Why Draymond Green May Soon Be the Odd Man Out at Golden State

Why Draymond Green May Soon Be the Odd Man Out at Golden State

The shadow of Green’s punch looms over the team, even as Golden State shows it still has what it takes to compete for a championship.

As Golden State posed in front of a banner destined for its arena’s rafters, all looked fine and well for the team. The players were beaming and dancing, flashing their new championship rings toward a photographer.

The Tuesday evening scene was a déjà vu of sorts. Golden State has gone through this pomp and circumstance four times in the last eight seasons as part of a ceremony to celebrate winning an N.B.A. title by raising a championship banner. Tribute video. Inspirational music. Cheering fans.

“I’ve never had a bad ring night,” Golden State Coach Steve Kerr said. “They’re all awesome.”

Just ignore the reality show that aired on TNT hours earlier starring and produced by Golden State’s Draymond Green, who in the show briefly addressed punching his younger teammate Jordan Poole in the face in an incident that threatened to rupture the franchise on the doorstep of the season.

Oh, that. Awkward.

Golden State began its pursuit of a fifth championship for its current dynasty by dismantling the Los Angeles Lakers, 123-109, on Tuesday, easily dispatching a team with no shortage of its own drama and championship aspirations. Golden State’s Stephen Curry, the most valuable player of last season’s finals, effortlessly dropped 33 points. But his team began the season under the shadow of Green’s swing at Poole at a practice, a video of which was obtained by TMZ .

And in part because of Green, the Golden State dynasty — at least as the world has known it — faces the potential of great upheaval.

Golden State has long been defined by the greatness of Curry. But it has also been marked by a rare continuity. This is Kerr’s ninth season as head coach, the third-longest tenure behind that of San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Miami’s Erik Spoelstra. Green, Curry and Klay Thompson have played together for more than a decade. Bob Myers, the team president, has been with the franchise since 2011.

Green’s value to the team is undoubtable: He can defend all five positions at an elite level, and he is an excellent passer, particularly adept at finding Curry in the right spots. He had 5 assists Tuesday to go with 4 points and 5 rebounds.

At 32, he has also been known as a leader on and off the floor. Younger players like Moses Moody, James Wiseman and, at one point, Poole have spoken about the encouragement they received from Green when they were struggling on the court.

Without Green, there is no Golden State dynasty.

He has spent his whole career in Golden State and has a player option after this year worth roughly $27.5 million. Green is a four-time All-Star who, according to The Athletic , believes he’s deserving of a maximum contract extension. And in many situations, this would be a no-brainer, both as a reward for his past service to Golden State and in recognition of his current abilities.

But his role as a leader is in question after what happened with Poole this month. He has a reputation for impulsive behavior like the Poole incident, yelling at coaches and teammates, and racking up silly technicals. One wonders if Myers and Joe Lacob, the team’s owner, may look at Green entering the twilight of his career and wish him the best playing somewhere else.

They have locked in the 23-year-old Poole for years to come, recently signing him to a four-year extension worth up to $140 million, according to ESPN .

Poole was diplomatic Tuesday when asked whether the rift with Green had healed.

“It was ring night and that’s really what we were focused on,” Poole said. “Finishing the first game. Huge win against a really good team.”

Golden State also recently signed forward Andrew Wiggins, 27, to a pricey extension after he proved crucial to the team’s finals win last year and cemented himself as a building block for the team’s future. Not signed to an extension so far: Green.

Golden State may be liable for almost $500 million in salaries and luxury tax next year. To put that in perspective, the minimum team salary for this season is about $111 million . Lacob has been willing to spend more than any other team in the N.B.A. to keep the team’s core together, but from a cold business perspective, Green soon may be the odd man out.

Golden State has cited the organization’s strong culture as a reason for its success. But professional sports have long been a haven where bad behavior is overlooked for players who contribute to wins, which perhaps explains why Golden State chose to fine but not suspend Green for the punch.

That is, however, a short-term solution to keep the peace. And Green, who won the Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2016-17, certainly contributes to wins. On Tuesday, his ball-hawking skills made life difficult for Anthony Davis, the Lakers’ star big man, and offensively, Green flashed his versatility.

But the shadow of his punch still looms.

Green, in publicly apologizing for the incident on Oct. 8, told reporters that the he regretted the embarrassment his punch caused Poole and his family. Yet he chose to air the video again Tuesday in a self-serving “all-access” show called “The Countdown” on TNT, which also broadcast Golden State’s game. He turned the incident into profit and a glossily produced opportunity for image rehabilitation. He addressed the Poole incident by saying that he hadn’t paid much attention to the social media backlash. He also tried to use the show to reassert himself as a leader of the team.

“You can’t change the events that happened, but we can control what happens moving forward and that’s where we are,” Green said straight into the camera during the segment. “And myself as a leader of this team, it’s on me to make sure we’re headed that way.”

Whatever becomes of Green, Golden State is strongly positioned for the future. Aside from Poole and Wiggins, young talents with like Wiseman, Moody and Jonathan Kuminga are waiting in the wings for more playing time (and their own contract extensions) without the drama that Green brings.

That Golden State faces upheaval is not the same thing as Golden State facing an end. This isn’t the first time that the team’s run has seemed seriously threatened. As a result of injuries, Golden State was among the worst teams in the league the two seasons before last year, which left many wondering if they could recapture their greatness. That didn’t escape Curry.

“I heard it back in 2019,” Curry told The Mercury News in an interview published Tuesday. “I heard during the pandemic. We hear it a little louder now because we won again. We would have heard it louder had we not won. Nobody has any idea what’s going to happen.”

As Tuesday night showed, the team is positioned for another ring chase. Poole and Green showed they can coexist on the court: Poole slipped Green a slick pass in the second quarter for an easy layup. But if Golden State hosts another banner-raising ceremony next fall, it may be the last one featuring Green.