Seventy miles South of Oakland, Seth Curry and the Santa Cruz Warriors grind out morning practice in Kaiser Permanente Arena. It’s one of the NBA Development League’s premier basketball facilities, with room for 2,500 spectators.
Kaiser Permanente holds just over one-fourth of the nearly 10,000 fans the former Blue Devil guard played in front of at Cameron Indoor Stadium from 2010 to 2013. He practices and has played the majority of his professional home games in this arena.
But after one game in the NBA with the Memphis Grizzlies, Curry is still hesitant to call Kaiser Permanente and Santa Cruz his new home. The Charlotte native and former Duke guard insists he belongs at basketball’s highest level. And that he’s doing everything he can to prove it.
The Blue Devils’ leading scorer last season, Curry spent the offseason recovering from an April surgery to repair a stress fracture in his right shin. His summer consisted mostly of rest and rehab.
While Curry recovered, his competition prepared for June’s NBA Draft. More than 100 draft-eligible players worked out for NBA teams in May and June. Curry hoped his 17.5 points per game average and 43.8 percent shooting from 3-point range in his senior season would be enough for an NBA team to call his name on draft day.
“I knew some teams liked me, and I felt like I was one of the top players in the draft,” he said. “I figured there was a 50/50 chance.”
Watching at his Charlotte home with some family members, including father Dell – a 16-year NBA veteran and former Charlotte Hornet, Curry sat through the entire two rounds of the draft without hearing his name called.
“You can’t dwell on it,” he said. “You have to go out there and perform and control what you can control. I play the same no matter what – with a little edge. Whether the number one draft pick or undrafted, I want to go out and maximize my ability, and I’m going to play as hard as I can.”
After having to decline a Summer League invitation from the Bobcats in July, Curry was finally cleared to play again in August. He confirms receiving training camp invitations from Charlotte, San Antonio, Minnesota and Golden State.
On Aug. 23, Curry took step one toward his NBA dream. He signed a non-guaranteed contract with the Golden State Warriors – the team captained by his brother, five-year NBA veteran and 2014 All Star Stephen Curry.
“They had a good system,” Curry said of the Warriors. “I was familiar with their program and their personnel, and I knew they had a strong D-League program where I could develop as a point guard.”
Curry’s “Welcome to the NBA,” moment happened just two games into the NBA preseason, when Warriors head coach Mark Jackson put him in with 3:45 left to play in Golden State’s first home game, against Sacramento. Not coincidentally, Stephen was also in the game at the time.
“I walked on the court and was just thinking about it,” he said. “It was surreal that me and my brother were out here at the same time on the same NBA team. It was an incredible moment and a great experience.”
In 31 seconds on the floor together, neither of the brothers scored. But Seth Curry later provided one of the highlights of the night, knocking down a midrange jump-shot as time expired in the Warriors 94-81 win.
It was the only time the brothers would see the court together during Seth Curry’s four-game preseason stint with Golden State.
The Warriors waived Curry as part of the team’s final cuts on Oct. 25. He was sent down to Santa Cruz.
“I knew it was going to be difficult with the guys they have,” Curry said of sticking with Golden State. “I just wanted to prove I could help them and bring something that nobody else on the team brought.”
Before leaving Oakland, Curry spoke with Jackson, Golden State GM Bob Myers and other members of the coaching staff on his Development League outlook and future with the organization.
“They got an eye on me all the time,” he said. “But there are never any problems in the D-League with guys being called up or getting re-signed to teams. You just got to go out there and prove you belong.”
In time for Christmas
Jeff Austin, Curry’s agent, worked Curry’s Development League contract to make him available to any professional team willing to sign him. Before long, the Memphis Grizzlies came knocking.
After Curry posted averages of 19.8 points, 7.6 assists and 3.3 rebounds in six regular season games for Santa Cruz, the Grizzlies invited him to work out with then-free agents Darius Morris and Reggie Williams in early December.
Though both Morris and Williams had previous NBA experience, the Grizzlies chose Curry to add to the team’s guard depth. The signing was made official on Dec. 24.
“I played well during the workout,” Curry acknowledged. “They said they liked me, but there are never any promises that a team is going to sign you until they actually do.”
He joined the team in Houston on Christmas Day, and was on the bench for the Grizzlies’ 100-92 loss to the Houston Rockets on Dec. 26.
Curry sat on the bench for the next four games before making his long-awaited NBA debut on Jan. 5 at Detroit, with 4:05 left to play.
In just over four minutes, Curry turned in a clean score sheet. He didn’t attempt a shot, have an assist, grab a rebound or record any statistics.
He still reflects on the outing with a sense of disbelief.
“It was just a weird situation,” he said. “It was good to be on the NBA court, but I didn’t get the chance to show what I needed to out there.”
Within two hours of the final buzzer at Detroit’s Palace of Auburn Hills, Curry was cut by the Grizzlies – capping one of the most bittersweet days of his life.
“It blindsided me. I wasn’t expecting it,” he said. “I thought I was going to be there all year. And I didn’t get a chance to show what I could do.”
Curry, 23, was waived just two days before non-guaranteed player contracts became guaranteed for the season on Jan. 7. The Grizzlies asked Curry to stay in Memphis until he cleared waivers – with the intent of re-signing him to a 10-day contract on Jan. 8.
After waiting for three days and clearing waivers, Curry was told he wasn’t going to be re-signed.
“I was confident I was going to be back with the team,” he said. “But it just didn’t happen.”
D-League, again and looking forward
Back in Santa Cruz, Curry says he’s taking life one practice, one game at a time and hoping the NBA again comes calling. As Memphis chose not to re-sign him, Curry can again be signed by any NBA team.
Through 23 D-League games, Curry is averaging 19.8 points, 7.0 assists and 3.4 rebounds in 35.3 minutes per game – and is the 10th ranked NBA-ready prospect on the D-League’s most recent weekly rankings. Curry was also one of 20 D-Leaguers selected for the League’s All-Star Game last Saturday in New Orleans. He scored 10 points in the game.
He speaks with Stephen almost daily, and cites Grizzlies’ point guard Mike Conley as one of the players he most looked up to during his time in Memphis. Having his brother and father to rely on for advice is everything, says Curry, who also connects with former Duke teammate Ryan Kelly on occasion.
“They’ve been through it all NBA-wise,” he said. “And that helps. The biggest thing is being able to watch them, and watch Stephen now, how he prepares for a season and how he goes through his season. Just being able to pick their brains anytime. It’s something that will benefit me going forward.”
Working for an NBA future, Curry says his goal isn’t just to play for an NBA team, but to be a full-time contributor at point guard.
In the meantime, he’s practicing and playing at Kaiser Permanente Arena, hoping the 2,500 fans he sees in the stands will soon turn into 20,000 fans elsewhere.
“At the end of the day it’s about playing basketball , and I love to do it,” he said. “There’s no better thing than being able to play basketball for a living every day. Whenever I get my opportunity in the League, that’s when it’s going to be. I have to control what I can control, and that’s going out and playing well – and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that so far.”