He’s the emotional and tactical anchor of the Warriors, and now he’s proven he can be a liability.
It wasn’t a matter of how, but when. Draymond Green, who has spent these playoffs administering nut-shots, mugging at opponents, and racking up technical fouls, has been suspended for Game 5, following an incident with LeBron James that, at this point, should surprise no one. It’s a serious blow to the Warriors, who despite being up 3-1 are heading back to Oakland with Stephen Curry banged-up (perhaps requiring off-season surgery) and Green watching from an undisclosed location. In the Thunder series, we saw that it was possible to overpower the Warriors. Now, the team is operating at a genuine deficit.
Green’s suspension, inevitable as it may have seemed, points to a larger problem: The player who anchors the Warriors both tactically and emotionally has proven that he can be a liability. For most of the regular season, Green was bold and defiant without detracting from the Golden State’s effectiveness. But in the playoffs, Draymond Green has occasionally lost control. And for the Warriors, this might be a problem beyond winning this year’s title.
It’s hard to reconcile Draymond Green. He’s the quintessential scrappy, do-whatever-it-takes role guy, but he’s also one of the most skilled players in the league. He’s everywhere at once on the floor, but he’d never be mistaken for a futuristic, position-less freak. He’s both a triumphant underdog and the face of the Warriors’ perceived arrogance. He’s both a product of the system and arguably its single most important piece. He’s a relentless competitor who can’t help but resort to low blows in the heat of the moment. Draymond Green, who has such utter command of the game of basketball, can still lash out in desperation.
Yet Green, for all his contradictions, rarely fails to get the job done. Curry and Klay Thompson can be frighteningly streaky; Green, on the other hand, reliably chugs along, keeping the team afloat at both ends of the court, making plays while his two high-scoring teammates wait around to get hot. Decoding Draymond Green is almost beside the point because he’s so damn effective. Green isn’t just the glue that holds the Warriors together, he’s their insurance. As long as he’s on the floor, Golden State—who over the course of the playoffs, have gone from indestructible to beset by doubt—will be some semblance of their 73-9 selves. The so-called “Line-Up of Death,” which puts Green at center, isn’t just the signal best example of the team’s innovative thinking—it’s a virtual showcase for everything that makes Green so special.
“Curry and Klay Thompson can be frighteningly streaky; Green, on the other hand, reliably chugs along, keeping the team afloat at both ends of the court, making plays while his two high-scoring teammates wait around to get hot.”
What this suspension reminds us, though, is that the Green—and the Warriors’—story is still very much unfolding and it’s never quite added up. The Warriors went from unlikely champions to world-historic force in a single season. Stephen Curry, already an All-Star, took it upon himself to redefine the way time and space work on a basketball court. Green went from a curiosity to one of the game’s few indispensable players. And as has already been said a thousand times, in the playoffs we’ve seen them both learn to lose and—depending on how you see the relationship between perception and reality in sports—either “turn heel” or finally face an unavoidable backlash.
The lingering doubts about the Warriors’ legitimacy have less to do with bullshit claims about the relative competitiveness of NBA eras and more to do with the sheer strangeness of their rise. The Green suspension is only the latest quirk: On the verge of a championship, he simply couldn’t resist playing like an asshole. Golden State’s reliance on an unstable isotope is a high-stakes gamble that has finally blown up in their face. That’s not to in any way diminish Draymond’s sheer talent or his overall value. But the degree to which Golden State depends on Green—something that tonight’s game will shed much light on—might itself be a problem. This team doesn’t need Green pushing limits or hedging against utter bedlam; this isn’t a Russell Westbrook-like situation where a player’s outlandish tendencies are exactly what make him so valuable. Draymond Green doesn’t have to be a deal with the devil. You can imagine a version of him who didn’t constantly risk shooting his team in the foot.
Through much of the season, that’s the player we were watching. Apparently, though, Green was barely keeping himself in check all along. That’s been one of the great revelations of the playoffs, and given how important Draymond is to this team, it raises all sorts of questions about the Warriors going forward. If Green’s distractions become a habit, how exactly are the Warriors supposed to sustain a dynasty? Can Steve Kerr, who lucked out on his first coaching gig, effectively manage Green and his moods? Has success made a monster out Draymond Green, with meltdowns and prima donna-ish behavior just lurking on the horizon?
It’s really impossible to say, and we probably won’t know for sure until the 2016-17 season. One thing’s for certain: The Warriors are a team whose identity is still in flux and Draymond Green is central to almost all of the ever-shifting narratives around the team. His volatility has turned Golden State into a moving target, a work-in-progress whose past performance means very little as long as he continues to show up in new, interesting, and potentially damaging ways. It’s almost too obvious to call Green the heart and soul of the Warriors. He’s way more than that. He’s the one we look to when trying to figure out what exactly this team means—and where exactly they are headed.
BY: BETHLEHEM SHOALS