As the reigning two-time MVP on the best team in basketball, Steph Curry’s got things pretty good right now. He’s a champion, fan favourite, and, at 28, still has plenty of time to add to his legacy as the greatest shooter of all time. He’s accomplished more in his eight-year NBA career than most players can even dream of, a tremendous achievement given his humble beginnings as an overlooked recruit for tiny Davidson College. After making the kind of leap he has from then to now, you might think Curry has nothing left to prove.
Or does he? Last year’s fairytale 73-win season for Curry’s Golden State Warriors came crashing down in the fraction of a second it took for LeBron James to unleash his now-iconic chasedown rejection. Instead of being a back-to-back champion and best player on the greatest team of all time, Curry saw his indomitable rise to king of the league falter. Now with revenge on his mind and a fellow superstar to share the spotlight with in Kevin Durant, it seems Curry has a lot riding on this season. An inspired performance this postseason could net him another title and that elusive Finals MVP, which would all but erase the sting of last year’s heartbreak.
On the other hand, things could get very interesting should the Warriors suffer yet another demoralizing defeat. Looking beyond the playoffs, Curry’s contract is expiring, making him a free agent this summer. A win would all but guarantee he stays in Golden State, but a loss would make his future considerably murkier. We need only revisit the shocking exits Kevin Durant and LeBron James (twice) undertook in their quest for rings to be reminded that loyalty may be strong, but winning is everything. Curry might see the writing on the wall, and take the opportunity to jump ship while he’s still in his prime. So where might he end up? Logic dictates he’ll want an immediate championship contender, but there are some dark-horse teams in the mix as well as some that make sense on paper that won’t happen for other reasons. To narrow things down, let’s get a better sense of the type of teams Curry WILL want to play for, as well as those he definitely WON’T want any part of.
15 Want: Minnesota Timberwolves
Many picked the young Wolves to have a breakout year this season, but so far it looks like those predictions were premature. Zach LaVine’s season-ending knee injury all but ensures another trip to the lottery, but that could actually be a blessing in disguise, with this draft’s crop of incoming talent looking among the best there’s been in years. With a well-respected, experienced coach in Tom Thibodeau, and the young talent already on the team like Towns, Wiggins, LaVine, and last year’s lottery pick Kris Dunn, Minnesota could be truly scary if they manage to add a talent like Arizona star Lauri Markkanen, or Cal big man Ivan Rabb. That kind of promising nucleus would be very tempting for a more mature superstar like Curry to take over and mold in his image.
14 Won’t: Washington Wizards
This one’s really simple: The Wizards have zero cap space. Zilch. Nada. Creating enough room to be able to sign Curry would take the kind of trade gymnastics that would make the team completely unrecognizable. Though they seem to be hitting their stride now, they’ve also underachieved the past couple of years despite an abundance of talent and a good balance of youth and maturity. Not to mention, their best player, John Wall, plays the same position as Curry, so they’d presumably have to trade away their most valuable asset just to accommodate Curry. The rest of the core, like Brad Beal, Otto Porter, and Marcin Gortat, just don’t have the star power or potential to be enticing. Throw in Curry’s recently expressed disdain for the new president, and the nation’s capital is looking like a big no-no for Curry.
13 Want: Philadelphia 76ers
Similar to Minnesota, Philly has an incredible collection of young talent, which will only be added to in this year’s draft with another likely top-10 pick. They’ve also got oodles of cap space and assets, meaning they’ll be able to be very aggressive pursuing other free agents and trades to make themselves a more attractive destination. Curry would fill an immediate positional need too, as point guard is arguably the 76ers’ weakest position and they’re in desperate need of shooting on the whole, something Curry can probably help with just a little bit.
One big advantage Philadelphia has over Minnesota? It’s in the Eastern Conference, which has gotten stronger but is still comparatively weak. The road map to the Finals would be considerably less challenging, and a core of Curry, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid could become the league’s newest “Big Three”.
12 Won’t: Portland Trail Blazers
Portland finds themselves in kind of a worst case scenario right now: not good enough to be a threat in the West, but not terrible enough to to be rewarded with a high lottery pick. They’re stuck in mediocrity, and with no cap space, it looks like they’ll remain that way for a while. Like the Wizards, the Trail Blazers only valuable assets are their guards (Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum), so there’d be no strong supporting cast in place for an incoming Curry, only competition.
Barring a blockbuster trade, the pieces just aren’t there, and what’s worse, Portland plays in the cutthroat Western Conference. Overall, it’s tough to see a path forward for Portland to make themselves an attractive landing spot for Curry.
11 Want: Toronto Raptors
The Raptors might seem like an unconventional choice, but there’s a lot to like about them. They’re one of the best teams in the East, pushing Cleveland to six games in last year’s Conference Finals, and right back in the mix for the second seed. One more major piece could be all they need to put them over the top. Toronto itself is also a great basketball city despite being north of the border. It’s the third largest NBA market behind New York and L.A., and players like Paul Pierce have praised the Air Canada Centre for its electric atmosphere.
One edge Toronto may also have is that Steph Curry spent some of his youth growing up there, where his father Dell finished up his own NBA career. That familiarity could be a real advantage for the Raptors when it comes to winning the Steph Curry sweepstakes.
10 Won’t: Oklahoma City Thunder
Unfortunately for OKC fans, a delayed superstar swap is unlikely at this point. Their “team” is really just one guy, Russell Westbrook, and he and Curry share the same position. Even if the Thunder management found some kind of trade for Westbrook that would net them some championship building blocks, they wouldn’t dare to pull the trigger now that Westbrook is at the height of his popularity in Oklahoma City, thanks to his loyalty in the wake of Durant’s departure, and the absolutely mind-boggling numbers he’s putting up this season. And, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, they play in the Western Conference.
There’s no way Curry is going to want to have to go through his old team just to get back to the Finals unless he has a very strong supporting cast, something that seems highly unlikely to be present in Oklahoma City in the near future.
9 Want: Charlotte Hornets
This entry might surprise some, since Charlotte isn’t exactly on the brink of greatness. In fact, they’ve taken a step back this year after promising play last season, currently sitting outside the playoff picture in the East. Nor do they have a lot of cap room, valuable assets, or much of anything else to make the city and franchise an attractive destination for ring-chasers—unless your name happens to be Stephen Wardell Curry. Charlotte happens to be his hometown, due to the fact that his dad spent most of his playing career with the Hornets.
Curry has recently stated that playing for the franchise is “on [his] radar”, though of course it’s impossible to say when he might consider it as a serious possibility. He might just be throwing his hometown a bone by paying them a compliment, but as we’ve seen with stars like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the pull of home can be a very powerful thing, meaning Charlotte deserves to be taken seriously as a possible landing spot for Curry.
8 Won’t: New York Knicks
Oh, Knickerbockers. When will you ever get your act together? Outside of possibly the Sacramento Kings, the Knicks seem to be the most dysfunctional franchise in basketball. Though they have deep pockets, a ravenous fan base, and a home in one of the greatest cities in the world, but they just can’t seem to stop shooting themselves in the foot. They haven’t won a championship since 1973, and are in danger of missing the playoffs for the fourth straight year. Curry’s never been a guy who craves the spotlight, so the appeal of playing at Madison Square Garden and being a star among stars would be somewhat lost on him.
All the drama and poor decision-making from management would make New York a nightmare situation for Curry, or any player for that matter. Carmelo Anthony’s recent beef with Phil Jackson has reportedly made many players wary of potentially signing there, not a great sign if you’re trying to attract one of the league’s biggest stars.
7 Want: Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have been trying to build a superteam for years. On paper, their star trio of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan form one of the most dangerous trios in the league, each with skills that beautifully compliment each other. Though they have indeed become a force in the West during the regular season, they haven’t quite been able to find all the right ingredients for postseason success. Time may be running out for their championship window, and if they fail to live up to expectations again, look for the Clippers to make some big moves.
Paul and Griffin come off the books after this season, which will give them a lot of money to play with should they choose to go in a different direction. Letting Paul walk and adding adding Curry, who is three years younger, to replace him would extend their championship window and avoid going into full-blown rebuild mode. Curry would get to stay in California and join a team already built to win, a deal he might find too good to pass up.
6 Won’t: Los Angeles Lakers
Unlike the Clippers, the Lakers don’t have a chance in hell of acquiring Curry’s services. They sit almost dead last in the Western Conference standings and will in all likelihood miss the playoffs for the fourth straight year. They have some gifted young players like D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram, but none are surefire studs yet, and all are at least a couple years away from entering their primes. The D’Angelo Russell/Nick Young snitching debacle last year made it clear that this team is far away from being mature enough to support a winning culture.
The Lakers do have some cap space and picks to play with, but unless they manage to make some seismic moves that completely shake up their roster, it’s difficult to foresee a situation attractive enough to woo Curry.
5 Want: San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio may not have the glitz and glamour of L.A., New York, or Miami, but for at least the past two decades it’s proven to be the most reliable place to contend for a championship. They hold the best winning percentage of any NBA franchise and with five titles, they trail only the Celtics, Lakers, and Bulls in that category. Tim Duncan’s retirement this past summer means the Spurs are turning over a new leaf in their illustrious history, but they’ve gotten right back to their winning ways without missing a beat, thanks to their strong team culture and newly groomed star Kawhi Leonard.
Under coaching genius Gregg Popovich, the Spurs offense relies on crisp ball movement, smart reads, and deadly shooters, a formula that seems tailor-made to Curry’s strengths. A player with Curry’s high character and basketball IQ is exactly what the Spurs like in a player, so if they can find a way to clear room to sign him, it could be a match made in basketball heaven.
4 Won’t: Sacramento Kings
At the other end of the spectrum from the Spurs, you have the Kings, who boast the second-worst all time winning percentage of any NBA franchise. Other than a few glorious years during the Chris Webber era in the early 2000s, success has been hard to come by, and this year is no exception. The Kings are on pace to miss their 11th consecutive postseason, and what’s worse, the Bulls may get their first-round pick in this year’s loaded draft. They mayhave significant cap space this summer, but all the money in the world isn’t going to persuade a player of Curry’s ambitions to hop onto a sinking ship. One look at the dysfunction and outright animosity between players—most notably DeMarcus Cousins—and the organization is probably all Curry needs to run as fast as he can in the other direction.
3 Want: Boston Celtics
The Celtics may have come up short in this past offseason’s Kevin Durant sweepstakes, but they could get the ultimate revenge by stealing Curry from the Warriors a year later. They may not be contenders right now, but they have all the ingredients to turn into one overnight. The team is already pushing the Cavaliers for first in the East, and should only improve once some of its young players get some more seasoning. They’ve got arguably the best young coach in the league in Brad Stevens, and are arguably the most storied franchise in NBA history. They’re also no strangers to putting together instant winners, as evidenced by the moves that netted them Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and the 2008 title, all in the span of a single year.
Their combination of good players, young talent, high draft picks, and cap space is currently unmatched in the league, and will allow them to be very creative and aggressive in assembling their dream team. Curry will certainly be very tempted to be a part of that vision.
2 Won’t: Cleveland Cavaliers
If Curry is really serious about winning more rings, why wouldn’t he consider a move to the current defending champs? Curry on the Cavs would make them prohibitive favourites in the East for years to come, and would disarm their biggest Western rival, the Warriors. Seems like the ideal formula for winning multiple championships, right? The situation, is, of course, much more complicated. Number one, the Cavs will have no cap space this summer, so the only way they could acquire Curry is through a trade. But even if that weren’t the case, there’s the matter of the Warriors/Cavaliers rivalry. The tension is palpable after spending two consecutive Finals battling one another, and though they respect each other there’s clearly no love lost.
On an individual level, Curry has been battling James for the title of face of the league, and as King James showed last June, he’s not quite willing to concede his crown. Though they both seem pretty humble as superstars go, having those two egos on the same team would be potentially volatile given their history, and Curry probably isn’t too keen to jump into bed with the enemy.
1 Want: Golden State Warriors
Sometimes the obvious choice is also the best one. Yes, the Warriors lost last year’s Finals. Yes, they’ve had more hiccups during this year’s regular season than they did last year, and will almost certainly fall short of last season’s incredible 73-win total. But they also have the best team in basketball, and by a huge margin. It’s the franchise Curry has spent his entire career with, and he’s accomplished everything a player could dream of with them. All of their core players are under 30, which gives them a huge championship window if they can stick together.
That last “if” is really the only downside to this team—keeping four superstars paid fairly eventually becomes an impossible task—but it’s also a factor largely out of Curry’s control. Will he suit up once again for the Warriors next season? Only time will tell. But will he want to continue playing for the franchise that drafted him and surrounded him with enough talent to win titles for the next five years? That's about as close to a sure thing as you’ll find in sports these days.