Why the Warriors’ biggest problem isn’t Draymond Green’s suspension

DRAYMOND GREEN WAS submerged up to his waist in freezing water. His voice echoed off the gray tile walls of this dimly lit room as he tried to explain why he continued to find himself in the NBA’s crosshairs for unsportsmanlike acts on the court. Next door, following an unimpressive 110-106 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Dec. 6, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr was losing his patience, suggesting changes to the team’s core group might be necessary as it continued to struggle throughout the first quarter of the season.

And yet Green did not shiver. Not once.

If he felt anything — the icy-cold water, worry that this run he and his franchise had been on was finally fluttering to its end — he didn’t show it.

“You don’t become what I’ve become if you can’t control your emotions,” Green told ESPN after his fourth game back from a five-game suspension for choking Rudy Gobert. “You don’t win four championships if you can’t control your emotions.

“What I love most is the opportunity to prove myself again. That’s how I come out of this. Like, ‘Oh, they’re doubting you again, they’re questioning you again. They’re questioning your integrity.’ As someone who had to prove myself my whole life, it’s familiar territory.”

It was quintessential Green. Competitive. Defiant. Rough edges the Warriors can neither live without nor ever really sand down. It’s how he has defined himself in the NBA — a mentality he was determined to defend for as long as he can.

“We built this thing from nothing. It’s our baby. You don’t just let your baby go,” Green continued. “You fight to keep that going as long as you can. One of the main ingredients in keeping that is respect. The moment you lose respect, the fight is over.”

The challenge — or rather the “fight” as he saw it that night — was to prove he could control his behavior and stay on the court for a team that so desperately needs him.

“When I’m not on the floor, it hurts my team,” Green said. “So for me, it’s going to be more about, ‘What do you have to do as a leader to save this team? You got to put your ego aside. You got to put your pride aside. You got to put, even, in a sense, you as a human being aside.”

One week later, as his team faced Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns, Green tangled with Suns center Jusuf Nurkic along the sideline. With Nurkic’s hand on his hip, Green turned, flailed and nailed the 7-foot center in the face, knocking the big man to the floor. Green later said he was attempting to draw a foul, that his intent wasn’t to hit, that he understood the ejection and the flagrant 2 call.

The NBA didn’t buy it. The next day, the league suspended him indefinitely. It is Green’s fourth suspension in less than two years.

INDEFINITELY, AS IN Green will have to meet certain league and team requirements to return, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Indefinitely. As in, this is the line the NBA will not cross.

Indefinitely. As in, his future in the league depends on it.

While sources maintain there is still significant support for Green within the Warriors organization, the patience within the league office has clearly withered.

After Green punched teammate Jordan Poole at practice last year, the league considered the Warriors’ history and leadership, and allowed them to handle the matter internally. If Kerr, the thinking went, who’d famously been on the receiving end of a punch from Chicago Bulls teammate Michael Jordan as a player, and then-general manager Bob Myers and owner Joe Lacob believed they could appropriately handle the situation internally, the league would grant them that latitude. It was not an easy decision.

According to sources close to the situation, there were voices within the organization and within the league office who believed Green should’ve received a harsher punishment than a team-imposed week away.

That latitude is now gone.

Hours before the NBA leveled the indefinite suspension, Green told ESPN he intended to call Nurkic to apologize for connecting on the hit and reiterated that he did not intend to hit him. He said he was trying to sell a foul call — that Nurkic was holding his hip — and that he had “flailed.”

“I’ve done things that have gotten me taken out of the game, and all of those things I’ve stood on,” he said. “I don’t back down from those things. I don’t back down from something because of what a suspension may or may not be. I’m not that person. I am very much so the person that I say I am. I only apologize for things if I did not mean to do them. I don’t just come out apologizing just to save my ass. That’s not who I am.

“But I didn’t mean to do it, which is why I wanted to apologize.”

Green is one of the NBA’s most compelling characters. He is passionate when he defends himself and tries to explain his behavior in each incident.

The NBA either doesn’t want to hear it anymore — or doesn’t believe it. Either way, it just wants the violent altercations, the excuses, the defenses, to end.

No one can ensure it will.

“I can’t guarantee you that,” Warriors general manager Mike Dunleavy said. “I can just say we will continue to do the right things to help him.”

GREEN WATCHED THE video of the incident with Gobert on his phone as soon as he got back to the locker room the night it happened.

He was aghast.

“When I watched it back, I said, ‘Damn, I held him much longer than I realized in that moment,'” Green said. “But the reality is, in those moments, you don’t know what time is. You don’t have a sense of time.”

He likened it to the intensity of Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, when neither the Warriors nor the Cleveland Cavaliers scored for three minutes and 46 seconds.

“I had no clue,” he said. “You don’t have a sense of time during these things. It’s spur of the moment. Everything’s moving, everything’s going.”

Green said he talked about the incident with Gobert in depth with Stephen Curry. He said he tried to explain how he lost his sense of time and place.

“That’s the conversation we had,” Curry told ESPN. “I was like, ‘I worry less about what you did, but more the why and how it happened.’

“We’ve been together so long, he’s told me about a lot of the stuff that’s happened to him personally along the way. There are a lot of stressors. … But we all breathe life from him. I don’t know anybody who can replace that. He’s such a barometer for how we’re playing, how motivated we are. His effect on the room is strong. So it’s a blessing and a curse.”

And, after 18 ejections and six suspensions, it’s that edge the NBA is now forcing him to reckon with.



Stephen A. wonders if this is the end for Draymond in Golden State

Stephen A. Smith doesn’t know what kind of future Draymond Green has after his latest suspension.

NBA OPERATIONS CHIEF Joe Dumars has been one of the main arbiters of Green’s incidents the past few years. The former Detroit Pistons great has also known Green for most of his adult life.

“Joe D. is also someone that I still call for advice,” Green said. “In life things, basketball things, I will always call him for advice because he’s been a father figure in my life since I was 16 years old.

“That’s someone in my life that’ll tell me straight up what he thinks. This was bulls—. That was bulls—. This thing you did well. That thing you didn’t do well.”

Dumars was pretty clear in his message to Green on Wednesday: These incidents need to stop.

Green would not say much about his reaction to the indefinite suspension, other than to note he was “processing” it.

“We understand there’s a punishment that will take place,” Dunleavy said. “But this is also about helping somebody. [The NBA] 100 percent agreed. So did Draymond.”

Curry had a similar message for him after the Gobert incident.

“Steph just said to me, ‘Listen, you’re going to do what you do because that’s your role. But we need your performance,'” Green recalled. “‘But I’m not going to tell you how to be you because I can’t do that. I’m not going to tell you to change. Only going to tell you, whatever you have to do, we need you on the court. I need you on the court.’

“I could appreciate that because I’m never going to go to Steph and say, ‘Hey, man, we need you to stop shooting.'”

There is a self-awareness to Green’s explanation. But there is also a blindness within it, too.

The Warriors don’t just need him to stay on the court. They need him to figure out why he can’t.

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