The Warriors desperately wanted Chris Paul.
With his tenure in New Orleans assuredly coming to a close, the New Orleans Hornets were looking for trade partners for the then four-time All-Star. As was the case with most big-name players looking to depart their situations, the Warriors were interested, but not interested enough to actually consummate a deal.
The Hornets wanted the young, wiry Steph Curry included in any deal and the Warriors wanted an assurance from Paul – who, like most free agents, didn’t have Golden State as his top destination – that he’d sign an extension past his current deal or activate his player option for the following season.
Like their pursuits of Kevin Garnett, Rudy Gay and many others before them, the Warriors balked at the asking price for Curry and Paul – after some help from David Stern – ended up on the lowly Los Angeles Clippers. The Warriors also pursued center Tyson Chandler, who Paul hinted would increase any team’s chances at re-signing him. However, Chandler opted for the Big Apple.
Evaluating any transaction in an instant is a foolish habit. While ruefully reminiscing over Golden State’s draft history is something virtually all of their fans have done from time to time, the trade history of this franchise might be even worse. As the Warriors continued to wallow in their own ineptitude season after season, decade after decade, spiraling down the toilet with no cathartic flush in sight, the “what if” game at Oracle was often more popular than the game on the hardwood.
For all the horrific drafts, trades and signings this franchise inflicted upon their fans over the years, there’s a growing sense of redemption and hope as the team continues to make history this season. At 61-13, with Curry now the odds on favorite (1/4) to win the MVP award, the journey through the nine circles of suffering (otherwise known as Dante’s Inferno) may actually be well worth it when all is said and done.
Rivalries certainly don’t blossom overnight, but Paul heading to Los Angeles and the Warriors becoming Curry’s after the Monta Ellis trade fomented a continuing duel at point guard. Paul soon developed certain antics that his teammates later adopted, making Blake Griffin, his teammates and even Doc Rivers the perfect antagonists in such a rivalry. Paul was winning – though not many – playoff games, making All-Star teams and starring in commercials well before Curry was. But as Tuesday night’s festivities proved, Paul may now be the one chasing Curry.
There’s a certain irony in ESPN releasing their point guard rankings the morning of a Clippers-Warriors matchup. Despite Paul notching numbers similar to his impressive career averages, it’s been the shock and awe of Curry’s analytical and Vine-friendly play that has trumped Paul’s performance this season.
ESPN ranked Paul as the best point guard in the league with Curry a close second. Based on ESPN’s weighted system, Paul was the better leader, defender and playmaker than the former Davidson Wildcat. The most alarming aspect of these rankings being defense, where Curry ranks 12th best in that category – with Paul ranked first – despite Curry playing with an increased role and physicality on that end of the floor.
Challenging narratives can be a hazardous path. You’ll get heckled and loathed for deviating from the familiar tropes. Chris Paul has been the standard of the point guard position since Steve Nash began to deteriorate. But this standard is changing, and if Curry’s performance against Paul on Tuesday was any indication, it has changed for good.
It began in early March, when Curry decided to sift through the Clippers defense like a pinball before nailing the trey in his adversary’s face. The slithering Curry has made that a habit this season, along with turning around before some of these shots even hit nylon. It’s these singular moments that are often associated with a changing of the guard. On Tuesday, Curry revealed his greatest moment yet.
“I know his set up,” said Andre Iguodala. “I see the set up every time.” Like many Curry heroics this season, you can see it coming. His teammates know best, and despite being the world’s greatest basketball players witnessing basketball’s biggest plays in person night after night, they still marvel in their appreciation for such greatness. The crossover that Curry pulled on Paul Tuesday night at Staples Center was one many have been waiting for: a singular moment where Paul wasn’t seen as untouchable, but merely a victim of Curry’s burgeoning royalty.
This isn’t just rhetoric. Statistically, Curry is having a season for the ages. In comparison to Paul, Curry has a higher PER (28.02 vs. 25.37) on higher usage (28.5 vs. 24.9), a higher WAR (17.60 vs. 14.96) and EWA (20.1 vs. 18.7). The impressive empirical data matches the rhetoric. It’s numerically evident as it is from the eyes, although Paul hasn’t shown any signs of letting up. It’s simply a matter of Curry thriving in his new system where Paul has steadily stayed on his pace.
Curry once saw Paul as the paradigm for the position. And similar to his teammate Klay Thompson’s ascension at the shooting guard position, Curry’s performance throughout his sixth season has changed the very narrative that has plagued the minds of many for years. Teams and players evolve, and similar to the once befuddled franchise, Curry and the Warriors continue to change the previous norms many have become accustomed to.
It’s no coincidence that in their shared State Farm commercial, Curry and his faux brother are seen rising on the escalator while Paul and his are heading down. Along with his play, his stardom has taken a similar approach. That very escalator hasn’t stopped yet, however, and it’s frankly scary at where he’ll be when it stops.