Well, here we go again.
The Golden State Warriors seem to have a Draymond Green problem, in addition to their other issues, as they are in the midst of a concerning slump.
Entering Saturday’s matchup with the Thunder, the Warriors had lost five consecutive games. Stephen Curry is out with a sore knee, Klay Thompson is off to a horrid start, and Green is serving a suspension for his chokehold of the Timberwolves’ Rudy Gobert on Tuesday night.
As Thompson and Minnesota’s Jaden McDaniels tussled while running down the floor, Gobert intervened and grabbed Thompson. Green, who has had issues for years with Gobert, including bickering over Defensive Player of the Year awards, grabbed Gobert by the neck and had to be pulled off the 7-foot-1-inch center.
Green, who has a history of behavioral issues on the floor, was suspended five games by league discipline czar Joe Dumars. Green’s latest troubles coincide with that of his team. The Warriors started out like a title contender, winning five of their first six, including two against the Kings.
As for Green, coach Steve Kerr again was left to try to defend his player, as he has for years, but also admonish his actions.
“Yes, he took it too far,” Kerr said. “I didn’t have a problem with him getting Rudy off Klay because the rule of thumb is you don’t put your hands on a player on the other team. You get your own guy, so I thought Rudy was wrong for putting his arms on Klay, regardless of his intention. [Draymond’s] got to let go, and he held on for six or seven seconds.
“It was a terrible visual for the league, for Draymond, for everybody. Draymond was wrong. He knows that. It’s a bad look. The five games was deserved. We move forward.”
Kerr said the organization is trying to find ways “behind the scenes” to work with Green on his behavior and emotions. He has been notorious for his antics, dating to the 2016 NBA Finals, when his kick of LeBron James was key in earning a suspension for Game 5, sparking the Cavaliers’ comeback from a 3-1 series deficit.
“Draymond has to find a way to not cross the line,” Kerr said. “I’m not talking getting an ejection. I’m talking about a physical act of violence. That’s inexcusable. We have to do everything we can to get him the help, the assistance that he needs. He can’t cross that line. He crossed it, for sure.
“The line is when you’re not going to be there for the next five games for your teammates at a time when they need you. I know Draymond and he’s a wonderful human being. He’s filled with passion and love and respect for his teammates. But that is a bad look. He’s embarrassed by that.”
On the floor, it appears Curry’s brilliance has camouflaged the team’s issues. Thompson isn’t the player he once was, and neither is Green. And the Warriors put great stock in the belief that James Wiseman, Moses Moody, and Jonathan Kuminga were going to develop into cornerstones, relieving some of the pressure on the Big Three.
Wiseman was traded to the Pistons after three failed season, and he’s languishing in Detroit. Moody has turned into an eighth man, while Kuminga is a most improved player candidate but hasn’t cracked the starting lineup.
Pundits said two years ago that the Warriors were getting old, but had a good enough supporting cast to join Curry and a rejuvenated Thompson to edge the Celtics for their fourth title in eight years.
“We’ve got to be grittier,” Kerr said after Thursday’s loss to the Thunder. “We’ve got to show more spark and energy defensively. We’ve got to put up a better fight. It seemed like they got anything they wanted. We had a lot of miscommunications on pick-and-roll coverages. Any time you’re in a rut like this, it’s only one way out, dig your way out of it.”
Through 12 games, Thompson was averaging 13.8 points, the fewest since his rookie season, and the career 41.5 percent 3-point shooter was shooting 32.9 percent this season. And he’s also attempting nearly six fewer shots per game, a testament to his tentativeness.
“We weren’t able to create any space for him with our offense,” Kerr said. “Out of frustration I think, he’s trying to get himself going. We’ve got to try to find a way to get him some cleaner looks. We have to keep working at it.”
The Clippers entered Friday night having lost six consecutive games, five since James Harden was activated after the trade from the 76ers. While Harden gets the attention, the Clippers have a plethora of issues that could cost them a chance at competing in the Western Conference.
There was concern when Harden was acquired that his slow-down, ball-dominant style would not mesh with the Clippers up-tempo style, and those concerns have been verified. The Clippers are still trying to find themselves offensively when Harden is on the floor. He is a willing passer and still has the ability to score, yet the Clippers are getting pounded when he’s on the floor.
In his five games entering Friday, Harden was a combined minus-70, including minus-28 in last Sunday’s stunning loss to the Grizzlies. Coach Tyronn Lue had been jamming Harden, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George into the starting lineup around Ivica Zubac, and it had been an abject failure.
Harden and Leonard have not played off each other well, while Westbrook’s lack of shooting means an extra defender can roam and help on George or Leonard. Westbrook, according to Bleacher Report, requested to Lue to come off the bench and boost the second unit.
Meanwhile, the second unit was decimated by the trade. Robert Covington, Nicolas Batum, Marcus Morris, and Kenyon Martin Jr. are all gone. That leaves Norman Powell, Lowell native Terance Mann, and P.J. Tucker as contributors off the bench.
The Clippers have done a poor job of developing recent draft picks into contributing players. And the trade-deadline acquisition of scoring guard Bones Hyland has been a dud. Hyland struggled to get minutes late last season and is completely out of the rotation now.
Lue said he was encouraged by how the Clippers played in Wednesday night’s loss to the Nuggets, when they went small and then blew a fourth-quarter lead. There is a sense of urgency because the West is strong and the Clippers are among the worst teams in the conference. But Lue is preaching patience.
“I still have confidence in what we can do,” he said. “Overall, I saw some good things and overall I’m encouraged. Let’s just keep working, keep getting to the drawing board, keep working every day and we’ll come out of this.”
Lue said “simplifying” the offense before the Denver game made Harden much more comfortable. But with a lack of bench production, Leonard going through an early slump, and Harden’s erratic play, the Clippers are in danger of slipping quickly.
Two of the surprise teams in the West are the Thunder and Timberwolves, while Ime Udoka has the Rockets on a six-game winning streak after losing three to open the season.
“We’ve got to keep working, keep being resilient and it’s going to happen,” Lue said. “I’m not worried about [Leonard’s] offense, keep being a great defender. His shots are going to come. We’re going to play through him. He’ll definitely get in a rhythm.
“It’s been a process, changing our mind-set when PG has the ball or Kawhi has the ball, James has the ball. We’re going to get better at it.”
Harden is a free agent at season’s end, meaning the Clippers made the risky move of acquiring the mercurial guard to win now. Harden’s reputation was already taking a beating before this stint with the Clippers, and the club losing the first five games with him in the lineup only adds to the perception that he’s no longer a championship-caliber player.
NBA expansion could
go south of border
Every time the NBA plays games outside the United States or Canada, especially in Mexico City, the topic of expansion arises. As this column has reported for more than a year now, the NBA is expected to expand to 32 teams in the coming years, with Seattle and Las Vegas at the top of the list.
While there are other interested cities such as Kansas City and Louisville, the league may consider Mexico City, where the NBA has played regular-season games every season since 2014 (except 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic). The G League even has a team in Mexico City and the NBA is intrigued by the possibility of another international team.
“It goes back actually many years when I was working for David Stern even before I was the deputy commissioner, that he talked about the opportunity potentially here in Mexico City,” Adam Silver said. “Of course, it’s the largest city in North America, a vibrant and growing economy, a destination increasingly for people from the United States to come for the culture, the museums, the fine food, beautiful hotels.
“There are issues we’d need to work through, of course, and we’re not in expansion mode at the moment, but over time organizations grow, and I think the opportunity to extend our footprint not just into Mexico City and all the positive attributes I said, but also again just as a gateway into all of Central and Latin America is a huge opportunity with a growing game. It’s something we’ll continue to focus on.”
The Celtics played in Mexico City in 2015, and Silver said the idea of NBA teams playing more regular-season games outside the US or Canada has been an easier sell.
“The goal is for all teams to sort of share in the experience of traveling, and it’s very different than I would say the old days where it took some arm twisting,” he said. “Today with the league with close to a third of our players born outside of the United States, the teams welcome the international travel. It’s a bonding experience for them. Our players very much love [Mexico City], too, and the experience they have.”
Silver has reiterated that expansion will move to the forefront when the league negotiates a new television deal. Entities such as Amazon, NBC, CBS, and Apple are expected to bid for NBA games.
The league’s agenda right now is selling the in-season tournament and boosting interest in the All-Star Game.
“I don’t want to put a specific timeline on it. I’ll only say that putting aside Mexico City, we don’t expand all that often,” Silver said. “It’s been many years since our last expansion. I’d say we’ve been fairly conservative in how we grow the league.
“We largely distribute our games through media, and for even most Americans, 90-plus percent of our fans will never step foot in an arena, they’ll only watch the game through some form of media, whether more traditionally through a television or increasingly on a mobile device.
“I think having said all that, it still is important to plant a flag in every market we can. We initially do it by playing preseason games, then we do it with regular-season games.”
The NBA hasn’t added a team since the Charlotte Bobcats in 2004. Mexico City is in the league’s plans, but it could be several years before it’s a serious consideration.
“There’s no market we’ve been to more than Mexico City with the exception of course Canada outside the United States. So, we really believe in this market,” Silver said. “Conditions change all the time, and it’s something — one of the reasons it’s helpful for me and deputy commissioner Mark Tatum to be here in person is to have meetings, to see with our own eyes the passion, to meet here with the media and get a sense of that, and then we go back and talk to our colleagues, we talk to the team owners about the prospects of doing it, of continuing to expand because of course you need the players to want to be our partners here in relocating to Mexico City.
“I can’t set a specific timeline on it, but a main part of my job, if not the most important part of my job, is to grow this league, so it’s something I think about a lot.”
The Bulls are off to a rough start and there are rumors about a potential fire sale with their standout players, including former All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine. The Bulls entered the weekend 4-8, coming off a home loss to the Magic, and there is no buzz generated by a team filled with veterans that has never become an expected contender. Alex Caruso, a valuable defensive player, could also be offered in a trade if Chicago decides to rebuild. LaVine, who has had an uneven relationship with coach Billy Donovan, would draw the most attention because of his scoring ability, but he has never played on a real winner. The Bulls would require a heavy return for LaVine, but it may be time to start over. Chicago is 27th in the NBA in scoring and field goal percentage . . . Meanwhile, the Wizards appear to be headed back to the lottery despite the acquisition of Jordan Poole and re-signing of Kyle Kuzma, and the victim could be coach Wes Unseld Jr. Unseld was not hired by the current team president, Michael Winger, and the perception around the league is that he has little chance to keep his job long term barring a playoff run. Poole, who said he was ready to handle his own team, has displayed some of the lackadaisical characteristics that led to his departure from Golden State. While there were predictions that Poole would lead the league in scoring because of the green light he would receive, he is a distant second behind Kuzma on the Wizards, averaging 16.2 points through 11 games. He’s shooting 40.6 percent from the field and 30.1 percent from the 3-point line, his lowest numbers since his rookie year. There was hope the Wizards would compete with their young roster, but they blew fourth-quarter leads at Brooklyn and at Toronto (where they led by 21 points) before being blown out at home by the Mavericks. It could be another long season for the Wizards . . . Good news for former Celtic Daniel Theis, who was waived by the Pacers after playing one game this season despite being healthy. Theis, who was unhappy in Indiana, is expected to sign with the Clippers, who need big-man depth. Theis flourished for Team Germany, which won the FIBA World Cup, but that did not translate into minutes with the rising Pacers.