Stephen Curry: 'It's Comical That People [Are] Saying I'm Having a Down Year'

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterApril 4, 2017

Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry (30) during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. — He is the most qualified person in the NBA to offer us a perspective on not having it both ways.

That might seem strange when Stephen Curry has so often been able to have his cake and eat it, too.

And while he has gotten more than anyone else over the past couple of years, he has not gotten everything he has wanted. And it's precisely because of all he has earned and experienced that Curry has a greater capacity to be rational and realistic.

In an extended discussion with Bleacher Report about finding the sweet spot between rest and play, regular season and playoffs, Curry tackled all the either-or exertion questions bouncing off the walls of every NBA locker room and front office these days.

And he has concluded that sometimes less is more.

Curry has no regrets about his Golden State Warriors chasing and making history with their 73 regular-season victories a year ago, but after experiencing something very different this season, he has come to understand what it takes to feed that fire at the risk of the championship pursuit.

He would never want to go for 74.

"It's just not worth it, really, in the long run," Curry said. "All that you have to go through to get there."

It's why Curry feels so good about the Warriors' position now, building toward being at their best in the playoffs compared to stressing over everything that might go wrong and derail a historic regular season.

"Us as players, we had put ourselves in position to say, 'Let's go after it. We don't know if we'll ever get that chance again,'" Curry said. "I wouldn't second-guess it ever. But going forward, I have a different perspective about what's important throughout the regular season and how to best prepare yourself for those last three months.

The drive to win 73 games last season created pressure to play at their peak through the end of the regular season, admitted Stephen Curry.
The drive to win 73 games last season created pressure to play at their peak through the end of the regular season, admitted Stephen Curry.Jeff Chiu/Associated Press/Associated Press

"It's not diminishing your expectations at all either; it's just being real at how long the season is and understanding what it takes to be fresh in April, May, June. I think it's all right to talk like that."


Since Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala all rested, with Kevin Durant already out with a knee injury, in the March 11 loss at San Antonio, the Warriors have won 11 consecutive games.

It is not, however, this impressive Durant-less streak of defensive revival—one featuring a 16-point average margin of victory—that stirs Curry deep inside.

Results don't do that.

But rights do.

It's why Curry got on his soapbox to defend his rights—and the rights of all players—to rest. Even though he has taken all of one such healthy skip day this season, Curry wished to explain how resting does more good than anyone on the outside comprehends.

"It's an uncomfortable conversation, because as a player, you never think about just taking a day off," Curry said. "But when you actually are in the position that we are in, you understand how important it is. It's not just playing a game.

"Waking up after a long stretch of games or a road trip or whatever, waking up and not having to mentally prepare for that 7:30 tipoff is invaluable. Physically, it's nice to get fresh or stay off your legs. But the mental preparation it takes for us to get ready for a game, it's taxing. You undervalue that whole 24 hours, just how important that is.

"So for Adam [Silver], he's running the league and obviously he might think it's an issue. I don't think it is. We've done it one time this year. Last year we did it one time. We're talking about one out of 82 games. I don't think it's something to worry about.

"Obviously you hate to miss Saturday ABC prime-time games, but hey, that's just how the schedule fell (at San Antonio). So hopefully we can smarten up about how to schedule it so we don't have to be put in that position."

Curry expressed confidence that Silver will work with everyone involved—players, broadcast partners, teams, arenasto improve that schedule, which Curry humorously surmised in the commissioner's recent league-wide memo expressing concern about star players resting, especially in marquee games.

"That's kind of a cool case study on the difference between David Stern and Adam Silver," Curry said. "David Stern fined people $250,000 (for missing a game). That was his 'memo.' Adam Silver's more collaborative."

Curry believes an occasional day of rest is as beneficial for a player's mental health as it is for his physical well-being.
Curry believes an occasional day of rest is as beneficial for a player's mental health as it is for his physical well-being.Ben Margot/Associated Press/Associated Press

In any case, Curry's view is that this is an outsized controversy. Players want to play. It's about being pragmatic about expectations.

"This has been a thing coaches have done for years," Curry said. "And there are certain guys with egos who are vocal about not missing games or whatnot."

Curry said he has been approached only about sitting out that Saturday night game in San Antonio, the final game in the eighth different city in a 13-day span. He pointed out that most of the Warriors will play at least 78 regular-season games. And they're on track to meet their goal of home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

While allowing that this season is different than last, Curry resented any implication that the league's most star-studded team has been on cruise control.

"I don't even know what to say about that," he said. "This is some hard work we put in every single day. I'm not going to try to sit here and say, 'Look at us. Look at us.' But we're not cheating the game at all."


No one knows better than Curry that there is an individual gauge for how much a superstar wants to pour into the regular season.

He also understands that that NBA MVP award is all wrapped up in storylines.

"The narratives kind of take form in December of who's winning, and it kind of takes a life of its own from there," Curry said. "If you're not in that conversation in December, it's really hard to make up that ground with whatever accomplishments you're making.

"A guy like Isaiah Thomas, who you could argue is a top MVP candidate for what he's done for his team, getting them to the 1 seed in the East right now. In December he wasn't a legit MVP guy people were talking about. So the uphill climb for him is significantly harder than guys like Russell [Westbrook] and James [Harden], who have been doing it all year. Same thing for me last year and the year before."

In Curry's case, it's easy for the masses to extrapolate that he's not even competing to win this MVP award. The storyline fits neatly that the Warriors aren't as driven or dominant this season, and Curry's 25.2 points per game are actually fewer than new teammate Kevin Durant's 25.3, so the story goes that Curry's value has decreased substantially.

"I think it's comical that people were saying I'm having a down year," Curry said. "To go black and white and say I'm not having as good a season as I was having last year based on just five points a game or shooting percentage or whatnot…there are other things that you try to do other than just the eye test to try and help your team win. This year has taught me that, for sure. The accolades and the attention and all that stuff, the hype is cool. But it's really how you feel about your own game.

Curry finds it funny that some believe his performance has suffered this year when he believes it has merely shifted to accommodate a new teammate in Kevin Durant.
Curry finds it funny that some believe his performance has suffered this year when he believes it has merely shifted to accommodate a new teammate in Kevin Durant.Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

"And I can wake up every day and be like, 'I know what I'm trying to accomplish; I know I'm going to get better.' I know when I don't play well and how mad I get at myself. I know when I do play well and how I want to keep that going. Same approach as I had last year.

"Just five fewer points a game. Who cares?"

When someone prides himself on always getting better, it's irksome to be viewed as getting worse. Truth be told, the numbers are similar to what Curry had in his 2014-15 MVP season. But this season has challenged Curry to prove his value to his team in less tangible ways.

"With the roster that we have and adding a guy like KD, there's obviously going to be more of a balanced attack," Curry said. "It's pretty clear how that's kind of evolved over the course of the season. My job as the point guard of this team is to balance all the talent that we have, plus at the same time staying aggressive with my own game.

"What we've been able to do the last two, three weeks has been a good reminder of exactly what we're all capable of, and it's no slight to [Durant]. When he's back, we're a much better team. We want him back as soon as possible. But what we've done in his absence, and how I've tried to help contribute at a high level, speaks for itself, really."

Curry paused and laughed before adding: "I don't know if I would win anybody over with that elevator pitch. But at the end of the day I feel very confident in what I'm able to do and I've been doing."

No one has won the MVP three consecutive seasons since Larry Bird in 1984-86. Neither Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six MVPs) nor Michael Jordan (five) ever managed the feat. LeBron James' four MVPs were sandwiched, two consecutively, around Derrick Rose's one in 2010-11.

Considering that history of voter fatigue, Curry as MVP again was always going to be a hard sell this season.

That hasn't been the case in Oakland, where even in a regular season when Curry made sure to save some energy, his eyes were opened regarding the value the Warriors place on drawing energy from him.

"I feel like I've come—somebody used the term the other day—to play with joy and have fun," he said of this season. "My energy and leadership in that aspect can kind of ignite the team. And I can't lose that."


There is a banner at the Warriors training facility with a "73" and all the players' names on it, commemorating how the team conquered the regular season last year.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr waffled on whether to do it, well aware there was no championship to go with it. At first, Kerr thought definitely not. Yet as time passed, it began to make sense. It was, after all, a greatest-ever accomplishment, certainly superior to all the meaningless division "champions" banners that so many clubs hang.

While Warriors coach Steve Kerr eventually decided to honor the team's 73-win 2015-16 season, he has made it clear this season that he is emphasizing keeping his team fresh for the playoffs rather than pushing to win every game at all costs.
While Warriors coach Steve Kerr eventually decided to honor the team's 73-win 2015-16 season, he has made it clear this season that he is emphasizing keeping his team fresh for the playoffs rather than pushing to win every game at all costs.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

For Curry, the banner serves as a reminder of both what was and wasn't accomplished a year ago.

"This year I feel like we'll have a lot in the tank going forward to achieving goals we want to down the stretch and in the playoffs. Last year was a little different," he said. "We had to sprint to the finish line and try to, by any means necessary, catch that 73. And then three days later, refocus to the playoff mindset. I like where we are now."

Curry has learned to approach the regular season much in the same way folks approach his side sport of golf:

Play the course, not the opponent.

Certainly the NBA is about matchups every night, but the greater challenge comes from the calendar and the terrain.

Who knows whether there was an actual correlation between fatigue from that long regular-season scramble and Curry's knee injury come playoff time? Or if he was in some way not fresh enough mentally to embrace the challenges and opportunities that went from precarious against Oklahoma City to catastrophic against Cleveland?

If Green doesn't get suspended for Game 5 of the NBA Finals, or if just one play down the stretch of Game 7 bounces slightly another way, the Warriors would've had all dreams come true.

That, Curry said, would've solidified in his mind that there is no sound logic to chasing regular-season history anymore. That's how clear it is to him a price was being paid for such great effort.

"If we won the title, I probably would say it even more: There's no better season than that," he said.

"Countless teams go into the season thinking that's a goal of theirs (to have the best regular-season record ever). You understand it's not all that important. It's about how to get to the playoffs and winning a championship. At the end of the day, the rest of it is just kind of hanging fruit that's there."

Last year's loss in the Finals made it clear to Curry that all of the awards and records were no more than "hanging fruit" compared to an NBA title.
Last year's loss in the Finals made it clear to Curry that all of the awards and records were no more than "hanging fruit" compared to an NBA title.Eric Risberg/Associated Press/Associated Press

As a competitor, Curry does appreciate just how exhilarating it was to play for something night after night after night—and get it. He vividly recalls the intensity in those November and December games as the Warriors were starting 24-0. Those April games became even bigger Super Bowls.

But he is trying to be honest with his context—and how now "there's less stress.

"Last year, the narrative was all about just winning the game. Some of the bad habits we had and some of the things that we let slip were kind of pushed under the rug just as long as we were winning. Granted, we obviously still made it to the Finals. We were still up, 3-1, whatever. But there's just a lighter air about how we're finishing the season, knowing that once the playoffs start, the real deal is what it's all about.

"We still get everybody's best shot every night we play, but there's less circus around us. … Especially those last two or three weeks of the season. It was emotionally draining playing at that level.

"If we weren't blowing somebody out, especially at home, there was a different buzz. Like, 'Oh, we might lose a game!'"

From his perch now, Curry flat-out dares anyone else to try.

"If somebody else was going for it, I'd be like, 'Yeah. I'd love to see somebody push it to 74,' Curry said.

"I don't think it's possible, to be honest with you," he said. "We had a lot of things go our way last year; we won a lot of close games. We just had it clicking, playing at that level for seven straight months. It was unbelievable.

"I don't think it's possible. Jordan and them probably said the same thing, but I don't think it's possible. We put ourselves in position to go for it, and we accomplished it, but I don't think it's possible for somebody to eclipse."


Our modern society wants everything all the time.

The only acceptable answer to the NBA's rest debate has been to ask for diplomatic immunity and agree with everyone about everything.

No way any fan should ever be disappointed in the regular season. No way any player should ever be tired for the playoffs. Seize the day…but never shortchange your future.

Curry has dined magnificently the past couple of seasons—and this has nothing to do with his wife being a chef—and he is here to tell you that you can't rightly expect to have your cake and eat it, too.

Though unlikely to match the 402 three-pointers he hit last season, Curry is on track to shoot better than 40 percent from behind the arc for the eighth consecutive season.
Though unlikely to match the 402 three-pointers he hit last season, Curry is on track to shoot better than 40 percent from behind the arc for the eighth consecutive season.Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

You have to prioritize what matters to you. Maybe you'll be brought more than you imagined. Maybe you'll go hungry.

Curry has figured out that the NBA season for him is about the final course, above all.

"My perspective is about winning championships. That's the only goal," he said. "In a perfect world you'd be able to have a hell of a season, accomplish some historic things, be in that MVP conversation and have your team in position to win a championship.

"It might not always be that perfect every year."

There's also pressure in being perfect. This season has been just right in pushing for more without the stress to accomplish more.

Asked if it might even be the ideal regular-season template for him, Curry agreed but then dryly added: "I'd definitely like to make more threes."

Curry revealed he has been monitoring his three-point percentage, which has never fallen below 40 percent for a season. By making nine of 14 three-pointers Sunday, Curry's up to 40.4 percent with five games left.

"That's the only thing I'm worried about," he said solemnly. "That's the only thing I'm worried about."

See, he's even got jokes about meeting regular-season goals now.

Curry's not asking to be anyone's guru on a mountaintop, but he has traversed higher than anyone recently.

He's now a guy who knows some things, someone less fixated on regular-season trappings.

"I don't know if that's tainted my perception," he said, laughing.

No, it takes someone who has spread himself that thin before to understand the virtue of staying this grounded now.

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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