So… the Warriors are having quite the start to their season.
They opened by celebrating another title, their back-to-back with Kevin Durant and third in four years. They handled the Thunder sans Westbrook, and beat the Jazz in a thriller thanks to a Jonas Jerebko (?!) game-winner. After a disappointing loss to the Nuggets, they played the Suns, which always fixes everything, and things were great until Steph Curry got hurt, and listen, my point is that holy cow a lot has happened to the Warriors this season.
And that wasbeforeMonday’s fiasco.
Here’s what’s been most interesting about this entire ordeal: When it happened, Twitter freaked out with the predictable amount of “👀” tweets and jokes about the team blowing up.
Then your typical phalanx of nothing-bad-could-ever-happen-to-the-Warriorsbelievers came in with a pretty reasonable take: This stuff happens all the time; it’s happened with Draymond Green and Kevin Durant before, and it’s no big deal.
I mean, this was my reaction:
This is all gonna make for one hell of an off-day column for Slater, Kawakami, Marcus or Strauss after Game 3 of the Finals with the Warriors up 3-0 after a road victory by 35 points.
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) November 13, 2018
They’d both just talk about being competitive, we’d all wonder, and move on.
Nope. The reports took about 13 seconds to come out. Whoever leaked the info wanted to let it be known Green went too far and that the team was upset with Green for going too far. Eventually, Chris Haynes of Yahoo got to the heart of the matter:
Draymond Green’s one-game suspension for “conduct detrimental to the team” came after he repeatedly called Kevin Durant a “bitch” in a verbal confrontation between the two stars during the Golden State Warriors’ loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Green sat out Tuesday, the Warriors won anyway, because they were playing the Hawks, and Kevin Durant remains very much not here for it:
Pretty terse postgame press conference from Kevin Durant. Whatever Draymond Green said yesterday clearly still bothering him. Here's the transcript of the relevant portions. pic.twitter.com/9e27YWCpFZ
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) November 14, 2018
Now, it is very easy in this situation to say that the media, who aren’t in the locker room, are making more out of this than they need to. That was part of my skepticism. Things ran hot, sure, but it’ll pass in the cold light of morning.
Then, Marcus Thompson, the longest running Warriors scribe, weighed in.
And man alive is there a lot here.
“Green took exception to how Durant addressed him. The exact dialogue couldn’t be recounted as it was said, but it began with Green immediately firing back.
Who the fuck you talking to?
According to multiple sources, Green then went on to make it clear he’s been making plays for years. He reminded Durant the Warriors were winning before Durant showed up so he wouldn’t stand for Durant talking to him as if he were a scrub. Green accused Durant of making the whole season about him even though he was going to leave after this season. Green let out his frustrations about how Durant has handled free agency — keeping his options open and keeping the story alive, consuming the Warriors and their season with talk of what Durant will do next.”
Via The Athletic.
OK. There’s a ton to this, but we need to get out of the weeds and look to the long-term, to what this means, to what matters, and of course, how we can profit off it.
Here are nine questions about the Warriors Internal Combustion Kerfuffle.
1. IS DRAYMOND OUT OF HIS MIND?
No. He’s honestly not.
Here’s the thing: Every member of the Warriors has said, to a man, that Green is the “heart and soul” of the Warriors. As said on the Light Year’s Podcast: Green is what separates the Warriors, one of the greatest teams of all time, from the Spurs.
The Spurs have had the most long-term success of any team in NBA history, yes, including the Celtics. But their peaks were never as good as this Warriors stretch.
Green is as responsible as any player whose middle name isn’t Wardell for the Warriors becomingthe Warriors. The term “tweener” was a bad thing before Green showed up. He has led the Warriors in assists each of the past three seasons, including that 2016 campaign that stands as the greatest offensive season in NBA history.
The Warriors before Steve Kerr arrived and Green became the starter were a really good team that lost to the Clippers in the first round and that was probably their ceiling after catching the Nuggets by surprise in 2013. Green unlocked the Death Lineup. Green was the DPOY for a team that’s been a top-five defensive team from 2015 through 2017. He’s the team’s best passer.
None of this is a qualification for Green having the ball last vs. the Clippers, but that clearly wasn’t his intent. He wanted to run the Warriors’ offense, which is great becauseeveryone sacrifices andeveryone makes the most of one another.
They are the Warriors specifically becausethey do not run the hero-ball nonsense Durant was going for in the waning seconds on Monday.
Time was tight, for sure. But that doesn’t mean that Durant going for his own was the right play, and that’s the fundamental divide.
Green calling his teammate a “bitch” multiple times is wrong from every angle, especially given the complications of that term in a modern context, but this is also an on-floor teammates context, and it’s wrong for entirely different reasons there. That’s supposedly the reason for the team’s harsh reaction, which we’ll get to.
Green bringing up Durant’s free agency? That’s on Durant. Green’s point, from an outside view, seems to be that the Warriors shouldn’t have to kowtow, suck up to, or placate Durant. They won before he got there, and they can win if he leaves. They want him, they recruited him, they won with him. So holding the situation over the team isn’t justified.
Let’s also take a moment to appreciate the fact that Draymond Green, the defense-and-dirty-work passer of the team, reportedly said to the former MVP, two-time Finals MVP, future Hall-of-Famer and the player who is probably the “best” player on the team (even if Curry is more impactful) “Who the fuck you talking to?”
Love him or hate him, but that takes stones.
2. DOES IT MATTER WHO’S RIGHT AND WHO’S WRONG?
Not one little bit. What matters is how the Warriors responded to it.
3. HOW DID THEY RESPOND?
By clearly putting their support behind Durant. As always, never believe that what you’ve given a team/company/organization means more than if they can get an upgrade replacement for you.
Durant held all the cards anyway, as the better player, bigger star and impending free agent. Durant won this battle decisively. The question is what that means for the team.
This the best insight, from Thompson’s piece:
“The general consensus: Green was wrong for going so hard at Durant instead of having a hard-but-civil conversation, and Green was wrong for when he decided to address this situation — in the middle of a game they were trying to win. Green admitted as much to Curry and several believe he would have (and still will) cop to that. But the general consensus also is that Green’s concerns about how Durant has handled free agency weren’t off base.”
This isn’t the first time there’s been tension with the team and Durant. I wrote this piece during the Western Conference Finals last year. At first I thought it was crazy, and then anyone within proximity of the Warriors, along with league personnel, was like, “No, there’s something weird there.”
Shams Charania for the Athletic reported that, initially, teammates were upset with Green’s turnover vs. the Clippers, which sparked Green’s response to Durant.
Do you remember the Mirotic-Portis fight? Bobby Portis put Nikola Mirotic in the hospital. Teammates backed Portis, while saying obviously you can’t put a dude in the hospital. This is a similar type of deal without the violence (fortunately). “You’re wrong for what you did but not for why you did it.”
Every media outlet with ties to Golden State is rife with comments from the players’ frustration about how KD has handled his free agency.
Durant is not going to verbally commit to the Warriors, especially with this kind of pressure. Just as Green will double down on his position, Durant will double down on his right to maintain his free agency freedom.
4. WHY DID THE WARRIORS TAKE DURANT’S SIDE?
They want to keep Durant. That’s the end of that whole thing. They are trying to do everything possible to engender the view that they’ve stuck by Durant.
Durant is high-maintenance, sensitive, and temperamental, by all accounts. He’s also, at this point, probably the best player in the NBA, given how little effort LeBron James musters for the regular season.
The Warriors want to keep winning into the next decade and beyond and beyond. You don’t do that tethering yourself to an aging, declining smallball-five who plays great defense, rebounds and makes the smart pass.
You do it by keeping stars and adding stars. You want to add Anthony Davis? Your chances are better with Steph Curry and Kevin Durant than with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson or Draymond Green.
There’s a short-sightedness to this, though.
What made Durant want to join was the style of play specifically that Green is advocating for and that Durant has consistently resisted against in favor of more traditional heroball.
You want to get rid of Green for an upgrade? Sure, that makes sense, this is the NBA, that’s how it goes. But compromising your internal values to try to keep a player who isn’t willing to commit to you after you helped him win two titles, get a huge burden off his back and raise his profile while paying him tens of millions of dollars?
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There’s a cost to that you’ll have to pay.
If this pans out and Durant re-signs on a five-year deal, maybe it was worth it. But Golden State is plainly sacrificing the very thing that has separated them from a lot of other teams with megastar talent.
Ironically what they’ve sacrificed is the notion of sacrifice.
5. SO WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The Warriors beat the Hawks. They’ll likely beat the Rockets, likely beat the Mavericks Saturday, likely beat the Spurs Sunday, on and on. They’ll be favored in almost every game they play this season, even without Steph Curry (though they are notably terrible against the spread without him).
They will win 55-plus games. They’ll grumble about this stuff and there may be more things to overcome.
But look at the West.
Houston isn’t as good as last year, and it still didn’t beat Golden State last year. OKC is good but not Warriors good. Denver’s falling back to Earth. The Blazers are profoundly solid; solid doesn’t beat the Warriors. The Lakers are just happy to be above .500.
The West is deeper but less top-heavy. The threats to the Warriors all come from the East so far: Milwaukee, Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia. Only one of those teams (or Indy or whoever if an upset comes) will get a chance to dethrone Golden State.
The Warriors’ bench isn’t as good this year and it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if Green and Durant are on the outs. They have the best team, system, and coaching staff in the league.
The only way the outcome we all assume — Golden State winning its third straight title and fourth in five years — doesn’t come to fruition is if Green views this betrayal as something worth drawing a line in the sand.
Those things happen in the NBA, and the Warriors will absolutely feel like they can win without Green. However, that very unlikely scenario would fundamentally undermine what makes this Warriors team so great when it’s at its best.
You can never replace a player like Kevin Durant because of his talent level. You can never replace a player like Draymond Green because of his specific talents for his positions, and the mentality that makes him do things like call his teammate a female dog.
6. IS IT TIME TO FADE THE WARRIORS?
In the short term, game by game, absolutely. Again, as Bryan Mears has noted, Curry is actually underrated in the betting market. Having two key players out of sorts certainly won’t help that.
There’s a reason to go in on fading the Warriors ATS until Curry gets back from injury. Once he does, though, it’s probably back to business.
For futures, there are few select options. If the Warriors implode, that number goes to EVEN. The Raptors are +800 to win the title, the Celtics at +900 (which is likely as low as those odds will be for the foreseeable future).
Everything involving West odds should remain untouchable.
7. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR DURANT’S FREE AGENCY?
There’s a feeling this could be the nail in the coffin. Truth is, it’s too early to say and there’s no way to know how Durant responds.
Even if it seems now like it’s a sure thing he leaves, a lot can happen between now and June. Even if he’s annoyed with Green, is that enough to get him to leave the team that ensures he’ll be in the Finals every year with a chance at another title year after year? Even if he and Green patch things up, will that really get him to commit?
Durant leaving OKC was shocking. Durant leaving OKC for the Warriors who had just beaten him was even more shocking. It’s best to not try and make declarations about the results of decisions with another eight months on the clock.
Of course, the most shocking result would be Durant demanding a trade, but that’s a scenario that, even for the NBA, seems too insane and far-fetched to discuss.
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8. WHAT ABOUT CURRY?
Curry won’t be back for another 10 days at least, the Warriors announced Wednesday. But he will travel with the team on its upcoming road trip. That’s likely as much to try and keep things copacetic as it is for his rehab. Curry notably wasn’t in Los Angeles for the blow-up.
Curry is the Draymond Whisperer, the guy who Green will always stand with. They were there together with Klay Thompson at the start of the dynasty, and Green knows Curry is the meal ticket, as well as a player he’s close to by all accounts.
Curry’s calm and positive demeanor likely defuses some of this. He can be the bridge between Green and Durant; no one sacrificed more than Curry when Durant showed up.
This puts Curry in an uncomfortable position between the two, but Curry will navigate it by not taking sides, saying the right things publicly, and smoothing waters by helping the Warriors win. And that fixes everything — or at least makes things easier to ignore.
9. WHAT ARE THE LESSONS?
Draymond Green asks for no quarter and gives none.
Kevin Durant remains the most complicated superstar in the league.
DeMarcus Cousins is hilarious as a peacemaker.
Steph Curry was gone for one game and the team melted into a teen drama. Who’s the real MVP?
Dynasties are extremely difficult to keep together. It’s the same personalities, often big ones, over and over again in tense, competitive environments. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Warriors aren’t all rainbows and sunshine. It should impress that they’re still so good.
There’s more drama on the way, one way or another.