Stephen Curry is shooting less. He is no longer his team's leading scorer. Coming off two straight NBA Most Valuable Player awards, Curry no longer has the ball in his hands every time his team needs a basket.
And the former star at Davidson and Charlotte Christian says he is fine with that. That's because the addition of All-Star forward Kevin Durant means that a second NBA championship for Curry -- the most accomplished athlete to grow up in Charlotte, as well as a soon-to-be free agent in the summer of 2017 -- has become all the more possible.
To see Curry truly in his element, you must go to Oracle Arena and watch him levitate the building. I did that Saturday night, watching Curry do his magic at a Golden State home game in Oakland and then getting an exclusive 10-minute interview with him afterward. We leaned on a wall in a back hallway to talk, unnoticed while Durant held court with the media elsewhere.
The Warriors had won , of course. Now 16-2, they boast a 12-game win streak. They are winning at roughly the same clip they did a season ago, when they set an NBA regular-season record with a 73-9 mark.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
That season, of course, ended with the Warriors blowing a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals, as LeBron James and Cleveland swept the final three games to win the series. Curry, 28 and in his eighth NBA season, said those devastating losses still affect him.
"It's something you'll never forget, just because it was so close and we didn't get the job done," Curry told me. "Does it haunt me? I would more say that it motivates me."
It's something you'll never forget, just because it was so close and we didn't get the job done.
Stephen Curry, on losing a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals to Cleveland last season.
The Warriors went hard after Durant in free agency this offseason, believing his addition could give Golden State a third huge offensive weapon to team with Curry and Klay Thompson. The experiment has worked out beautifully.
"It's been a pretty natural transition," Curry said. "Early in the preseason, we had to find the flow, and just trying to figure out how the ball moves and whatnot. ...But with the unselfishness of everybody on our team, and obviously the talent, the ball has been hopping. We're getting everybody involved. It's been very, very unforced."
Said Golden State coach Steve Kerr when I asked him how much Curry has had to adjust his game to allow for another high-volume shooter in Durant: "He (Curry) spent most of the preseason sitting back and letting Kevin score and get acclimated and get comfortable. And then maybe the last preseason game or two, he really got aggressive again. But I don't think his game has changed a whole lot. He (Curry) came into the season realizing that we're going to play the same way, but he's probably going to take maybe a couple fewer shots per game and score a couple fewer points. That's about it."
Indeed, Curry is still averaging 26.6 points -- which is 3.5 less than when he averaged 30.1 last season during his MVP year. Durant averages 27.4 points and leads Golden State in scoring. Curry, widely thought to be the best pure shooter in NBA history, is also taking about 2.5 fewer shots per game.
"I'm maybe getting a few less touches a game," Curry said. "But when I don't have the ball, I can still help us. Same with him (Durant). When I don't have the ball or he doesn't have the ball, the attention that we garner wherever we go on the floor helps open up shots for everyone else."
Free agency: the big decision
This is the only season Curry and Durant -- two of the best five players in the world -- are guaranteed to play together. Curry has been one of the best bargains in the NBA for several years. His $12.1-million salary for the 2016-17 season does not even rank him among the top 75 best-paid players in the league. Golden State took a chance on re-signing him to a contract extension in 2012, when Curry was still beset by ankle problems, and it paid off like a winning Powerball lottery ticket.
Curry becomes an unrestricted free agent in July 2017. Durant signed a two-year deal with Golden State in the offseason but has a player option for the second year, so he could be a free agent then, too.
ESPN projects Curry's salary will more than double this summer, possibly into the five-year, $165 million range if he re-signs with Golden State. And from our conversation, re-upping with the Warriors certainly appears to be where Curry is leaning.
"Obviously I love it here in the Bay Area," Curry said. "It's all I've known in the league. And if the situation is right going forward, this is a place I would love to play."
Golden State will try hard to make it work. They need Curry not only for his on-court acumen but because the Warriors are trying to move to San Francisco and build an opulent new arena by 2019, and they want the widely beloved Curry to continue to be the face of their franchise.
By league rules as his current employer, Golden State can pay Curry more money for a longer period of time than anyone else. Curry, his wife Ayesha and their two young daughters also have bought a dream home in California. And Curry has a coach he likes and a superbly talented supporting cast.
Could Curry play in Charlotte?
Still, Curry isn't closing any doors. The Charlotte Hornets already have a very good point guard in Kemba Walker, who is signed through 2019, but Curry could certainly play shooting guard for the Hornets like he did for the majority of his career at Davidson.
Curry still owns a house in the Charlotte area and his parents live in the city. Father Dell is a former Hornets star who works for the team as a broadcaster, but he largely stays out of his children's decision-making processes.
I asked Steph point-blank if he would consider going to Charlotte in the summer of 2017.
"I don't know," he said.
I don’t know.
Stephen Curry on whether he could see himself signing with the Charlotte Hornets when he becomes a free agent in 2017.
He then went on to imply that at an unspecified point earlier in his career a "Steph in Charlotte" scenario might have been more possible, saying "obviously I had a strong tie to Charlotte and would have loved to play there. I'm very comfortable in that city. It's hard to say exactly what the situation will be this summer."
My read on this? Barring an enormous turn of events, Curry and Golden State are joined at the hip and will be for the next few seasons. But Curry isn't saying "no" in part because it wouldn't be smart business to close off every avenue when he might soon be signing what could be the richest deal in NBA history.
I personally think if Curry ever plays in Charlotte it would happen sometime in his mid-30s, after his next blockbuster deal expires. As for now, though, he said he's not thinking about free agency.
"It's on my radar," he said, "but it's not really on my mind as much day-to-day. I'm just trying to enjoy what this season is going to bring."
The Panthers’ downfall
A huge Panthers fan, Curry attended Carolina's 35-32 loss at Oakland Sunday wearing a Carolina jersey. After the game, he was photographed in the No. 4 jersey of Oakland quarterback Derek Carr, apparently after losing a bet.
While the Warriors and Panthers reached the final game of their respective leagues last season before losing, this season the Warriors' roll has continued, but Carolina's has not. The Panthers are 4-7. Like many Carolina supporters, Curry has ridden the emotional waves through this downturn and said as an athlete he understands how quickly things can change.
"They've had 3-4 close games that could have gone another way," said Curry, who also attended the Super Bowl in February and banged the "Keep Pounding" drum for the Panthers before their loss to Denver. "But they've stuck with it. I don't think it's going to be a bleak season the rest of the way. They still have a shot at the playoffs if they get on a hot streak."
Curry said he expected that Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will come watch Curry and Golden State host Houston on Thursday. Then Curry's annual road trip to Charlotte to play the Hornets this season will come on Jan. 25th.
A Davidson visit
Curry has looked ahead on the college basketball schedule to see that he can likely watch Davidson play a home game in person while he's back. He said this year's Davidson squad was "an NCAA tournament team, for sure." He hopes to work in a visit to Charlotte Christian, too, while he's back.
This season will be a disappointment to Curry and Golden State if they don't win the NBA title. Curry thinks they can do it. He's not looking forward to a new contract nearly as much as he is looking forward to the possible party that would ensue if the Warriors can win their second NBA title in three years.
Stephen Curry set the NBA single-season record for 3-pointers in 2015-16 with 402, breaking his own mark.
"I don't want to worry about free agency," Curry said, "until hopefully we're celebrating some good things in the summer."
Then Curry's Golden State teammate Anderson Varejao found us in the hallway. He had friends at the game who were huge Steph Curry fans and just had to meet him.. Apparently, Varejao had also asked Curry for game .
"You want tickets -- and pictures?!" Curry said in mock indignation. "Now that's a high-maintenance teammate."
Curry then went to find Varejao's friends to make sure they got the picture they wanted. That sort of thing is just part of being Steph Curry, the Everyman from Charlotte who became a superstar.