Stephen Curry left his New York hotel room 11 years ago and headed for Madison Square Garden for the NBA Draft with an uncertain feeling.
“I just officially received butterflies,” said Curry at the time. “I’m out of my element now. “
In 2009, Curry – a 6 foot 3 inch goalie from Davidson College in North Carolina – was the project’s biggest conundrum. A small school sniper combo that few people had ever heard of, in a league that was not ready for the revolution it was to lead in the next decade. A few hours later, he looked at six names, including four guards, ahead of his.
In retrospect, Curry’s wait shouldn’t have been that long.
Three titles, two league MVPs and a Hall of Fame caliber race later, begs the question: how would the NBA landscape have changed if Curry, not Oklahoma’s great man Blake Griffin, had been choice number one in this draft?
A year earlier, Curry decided to return to Davidson with this goal in mind. In the second year, he averaged 25.9 points, shooting 48.3% on the field, and helped the Wildcats reach the eighth elite in the NCAA tournament. He returned for his junior season, wanting to show that he could be a point guard.
A year later, Curry improved, dropping his point average to 28 points per game. Still, he was unable to make his way to become a top three pick, and Griffin remained the top pick.
That summer night in New York, Curry was reminded of how far he had fallen. He put his head in his hands when Griffin was chosen No. 1 by the Los Angeles Clippers, as expected. Curry took a deep breath when the Grizzlies selected the 7 foot 3 inch center Hasheem Thabeet # 2. He cheered softly when the Thunder selected James Harden – who was seated at a table.
The Kings took Tyreke Evans at No. 4, and the Timberwolves took Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn – the two leaders – at No. 5 and No. 6, respectively. Curry finally put his hands up in prayer when the warriors chose him # 7.
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But if hindsight had prevailed, Curry would be a Clipper, going from the unknown of college basketball to the black sheep of the NBA.
On the field, Los Angeles’s “other team” was a disaster. His best player, Zach Randolph, was months away from being traded to the Grizzlies. Former Warriors leader Baron Davis failed to match his Golden State magic in his hometown.
Worse yet, team owner Donald Sterling has been sued repeatedly for discrimination in housing. Four years after Curry was written, recordings of Sterling making racist comments resurfaced, forcing him out of the league.
Toxic employer aside, assuming that Curry’s ankle problems early in their careers persisted, questions would have remained about its long-term viability. As Curry reconciles his future, Hornets goalkeeper Chris Paul made his way out of New Orleans in 2011, preferring a trade to the Orlando Magic, New York Knicks or Los Angeles Lakers.
Six months after Paul’s commercial request, NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as owner of the Hornets – vetoed an agreement that would have sent the Lakers to guard, opting for a trade with the Clippers in exchange Eric Gordon, center Chris Kaman, forward Al-Farouq Aminu and a first round pick.
If Curry had been Clipper at the time, he would likely be in agreement, which would give him the opportunity to revitalize his career along the banks of the Mississippi. A year later, assuming the Hornets would have finished with the second league record again, they would have selected Kentucky taller Anthony Davis, pairing a future MVP with an NBA striker.
Or, if Stern had let the Hornets trade Paul for the Lakers, could he have created a city-to-city rivalry between Curry and the mighty Lakers? With Kobe Bryant, and maybe Dwight Howard, probably not.
The Clippers’ drafting of Curry would have meant no rivalry between Warriors and LeBron James. In 2009, James was still with the Cleveland Cavaliers, one year before leaving for South Beach. Without Curry, Golden State is not a team that changes leagues, which means no NBA titles, no 73 win season, no light years and probably no Kevin Durant free agency. James’ biggest rival would not exist, which means he would have a better chance of chasing after Michael Jordan’s six NBA titles.
The “what ifs” extend to the table project. If Curry passes # 1, does Griffin go # 2 in Memphis? If so, Grit and Grind does not happen with Randolph back in LA. Or, is Griffin chosen # 2 by his hometown Thunder?
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The place of Curry and Griffin in the 2009 draft was an indictment on the thinking of the league at the time. Over the decades, from George Mikan to Wilt, from Kareem to Shaq and Hakeem, you have built teams around great men, complimenting them with shooters. To his credit, Griffin was a mainstay for the Clippers, helping them lead to the NBA playoffs six times alongside Paul. But Curry represented the future of the league, a walking and shooting revolution that forever changed the way the offense is played.
But at that time in New York, that had not been seen, and Curry punished the league for the rest of his career following monitoring.