Under normal circumstances, when an NBA player the caliber of Stephen Curry, an all-time great potentially wasting away on a middling team, is about to enter the walk year of his contract, the rumor mill goes in full swing. Will he stay? Will he go? But with Curry, who is eligible for a contract extension this summer before becoming a free agent in 2022, these questions are hardly on the radar. Everybody assumes it’s a foregone conclusion: He’s staying with the Golden State Warriors.
That’s almost certainly true. Chances are, the Warriors, without so much as a semblance of a second thought, are going to throw every last penny they can at Curry the second they are legally allowed to do so, and Curry is going to take it. But until that’s official, is LeBron James actually trying to plant a Lakers seed in Curry’s head? ESPN insider Brian Windhorst thinks so.
“I thought it was hilarious over All-Star weekend, LeBron praising Steph up one side and down the other, how much he loves his game, how much he respects him,” Windhorst recently said on his Hoop Collective podcast. “LeBron has obviously begun the recruiting of Steph, just in the event that he wouldn’t extend [his contract with the Warriors] and that somehow he would become a free agent and the Lakers would have a swing at him.”
The idea that Curry, who turned 33 in March, might not re-sign with Golden State was immediately dismissed by Marc Spears of The Undefeated and ESPN’s Nick Friedell, who ran through all the reasons this would never happen — that he’s never said anything other than he wants to finish his career in Golden State, how excited he is to play with Klay Thompson again next season, his status as the Bay Area’s preeminent athletic icon — none of which drew an argument from Windhorst, who simply reiterated the facts as he understands them.
“Just to be clear, Steph is eligible for a contract extension this summer,” Windhorst repeated, “and LeBron started recruiting him at All-Star [weekend].”
For the record, I’m with Friedell and Spears. The Warriors — regardless of the financial bind it will put them in to be paying a guy in his late 30s some $50 million a year by the end of the contract — are absolutely going to offer Curry a max extension, which would be four years and $215 million if he signs this offseason, or a full five-year max extension if he waits until the summer of 2022. And Curry is going to sign it, either this summer or next. It’s about as sure a bet as you can make.
My guess would be Curry will sign the max extension this summer, securing what might be the last max contract of his career before tempting major-injury fate as he nears his mid-30s. You could argue the Warriors might trade Curry in the middle of this next contract when he’s north of 35 years old, recouping some value while giving Curry one last run at a championship if Golden State hasn’t put itself back in contention by then. But that’s only happening if Curry demands it. This is Kobe-Lakers territory. The Warriors, if it comes to this, are going to pay Curry for all he’s done long after he’s capable of still doing it.
As to whether Curry would ever ask out of Golden State toward the end of his career, I suppose one should never say never. But it certainly won’t be before this next extension. The Warriors, whether it’s realistic or not, expect to vault right back into contention next season when Thompson returns.
Besides that, the Lakers don’t have the cap space to sign Curry. They owe LeBron, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma $95.5 million on their own in 2022-23 (again, when Curry would officially become a free agent if he doesn’t sign the extension this summer), and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is guaranteed just under another $5 million. That’s $100 million of a $115 million projected cap even if they somehow nuked the rest of the roster. Do the math, and that’s roughly $15 million they could pay Curry in that first season, who stands to start his next deal north of $40 million in Year 1. This ain’t charity.
If you really want to entertain this virtual impossibility, the Lakers could, theoretically, try to go the sign-and-trade route, but who or what do the Lakers have that would even remotely interest the Warriors for Stephen freaking Curry? Kuzma and Talen Horton-Tucker? Forget about it. A sign-and-trade would also hard cap the Lakers at a number that would leave them very little room to fill out the rest of the roster. You’d have a far stronger argument that Curry might choose to finish his playing days in Charlotte, where he grew up and where his dad still calls games. The Hornets could come up with plenty of money in 2022.
But even that, based on every indication Curry has given over the years, seems highly unlikely. Odds are, Curry, who along with Damian Lillard is the last current superstar to still be playing for his original franchise through multiple major contracts, will stay with the Warriors while taking smaller contracts through the closing chapters of his career, the way Dirk Nowitzki did in Dallas. That would be my guess, anyway. Bottom line, the Curry-Bay Area love affair is too strong, on both sides, to imagine even an amicable divorce ever becoming a reality, let alone to join up with his chief career rival in LeBron James.