Nationals

Stephen Curry finally has Warriors on firm footing

201212190021013026434-p2.jpeg

Stephen Curry finally has Warriors on firm footing

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) The moment Mark Jackson saw Stephen Curry return to the court in September for the first time since the point guard's most recent right ankle surgery, he had an epiphany.

Not the kind that comes to Jackson when he preaches from the pulpit for his ministry. Nor the sort he shouts from the sideline as the Golden State Warriors' coach. Instead, he just kept quiet and smiled about the possibilities.

``You just saw like, `Man, that's what I'm talking about. I can really be a better coach this year,''' Jackson said, chuckling.

The truth in Jackson's joke, as even he admits, is that nobody is questioning his coaching abilities now in large part because nobody is questioning Curry's health.

The Warriors (17-9) are off to their best start since the 1991-92 season, when the team began 21-8 behind Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin. Golden State enters Friday night's game against Curry's hometown Charlotte Bobcats playing like a playoff-bound team in the Western Conference.

That's no small feat for a franchise that has missed the postseason 17 of the last 18 years. Neither is it a mild milestone in Curry's comeback, not after his troubled right ankle sidelined him for most of the last year and had some wondering whether he could ever be the point guard who looked so promising in his first two seasons.

``Missing games and not having complete confidence that my ankle would hold up was tough,'' Curry said. ``To be at this point right now playing and helping the team win, it definitely feels great to just be able to focus on games.''

Warriors general manager Bob Myers believes Curry's breakthrough this season came at Dallas on Nov. 19.

Curry made only 4 of 12 shots through three quarters and rolled his right ankle early in the fourth before he picked it up offensively, scoring 14 of Golden State's last 17 points in regulation. Curry added six points in overtime to lift the Warriors to a 105-101 win.

``Everybody kind of was thinking, `Here we go again,''' Myers said. ``He kind of had this look, it was like a boxer who takes a punch and starts laughing. He went the other with it and came out guns blazing and performed exceptionally well and won us the game, really. He took over the game. That, to me, was a pivotal point in our season. Not only for his leadership ability but for the rest of the players on the team to see how talented he was, when needed to be the man, he could do it.''

Myers took the risk of signing Curry to a $44 million, four-year contract extension through the 2016-17 season hours before the season opener at Phoenix. Curry had even sat out the final two exhibitions as a precaution because of ankle issues.

It was the final day Golden State could sign Curry to an extension or he would become a restricted free agent next summer. While the risk of injury is no different now than it was then, Curry's confidence has helped put everybody around him at ease.

``Every day that goes by and nothing transpires, I feel better,'' Myers said.

Curry is averaging career-highs of 19.9 points and 6.3 assists per game. He has started all 26 contests and is making a strong case, along with co-captain David Lee, to be Golden State's first All-Star since Latrell Sprewell in 1997.

All this after Curry averaged career lows of 14.7 points, 5.3 assists and 3.4 rebounds while missing 40 games during last season's lockout-shortened 66-game schedule, repeatedly spraining, tweaking or rolling his right ankle.

Curry rehabbed in Charlotte for weeks. Finally, in April, he had what the team called an ``exploratory procedure'' that ``revealed a stable ankle with no structural damage and consisted of cleaning out loose debris and scar tissue.'' The former Davidson star also had surgery to repair a tendon in his ankle in the summer of 2011 and often had problems even while playing that next season.

Former Warriors head coach and longtime assistant Keith Smart, in his second season at the helm in Sacramento, shakes his head when he recalls Curry's ankle issues.

``It was frustrating for him. It was frustrating for us, because he wanted to try every single time. I mean, the guy would walk across the floor and roll his ankle,'' Smart said. ``That's how loose that thing was. And he would try to still practice through it. You would tell him, `Don't do it.' You would do all the things you could to keep him off the floor, but he wanted to do it. He wanted to play. He's not one of those guys who have earned his position in the NBA - earned the great salary now - and feels that, `Hey, I can just wait and heal up and let this thing do its own thing.' That guy wanted to play. He loves basketball.''

The spark Curry has given Golden State comes even while new center Andrew Bogut remains out indefinitely while recovering from microfracture surgery on his left ankle. Bogut came over in a trade-deadline deal last season that sent fan favorite and combo guard Monta Ellis to Milwaukee, paving the way for Curry to take the Warriors' reins.

With Bogut out, Ellis' departure at least appears to have been addition by subtraction.

Curry had four straight games of at least 20 points and 10 assists, the longest streak by a Warriors player since Hardaway in that 1992 season. The team's 6-1 road trip, which included a win at defending champion Miami, also was the most wins on any trip in franchise history.

``Everybody keeps saying, `Why? How is he different?' It's just that he's healthy,'' Lee said. ``He's finally capable of playing the way that he's able to play. He's got a great calming effect on us out there offensively and defensively. He's a great leader on the floor and a great teammate off the court. He provides a lot more than just hitting a jump shot.

``This year I can honestly say I feel like it's behind him.''

Now 24 years old, the son of former NBA player Dell Curry has more support than the elaborate brace that covers both sides of his right ankle. Curry has the security of a long-term contract to take care of his wife, Ayesha, and the couple's 5-month-old daughter, Riley.

Curry is no longer ``the dynasty baby from college,'' as Smart playfully referred to him. He has built muscle from extended upper-body training and learned more about the game from all the video he watched while he couldn't play.

Jackson calls him an ``elite defender,'' crediting Curry for Golden State's sudden and surprising defensive turnaround. The Warriors are sixth in opponents' field-goal percentage (43.6 percent) and fourth in the league in rebounding (45.5) per game.

Curry also has Golden State eighth in the league in field-goal percentage (45.4) and ninth in points (100.7) per game. While the additions of Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack have helped complement Curry, Lee and shooting guard Klay Thompson, a healthy Curry has molded all the parts together.

``The point guard is the engine of a team,'' Myers said. ``To have one that's running smooth, it makes a big difference.''

---

Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP

Quick Links

Nationals cancel 2021 Winterfest due to COVID-19

Nationals cancel 2021 Winterfest due to COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic will prevent fans from attending Nationals games during the 2020 season and it appears will also cost them an annual offseason tradition.

The Nationals announced Wednesday their plans to cancel Winterfest 2021. The convention was originally scheduled for January 2021.

"Due to the continued uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to cancel Winterfest 2021, which was scheduled to be held in January," the team said in a statement. "We know how important this event is to our fans. That said, we look forward to offering a variety of alternative opportunities for our community to come together to celebrate our team."

RELATED: LOSING MAX SCHERZER AND STEPHEN STRASBURG IS THE NATIONALS' BIGGEST NIGHTMARE

Details regarding the alternative opportunities are unknown as of this writing. 

In the meantime, Washington will continue to play its 2020 season without fans. They are 4-5 entering a series with the Orioles Friday and had to take four days off after the Marlins experienced a COVID-19 outbreak within their clubhouse and the Nats' series with Miami was postponed. 

Stay connected to the Nationals with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS:

Quick Links

Making a case for Warriors as Washington Football Team's new name

Making a case for Warriors as Washington Football Team's new name

It's been several weeks since the Washington Football Team announced it was retiring its former name and logo after more than 80 years. Ever since FedEx became the first known sponsor to formally ask Washington to change its name, fans have taken to social media to voice some of their favorites among potential replacements. I spoke with several marketing experts about a few of the fan-generated names, and will use their responses to make a case for some of the most popular suggestions. This is the case for Warriors.

Case for: Washington Warriors

When it comes to the Washington Football Team, developing a new brand has as much to do with separating itself from the previous identity as it does creating a new one.

While the team’s previous moniker provided a sense of pride and joy to some people, it was considered derogatory by others. Those offended by the name had expressed resentment for decades before the team finally decided to take action this summer. But the team only did so after its bottomline was at risk of taking a hit by corporate sponsors threatening to end their relationships with the team.

If Washington wants people to take its rebrand seriously and view it as more than a money-saving play, the team will need to completely distance itself from Native American imagery. That being considered, is Warriors a good choice as the replacement name? It depends, says Tim Derdenger, associate professor of marketing and strategy at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business.

“It depends on which direction you go with it,” Derdenger said. “I’ve read things that they want to keep the feather and go in that direction as opposed to a military warrior, more of the Indian warrior. And if they do it the latter, they’re completely missing the mark on why they’re changing their name.”

CONCEPTS: TOP 5 NEW FAN-GENERATED WASHINGTON WARRIORS LOGOS

This conundrum highlights the different things that have to be considered when undergoing a name change. It isn’t just the name; it’s also the logo, the branding on team gear and uniforms, the stadium atmosphere, the fan experience, and so much more. If the team was able to rebrand itself as the Warriors without singling out a specific race or group of people, the name could work. The Golden State Warriors of the National Basketball Association have a great brand and don’t use human imagery at all, going with the Bay Bridge as their primary logo.

Matt White, president of WHITE64, pointed to Washington Football Team owner Dan Snyder's background in advertising and branding as a reason he thinks the team could pull it off.

“I think what you have to do is, do it in a thoughtful, logical manner, where you’re hiring a firm, which he has relationships with that can really do a great job,” White said.

The option for thoughtful branding exists in a way for "Warriors" that it doesn’t for a name like "Braves." Some fans had tossed around the latter as an option because of its history as the Washington franchise’s original name for one season in 1932, when the team was still located in Boston. But that’s a piece of history most fans likely forgot, if they ever knew it. And a Brave, by definition, is specifically a Native American warrior. The name doesn’t allow for a change in branding the same way Warriors does.

“The Cleveland Indians are already being asked to change their name. The Atlanta Braves apparently are even being looked at with that,” White said. “And again, there’s gotta be a solution that doesn’t offend somebody but that can still capture the spirit.”

CONCEPTS: TOP 5 NEW FAN-GENERATED WASHINGTON WARRIORS UNIFORM DESIGNS

That's where Warriors could be used, like Braves, to appease the base of fans who never wanted to part with the old moniker. However, Brad Nierenberg, the CEO of RedPeg Marketing, thinks choosing that name is also a choice to please those particular fans over the people who want to see a clean break. 

“If you’re gonna stay close with the Redskins, I think you’re gonna be staying with a fan base that ... you’re gonna placate the challenge to changing the name, then the Warriors and Braves are gonna be that next step,” Nierenberg said.

“I think there’s gonna be people saying they didn’t go far enough. That’s my gut.”

CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE TO THE WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TALK PODCAST

This is where everything else that accompanies the name change becomes so vital. Because while it’s likely true everyone won’t be happy with Warriors, it’s possible to win over a few more people with the proper branding and imagery.

"The logo is then going to be the key part,” Derdenger said. “And what that logo will look like and how it connects back to the military warrior.

“I can’t right now see in my head what a Warriors logo looks like. ... But they have to go away from the connection to the Native Americans.”

Stay connected with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

MORE WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM NEWS: