How Steph Curry's emotional return to Warriors will change everything


Editor’s note: Kerith Burke, NBC Sports Bay Area’s Warriors reporter, will take you inside the Dubs as only she can each Friday with the Ask Kerith Mailbag. Send her a question on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #askKerith.


On Saturday the Warriors play in Phoenix, and Sunday they’re home to face the Wizards. The back-to-back features a major storyline: Steph Curry is expected back for that March 1 game against Washington. 

Steph said March 1 was “always the date” he carried in his mind so that he could have a moment on the calendar to work towards. It’s finally here.

A word of caution, though. Steve Kerr said it’s “the hope” that Steph plays Sunday, but it is not a guarantee yet. We will find out his status officially from the team on Friday or Saturday.

Sunday is an early tip-off at 5:30 p.m. The Wizards are fighting for a playoff spot. Steph’s targeted return is a massive positive for the Warriors, but it comes with a bundle of emotions and change. There are factors that could make this game unpredictable. Tune in.

Game on!

Via IG, @y1shwant asks, Will Steph be under any sort of minutes restriction for the rest of the season?

In Steph's first games back, the medical staff might have a limit in mind. That’s normal. Even though Kerr has complimented Steph’s conditioning during his rehab, he gives players the runway to get their legs and lungs back.

As far as a restriction for the remaining games on the schedule? I don’t think so. Not an official restriction, anyway. They’ll be sensible about how much Steph can handle.

They want him to play, there’s work to do to build chemistry with his new teammates, and the expectation is to win some games to end the season on a high note. 

Since they're not making a playoff push, they don’t need to ride Steph hard by playing him 40 minutes a night. He’ll probably get some games off where it makes sense. Expect the Warriors to find the balance between making sure Steph gets meaningful time on the court, while also helping him maintain his health to the finish. 

@GJohnde @KerithBurke What are your thoughts on 10 day contracts? How do the ten day contract players get acclamated to a team that they are on temporarily?

Ten-day contracts are like Eminem’s song “Lose Yourself.” You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow / This opportunity comes once in a lifetime.

These contracts can be last gasps in the NBA. Or, they might be quick auditions depending on the situation. For the players on 10-day contracts, they have to learn the basics of the playbook immediately, show their skills, be good teammates, and make a lasting impression in a small window of time.

That’s nerve-wracking. That’s vomit on the sweater already, mom’s spaghetti. 

@dfs30745 Why have the Warriors never used the disabled player exception? With Klay out for the season it seems a no brainer.

To use the DPE for Klay, the Warriors needed to let an NBA-approved doctor (not one of their own) evaluate Klay by Jan. 15 and conclude Klay would be “highly unlikely” to be cleared to play by June 15. 

A couple of things sprout from this situation, which could have dictated the Warriors' decision. Klay could be cleared by June 15, so the timeline doesn’t work. Or, the Warriors wanted to do their own evaluation later in the season (they announced Feb. 20 that he’s officially out for the season) to leave open a sliver of possibility that Klay could play. 

Furthermore, any player they would add to the roster if the DPE was approved would have his salary stacked on an already huge payroll. The Warriors went in a different direction to fill their roster affordably. 

Hat tip to Warriors Insider Monte Poole for helping me with this question. 

@darinbunch I’m curious what you think Damion Lee’s role will look like next season? He seems to get better every time he’s on the floor this year.

Damion has established himself as a dependable, hard-working player who will give the team scoring and grit off the bench next season.

“Scoring and grit” sounds like a basketball cereal. Yummy, clichés! 

He paid his dues in the G League, performed well this season when injuries forced guys to play heavy minutes, and earned a multi-year deal. The Warriors trust his decision-making. 

When he turns 28 at the start of next season, he’ll be one of the older players to lend his voice to a locker room that needs veterans. Damion can share his story about perseverance. 

@sorokman Do you think Ky Bowman has a future as (at least) a backup PG in a good team? I really like his intensity and confidence, feels to me a bit Van-Vleety in those areas.

Yes. Maybe because I see Ky daily -- and the speed and intensity he gives to every moment on the court -- I hold him in high esteem. 

Other evaluators might see an undrafted guy who got lucky being on the Warriors’ G League team during an injury-plagued season where they had no choice but to call guys up. They might want to see more. To me, it’s what Ky did with this opportunity that stands out. 

As a two-way rookie, he had games where he was the Warriors’ starting point guard. That’s a big stage. He didn’t fold. 

I love good stories. Ky has a good story. 

@RandyHauser Can you get a sense of what the organization's views are for next season? I think they are a lock for a top 4 spot in the west.

The expectation is to jumpstart the dynasty. Get the machine rumbling again. 

How much change will happen around their core of Steph, Klay, and Draymond next season is up in the air. But they have plenty of reasons to feel good about what the rookies did this season. Marquese Chriss has been a delight. Damion is locked in. I hope Kevon is healthy.

I said in the last mailbag I think Andrew Wiggins in a long-term piece. We’ll see what happens with the Warriors’ lottery pick and if any trade possibilities arise this summer. 

Next season should indicate the strength of the Warriors’ culture. Was the competitive spirit aflame even when the wins were few? Did they endure this crummy season and start fresh? Are good habits still in place? No slippage? 

On paper, even with some uncertainty about who will fill out the roster, the one-two punch of the rested, healthy Splash Brothers is enough in my mind for a playoff spot.

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Via IG, @renegadegabe asks, What’s been your favorite moment of the season? 

My favorite moment wasn’t a happy one, but a meaningful one. 

The night the Lakers played their first home game after Kobe Bryant died, the Warriors were on the road. The team was flying to Cleveland. A mechanical issue with the plane delayed the arrival by several hours. 

The team provides dinners for the players and staff traveling. Sometimes the players go, sometimes they do their own things. But a late arrival into Cleveland meant the team dinner was the best option late at night. 

The Warriors had a small, private room at a restaurant. The TVs were on, awaiting the Lakers’ tip-off. The coaches filled a table. The broadcasters filled a table. Nearly all of the players came in to eat too. 

The room was packed. It became silent as the pre-game ceremony for Kobe played out on screen. The quietness reminded me to look around and be thankful. 

This packed room grieved together. During the hush, I remember the light sounds of forks and knives on the dinner plates as we ate wordlessly. I remember the look of Quinn Cook’s anguish on the screen. I remember feeling grateful for the people I have the privilege of calling co-workers. 

That moment of togetherness will stay with me. Gathering for any meal with people you care about can be powerful, but this one was unforgettable. 

High Five

This week’s high five goes to Logan Murdock for a story few people could have written: The NBA’s dap politics

Follow Kerith on Twitter @KerithBurke and on Instagram @warriorskerith, and, of course, watch her on NBC Sports Bay Area’s Warriors coverage all season.

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