OAKLAND, Calif. -- When the Minnesota Timberwolves handed the Stephen Curry-less Golden State Warriors their second straight loss two weekends ago, Kevin Durant said in his postgame media session that "Steph is the system here."
The 6-foot-11 forward was openly acknowledging an often unpopular stance: Golden State's hope of securing a third championship in four years rests upon the ankles, and now, the left knee, of Curry.
The team has struggled to win without the two-time MVP, despite having three other All-Stars to rely on. The Warriors are 13-8 when Curry has been forced to sit due to injury this season, compared with 41-10 when he's in the lineup.
Durant: 'Steph is the system here'
Kevin Durant talks about what Steph Curry, David West and Andre Iguodala bring to the Warriors and how he is looking forward to having them back.
Within league circles, the belief is Golden State's streak of appearing in the NBA Finals is in danger if Curry is unavailable or not himself.
"Everyone just needs to relax with all this s---," Durant told ESPN on Friday night, after Curry left the Warriors' game against the Atlanta Hawks with a knee injury. "We'll be fine."
In Friday's contest against the Hawks, Curry's first game back after missing the previous six with a tweaked right ankle, teammate JaVale McGee elevated for a block attempt in the third quarter and ended up falling on Curry's left leg. Curry exited the game shortly after.
An MRI on Saturday revealed a Grade 2 MCL sprain. Curry will be re-evaluated April 14, which is the first day of the NBA playoffs. Before the MRI results were revealed, sources said the organization felt that if Curry were to be out for only a month it would be considered a massive victory.
Sources told ESPN that Curry was seen leaving the practice facility on Saturday with a limp and carrying a "Game Ready" hot and cold therapy system for his knee. But people close to Curry said he's in good spirits and determined to come back at full strength during the playoffs.
Golden State is in somewhat familiar territory. Last season, Durant was sidelined for just over five weeks with an MCL sprain in his left knee that was injured when teammate Zaza Pachulia inadvertently rammed his head into Durant's knee while falling to the hardwood. Durant was able to return with three games remaining in the regular season and found his rhythm prior to facing the Warriors' first-round opponent, the Portland Trail Blazers.
"We've been through this," Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said after practice Saturday. "We know the formula."
When Durant (ribs), Klay Thompson (hand) and Draymond Green (pelvic contusion) return from their injuries, it's clear their roles will be enhanced. How they fare in an extended capacity will serve as a barometer for how good they can be should they meet the Houston Rockets in the conference finals.
But what's becoming clear is that it's almost essential that the Warriors add Quinn Cook to their playoff roster if they want to enter postseason play with the most balanced roster possible and have an extra insurance policy in the backcourt. Most teams prefer to carry three point guards, but Golden State has abandoned that preference for the most part in recent years. Shaun Livingston has been the only true backup point guard this entire season.
Cook is under a standard one-year, two-way contract, league sources tell ESPN. If the Warriors retain him for the playoffs, his contract would be converted into a minimum deal.
"I want to secure a guaranteed deal," Cook told ESPN. "I know I'm an NBA player, and I want to continuing proving that."
League sources have told ESPN that discussions between the two sides on extending Cook's season have not yet occurred. He has scored in double figures in each of the past five games, including outings of 20, 25 and a career-high 28 points.
Cook scores career-high 25 points
Quinn Cook drops 25 points on 10-of-13 shooting from the field in the Dubs' 98-93 loss to the Kings.
But in order to make room for Cook on the playoff roster, Golden State would have to waive one of its 15 guaranteed contracts. Cook wouldn't be the savior to keep the team afloat on this championship quest, but his presence is vital.
In the end, Curry's health is going to determine if this season is truly a success or not. The Warriors desperately need his knee and ankles to cooperate.
"We can overcome this," Kerr said. "... We just got to be able to hold down the fort and understand that this is all part of the journey."