- Stephen Curry has taken his game to another level since Kevin Durant went down with a strained right calf. This Warriors run will surely secure his legacy.
Stephen Curry is on a run unlike anything we've seen from him, taking over when Kevin Durant went down with an injury and dominating the Western Conference finals. When Curry plays like this the legacy conversation starts, and that is definitely the case at the moment. Curry has done everything in basketball except win NBA Finals MVP, and he has a chance to do it now. If the Warriors close this season out with a title, he will have won everything there is to pull off. With all of this in mind, Rob Mahoney and The Washington Post's Ben Golliver discuss Curry's legacy on the Open Floor podcast.
(Listen to the latest Crossover podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Ben Golliver: This came from a reader named Stephen and he signed this "a dedicated open floor termite." That means he's a Canadian, Rob. He writes, "With the resurgence of Steph's offense at what seems like an all-time playoff high for him, I wanted to get your thoughts on whether or not you think Steph's prime may have been wasted and/or hindered during the KD era of the Warriors. Did sacrificing his own touches over the past two years to make room for an all-time great in Kevin Durant hurt his legacy? And so I think we can agree for sure that it hindered him, right? Because obviously he would have a lot more touches and a lot more numbers.
In just the most basic ways, he did have to sacrifice. I don't think there's really any way around that—and that's not blaming anybody. I think that's just sort of a fact. But do you think he sort of wasted his legacy or did he squander something in this time period over the last couple of years? Because you talked to him about it. I mean, did you get any sense of anything like that? Of the level of sacrifice? I'm sure he doesn't have second thoughts about it, but it is a complicated situation.
Rob Mahoney: It is a complicated situation, and it's something that all of them are very conscious of, in terms of him and Durant and Draymond and Klay. Draymond has also talked to in these playoffs about being the guy who when everybody is healthy he needs to scale back his offense too, his scoring too. And when I talked to Steph about you know when Kevin first came to the team, he was able to rattle off the top of his head exactly how many shots he and Klay and Kevin had averaged the season before.
Golliver: But who's counting?
Mahoney: Exactly, who's counting? So clearly this is a thing that was thought about, discussed, carefully managed—especially in those early days when Kevin first joined the Warriors. I think I think the terminology here and the phrasing of it is important, because did he sacrifice scoring opportunities? Or even marketing opportunities, being kind of a face of the league in a different way by not taking so many shots, by not having such a focal role in every possession that the Warriors run? Absolutely. Did he really give anything up in terms of his legacy? Did he really give anything up in terms of how he'll be remembered? I don't necessarily think so because ultimately what are you putting up these counting stats for? You're doing it so that your numbers will look a certain way at the end of your career and you can look back and say, 'Oh, I was this kind of scorer, look at where I am on the scoring leader boards all-time. I got into the Hall of Fame because of it.'
And so many of those things aren't going to be issues for Steph. He's going to be in the Hall of Fame. Again, he's going to go down as one of the most accomplished players in the sport. And, oh yeah, for his trouble, for all the sacrifice he is going to win a s--t ton of titles. But there are guys across the league that don't get that. They give up for whatever reason, they sacrifice on their teams to players who are lesser than Kevin Durant and they don't get that payoff. And so I think we're getting kind of the best of both worlds, where he has a peak season that's about as good as anything we've ever seen from a guard. And so we know what he's giving up. We know what he's scaling back from. And at the same time it's gonna be very healthy for him in the next stage of his career to scale back in that way.
Golliver: History is going to look on Steph Curry very, very, very favorably. You know the first line of his basketball obituary is going to be greatest shooter of all time. Period. There's gonna be no debate, changed the game, added all these different elements, ushered in an entire generation, inspired tens of thousands of kids. That's going to be one part. The second part is going to be you know X-time champion. Kevin Durant helped solidify that. Curry is going to get credit, full credit from basketball historians for every single one of those titles because he was there first, because he had to sacrifice and because he understood that there was a greater good. Nobody says, "Oh, only a certain number of Duncan's titles count when he won Finals MVP. This one was Kawhi's, this one was somebody else's, this one was Tony's." He gets credit for all of them in the history books. It's gonna be the same deal for Steph.
I also think for him, if he wants to be remembered as the greatest point guard of all time, which I bet he does, bringing in KD helps his argument very strongly. Pretty soon if they win in their title run here he's gonna be a four-time titlist. He's gonna be able to look at Magic Johnson and say, 'Hey, man, we're pretty darn close on the on the overall ladder in terms of point guards. That's coming here pretty quickly within a few weeks. I'm not sure if it would have been exactly the same case if Kevin had never come. I also think it just really helps his off-court reputation too because he's never been the most talkative, he's never been the guy to pound his own chest, not much of a self-promoter, his shoes aren't very cool. But by adopting this leadership personality where it's like, "Hey, Kevin, come here." He successfully recruited him when other stars are out there, other contemporary stars are out there struggling to recruit players, making it work with him and having it work on such a high level where they put together a dynasty. All of that just reflects brilliantly on him. And I think historically he's probably going to be the single biggest winner from this era, with the possible exception of Kerr just because he won so much as a player too and he's done it in different roles.
Mahoney: Well, let's be real too, this version of the Warriors, any version of the Warriors involving these players does not work without him as a personality. And in the vein of you know playing with purpose versus a purpose, I think Steph is one of these guys who's serious but not self-serious. He's a guy who will miss a dunk in a crucial playoff game and then go up on the podium and be willing to laugh at himself, be willing to kind of separate, 'OK, I've made this mistake. This is something that I can learn from, that we can poke fun at.' He's a guy who will take the ribbing about his ugly shoes when they come out. He's a guy who will go into a locker room and completely diffuse it even when Draymond and KD have kind of ruffled each other's feathers like they did in that game against the Clippers earlier this season. It's like, let's fly step out there as soon as possible—I think he was out at that time—and get him with the team because he needs to kind of help bring things to an equilibrium. And so that's the kind of player he is in terms of what he brings to a locker room, and when you have a bunch of stars on a team, guys who have egos and have interests and have things they want to be gunning for individually—not to mention as a collective obviously, playing for championships—he's the guy who kind of brings all that together.
Golliver: Some of his other accomplishments: the 50-40-90 seasons, a scoring title, a unanimous MVP, two MVP's in the regular season. And all of those things to me set up kind of a delicious subtext here, which is the fact that Kevin's going to be coming back from injury most likely during the Finals, we assume. Steph is playing at an incredibly high level, this is his opportunity, his best chance so far to win a Finals MVP. And at that point I do think he's inoculated against everything, right? Whatever criticism that was out there about Steph during this postseason—some of it was totally unwarranted, some of it was warranted—and this guy was not playing very well for stretches of the season for this postseason run. If he has the Finals MVP, that's the last thing on his checklist. He's done every single thing that's out there. That would be I think for Steph believers, and I know there's a lot of them out there, sort of the sweetest possible reward for him to be able to do it and to step up when Kevin was out of there.
But I also think one other part of his decision with Durant that's interesting: he's still only 31 years old. So if KD leaves—and I do think there was a sense when KD first got there that this was not forever and he was going there to make sure he could win a title, kind of shore up his own reputation and check that off his list because he was sick of being second and then we'll see what happens after that. I mean, Steph could play another what six, seven years at a very, very high level, and I think what we're seeing in this postseason is that high level might be even higher than we realized because his play was suppressed a little bit here because the Durant's effect during that run. So, to me, I think he kind of wins on every count. He's basically already playing with house money. If they win the title this year he's definitely playing with house money. If he wins the Finals MVP he's got nothing else left on his personal checklist and he's still got at least five more years of good basketball left and that's a pretty good place to be.
Mahoney: I think the Finals MVP thing erases one of the last remaining bad-faith arguments against Steph Curry. The kind of, "I'm an Internet person and I want to prod at Steph hive." I think that will be that will go away. Yeah, you have they blew a 3-1 lead to the Cavs. You have a couple of things you could kind of throw at him. But ultimately I think Curry has pretty close to an unimpeachable resumé at this point. It's, again, the level of winning going between 75 and 80% of all your games won in this era is just insane. And so to do that with the individual success, with whatever the final number of titles ends up being, I'm not worried about Steph's legacy.