Draymond Green will return to the Warriors Sunday for Game 4 of the Western Conference first-round series against the Kings to what is expected to be a raucous ovation at Chase Center in San Francisco.
The Warriors won Game 3 Thursday night with Green unable to play because of his one-game suspension for his Brothers Johnson-like stomp on Domantas Sabonis. It was the latest in Green’s putrid behavior during games or even at practice. Remember, six months ago Green punched teammate Jordan Poole in an ugly incident caught on video.
Green was ejected during Game 2 against the Grizzlies last season because of a flagrant foul on Dillon Brooks. And of course he was suspended for the key Game 5 of the 2016 Finals against the Cavaliers because he kicked LeBron James and the ejection gave him enough penalty points for a one-game ban.
Green is one of the most controversial players of this generation, a talkative and pompous player who never backs down from a challenge, even if it costs his team. But he’s also the best defensive player of his generation and one of the primary reasons the Warriors went from an NBA laughingstock to a dynasty in his 11 years with the club.
So forgiveness is always in order for Green because of his production, especially in situations such as Thursday, when his absence galvanized the team into a runaway win. Green’s future in Golden State is cloudy because he has a player option on his contract for next season and the Warriors will have to determine whether to offer a long-term extension to a 33-year-old with declining skills.
But for now, it’s all good with Green and Golden State. The organization is never annoyed for very long.
“Once these decisions were made, there’s no appellate court, it’s over,” general manager Bob Myers said of Green’s suspension handed out by the NBA. “It doesn’t matter what any of you think, doesn’t matter what I think. I spoke to Draymond and I told him it’s about the team, not whether or not he should have been suspended. That doesn’t help anyone.
“I understand it’s a big topic, I totally get that. I feel bad we lost the game. Playoffs, there’s all kinds of things. I’m more focused on what I can do, put our energy into the game really.
“Winning is messy. The last 10 years has not been perfect. There’s an edginess to it, there’s a tension. Certainly he’s crossed that line, but he’s been punished for it. So the people that are wanting to see a punishment, he got one. He’s been a part of a lot of winning.”
Perhaps the Warriors expected more maturity from Green as he approaches his mid-30s. The punching of Poole, a rising cornerstone, was damaging to Green’s reputation. He was viewed as a big bully, the aging player who can’t handle his emotions. He apologized in a 36-minute press conference. Green is always apologetic and regretful eventually, but it hasn’t changed his behavior.
“He knows he’s not perfect,” Myers said. “His mistakes are out there for the world. That’s what comes with being him. Each time he’s misstepped, my hope is he learns from it and becomes better. I think he’s been punished. People can think whatever they want.”
But Green probably is a future Hall of Famer. He has changed the game with his ability to defend and also play point forward. He was one of the most indispensable pieces in the Warriors’ four championships, and every team has been seeking a Green-like player in the past decade. The Celtics have tried with players such as Grant Williams.
The Warriors may not sign Green to that long-term extension. He may finish his career elsewhere, but he still has the organization’s support because of his past production, regardless of how much of a headache he has been.
“He’s a force, the guy’s a force,” Myers said. “He’s unique. He’s a leader. But he will tell you that he’s made mistakes.
“He’s got a good heart, he does. I know that. But that doesn’t mean he’s mistake-free. He made a mistake with a teammate. I hadn’t see that before. Without him, we don’t have any of the championships. A complicated guy, that’s for sure.”
Redick on the playoffs
Former NBA sharpshooter is worth a listen
Former NBA sharpshooter and current ESPN analyst J.J. Redick has become one of the rising voices in the league. He has strong opinions. Some are controversial, such as his unflattering thoughts on the NBA’s previous generations, but Redick is worth a listen.
He offered his thoughts on the playoffs, including whether it’s important for players to have momentum for a long playoff run.
“I always felt like I wanted to be in a rhythm, and a rhythm is just that flow state that we search for as athletes,” he said. “So you have sort of an individual flow state and then a team, in a sport that requires so much cooperation and sharing and sacrifice at times.
“So I always felt good or bad going into the playoffs and, to be honest with you, sometimes you feel good, it goes good. Sometimes you feel bad, it goes bad. Sometimes those two things get shifted and you can’t really predict. So much of the playoffs are matchup-based — not just individual, but team. What does one team do well? What does another team do poorly?”
The Nuggets were a shell of themselves in the final month of the regular season, but they responded by winning the first two games of their series against the Timberwolves.
“I don’t like how they handled the last 17 games,” Redick said. “You know, they sat some guys out. I thought their attention to detail was very poor at times, especially defensively.
“This was a team that, for a large chunk of the season, from mid-December on, was right around a top-10 defense, and they just reverted back to some old habits. I think, with Aaron Gordon and Bruce Brown and [Kentavious Caldwell-Pope], that all of those rotations and covering for each other, like, they can do it. We have seen them do it. I just didn’t like how they played this last 20 percent of the season.”
Redick played just 21 total minutes in his first three playoff appearances with the Magic. He eventually played in 110 playoff games, but he remembers riding the bench in those years.
“We were down probably 11 at the end of the third quarter in Toronto [in 2008],” he said. “It was the one game [the Raptors] won in that series and Stan [Van Gundy]’s like, ‘You’re in,’ and, I mean, I barely played that whole season.
“I’m like, ‘All right,’ so I go to the scorer’s table. We’re looking up at the clock, counting down from a minute, you know, waiting to get into the action, ready to go, and Stan walked over to me, and he goes, ‘Don’t try and be a hero,’ and I’m like, ‘All right. All right. Thanks, guy.’ ”
The Magic’s run to the NBA Finals in 2009 is where Redick began seeing extensive postseason action.
“Just an incredible experience,” he said. “It became apparent right away the importance and value of each possession. I think that’s the thing that really stuck out. That’s the thing that I carried with me the rest of my career in the playoffs.
“I think for anybody who is going into the playoffs, whether you’re a young player or not, the first time you go through the playoffs, that’s the thing that strikes you — the intensity of each possession.
“Specifically, I remember that Spurs series in the first round in 2015 [with the Clippers]. They were the defending champ and that was the toughest seven games of basketball I’ve ever played.
“To beat them, to beat [Gregg Popovich] and Kawhi [Leonard] and [Tim] Duncan and [Tony] Parker and [Manu] Ginóbili. They were champions and it required so much attention to detail, so much focus, and that’s the thing that I just — it hit me right away in that third-year run. It helped me the rest of my career.”
Sizing things up
A three-team race in the East?
Is the Eastern Conference a three-team race? Boston, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia are expected to advance to the second round, although the Bucks may have a tussle with Miami, along with the Cleveland-New York winner. But do the Knicks or Cavaliers, engaged in a compelling series, even have an opportunity to come out of the East? NBA analysts Greg Anthony and Reggie Miller said it’s unlikely but not impossible.
“On paper, it looks like Milwaukee, Boston, and Philly will be the front-runners, but you can’t discredit what New York and Cleveland have done,” said Miller, who is calling the Sixers-Nets series. “Both of those young teams have proven they can play with the big dogs.
“I love the depth of Milwaukee. Coach [Mike Budenholzer] can play nine, 10, 11 guys. He can play big. He can play small.
“Boston, who was in the Finals just a year ago, I think because of that experience, I think they’ve only gotten better. I think adding Malcolm Brogdon, who I always loved and now you’re bringing him off the bench and adding that type of experience to that roster.
“I like Philadelphia because I think they have the most talented player in Joel Embiid. What I don’t like about Philadelphia is they’re top-heavy. They don’t have the depth that Boston or Milwaukee has. Their starting five is really good and a lot of people are getting lost in [James] Harden having a great career, but he’s got a lot to prove come playoff time. I think this is going to be a proving point for him, but I don’t think they have the depth the others have.”
Said Anthony: “Outside of Milwaukee, no one’s won a championship. Boston has gotten there and there are advantages to having that experience. I think it’s too early. The way the league is now, you don’t really get a true sense of [how good a team is], and I say that about a team like New York and a team like Cleveland. But we do have a sense of Milwaukee and Boston and possibly Philly.
“The thing about Cleveland, I voted Donovan Mitchell first-team All-NBA as a guard. You come into a new system with a guy who’s already been an All-Star and young talent in Darius Garland and two young aspiring bigs and to come and have the best year of your career? In that environment? And to elevate that team? I think you’ve got to give that a lot of credence, and he’s always a proven commodity in the postseason.
“Any time you are a guy that’s a first-team All-NBA guy and you have a solid roster, you have a chance against anybody. That’s why I’m not ready to anoint the teams at the top. The reality is injuries are more so expected than not the way the game is played now. I’m not completely ready to write off Miami. They can present challenges for anybody.”
Meanwhile, in Dallas, not only were the Mavericks fined $750,000 for tanking their final two games to improve their chances of keeping their first-round pick, they were left to explain why a team with All-Stars Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving couldn’t make the playoffs.
The Mavericks have a lot of decisions to make this summer, starting with whether they want to commit a multiyear deal to the mercurial Irving.
“Obviously if you’re a Dallas Mavericks fan, a very disappointing second half of the season,” Miller said. “Such high expectations when you’re going to pair a young, exciting MVP candidate in Luka Doncic with Kyrie Irving, who has been to the mountaintop with a championship.
“There were high expectations, and it was very, at times, difficult to watch. You have to have players that can create their own shot, make plays for others, and knock down threes. What they have to do is find a way to make those other guys better. I always thought they needed a big stretch-4.”
Doncic, once considered a top-five player, again allowed his lack of conditioning and fixation on officiating to hinder his play.
I think Luka needs to be looking in the mirror, too,” Miller said. “I hate to throw this all on Kyrie. Luka needs to look at himself — what could I have done better? You watch Mavericks games and those antics, talking to officials. This comes from a guy who stayed on the officials myself. That wears on them.
“Luka’s got to get in better shape. They’ve got to run more. They’re much better when they play faster. He needs to get in better shape and they can play fast and that puts pressure on the opposing team.”
Anthony was harsh on the Mavericks, and understandably so because they passed on signing Jalen Brunson to a $55 million deal and eventually lost him to the Knicks for no compensation.
“The problem is their roster is horrible,” he said. “They’ve got two great talents but they have the most limited supporting cast of any team that you think is a really good team. They have a bunch of one-dimensional guys offensively. And they don’t have any terrific defenders. They have no physicality. They have no pressure on the rim offensively or defensively.
“They don’t have shot-blocking. They’re just a really horrific defensive team and they’ve got two dynamic players and they don’t have a third guy that even has the ability to go create his own offense.
“It’s a really bad roster and this all goes back to when they didn’t re-sign Jalen Brunson after his third year. You sign him then, you still have Dorian Finney-Smith. You still have Spencer Dinwiddie. You still have a complete roster.
“And while I think Kyrie is a more dynamic talent than Jalen Brunson, the combination of Brunson and those guys that are in Brooklyn, they make them a much better team. It’s about those great players that are going to play with those guys.
“Why did the Lakers turn their situation around? They had two all-time great players. They have to revamp their roster. You are not going to compete at a high level with the makeup of their roster, and I think they know that.”
The Wizards fired popular general manager Tommy Sheppard Wednesday after they missed the postseason the past two years despite high expectations. The Wizards have finished 35-47 the past two seasons despite the trio of Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis, and Kyle Kuzma. It’s been difficult to keep those guys healthy and playing together, and Sheppard invested $250 million in an extension for Beal, who has slipped from his All-NBA status into a solid but not spectacular shooting guard. Porzingis has played well and mostly stayed healthy, while Kuzma, who is up for an extension, was supposed to be the difference-maker. Sheppard struggled in the past few drafts, bringing in Deni Avdija, Corey Kispert and Johnny Davis, none of whom have emerged as impact players. Sheppard also had faith that former lottery pick Rui Hachimura would turn into a cornerstone, but he eventually requested a trade after three rather disappointing seasons in Washington. He has become a valuable reserve for the Lakers, while the Wizards took the expiring contract of Kendrick Nunn in return. The Wizards again are expected to pick late in the lottery and will have to determine whether they want to invest in Kuzma, who has an opt-out clause in his contract. Porzingis also has a $36 million option on his contract he is expected to exercise … There are great hopes for Oklahoma City after the Thunder made a run to the play-in tournament without No. 2 overall pick Chet Holmgren, who missed the season with a foot injury. With Holmgren in the mix along with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort, and Josh Giddey, and four first-round picks in the 2024 draft, the Thunder could be a major power in the future. General manager Sam Presti rebuilt the roster through a series of trades to net first-round picks and take on unwanted expiring salaries. One of those expiring contracts is the final year of Kemba Walker’s Celtics contract at $27 million. That will allow the Thunder salary-cap space to bring on a major free agent if they choose to delve into the market. Walker was acquired from the Celtics, then bought out and allowed to sign with the Knicks. He is out of the NBA but hoping to return next season.