Could Steph Curry Really End Up on the Lakers?

Much was made of the fact that the 2021 All Star Game was the first time even that LeBron and Steph had been on the same team. Brian Windhorst of ESPN reported that LeBron picked Steph for his team because he wants Steph to join the LA Lakers. This set off a buzz in the sports media about the idea of LeBron and Steph teaming up–could it actually happen? Will Curry actually leave Golden State? Etc.

There are a few big reasons why it wouldn’t happen, and they’re pretty simple and obvious:

  1. First and foremost, Stephen Curry has always said he wants to be a Warrior for Life. And that’s the way things have felt for basically his whole career. He’s the one guy who I could never picture leaving his team.
  2. Curry and LeBron have been big rivals since 2015. Would Curry really want to play with a guy he’s had so many heavyweight bouts with in the Finals?
  3. Steph wouldn’t leave his Splash Brother Klay Thompson before getting a chance to play with him again. Klay Thompson hasn’t played at all since Game 6 of the 2019 Finals. It’s hard to see Steph giving up on the Warriors before getting a chance to reunite with his Splash Brother.

Just because LeBron and Steph were having a great time and dapping each other up at the All Star Game does not mean Curry is about to join the Lakers. Let’s pump the brakes here. The idea of Steph leaving the Warriors is and always has been far-fetched, even outright ridiculous. Right?

Well, maybe not so far-fetched. Here are some reasons why it actually could happen:

  1. Curry will get sick of losing. There’s a sense in the media that the 33-year-old Steph will be okay riding off into the sunset without winning any more chips. Because the Warriors’ championship window appears narrow, people think Curry doesn’t want to win anymore. This is ridiculous. He’s an ultracompetitive NBA superstar. He wants to win as much as possible. Why do people think he’ll tolerate mediocrity just to play out the rest of his career with the Warriors? He’s 33, and a shooter like him can play in this league for at least another 5 years. I absolutely think Curry wants to win a few more rings before he retires. It’s funny that we all accept that LeBron is desperate to win more rings even at age 36, but for some reason people believe Curry is fine retiring with 3.
  2. Curry has never had a reason to want to leave the Warriors–until now. A big part of the reason Curry has never shown any indications he’d leave the Warriors is because they’ve consistently surrounded him with championship talent. They got him Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, and Andre Igoudala. And then they got him Kevin Durant. Why would you ever even think about leaving that situation? He’s never been in a situation like LeBron in Cleveland the first stint, or Anthony Davis in New Orleans. This is a big part of why it has always seemed so ridiculous to entertain the idea of Steph going to a different team.
  3. But now, KD is long gone, Klay Thompson hasn’t played an NBA game since the 2019 Finals due to significant injuries, Draymond Green is regressing, Iggy is gone, and the Warriors’ Championship Window looks like it’s basically closed. Now Curry has to try to win with a roster of Andrew Wiggins, an over-the-hill Draymond, Kelly Oubre and James Wiseman. That’s not enough to get it done in this league. The Warriors are 23-27 this year and have the 10th seed in the West. We’ve seen Steph express frustration during games, and it’s a new thing from him. We’ve never seen him like that. The guy wants to win, but his team just isn’t good enough to win.
  4. When Curry takes a full assessment of his current situation, maybe being a Warrior for Life is not as appealing as it once was. He’s 33 and not getting any younger, his team is far from Championship-caliber, KD is thriving right now on the Nets–it might be attractive to him to want to go join up with LeBron and create a Big Three in LA to match up with the Big Three in Brooklyn.
  5. Steph Curry is a guy used to winning. He’s used to playing for championships. He’s used to being center-stage in the NBA. Now, he’s not winning, he’s not close to playing for a Championship probably even when Klay comes back, and because of this he’s not center-stage in the NBA. He’s becoming a peripheral superstar due to his team’s mediocrity. But he’s used to being a primary NBA superstar.
  6. Steph and LeBron may be rivals, but they don’t hate each other. I don’t think there’s any sort of animosity between the two that would prevent them from teaming up. LeBron doesn’t hold grudges; we know this because he went back to Cleveland in 2014 after patching things up with Dan Gilbert. He could’ve held a grudge against Gilbert for the rest of his life, but instead he forgave him. If LeBron can bury the hatchet with Dan Gilbert, he can make it work with just about anyone. There is no bad blood between LeBron and Steph that would prevent them from playing on the same team. I think we saw in the All Star Game that even though they’ve had some fierce battles in the Finals, and there might have been a time when their rivalry was at its peak from 2015-2018 where they may have genuinely disliked one another, they can get along just fine nowadays.
  7. Curry turned down a 3-year, $155mil contract extension prior to this season. He could’ve made about $52mil per year starting in 2023 and going through 2025, but he declined the offer. Warriors president Bob Myers said there’s nothing to worry about because the offseason was rushed (remember, it only lasted about 2 months) and that he and Curry agreed to punt and figure it out this upcoming offseason, where Curry will be eligible for a 4yr/$215mil extension. It’s possible he signs that extension this summer.
  8. But do you think the odds of Steph remaining a Warrior For Life have increased or decreased since this season began? I definitely agree that we shouldn’t make a lot out of Curry turning down the contract extension prior to the season; it’s a lot more nuanced of a situation than that, as Myers tried to explain. But still, the fact remains that Steph could’ve just signed the extension, yet he didn’t.
  9. NBA players tend to chase rings as their careers wind down. They just do. It’s even more prevalent today. Curry will have to make a choice between mediocrity in Golden State for the next 5 years, or competing for Championships on another team. Does he really want the final few years of his career to be like Kobe’s? There are absolutely benefits to him retiring a Warrior; he’ll be beloved forever in the Bay Area. Players who stay with one team for life are treated differently; they’re elevated to hero-status in the city they played in. You can never be as beloved as a player who spent his entire career on one team. There’s something special about it.
  10. But in order to get there, Curry will probably have to tolerate 5 seasons of mediocrity and accept the fact that he’ll probably never be in the Finals again. The Warriors do not look good this season. Do you really think Steph wants 4-5 more years of this?

We’ve discussed this from Curry’s perspective, but what about from the Warriors’ perspective? I’m sure they want Steph Curry to remain a Warrior for Life, but there are some financial considerations that stand in the way of that.

If Curry signs that big contract extension this summer, it means they’ll be paying him $52 million for his age 35 season and $56 million for his age 36 season.

Allowing a beloved superstar to play for one team his whole career is very expensive, and it’s a price tag that may prevent the team from contending for over half a decade. The Lakers paid Kobe an average of $26.7 million over his final 4 seasons, over which they had a combined record of 110-218. A lot of that can be attributed to Kobe Bryant’s multiple injuries including an Achilles tear, but that’s what happens to aging players: they get hurt more. Over his final four seasons, Kobe played 185 of a possible 328 games.

$26.7 million might not seem like a lot of money these days, but over the final 7 seasons of his career, Kobe was the highest paid player in the league, including those final four years.

It’s not a coincidence that the Lakers went through about 5 solid years of mediocrity from 2014-2018 as they paid Kobe Bryant top dollar to ride off into the sunset and even after he retired, when their roster was depleted.

I’m not trying to be cold here; there are very good reasons why a team would choose to pay an aging superstar over rebuilding. They might feel they owe it to him for all the championships and memories he’s given the franchise and the city. I’m not saying it was a dumb thing for the Lakers to do with Kobe, or that it would be a dumb thing for the Warriors to do with Curry.

But the Lakers only turned things around when LeBron decided to join the team in free agency in 2019. Had LeBron not joined the Lakers, who knows how long they would’ve stayed bad?

It’s not just a matter of “Do we want Curry to be a Warrior for life?” There’s more that factors into the decision than that. For one thing, it’s expensive to commit top-dollar to an aging superstar.

Add in the fact that the Warriors have also committed $121.8mil to Klay Thompson through 2024, when he’ll be 34. Plus $72 million to Draymond Green through 2023 and a player option for 2024 in which Green would make $27 million, for a potential max commitment of $99 mil to Draymond from now through his age 34 season.

They’re already deep into the luxury tax after the addition of Kelly Oubre, who altogether costs them over $82 million this season when you factor in his $14 million contract and the fact that it put them into the penalty:

This is insanity.

And for what? The Warriors are 23-27 and 10th place in the West right now. They’re only a half game up on the Kings, so the Warriors might not even make the play-in tournament. I know their owner has deep pockets, but I can’t imagine he’s happy about spending $82 million for Kelly Oubre and the team being sub-.500. At some point he might just order the front office to blow the whole thing up and send all the expensive players packing. It’s doubtful Oubre returns next season because he wants to be a starter and Kerr has said Oubre will be coming off the bench net season, but even then, they have over $100 million a year committed to just Steph, Klay and Draymond–and we haven’t even talked about Andrew Wiggins, who’s making $29mil this year and will make about $65mil over the next two seasons before becoming a free agent in 2023.

I know things look a lot worse for Golden State because Klay Thompson is out. And I doubt Curry would want to leave before he at least gets a chance to play a full season with Klay again. I’m sure everyone in that building thinks they’d be a lot better with Klay healthy.

But will he come back at 100% after an ACL tear and an Achilles tear? That’s not guaranteed, although obviously we’re all hoping for the best with him because he’s an incredible player.

If Klay comes back next season–and there’s a chance he might not even be back for the start of it because his injury happened on November 18, 2020 and it usually takes a full year to recover–and the Warriors are not fully in the thick of the title hunt by the All Star break next year, I think there’s a great chance management decides to go into rebuild mode and start shopping Steph, Klay or Draymond, potentially all three.

They do not want to end up like the Lakers at the end of Kobe’s career. The Lakers would probably still be struggling if LeBron James didn’t choose them in 2018.

It’s one thing to want to spend a lot of money to maximize your chances at another Championship with the core of Steph, Klay and Draymond, but right now the Warriors are spending vast sums of money for a 23-27 record. Right now, it does not look like Klay Thompson can save this team.

Plus, the Warriors didn’t trade their #2 overall pick in the 2020 draft; they used it to take James Wiseman. They also have 2019 first round pick (#28 overall) Jordan Poole. And Oubre is only 24 years old. So they have a young core, but they also have the original Big Three still on the team. It feels like they need to commit to one or the other. If they really want to be all-in on Steph Curry still, they should trade Wiseman and Poole for a veteran star-level player. By the time Wiseman and Poole fully develop, Steph will be at least 35. It makes no sense to try to develop young talent while your championship window with Curry is closing quickly.

And if the Warriors decide that they’re just not good enough to win a Championship with that core, then they would have to commit to their young guys, and that would entail trading Steph Curry.

Would they send him to the Lakers? Probably not. It’s not so much that the Warriors and Lakers are division rivals, but more about the fact that the Lakers just don’t have much to offer in return. All their first round draft picks through 2025 are either traded away or tied up in conditions due to the Anthony Davis trade. As for young talent, all they really have is Talen Horton-Tucker, who they’d probably trade in a minute for Steph Curry, but I doubt would entice the Warriors as the main piece in a Curry trade package.

Some contending team would absolutely put together a trade package for Curry, though. He’s still one of the best players in the NBA and if the Warriors made it known he was available, there would be a line of teams with offers in hand.

The only way Curry ends up on the Lakers with LeBron and AD is through free agency. If he declines an extension again and becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2022, then maybe he’d sign with the Lakers, when he’s 34 and LeBron is 37.

But I’m sure the Warriors would trade Curry before he hits the open market. They’d want to get something in return for him.

It’s not as crazy a scenario as you might think. The Warriors do not want to end up like the post-Kobe Lakers, and in order to prevent that, it will mean they have to move off of Steph Curry.

Octavian

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