After five straight NBA finals appearances, Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry will lead a much different team next season, but it is a challenge he's looking forward to.
Gone is Kevin Durant, who opted to leave for the Brooklyn Nets in free agent. Also departed are Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, two salary cap casualties who were on all five of the Warriors' NBA finals teams. And with fellow All-Star Klay Thompson rehabbing from a torn ACL, which will cost him a good chunk of the regular season, the cast surrounding Curry will look vastly different from the last couple of seasons when the Warriors were the prohibitive favorites to win the title.
"I mean, it will develop as we get together as a group," Curry said Thursday after his celeb-am round at the American Century Championship. "There's a lot of changes. It was a tough way to end the finals with KD and Klay getting injured and free agency. And for us, our core, myself, Klay, Draymond (Green), adding D'Angelo (Russell) and a lot of hungry, young guys trying to prove themselves in the league, it will look different in terms of the lineups and things like that, but the expectations of how we play and that championship-caliber basketball, that's going to always be the motivation and the challenge.
"So I'm excited about this. To be honest with you, it's five straight years in the finals, we've accomplished a lot, three championships. There's a lot to be proud of. But everybody wants a new challenge in terms of how do you get back to that level?"
Curry said Durant earned the right to explore his free-agency options after three stellar seasons with the Warriors, which included winning two NBA championships and being named finals MVP both times. That number could have been three if not for Durant tearing his Achilles in game 5 of the NBA finals, which will keep him out for much, if not all, of the 2019-20 season.
"The three years that we had was special," Curry said. "Like you said, with KD, we had three straight finals appearances. We won two of them. And we accomplished a lot as a group. Everybody talks about the amount of talent we had on that team, but that doesn't guarantee that you can figure it out on the court and that you can put all the pieces together to be successful. I'm really proud of what we accomplished. The beauty of free agency is everybody has a decision, everybody has a choice and you want to find your happiness wherever that is. And the beauty of the NBA is that everybody has that decision at some point, especially the guys that deserve it, like KD and the other top free agents. Again, I like to look at what we accomplished and focus on that and be extremely proud of this run that we had. And now we're going to have to recreate it in terms of what it means going forward."
The Warriors' officially traded Durant to the Nets in exchange for Russell, who blossomed last season into an All-Star. The Warriors could use Russell for trade bait at some point, but Curry is a fan of his game, which has been compared to Curry's playing style since he entered the league.
"I mean, the noise he made last year was amazing, what they did in Brooklyn, and him taking that next step as a certified All-Star," Curry said. "I haven't had much personal interaction with him on and off the court, obviously just playing against each other. Back when he got drafted there were comparisons of our games and how smooth he played and he could shoot the ball, he could handle, he could pass. And having guys that are versatile like that only helps your team. So the chemistry will develop quickly, be really purposeful about that and try to set the tone for how we're going to play going into this year. Again, it's about encouraging each other having confidence that we'll bring the best out of each other and then when Klay gets back as well, add him to the back court mix it will be fun."
Curry expressed sorrow for the losses of Iguodala and Livingston, although he knows that's part of the business. Iguodala was traded in a salary dump and Livingston waived.
"I'm the oldest on the team now," Curry said with a laugh. "I gotta step up my game. It's a tough business. That's part of it. You know at some point or another, whether it's this year, next year or the year after, there's going to be some hard decisions, hard changes. You talk about Andre and Shaun, two guys that do things the right way, have an ultimate level of professionalism, leadership and just have a presence when they walk in the room that you respect, everything they say and do. That makes them who they are.
"And they're three-time champs, both of them, and I think they've got a lot left in the tank. It will be fun. Be hard to watch them on different teams. But, again, you look at all that we accomplished and those are things that we'll remember for a lifetime. I know Andre is out here playing golf. He'll probably say, 'I'm going to miss him on the court, but I'm going to miss him on road trips, being able to call him, say when is our tee time?' That's going to be tough."
Unlike previous years, there's no clear-cut favorite to win the NBA title this season, with several teams having legitimate belief they could win the crown. The competition in the Western Conference should be fierce.
"There's a lot of change," Curry said. "It's like this every summer. Just now it's continuing to involve the biggest names in the game every summer. The West has always been tough. It's been that way as we started this finals run back in 2015, and I think it's going to continue. In terms of what we did this summer, really proud of our front office trying to put the pieces together in terms of filling out the roster for talented guys that are going to be hungry to prove themselves in the league, and obviously with D'Angelo, with the year he had last year, take that next step.
"I think we're all going to figure it out together. So it's going to be an adjustment. I think we talked about this when Coach (Steve) Kerr took over back in 2015. We had proven success in terms of being a playoff team, just had to fine tune it a little bit. Now that we're champions and experienced that, it's just about fine tuning with the personnel that you have. And we have high basketball IQ, so I have confidence we'll figure it out."
As for his golf game, Curry has spent some time in China since the end of the season, which ended with a loss to the Toronto Raptors in game 6 of the NBA finals. Curry's best finish in his first six appearances at the ACC is a tie for fourth, which he's done twice. Curry is listed at 15/1 odds this week, tied for the sixth-best odds in the field.
"Once you get a little taste of success -- I'll call it, and I think one year I was in the final group, and coming down the back nine, a birdie here, there, might get you a chance to win -- that elevates your expectations," Curry said. "The summer schedule for me is kind of crazy, end of the season, going to China, all that type of stuff for Under Armour. So the golf game is kind of secondary to all that, which it should be. But I seem to find my game pretty quick. And hopefully just play well and hit some good shots. And as everybody wants to, you get off to a good start and see what happens."
For the last couple of seasons, Curry bet his father, Dell, with the loser jumping into Lake Tahoe at the conclusion of the event. The younger Curry said the bet will be tweaked this year.
"The lake is done," Curry said with a smile. "But we're trying to figure out what could replace it. There's been some good ideas thrown out. Something around karaoke. Something around a food challenge. Something like that. We've got to figure it out before tomorrow's round starts, if I'm going to spot him any points. He's playing -- I don't know if he'll admit it now that he's on the property -- he's playing the best golf he's played in his life. I've got to keep that into account."
Beyond beating his dad, Curry said his goal this week is to win his first ACC, which would make him the first basketball player to capture the crown.
"I want that trophy for sure," Curry said. "If pops is second, that would be even sweeter, but I want that trophy for sure."