Okay, I know what you’re thinking: Only a completely misinformed idiot could look at the past two seasons of brilliance displayed by one Stephen Wardell Curry and conclude that his career is in shambles and doomed for failure. He’s the best player on arguably the greatest team in the history of professional basketball – and that was before they added fellow once-in-a-generation talent Kevin Durant. NBA champion? Check. Two-time MVP? Double check. Lock to be enshrined at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame the second he’s eligible? You bet. Oh, and that won’t be for a while yet because Curry is still in his prime. So what exactly is there not to like?
Well, the problem is that fans are fickle, and success is relative. There are a lot of ways to measure success, some involving literal measurement with numbers, some less tangible. If we’re talking about financial success, I’m sure Steph won’t have any trouble putting Riley through college, to put it mildly. If we’re talking about personal satisfaction, only the man himself will be able to answer that when all is said and done.
I’m here to talk about the one measure of success that matters most to fans like you and I: legacy. Legacies are constantly being shaped, reformed, and reframed with each passing season, with massive swings often happening seemingly overnight. Remember when Derrick Rose was the the youngest ever MVP and seemed poised for superstardom with his hometown Bulls? Fast forward just five years later and he’s now the latest washed-up former star to find themselves in basketball purgatory, i.e. New York (sorry Knicks fans, all your booing remains justified). When it comes to history, you’re only as good as the court of public opinion judges you to be, and there’s some compelling evidence to suggest that the tide is beginning to shift against Steph Curry.
Below are 15 reasons Steph Curry's career may be doomed.
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We all saw what happened in this year’s playoffs when Curry missed two weeks of action with various ankle and knee ailments, and was never quite his usual extraordinary self when he came back. His game may not be overly reliant on explosiveness, but his joints need to be able to withstand his frequent changes of direction and give him elevation on his famous jumper. While he’s been pretty durable for his career, playing at least 74 games in six of his seven seasons, he did miss most of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season and has a long history of frequent ankle injuries.
Nagging joint injuries, however minor, are definitely a cause for concern (see: Hill, Grant; Hardaway, Penny) and could be a sign of something chronic and degenerative. With any luck, these injuries may continue to just be speed bumps on the road to basketball immortality, but if they become more serious, we may never see MVP Curry again.
Even if Curry’s ankles hold up, there’s still reason to be concerned about his physical condition come playoff time. He’s looked fatigued at times, not entirely surprising given the NBA’s grueling 82 game regular season, plus four rounds of seven-game series if you’re lucky. On top of his lackluster play in this year’s finals, you might recall that an apparently healthy Curry failed to win Finals MVP in 2015 after a worn-down performance that wasn’t up to the standard set by his MVP regular season. These dips in postseason production have occurred despite the fact that the Warriors have been careful to limit his regular season minutes. Though he’s deceptively strong, it may be that Curry’s slight frame leaves him more vulnerable to the cumulative effects of running into screens, tumbling to the floor, and being posted up by bigger guards. If Curry wants more postseason glory, he may first need to sacrifice more minutes and numbers.
Some problems, no matter what you do, can’t be resolved. Unfortunately for Curry, all the ankle surgeries and biometrically supported rest schedules in the world won’t change the fact that he’ll be 29 by the time next year’s playoffs roll around. Still young, but older than you thought, right? Perhaps because Curry spent three years in college (a rarity for future stars), and then took a few more years to become an All-Star level talent, the casual fan is left with the impression that he’s only been around for the last three or four seasons. In the grand scheme of things, he’s still a baby, but don’t let the face fool you; in basketball years, Curry may be closing in on his twilight.
Most players experience their prime from around age 24-30, meaning Curry could be on the verge of a decline. Of course, every player’s career arc is unique, and there are plenty of examples of players having some of their best seasons well into their 30s. However, the injuries and fatigue will only get harder to cope with on the wrong side of 30, a milestone Curry is rapidly approaching.
12 League-Wide Point Guard Depth
Another problem with getting older is that there’s always five guys waiting to take your spot. That’s been especially true lately when you play point guard like Curry does. The depth of talent at that position is perhaps the best it’s ever been, with veterans like Chris Paul, superstars in their prime like Russell Westbrook, and young guns like Kyrie Irving. Though Curry’s buddy Klay Thompson will likely shoulder most of the defensive load against the cream of the point guard crop, there will be plenty of possessions where Curry finds himself on an island against an up-and-comer eager to take his crown. In fact, there was just such a scenario that ended the Warriors’ most recent championship aspirations, as Kyrie Irving went one-on-one against Curry in the final minute of Game 7 and stuck the go-ahead dagger 3 over him. Night after night of having to stay in front of guys like Irving eventually takes its toll, and we may see Curry run out of defensive gas more nights than not.
11 New Defensive Schemes
Going at Curry as a defender was just one of many methods teams tried to implement to slow down Curry. Quite frankly, that was one of a very few that even sort of worked, but coaches and analysts are constantly evaluating and adjusting game plans to solve new problems, and you can bet Curry is priority #1 on most teams’ lists. OKC developed a blueprint for defending him during their playoff series, which involved being physical and not being afraid to switch their bigs onto him, a plan that nearly paid off. Unfortunately, with the Thunder roster now blown to smithereens, there is no team that can replicate the length and athleticism required to defend in this way. Not yet, anyway. Milwaukee seems to be attempting to build something similar with physical freaks Giannis Antetokounmpo, John Henson, and now, Thon Maker.
Don’t be surprised if other teams take the hint and start buying stock in long arms and switch-everything defensive principles in an effort to contain Curry.
10 NBA Rule Changes
If the brightest minds on every coaching staff can’t figure out how to defend Curry, the bigwigs at the league head office might rise to the challenge. Transcendent talents have a history of forcing the rules to bend in the interest of fairness, like when defensive menace George Mikan forced basketball to adopt rules against goal-tending. Already there have been rumblings from around the league and from fans that the game is becoming too reliant on 3-point shooting, and Curry and his Warriors are the poster children for this style of play.
Traditionalists worry that basketball will devolve into two teams chucking up shots from the perimeter, minimizing the importance of post-ups and athletic slashes to the rim. If this trend continues, we might see some big changes coming down the road in the way offenses are allowed to operate, or even the layout of the court. Any change that minimizes the the impact of the three-point shot could prove troubling for the greatest shooter of all time.
9 Wild West
For nearly two decades, it’s been evident that the NBA has a parity problem, with the Western Conference consistently dominating. In a staggering 16 of the past 17 years, the West has had the better record in head-to-head matchups with the East, and 12 of the last 18 titles have gone to the Western Conference Champions. At times it’s been so bad that a comfortable 4th seed in the East would be a 10th seed out West. In other words, Curry and his Warriors will have their work cut out for them, particularly come playoff time, as long as the West maintains its strength.
One ill-timed injury could suddenly put the presumptive champs on the ropes against a great team like the Spurs. In the East, injuries to star players have proven to be just hiccups on the way to the Finals, provided your team has LeBron James. Curry doesn't have this luxury, and making six straight Finals like James has done seems improbable.
8 Kevin Durant
Steph Curry has been the unquestioned face of the Warriors franchise for the past few years, but all that is about to change. There’s a new star in town, and his name is Kevin Durant. While Curry will still likely be an MVP candidate, he’ll be forced to share the spotlight with another one, and his basic per-game stats may suffer due to a slightly reduced role. Durant will also eat into some of Curry’s marketing and media opportunities, potentially bad news for Curry’s sponsor, Under Armour, as an underdog trying to break Nike and Adidas’s dominance in the shoe game.
Durant, of course, is a Nike guy, so having him go to a bigger market and an all-time great team is a major coup for them. Durant’s presence will no doubt help Curry and the Warriors win games, but having two former MVPs still in their respective primes joining forces will take some of the shine off their accomplishments and cause fans to question their competitive spirit.
7 Team Chemistry
Durant’s arrival will mean more than just having to compete for media exposure and locker room status; obviously it will have on-court implications as well, and not all of them will be positive for Curry’s legacy. Curry will almost certainly need to sacrifice touches in order to accommodate his new teammate, as will the rest of the roster. Golden State seems to have a pretty good team-first philosophy in place, but adding a piece as big as Durant will be a shock to their system, and the egos of elite athletes can be fragile. A much thinner bench also leaves the new-look Warriors vulnerable to depth issues, which would only magnify any issues among the starters. Some initial growing pains are to be expected and even healthy for long-term growth, but if there continue to be signs of discontent come playoff time, the house that Steph Curry built could come crashing down around him.
6 Great Expectations
On top of having to contend with major roster adjustments, the Warriors will now have to deal with the accompanying expectations that are, quite frankly, impossible to meet. They could win the next five Championships and pundits would still be grumbling that they should’ve won six. If the LeBron James-era Heat were a disappointment to some for “only” winning two titles, then Golden State will need to win a bare minimum of three in order not to be deemed a failure. Even if they end up winning more championships, they will just be meeting the status quo. Their regular season performances will also be picked apart; after last season's record-setting performance, this team will be expected to do even better. Every game they lose will be a disappointment. If they do come up a little short, as we’ve seen happen with other super-teams, you can bet that the blame will be placed squarely on the shoulders of Steph Curry.
5 Damage Already Done
How Steph Curry deals with the pressure of being asked to lead the greatest basketball team of all time (on paper) seems key to how his legacy gets written, but in the end, it may not even matter. For many fans, no amount of future success can compensate for the bad taste left by Curry’s recent failures. Sure, he’s coming off back-to-back MVP seasons, but he didn’t even win Finals MVP when his team won the championship, and things got even worse this past season when he failed to lead the presumptive best team ever to a second title. Of course, lingering injuries likely played a huge part in his subpar play, but the lasting image of Curry from the 2016 playoffs will be Kyrie Irving draining the championship-clincher in his grill.
Curry's decision to be complicit in the wooing of a fellow superstar in Durant may have been the final nail in the coffin, a move taken as proof that Curry is not strong enough on his own to put a team on his back deep into the playoffs.
4 Escalating Arms Race
While the Durant signing puts the Warriors ahead of the curve, it may not be long before other teams catch up and slam their championship window shut. By making such a drastic move, the Warriors may have unwittingly become engineers of their own demise. Some teams that have been content to slowly stockpile assets and build through the draft now realize they must act boldly and quickly if they are to capitalize on their momentum. The Celtics, for example, were poised to once again become a contender in the East, but when Durant spurned them to form the super-team to end all super-teams, Boston’s bright future suddenly looked a lot more like a series of consolation prizes. Other stars hunting for rings will now realize they’ll have to set aside their egos and form rival star-clusters just to have a chance to compete. If this culture of super-teams takes over, we could see many of the best teams get even better, making Curry’s job even harder.
3 Salary Cap
Here’s the situation: The only reason Durant was able to sign with Golden State in the first place was a spike in the salary cap due to skyrocketing revenue from the NBA’s lucrative new TV deal. The extra cap room allowed them to squeeze Durant’s big contract onto their books, but only barely. The problem is, several key members of their roster, including Mr. Curry, will be free agents next summer, and you can bet they’ll all be looking for a raise with all the new money floating around. Even worse, next year’s projected salary cap was recently reduced by $6 million, which will give the Warriors even less wiggle room than they expected. The end result could be a nightmare situation where they have to negotiate huge new contracts for their new star (Durant) and underpaid incumbent (Curry) while keeping the rest of the core intact and not bruising any egos. That’s a tall task, and one that could blow up the Warriors current roster after just one year of glory.
2 Lockout Looming
Yeah, so, about that salary cap…
The league and National Basketball Players Association will likely begin negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement in December, one which will have to address the ramifications of the rising salary cap among other things. Super-teams have caused the league a lot of anxiety in recent years, and modifications to the salary cap are one way they've attempted to deal with the issue. For instance, the introduction of a punitive luxury tax during the last negotiations was meant to limit the ability of franchises to overspend, something the recent TV deal income has temporarily negated. The Miami “Big 3” made parity in general, and the salary cap in particular, hot-button issues in 2011, and Golden State’s blockbuster offseason will likely make things even more contentious this time around.
Another round of heated negotiations could very likely lead to another lockout, and in the worst case scenario, a lost season. A hole in the middle of the Warriors’ championship window would be devastating, and though obviously out of Curry’s control, could end up being a significant blow to his legacy.
1 LeBron James
When all is said and done, Curry might end up being one of those players who just played in the wrong era. Michael Jordan dominated his '90s opponents like Karl Malone and Charles Barkley, and the Jordan of the 2010s is LeBron James. While James’ teams have been slightly less dominant, his presence still looms large over the cultural landscape, and he seemed to reaffirm his alpha dog status by defeating Curry in this year’s playoffs, not to mention outplaying him in last year’s courageous defeat. The addition of Durant has essentially doomed any chance Curry could have had to redeem himself, turning Curry into Goliath and James into a likable underdog with nothing more to prove.
James coming out on top again would just be icing on the cake, but even if he doesn’t, the narrative remains in his favor. Legacy is all about perception, and while Curry is unquestionably an all-time great who changed the game, his greatness may become obscured over time by the long shadow of LeBron James.
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