It’s said often enough that we can’t really call Stephen Curry under-rated as a leader, but his fingerprints are all over the way this franchise has navigated the occasionally turbulent waters of the season and it bears mentioning.
In Mark Medina’s recent article for the Mercury News, we get to see a detailed breakdown of exactly how Curry has managed to act as the salve that soothes all of the issues - most visibly the rift caused back when Draymond Green barked a little too loudly at Kevin Durant. Medina talks about how Curry, who wasn’t with the team on that fateful night in Los Angeles was immediately out doing damage control.
After that episode, though, Curry drove to Green’s house to talk. Curry also spoke separately with Durant, other teammates, the coaching staff and front office.
Back when I worked with kids, we called that “processing” - a separate discussion with each party in order to get a feel for not just what happened, but how they are feeling about the event now that they’ve got some space to sit back and think on it. It’s the sort of consensual discipline taught by old hippy ladies in Occidental that bring class to order with a gentle ring of their Tibetan prayer bell.
But Curry just intrinsically knows to do this.
After Green served a one-game suspension the following night against Atlanta, Curry then rejoined the Warriors for subsequent trips during his rehab. When Green and Durant played together in Houston on Nov. 15, Curry sat in between them on the bench and often shared laughs. No wonder Klay Thompson credited Curry for having “a very great voice of reason during times of turbulence.”
A uniquely unselfish superstar on the court
When Golden State first brought in Kevin Durant, one of the only cautions anyone could come up with was the “there’s only one ball” problem. It’s a trite little expression, but like all idioms, there’s a kernel of truth in it. Many teams have been broken by their inability to balance multiple all stars.
LeBron James, arguably the greatest player of the past decade who has been at the center of a number of these implosions, has a game that an ex-teammate described as “He doesn’t change to fit you. You have to change to fit him...” But that’s never been Curry’s game. You’d never hear Curry described like that because he is quietly working to help everyone fit in.
Curry and the previous core naturally fit like this. There’s an easy relationship between the games of Curry, Green, and Klay Thompson that has always helped the offense make sense. It wasn’t until the addition of Kevin Durant that the team’s offense had to make room for another big presence. Then in addition to soothing the Green/Durant kerfuffle, Curry has spent a lot of time and thought into how to bring DeMarcus Cousins into the fold. Again, the transition has been mostly smooth.
Again, from Medina:
Green likened Curry’s approach to Cousins with how he welcomed Durant when he joined the Warriors as a free agent in the 2016 offseason. As Green said about Curry, “he’s a welcoming person; he opens his arms and hands to everyone.”
But the “how” is just as important as the “what” in this case. Though this season has been far from smooth - marred by injuries, turmoil, and the addition of Cousins as the team chases a notoriously difficult third straight title - Curry has been the adaptive solution that makes it all work. His ability to defer, take over a game, or do a bit of both is a remarkably understated aspect of his legacy. When Cousins joined the fray, it was Curry who took less shots and gave up his usage. It was quiet, but for those paying attention, it went far from unnoticed.
“He hasn’t tried to figure out, ‘Do I go now or not?’ He just plays,” Green said of Curry. “That’s very important to our success. It creates so much controversy, if you will, on an opposing defense. It make things easier for everybody.”
A path to the future
As I write this, Kevin Durant just turned in one of his most impressive performances as a Warrior. A near perfect night. Funnily enough, this all started recently with Durant’s non-shooting game. Joe Viray summed it up when he wrote:
...most great scorers have said that it’s a delicate balancing act to keep your teammates involved and score in the flow of the offense when things aren’t working well. That’s the problem when your just isolating and jacking up a shot is actually a pretty good option. Stephen Curry had the same adjustment from being the guy who had to score to win to being the guy who had to bring out the best in all his teammates.
Like an enzyme that facilitates chemical reactions, Stephen Curry and the Warriors may have opened up Durant’s most dangerous phase of his offensive career. Toeing that line between knowing you can score and wanting to make it easier for your team to score is just the sort of evolution that Durant says he prioritizes for his career right now. He already knows he can score, but by following Curry’s example, Durant is changing how he leads.
Eight games left before the playoffs start.