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
14 Won’t: Washington Wizards
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
4 Won’t: Sacramento Kings
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.
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.
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.
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