By: Aaron Halford
While an early-season game against the Clippers in Los Angeles would seem insignificant to a Warriors team that has won three of the last four NBA titles, Monday night’s altercation between Kevin Durant and Draymond Green and the ensuing suspension has put Golden State’s dynasty in serious jeopardy.
After snagging a rebound with five seconds left in regulation, Green decided to push the ball upcourt rather than defer to Durant. Green stumbled and fell, forcing overtime and an eventual defeat to a mediocre Clippers team.
Durant appeared to say something along the lines of “pass the f***ing ball,” to Green, who called Durant a “b*tch” multiple times. The incident carried over into the locker room following the Warriors’ loss, where the two jawed about not just Green’s decision, but Durant’s looming free agency this offseason.
The visitors’ locker room at Staples Center is no stranger to controversy, as evidenced yet again on Monday night.
According to a recent article by The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson, the former Defensive Player of the Year firmly reminded Durant that the team had been winning without him. Green also reportedly expressed his grievances with how Durant has handled his upcoming free agency.
Green’s harsh language and personal attacks on Durant went too far in the eyes of Golden State’s President of Basketball Operation, Bob Myers, and head coach Steve Kerr, who suspended Green without pay the following night against Atlanta.
And while most will fault Green or Durant, it was Kerr and Myers’ handling of the situation that warrants scrutiny. Their decision to suspend Green has implications that could ultimately bring the Warriors’ dynasty to an end. Here’s why:
Question: Is it possible that the incident involving Green and Durant could have been avoided?
Answer: Not only could the incident have been avoided, but it should have been avoided.
After Green grabbed the rebound in a tie game on the road with five seconds left, Steve Kerr should have called timeout. While Kerr often chooses not to take timeout in these types of situations to catch the defense off-guard, five seconds simply isn’t enough time to ensure a quality shot. Some will point to the game in Oklahoma City in 2016 where Stephen Curry hit a 38-footer to win the game after Kerr chose not to call timeout, but Curry hadn’t been playing Monday night. If Kerr calls timeout, the team likely runs a play for KD to get off a mid-range shot and the altercation never occurs at all.
Question: Why was Draymond Green bringing the ball upcourt in that situation?
Answer: First of all, Green is the team’s assist leader and one of the team’s primary ball handlers.
In Curry’s absence, it’s no surprise to me that Draymond would be the one bringing the ball upcourt in that situation. Moreover, I have a strong conviction that Green was not looking to take the last shot. Part of what makes him such a good player and the Warriors such a good team is their collective understanding of who the best shooters are and who should be shooting.
The team has branded itself in the past on ball movement, player movement, and making the extra pass to get the higher-percentage look. Durant should have run the floor with Draymond and let Green further assess his options. Sure, Draymond stumbled and fell, but I fondly remember an incident a few Christmases ago where Durant did the same thing. Things like that happen in high-intensity situations.
Question: Is Draymond Green at all to blame for what happened on Monday night?
Answer: Absolutely. Green turned the ball over with five seconds left and a chance to complete a comeback victory on the road in Los Angeles.
But it wasn’t Green’s decision to bring the ball upcourt that bothers me. Draymond is arguably the team’s smartest player and best (on-court) decision-maker, and I have no problem with him having the ball in his hands in those situations. I’m also not giving Green a pass for not holding himself accountable after the game—rather than offering a “my bad” or an apology for his late-game mistake, Draymond appeared defensive. I’m sure at least some of the bullets could have been dodged if Green were more repentant. Lastly, I have no doubt that Green crossed a line in some of the things he said in the locker room, and I’m not at all defending that. I just think that Kerr and Myers’ decision to suspend Green was a poor one.
Question: Draymond and Kerr had a heated exchange in 2016 in a regular season game against the Thunder where Green reportedly went on a “profanity-laced tirade” and only received a fine. Why a suspension this time?
Long Answer: This is where it gets interesting. Based on the report from the 2016 incident, there is nothing that leads me to believe that Green said anything significantly worse on Monday night than at halftime against the Thunder two years ago. However, the circumstances were much different, and this time it involves a player rather than a coach. This player also happens to be a two-time NBA Finals MVP, four-time scoring champion, and is widely regarded as the best player in the league outside of LeBron James.
Additionally, this player also happens to be in the last season of his contract, and his noncommittal approach to the organization has seemingly left players on the Warriors uneasy. But in spite of Durant’s skills and unparalleled resumé, Green has been the heart and soul of this dynasty to the point where it’s cliché to say it. His court vision and passing are spectacular for a forward of his size, and his defense is second to nobody in the league. I am including Kawhi Leonard, Rudy Gobert, Jimmy Butler, and whoever else you want to include in the conversation when I say that.
When Durant joined to the Warriors in 2016, it was no secret that he came to win championships. Durant has undoubtedly delivered in the past two seasons, winning Finals MVP in consecutive years, with one more on the horizon. But Durant didn’t join the Warriors for the culture, the fanbase, or the organization. Durant hasn’t paid his dues to the organization and fanbase the same way Curry, Klay Thompson, and Green have. The other three stars have expressed long-term commitment to the organization. Curry, Thompson and Green are Warriors. Durant is an exceptional basketball player who plays for the Warriors. There’s a distinction.
Whether intentionally or not, Kerr and Myers’ decision to suspend Draymond sets the precedent that Durant is more important to the franchise than Green. The reason they chose to suspend Green rather than fine him and keep it an internal issue was to send not only a message to Green that he can’t act out or disrespect their best player, but also to Durant, implying that he means more to the ballclub.
I’m sure Green is angry about the decision, and he has every right to be. Green has given the organization his blood, sweat and tears, and Durant has given the organization his sweat. Suspending Draymond could potentially have a greater impact on the future of the franchise than simply fining him and having the two stars work things out. A worst-case scenario for the Warriors is not only Durant leaving, but Green wanting out as well. Green will be a free agent in 2020, and if he ends on a sour note with the Warriors, I wouldn’t be surprised if he left.
I believe that Durant is gone after the season regardless of outcome. The Warriors should invest their time into keeping the core of Curry, Thompson and Green together rather than putting energy into recruiting Durant, especially at the expense of losing their best defensive player and assist man. Golden State is an attractive enough free agent destination even without Durant.