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Stephen Curry's return a rare moment Warriors fans can relish this season

Golden State superstar will return Thursday, but not even he can alter the team's trajectory.

Shaun Powell

Shaun Powell

There are times when the comeback of an injured savior is awash with palpable anticipation, a desperate sense of relief and provides a moment that makes the entire league pause and take notice.

In the decade that just finished, think of the joy and drastic results when Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City and Joel Embiid in Philly recovered and made their returns. Or lately, when Zion Williamson finally suited up in New Orleans to help the team’s playoff chase. And while the results don’t reflect it right now, a healthy Victor Oladipo could prove beneficial to the Pacers come playoff time.

But there’s little to be gained, or even see, when this two-time Kia MVP returns on Thursday vs. Toronto (10:30 ET, TNT) — to the team formerly known as the Warriors.

This is no offense to Stephen Curry and the diligent therapists who whipped the 31-year-old into proper shape to finally finish what he barely started this season, but will anyone have reason to shake when he hits his next 3-pointer and feels the need to shimmy?

By then, the Warriors will likely be down 10 points and eventually lose by 20. In other words, Curry will be a cute little diversion, perhaps on a minutes restriction at that, for a season too far gone for him to rescue.

To paraphrase the poet Gertrude Stein when she once famously described the Warriors’ former home base of Oakland, there’s no there there in the Mission Bay district of San Francisco. A season without Klay Thompson from the start and then Curry (since he fractured his left hand Oct. 30) has been the eyesore we all expected — if not worse. The Warriors have the NBA’s worst record and will not be that much more efficient now that Curry is bringing his Dyson vacuum cleaner to do the job.

This season, though, has hardly been a complete waste. Far from it, actually. Beyond the gore of the standings, there’s evidence of silver-lined prosperity. The Warriors wisely used this season to hold tryouts for next season and will come away with at least three rotational players who are working on the cheap. Warriors GM Bob Myers not only found Eric Paschall in the second round of the 2019 Draft, but gave him a three-year deal which allows the Warriors to keep a grinding power forward for cheap through 2021-22.

The unspoken truth here is that the Warriors have all but guaranteed themselves at least the third pick in the 2020 Draft, with solid odds of getting No. 1 if they finish with one of the NBA’s three worst records. This was always the grand prize of the grand plan, where a championship-contending team — they will qualify as that next season — adds a high Draft pick and grooms that player for the next 10 years.

Or, the Warriors could take stock of a roster that’s built to win now and package that pick for more immediate help. For example, they can possibly try to send the pick with Andrew Wiggins to Washington for Bradley Beal. Or get creative with that asset in other ways that will fortify an already solid roster.

When Durant left for Brooklyn last summer, the Warriors were given license to recalibrate — a card they’ve smartly played all season. They didn’t do anything stupid just to win 25 games. They didn’t rush Thompson back from knee surgery or run Draymond Green into the ground, and found a willing trade partner for D’Angelo Russell, who was a bad fit. The fans in San Fran are cool with paying the price of a Tesla to sit and watch the Warriors lose because they know this is merely a bridge year. And besides, the Chase Center still has that arresting new-car smell, so who can resist?

The Warriors conceivably will bring the championship-proven core of Curry, Thompson and Green — as well as Wiggins, that first-round pick, Paschall, an improved Damion Lee and Marquese Chriss and perhaps some other pieces — into 2020-21 and announce their re-arrival as a team to be taken seriously. In an era of small ball, the Warriors would be well-positioned to make noise once again after a brief bout with laryngitis.

This was the perfect situation for the franchise to reset, take a short breather from five years of Finals runs, allow their stars to heal up and stay fresh, and not feel any pressure or pain of backlash. Only coach Steve Kerr’s career winning percentage is taking a significant hit, and he’ll stare at his three Warriors championship rings to make the pain go away.

The dirty little secret is that Curry’s injury wasn’t season-ending, so the somewhat uncomfortable moment has finally arrived. There’s no fear of re-injury, so nothing risky is at stake here. Just the same, there’s also nothing to be gained, really. Hearing that Curry needs time to jell with Wiggins makes you laugh, considering those 14 or so games of precious “bonding” will be followed by five months of vacation.

In a normal situation, had Durant stayed and the Warriors been whole, Curry would perhaps already be on the floor again. But with just more than a month left in 2019-20, the Warriors are stretching this delay out. The original target date of March 1 was scrapped because Kerr wanted Curry to get scrimmage time, so Curry got that with the Warriors’ G League affiliate in Santa Cruz on Monday.

Curry broke a sweat instead of a body part and got in a nice five-on-five run, while his teammates-for-a-day made out better in the deal: They got a photo with Curry and some memories.

“When he walked in, he was dapping everybody up, shaking hands, smiling, but he did his prep to get his body right,” Santa Cruz coach Kris Weems said. “All his warm-up stuff, and that’s important, too, that the guys, especially our younger guys, see the way his approach is, in terms of being a professional.”

The soft target date is Thursday against the Raptors (10:30 ET, TNT) for Curry. That means he’d get a taste of Kyle Lowry as a warm-up, followed soon by LA Clippers guard Pat Beverley, who never brings any sympathy to the matchup. Even with Curry, the Warriors stand little chance of falling outside the bottom-three in the standings and ruining their prime Draft lottery status before the season ends.

But there’s nothing to be gained here except to tease a few fans whose imaginations are still stuck in 2018. Curry doesn’t need playing time with Wiggins, and it doesn’t matter how he meshes with many teammates who likely won’t be around next season. Kerr will use a tight leash anyway (or at least he should). In terms of comebacks, Curry barely registers. Most fans are following Williamson’s because at least there’s something at stake for him and the Pelicans.

Curry can get back to splashing, provide a few thrills and convince courtside fans at Chase Center to momentarily stop munching their soft shell crabs and watch the action. That’s all good. But it’s empty calories. This is a lost season that’s far beyond the point of rediscovery.

Seriously now, if a Curry 3-point shot falls in the woods, will anyone really notice?

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter .

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