He's finally back, folks.
The Warriors announced Wednesday night that two-time MVP Stephen Curry will return to the starting lineup for Thursday's contest against the Raptors after missing 58 games while recovering from a broken left hand. There had been speculation about Curry playing earlier in the month, but Golden State sent him down to the G League before bringing him back into the fold. The ridiculousness of "G Leaguer Stephen Curry" was not lost on Warriors coach Steve Kerr.
We are thinking hard about a ten day.... https://t.co/M9LYIgkL5W
— Steve Kerr (@SteveKerr) March 3, 2020
Now it's time for a true test against one of the Eastern Conference's best teams, though there is much less at stake than the last time Curry battled the Raptors in the 2019 NBA Finals. The Warriors own the worst record in the league (14-48) and will miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 season. Kevin Durant is long gone. Klay Thompson isn't coming back until 2020 training camp.
So ... why put Curry on the floor for 20 meaningless games?
Sure, there have been loud calls for Golden State to shut down Curry completely — ESPN's Stephen A. Smith said he's "not happy" about Curry playing and would have preferred he sat out "the whole damn year" — but that approach ignores what can be gained from allowing Curry to don the No. 30 jersey once again.
Stephen Curry is healthy and ready to go.
This is simple.
Curry's hand is "healed and strong," according to Kerr. Curry has been eager to take the court. The guy quoted Randy Quaid in "Independence Day" with the caption "About time!!!" Three exclamation points!!!
Injury concerns will always be present to some degree with Curry. He could get his hand caught on screen, roll his ankle landing on layup or bang knees with a big man. Keeping Curry healthy will always be key to the Warriors' future success.
Any of those scenarios could also play out in practice. He could be hurt during an individual workout or walking down the street.
There has always been a timeline in place for Curry to return at some point in 2020, and both the Warriors and Curry have not deviated from that plan. Let the man do his job. He's pretty good at it.
Stephen Curry can build chemistry with Andrew Wiggins.
Golden State cut the D'Angelo Russell experiment short at the February trade deadline, sending the 24-year-old guard to the Timberwolves in exchange for Wiggins. The Curry-Russell-Thompson trio was always a questionable fit, and Wiggins at least makes more sense positionally as a small forward.
Wiggins has always possessed incredible physical gifts, but he never offered much beyond occasional flashes of scoring brilliance in Minnesota. In order for the Warriors to have any chance of unleashing his potential, they need to figure out what he can do in a supporting role next to Curry.
Dubs dominating on both ends of the court pic.twitter.com/wjQX8uRwla
— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) March 4, 2020
"I think it's important for Steph and Andrew to get to know each other and play together," Kerr said (via The Athletic's Anthony Slater). "I think it's important for Steph to play without all the guys we've lost who are not gonna be back next year — Kevin and Andre [Iguodala] and Shaun [Livingston]. Steph, in many ways, has depended on those guys as sort of a giant security blanket.
"For a guy who is so skilled and talented, this has still been a team effort over the years, and he's been blessed some of the smartest players, the most talented players in the league. It's gonna be a different world for him."
In nine games with the Warriors, Wiggins is averaging 20.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.6 blocks per game while shooting 46.5 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from 3-point range. That's a promising start, but it's hard to read too much into those numbers without Curry (and eventually Thompson) in the lineup. Curry's return gives Wiggins the opportunity to develop a rapport with the six-time All-Star and build a foundation heading into 2020-21.
Who doesn't want to watch Stephen Curry play?
Last month, Kerr was asked about the idea of sitting Curry through the final stretch of the season, and his response highlighted an important element often lost in these discussions.
"I guess the argument would be, well, we're not going to the playoffs. So, are we not trying to entertain our fans?" Kerr said. "We're selling tickets to all these people who love basketball, and Steph Curry is one of the most amazing, graceful, exciting basketball players on Earth. If he were healthy, and we didn't present him to our fans and say, 'Here you go, here's your gift for staying with us for this whole season,' what would that say about us? That we don't care about our fans?
"To me, it's never been a question. As soon as he's ready, he's coming back. Our fans deserve it. We need it as a team to, as I said, springboard into next year. And it's the right thing to do."
Steve Kerr on the idea of holding out a healthy Steph Curry: “No. He’s perfectly healthy. If the point is he might get hurt, what’s the point of ever playing anybody? I guess the argument is we’re not making the playoffs. So, are we not trying to entertain our fans?” pic.twitter.com/3I8VUmCN07
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) February 19, 2020
To be clear, there is a financial element here. The Warriors would love to sell tickets and fill up the Chase Center. Of Golden State's final 20 games, 13 are on national television (ABC, ESPN, TNT and NBA TV broadcasts), including Thursday night's home game against Toronto (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT). The higher-ups in the fancy offices definitely prefer to see Curry available.
However, that cynicism shouldn't overshadow the issue Kerr raised. Watching Curry is a singular basketball experience. No one catches fire or bends a floor to his will quite like Curry when he's in that zone. The NBA is better when he's cooking. It's good to have him back.