Is it time to trade Steph Curry?
No simple fixes for the broken Warriors
BY DAVID THORPE
If the Warriors aren’t asking themselves very hard questions right now, they’re doing it wrong. After Draymond’s latest ejections, Tim Kawakami of The Athletic writes: “I don’t think they should blow everything up out of rash impulse—they owe it to Stephen Curry to try to push this as far as it’ll go, even when it looks the bleakest.”
Respectfully, I disagree.
There’s a lot of talk about trading Draymond, but I scoured the league for a realistic deal and couldn’t find a single one. Similarly, I can’t see big returns coming for this version of Andrew Wiggins or Klay Thompson. And there’s the idea that Jonathan Kuminga or Moses Moody will reel in the kind of win-now stud who could turn this lottery team into a contender, but do you really believe that?
It’s time to consider more serious things, like trading Stephen Curry.
An agent with years of experience dealing with the Warriors recently told me there’s no way that Joe Lacob would ever trade Steph because he means too much to the franchise, the brand, and the bottom line. Inarguable. But, I asked, what would happen if Curry went into Lacob’s office and said: The future here looks bleak. I need to go somewhere brighter. What would Lacob do then?
“Touché,” the agent replied. “You’re probably right.”
Curry is true basketball royalty. What he has done on the court and what he means to the NBA as a global brand is almost unmatched. Arguably, he’s had more impact on the game, and its culture, than anyone since Michael Jordan. Never before, in my opinion, has there ever been a player with more leverage to get what he wants.
Klay Thompson might find his shot; Andrew Wiggins could pull out of his crater; Draymond Green might keep his head; Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody could become dependable players. That’s all possible. However, we’re over a quarter of the way through the season, and none of that is happening. Curry is clearly frustrated.
So, maybe Curry will retire as a Warrior, like Kobe did with the Lakers. But those Lakers averaged 22 wins over those last three years. I’m as surprised as anyone—I picked the Warriors to win the most games in the West this season, but now it’s clearly possible that these Warriors are on that Lakers path.
Two seasons ago, during their last title run, the Warriors were 24-5 on December 15. Today, they stand at 10-13, 2.5 games out of the last play-in spot. Their second-best player is suspended for throwing another punch; their third-best player putting up a season ranked in the 10th percentile in EPM, and their third core member of the glory days is shooting at a career low. Even an optimist struggles to see daylight now. That’s what Curry has to see, too.
We don’t know what’s in Curry’s head. If it’s a trade, we have little idea what the Warriors would want in return. However, it’s safe to say that Curry would want to win. It’s also likely that the only way Lacob sells the deepest pockets of Dubs Nation on trading away “the franchise” is by promising a potential MVP in return.
A little while ago, I suggested that the Bucks should trade Giannis; instead, they got Damian Lillard. They’re pretty good. So is Lillard, pretty good. The team ranks eighth in point differential; sixth in adjusted net margin, per Dunks and Threes; ninth in points scored per 100 minus points allowed, against the 26th-toughest schedule thus far. Giannis, at 29, just set a team record with 64 points and is playing at an incredibly high level. The same cannot be said for the third member of their former All-Star trio, Khris Middleton, who is doing just fine in his 22 minutes a game. But “pretty good” and “just fine” are not what Giannis needs to get the Bucks in real contention for a title. In the very-likely-per-Vegas scenario that the Bucks fail to win a title, or even the East, in the next couple years, it would be right to think a bit about the next generation of Bucks stars—a package built around Chet Holmgren, say—that the front office didn’t get.
The Warriors are even more handcuffed now than the Bucks were, blocked by exorbitant salaries for struggling players. In many cases, money speaks loudest for billionaires, so Lacob’s motivation could be to shed salaries and luxury-tax fines. There’s also better than $150 million coming from the inevitable expansion deal. The Warriors will come off Klay’s $43 million salary after this season. Curry is due $115 million over the next two. So, what if, immediately, Lacob was able to replace Curry with a young, rising star with All-NBA potential and give Curry a chance to win a ring this season? Furthermore, can the Warriors afford to let this opportunity pass? Doesn’t Steph deserve to finish out his legendary career on a winner if he chooses?
I had those questions in mind when I started toying with trades that benefit both parties: