When Stephen Curry looks back on that summer night in 2009, he still isn't sure exactly how it happened or who decided what happened.
The history: On June 25, 2009, the Warriors used the seventh pick in the NBA draft to select Curry and change the course of the franchise.
Simple as that? No, not really.
Yes, on that draft night Curry was quietly hoping to land with the New York Knicks, who had the eighth pick.
Yes, Curry should've been taken by the Minnesota Timberwolves, who had the fifth and sixth selections but bypassed him to select two other point guards — Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn (who no longer is in the league).
And, yes, even though the Warriors selected Curry seventh overall, he heard he was almost traded to the Phoenix Suns.
“To the extent that we could control what would happen, New York was what we thought would be the best spot,” Curry recalled of his camp's thinking. “So we played it that way. But I guess a higher power guided me to where I was supposed to be, and I ended up with the Warriors. Because who knows how it would've turned out if I went to New York?”
Or to Phoenix. Or to Minnesota.
It seems so obvious now: The Warriors were lucky enough to have Curry drop to them, and that should've been the end of it.
But had Amare Stoudemire been a little more eager to join the Warriors in a proposed trade, or if Don Nelson were a little less sure that Curry was better than Monta Ellis, or if Minnesota had drafted sensibly ...Maybe, at the time, the least likely thing was for the Warriors to get this one perfectly right.
Remember, this all was occurring at a strange intersection period of Warriors dysfunction and transition: Team president Robert Rowell and Nelson had just pushed Chris Mullin out as chief decision-maker, Nelson was holding onto what power he could, then-general manager Larry Riley was trying to solidify his role, and owner Chris Cohan was months away from putting the team up for sale.
In the next few years, almost everything about the Warriors changed — with new ownership and Curry as the standard-bearer for the new era.
“We got one right, anyway,” Riley said with a laugh recently.
In the days before the draft, Riley and then-Phoenix G.M. Steve Kerr had put together the outlines of a major deal: If Curry got to the Warriors' slot, the Suns were offering to trade Stoudemire for the pick and a collection of veterans, including Andris Biedrins.
“I think we felt like, from our side, that if Steph dropped to seven, where they were picking, that we were going to get a deal done,” Kerr recalled. “We had a lot of discussions, Larry and I did. Until something is approved by the league office, you can't count on it. We felt pretty good about it, though.”
The potential trade was reported that night, but Curry, at home in Charlotte, N.C., didn't hear anything about it for a while. Riley, Nelson and Rowell certainly gave Curry no indication of any pending trade when they spoke with him on the phone that night.
“It wasn't until the next morning — I was pretty new to Twitter at the time — and the next morning one person I followed had mentioned it, that the trade was supposed to happen, I guess for Amare Stoudemire,” Curry said. ”My dad (former NBA player Dell Curry) was kind of telling me if it happens, it happens, there's nothing you can do it. Right now you're a Warrior, so act like it.”
But how close did that deal come to happening? The Warriors wanted a marketable big man to pair with Ellis for instant credibility, and that's what Ellis wanted, too; in fact, Ellis at the time suggested he was promised it.
Stoudemire was 26, a four-time All-Star and potentially just entering his prime. But he also had knee problems and was on the last year of his contract. If the Warriors were going to make that deal, they would need to talk to Stoudemire.
Also, Nelson had his own plans, as always.
“All I know is that (Curry) was my guy and I wanted to draft him, thought he'd be there and he was,” Nelson said recently from his Maui home.
“When Minnesota took that kid (Flynn) that wasn't very good ... we knew he was going to be there.”
For Riley, it was a most pleasant surprise.
“I didn't think Curry would get to us, I really didn't,” Riley said. “I really thought it was going to be (Arizona power forward) Jordan Hill for a long time.”
Minnesota took Rubio and Flynn, leaving Curry for the Warriors. New York ended up taking Hill eighth. Still, there was some worry that Curry wouldn't be happy with the Warriors. He had pointedly declined to visit Oakland or work out for the Warriors.
“See, we weren't a very good team at that time,” Riley said. “(Curry and his camp) actually were concerned about our team, the character of our team.
“They thought, well, if he doesn't work out for us, we might not take him. I just told (agent) Jeff Austin, 'I don't care if he works out or not, I believe in him. I'm going to draft him.'”
Curry recalled that he felt he was a good fit with the system employed by then-Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni. Curry wasn't sure how it things would work if he ended up playing alongside Ellis in the Warriors backcourt.
Curry's coolness to the Warriors didn't bother Nelson.
“No, I was actually glad because I didn't want anybody to know how high I was on him until after the draft,” Nelson said. ”But Minnesota made the bed for us; that was wonderful.”
At this point, Stoudemire was sending signals he didn't necessarily want to go to the Warriors, and the Warriors never spoke directly to him. The Warriors were already worried about Ellis' mindset, and Stephen Jackson was months away from demanding a trade. What would happen to that locker room if they added an unhappy big man with bad knees?
“It was tricky because of Amare's physical situation,” Kerr said. “But we were very far down the road.”
Phoenix's goal: Reset its roster by getting value for Stoudemire before he became a free agent and set up Curry as Steve Nash's understudy.
“The first time I saw him play live was in Anaheim — he was with Davidson and played UCLA in the Wooden Classic, and he was magical,” Kerr said of Curry.
So Phoenix kept talking to the Warriors leading up to the draft, ready to pounce if Minnesota passed on Curry. If the Warriors could've acquired Stoudemire without giving him a maximum extension, maybe the Suns could've nudged the Warriors to pull the trigger.
“They were hopeful that we were in such a bad position that we would like Stoudemire over Curry,” Riley said. ”(But) with Stoudemire's injury history and the fact that his contract was short term, that was one I never could come to grips with where I never even made a proposal to an owner on it.”
Even after the draft, if Curry had squawked about coming to the Warriors, the trade idea might have been rekindled.
But Riley noted that from the moment Curry and his family came to town the day after the draft, they seemed to embrace the situation.
The trade was dead.
“From the time I saw everybody face-to-face at the facility, there was never any talk about that,” Curry said of the Phoenix rumors. ”I guess it kind of showed how quickly they changed their minds when I got there.”
The Warriors never called Phoenix to say the deal was off; there just was no more communication.
“In some ways it worked out fine because we had a great year, we came within a couple games of getting to the finals,” Kerr said of Phoenix's ensuing 54-victory season. “It was just one of those things. It worked out great for the Warriors, and we came close.”
Kerr resigned as president and G.M. at the end of the season in order to get back to TV work. Stoudemire left the Suns in 2010 by signing a $100 million deal with the Knicks but has struggled with knee issues.
Curry buckled down and survived his rookie year with a skeptical Ellis, who was traded in March 2012 by the Warriors' new management group.
Joe Lacob and Peter Guber took over as owners in November 2010, Nelson was dismissed, Riley was moved to the scouting department, and Lacob eventually hired Bob Myers as G.M. and Mark Jackson as coach.
Through the changeover, Curry held it together and signified where the Warriors wanted to go.
“He's a franchise player, and he wants to be there,” Nelson said. “That's great, can you believe it? He wants to be there.”
And, as his free agency approached, Curry wasn't thinking how he could get back home to North Carolina.
“When I signed my extension (before last season), I never thought about holding out so I could get back to Charlotte,” Curry said. ”I just think branching out and seeing different parts of what was out there and being in the Bay Area and establishing a new home, that was a good prospect for me. I wanted to be in a spot where I feel at home.”
Exactly when the Warriors needed Curry, he arrived.