Conference crowns, is in the driver’s seat for a third at the halfway mark of the 2016-17 campaign, and has gone 205-44 over the last 2 1/2 regular- and postseasons; and
• He can get paid elsewhere, but he can get PAAAAAAAAAAAAID in Golden State.
The new collective bargaining agreement that the NBA and its players reached last month includes a “designated veteran player extension” (DVPE) intended to incentivize players to re-sign with their own teams rather than leaving to join other clubs in free agency. (This, as you probably gathered, was almost certainly inspired by Kevin Durant choosing to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder to link up with Steph and the Dubs this past summer.) The agreed-upon incentive? Stacks upon stacks of cash, as detailed last month by Bobby Marks of The Vertical:
Free agents who have completed eight or nine seasons […] but have met the DVPE criteria [by racking up achievements like All-NBA appearances and Most Valuable Player awards] would be eligible to sign a contract worth up to 35 percent of the salary cap.
Last July, Durant could only sign a contract worth 30 percent of cap. […]
Last summer, Durant would have been eligible to sign a contract with the Thunder that would have been worth roughly $70 million more than what Golden State could offer.
Curry, the reigning MVP, has already met the criteria for this summer and will be eligible to sign [a] five-year, $210 million contract.
Like the DVPE, the rule does not transfer. Curry would be limited to signing a four-year contract worth 30 percent of the cap if he were to sign with a new team.
For what it’s worth, Curry downplayed the prospect of clocking a $40-plus million per year annual salary — and moving up from the No. 4 spot on the Warriors’ balance sheet to No. 1 with a bullet — during his chat with Kawakami:
“I remember sitting in a hotel, at the Ritz-Carlton in Phoenix, right before our opening night game against the Suns and sitting with Bob Myers and coach (Mark) Jackson and signing that  contract […] My perspective was, ‘Man, I’ll be able to take care of my family with this. Blessed to be able to know I’ll be playing at least in the NBA for four years and see where it goes from there.’
“But I literally told myself in that hotel room that day, knowing what the max was I think at the time was probably, $56 [million] or $58 [million], somewhere in there, I think Eric Gordon and guys like that were getting that money, I was, ‘You can’t think 20-20 hindsight, go back and worry about other guys are making.’
“One thing my pops always told me is you never count another man’s money. It’s what you’ve got and how you take care of it. And if I’m complaining about $44 million over four years, then I’ve got other issues in my life.”
While Daddy Dell’s advice about other people’s money was certainly sound, one suspects he wouldn’t steer Steph away from counting his own money. In the NBA’s new salary structure, Curry can make an estimated $76 million over the life of his deal than he can anywhere else in the NBA. Yes: $76 million.
This is why DeMarcus Cousins is almost certainly going to stay put with the Sacramento Kings, despite all the sturm und drang that has characterized his seven years in California’s capital, despite the franchise having failed to top .500 in a dozen years, and despite the overwhelming sensation that, 3 1/2 years after Vivek Ranadivé bought the club, the Kings still don’t really have a plan for how to become a legitimate contender. For Curry — who, like Cousins, loves the city in which he plays and lives, but who also enjoys the benefits of playing alongside three All-NBA performers for a perennial title favorite — the deal seems even sweeter.
With both Curry and Durant in line to hit free agency this summer, keeping the core of their squad together will be tricky, and incredibly expensive. But it’s possible, provided the product on the court continues to be excellent enough for Joe Lacob and company to feel comfortable cutting the league a jaw-dropping check for Golden State’s luxury tax bill. The Warriors enter Monday’s rematch with the totally-not-actually-our-rival Cleveland Cavaliers at an NBA-best 34-6, with the league’s second-ranked offense and defense, standing as damn near a projected coin flip to win it all for the second time in three years. You’d have to figure Lacob’s still pretty pleased with the on-court product.
“I can just tell you that the team is performing at a very high level here and as long as we have great players that we can hold onto, we’re going to do it,” Lacob told Kawakami back in February of 2015. “You don’t try to do these things for one year. We want to be a great team that hopefully wins a championship soon and that can sustain that over a long period of time. So it is our intention to do that no matter what.”
If that intention holds firm, even in the face of paying both Steph and KD more than $36 million next year … well, can you think of a reason why Curry should play anywhere else?
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