Considering the top-ranked free agent in each of the past three classes dominated headlines throughout each season, and all three changed teams — LeBron James to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014, LaMarcus Aldridge to the San Antonio Spurs in 2015 and Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors in 2016 — it’s remarkable how little Stephen Curry’s impending free agency is discussed.
That’s probably because, rightly, Curry has learned not to broach the subject, and why in the hell would a guy leave a super team for a not-so-super team? James, Aldridge and Durant all left for what they viewed as greener longterm pastures. But Golden State is a juggernaut, even if they blew a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Finals and even if they don’t win a second title in three years this season.
Nobody thought Durant would leave Oklahoma City, either, but he left the Thunder for the Warriors. There’s no way Curry would consider leaving a great team with historical potential. Right? RIGHT?!?!
That’s why the question continues to be asked, and why Curry continues to avoid answering it. Any response that’s not some form of, “My focus right now is playing for the Warriors,” is bound to become “a thing.” The two-time reigning Most Valuable Player will be available on July 1, and that’s something worth talking about, which is what two more reporters tried to do with him to little avail this week.
From Jason Gay’s extensive and worthwhile feature on Curry for The Wall Street Journal Magazine:
There’s also this: Curry himself will be a free agent next summer. Though Curry has been one of the most underpaid stars of the past few years and is due for a significant and deserved raise, it’s difficult to think of him leaving Golden State. Although he says “curveballs happen all the time,” it should relieve millions of people in the Bay Area that Curry feels that he is home. “It’s hard to see myself anywhere else,” he says.
And from Scott Fowler’s equally interesting and shorter read on Curry for the Charlotte Observer:
“Obviously I love it here in the Bay Area,” Curry said. “It’s all I’ve known in the league. And if the situation is right going forward, this is a place I would love to play.”
I asked Steph point-blank if he would consider going to Charlotte in the summer of 2017.
“I don’t know,” he said.
He then went on to imply that at an unspecified point earlier in his career a “Steph in Charlotte” scenario might have been more possible, saying “obviously I had a strong tie to Charlotte and would have loved to play there. I’m very comfortable in that city. It’s hard to say exactly what the situation will be this summer.”
There’s two ways to interpret, “curveballs happen all the time,” “if the situation is right going forward” and “it’s hard to say exactly what the situation will be this summer.” First, you might think, Boy, that doesn’t sound like somebody totally committed to his current team. Then, you remember, Yeah, well, those sound like trite things you would say to be as vague as possible and avoid making it an issue.
One thing Curry isn’t saying, though: I will 100 percent re-sign with the Warriors. The reason we hear most often for why he wouldn’t say such a thing is because he doesn’t want to turn off would-be suitors, but does anybody really think Golden State or any other team won’t give him whatever he wants in free agency? This is the greatest shooter to ever live. There’s one other reason Curry won’t fully commit to the Warriors: If he ever changed his mind and left, he’d be killed for breaking his word.
In other words, there’s a chance he leaves. It might be more like one in a million, but there’s a chance.
This isn’t the first time Curry has faced these questions. In August 2014, he told The Doug Gottlieb Show, “Right now I feel like I’ve got three years left on my deal, so this isn’t going to be an issue for me for a while. I love the Bay Area and where we are as a team trying to win a championship, and that’s what it’s all about. Of course everybody dreams about or thinks about what it’s going to be like to play at home. Obviously if that opportunity comes along it’s a different discussion.” And this past September, he told reporters, “I want to be back here. I like playing here. That’s it. … My answer’s not going to be any different all year. You can keep asking me, and I’ll have the same answer.”
Now, “It’s hard to say exactly what the situation will be this summer.” That could be a shift in his thinking process or nothing at all. Any further discussion on it, like this one, is purely speculation.
However unlikely, maybe Curry decides he just wants a change of scenery, maybe playing second fiddle to Durant isn’t as fun as being Supernova Steph Curry, maybe there really isn’t enough touches to go around or maybe the lack of a big man or bench depth is cause for concern come playoff time.
If Durant opts out to re-sign for the max again this summer — an option that would increase his 2017-18 salary by $8.3 million — the Warriors will have $70.3 million committed to Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Recent draft picks Kevon Looney, Damian Jones and Patrick McCaw will be the only other Warriors under guaranteed contract for 2017-18 (for a combined $3.4 million), leaving $29.3 million in cap space for general manager Bob Myers to fill out the remainder of his 15-man roster.
Granted, Golden State can use that cap space to sign free agents, and then go over the cap to re-sign their own free agents, like Curry, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, but that would require owner Joe Lacob to be comfortable paying a luxury tax for the foreseeable future. Curry will command a starting salary of $30.9 million next season, and Iguodala will cost eight figures. Suddenly, you’re approaching the $123 million threshold with barely half the roster filled. The team is already $14 million over the luxury tax line this season, costing Lacob an additional $26.25 million. If he pays a tax in two of the next three seasons, that same $14 million would cost the Warriors $66.5 million down the line. In the past, Lacob has said, “We’re OK with that,” but at what point do they scale back on payroll?
We’re probably getting way too far ahead of ourselves, because Curry won’t be too concerned with this if the Warriors live up to expectations this season. But if the top-heavy Warriors slip in the playoffs come June, the organization fails to surround the team’s four All-Stars with an improved roster in the summer and Curry is wavering on staying in the Bay Area, maybe — just maybe — he would consider returning home to Charlotte and building a title contender with Michael Jordan.
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That’s enough ifs to make your head spin, but there’s a chance, and that warrants discussion. It might be a dumb one, but I wasn’t the only one saying, “Oh, shut up, it’s stupid to think Durant will leave the Thunder,” even as he said stuff like, “You’ve got to focus on you,” in the more publicized lead-up to his free agency. So, maybe when Curry says “curveballs happen all the time,” our ears should perk up.
Nah, that’s still stupid. I’m just turning Curry’s vague answers into “a thing,” aren’t I? I’ll shut up now.
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