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IT’S TIME FOR THE WARRIORS TO CUT THEIR LOSSES ON BABY DRAY
Green’s latest altercation — smacking Jordan Poole with a practice punch — is a final reminder that he isn't worth a long-term extension and should be encouraged to take the Bay Bridge to free agency
The enabling of Draymond Green has reached an expiration point, followed by a clown emoji. What once was considered indispensable passion has devolved, as he approaches 33, into a lack of emotional intelligence. By now, he should realize he has life by the short hairs — four NBA titles, riches wilder than his Saginaw dreams, a future as the next Charles Barkley assured by Turner Sports. But rather than mature with age, Green is a batch of spoiled milk.
A sour smell, accompanied by lactic acid.
And the Golden State Warriors, otherwise a model organization, must stop pampering him. If he doesn’t like it, he can take one of two bridges — Golden Gate or Bay — out of San Francisco to a team willing to tolerate a tempestuous act that too often spills into counterproductive petulance.
Months after nearly costing the Warriors another championship with poor play, fool antics and ill-timed podcasts — six years earlier, he’d sabotaged them by nut-punching LeBron James and landing in the suspension bin — Baby Dray is back to tormenting teammates. This time, he slugged guard Jordan Poole during a heated practice episode — “forcefully,” per reports — and it doesn’t require intense psychoanalysis to understand one nagging reason. Poole is in line for a lucrative contract extension ahead of an Oct. 17 deadline, when he’s only a 23-year-old newbie to a dynasty that launched in the mid-2010s, while Green strongly senses owner Joe Lacob is in no hurry to meet his demand of a $164.2-million max extension. That would lock him in until he turns 37, after which he could stuff Barkley into a very large burlap sack and take over the loud, opinionated role on “Inside The NBA” the next two decades.
Instead, Lacob has deprioritized Green in an internal crisis that could disrupt the core chemistry that has made the Warriors successful, enduring and delightful. Capable of two or three more titles, as long as Stephen Curry is the ageless centerpiece, management is dealing with the convergence of key players eligible for extensions. The simple way out: Give Poole, Green, Finals hero Andrew Wiggins and beloved local icon Klay Thompson what they want, which is permissible under the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement if Lacob is comfortable paying a repeater luxury tax higher than the gross national products of many world countries. He already has said he is not comfortable at all with, say, a bill exceeding $550 million, knowing his largesse has incurred the wrath of other league owners as it is. Not even the man who boasted his franchise is “light years ahead” of the competition — “We’ve crushed them on the basketball court, and we’re going to for years because of the way we’ve built this team,” he said famously (and correctly) in 2016 — is willing to become the Steve Cohen of hoops.
Can we reasonably blame him? “Those numbers are not even remotely possible,” Lacob recently told The Athletic.
So, something has to give. Someone has to lose in a season already teeming with tension, when last year’s title banner has yet to be hoisted in Chase Center. Green might be crazy, but he’s not stupid. Asked last week on Media Day if he’s confident about an extension, he was brutally honest, as usual. He sounds willing to settle for his $25.8 million this season, reject his player option and enter free agency next summer, when various superteam schemers — James and the Lakers, Steve Ballmer and the Clippers, Mark Cuban and the Mavericks — might like to tap into Green’s pedigree, if not his lunacy. Or, with strong Michigan roots, maybe he’d go home and help the Detroit Pistons become winners again.
All in all, it appears Green and the Warriors are at the beginnings of a divorce period. Extraordinarily patient as general manager Bob Myers and coach Steve Kerr have been through all his incidents and dramas, they are understandably weary. The emphasis should be on the June championship and a repeat attempt. Nope, it’s on Draymond once more. “It's unfortunate, I'm not going to deny it. Nobody likes it. We don’t condone it. But it happened,” Myers said. "It'll take some time to move through, but we'll move forward and I'm confident we will. We've got a good team, we've got good leadership, we've got some guys that have been here a long time. This isn't our first thing that's happened, or our first sense of adversity, we've been through some of this before. Don't like going through it, but it's part of the NBA and it's part of sports.”
Curry was so disturbed by the punch that he spoke of it Thursday as a defining moment for the franchise. “These inflection points, these moments,” he said, “they can make or break a team. My job is to not let it break.” My God, it’s not even the second week of October. Thanks, Baby Dray.
Kerr once absorbed a practice punch from Michael Jordan during the Bulls dynasty. Draymond Green is no Michael Jordan, not remotely close. “He didn’t practice today. He won’t be here tomorrow. I expect him to return Saturday and be back at it,” said Kerr, which suggests a punishment of some sort. Ever the media politician, Green used one of his cronies, Chris Haynes of Yahoo! Sports, to spread word that Poole’s attitude has changed amid stardom and an imminent extension. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” Kerr said. “Disappointed in seeing misinformation out there. The only thing I will say is, Jordan has been fantastic throughout camp. Wanted to make sure I set the record straight on that.” It also can be construed as a shot at Green when Kerr says, “This is Steph’s team now. Clearly, Steph has blossomed into this amazing leader.” Unless Curry intercedes quickly on behalf of his longtime friend and partner in championship crime, Green’s extension seems dead after the Poole dust-up. His looming departure should be received not with statue-building plans, but a deep, relieved breath of fresh air. He knows what’s coming.
“I don’t think it will happen, and so for me, I’m just focused on this season and being as great as I can be and as I know I’m capable of being and winning another championship and reaching my individual goals that I have as well. I think that’s my main focus,” Green said.
Will his competitive DNA allow him to maintain that focus, from October through June? At the time, he said yes. Curiously, he injected Poole into his answer when it wasn’t necessary. “Contract situations, contract years, that is a part of this league. I think it weighs on everyone differently. I think the way a contract situation would weigh on me is totally different than the way it would weigh on a Jordan Poole, who has never signed a big contract,” Green said. “When you’re in different positions of your career and you know, like, all right, you have security or you don’t. I think all of those different things plays a part into how one may react to being in a contract year. Some people are motivated by contract years, and some people are nervous and struggle during contract years. I think it’s all based on a player.
“For me personally, I think, anytime it’s a contract year is motivation. And that’s kind of how I approach it and how I view it. And it’s always been the way I’ve viewed it. I’ve historically been the guy to bet on myself even when others didn’t believe. I’ve always felt confident betting on myself, and nothing changes for me now.”
Days later, he was punching Poole. It brought back bad memories of the night Green scolded Kevin Durant in the final minutes of a regular-season game in 2018, which led an already anxious and contemplative Durant to flee the Warriors the following summer. “You’re a bitch and you know you’re a bitch! We won without you! Leave!” said Green, who was suspended for one game without pay by Myers and Kerr. Had Baby Dray kept his mouth shut, maybe Durant would have remained in the Bay Area rather than make a deal with the Kyrie Devil in Brooklyn, where the Nets were swept out of the first round last spring by the Celtics, who advanced to the Finals before bowing to Curry and Golden State.
Let’s do the math. Green has cost the Warriors how many NBA titles, exactly? One, for sure, when his crown-jewels attack fueled Cleveland’s comeback from a 3-1 deficit. They won two with Durant, who won back-to-back Finals MVP awards, and if he’d stayed for the long term, how many more would they have won? In Green’s defense, they won bookend titles in 2015 and 2022 without Durant. But it’s telling that Curry, in a Rolling Stone interview, revealed the Warriors had internal discussions about rescuing Durant from the Nets after he demanded a trade over the summer. Curry told Lacob, Myers and Kerr to go for it, if need be.
Said Curry, apparently not caring how Green would feel: “There was a conversation internally amongst us about, ‘If he was available, would you?’ Every team has those conversations, and obviously in our situation, they're gonna call me and ask me, ‘How do you feel about it?’ And if you said, ‘Oh, KD's coming back, and we're gonna play with him, I had so much fun playing with him those three years,’ I'd be like, ‘Hell, yeah!’
“Then you have to think: What does that actually mean? What does it look like? You tell me I'm playing with (Wiggins, Poole and Green), I'm like, ‘Hell, yeah!’ There's all types of emotion and things that happen (within) the league. If anybody's saying that you wouldn't entertain that conversation — no disrespect to anybody on our team — but you don't know how things work. But you also understand, like, if we run this thing back, I've got complete confidence in my team that we can win it again, as constructed.”
Always the diplomat, Curry played it both ways. But his warm feelings for Durant were obvious. “The idea of playing with KD and knowing who he is as a person, from our history in those three years, I think KD's a really good dude. I think he is misunderstood,” he said. “I think he has had certain things happen in his life that hurt his ability to trust people around him, in a sense of making him feel safe at all times. So all those things, I understand, having played with him and gotten to know him. I love that dude.”
Since “Bitch Night,” Green and Durant have mended their wounds on a podcast. Naturally, both blamed Myers and Kerr for mishandling the matter. “In my opinion, they f—ed it up,” Baby Dray said.
How so? “I said, ‘Y’all about to f— this up. The only person that can make this right is me and K. And there is nothing that y’all can do, and y’all are going to f— this up,’ ’’ Green recalled.
Said Durant: “It wasn’t the argument. It was the way that everybody, Steve Kerr, acted like it didn’t happen. Bob Myers just tried to just discipline you and think that would put the mask over everything.”
I’m not sure how Myers and Kerr, both among the best in sports history in their respective roles, have tolerated Green’s b.s. for so long. Winning championships and attending parades soothes the aggravation, sure, but if not for Curry’s magic and the struggles of Jayson Tatum, Draymond would have been the villain again in defeat. How much longer do the bosses want to take those risks? Are the elements that once made him valuable — fire, defense, passing, dirty work — now being overwhelmed by his detriments?
He apologized to the team Thursday and left the facility — “Space is good,” Myers said — but now a clock is ticking. As a national media guy, Draymond Green knows a major story line is emerging. In his final months with the Warriors, will he win a fifth title … or screw up another … before turning free agency into his personal soap opera?
In baseball, Aaron Judge won the bet against himself. In the NFL, Lamar Jackson is winning the bet on himself.
The odds don’t favor Green. In a UFC Octagon, maybe. But in an NBA where the Clippers and Suns are serious in the West, and the Bucks and 76ers are serious in the East, the Warriors will win again only if Baby Dray is sent away at the trade deadline.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.