There is much about Draymond Green‘s suspension for Game 5 of the NBA Finals seven years ago that is materially very different from the one-game ban he’ll serve Thursday in Game 3 of the Golden State Warriors‘ best-of-7 first-round playoff series against the Sacramento Kings.
The Warriors were leading the 2016 Finals 3-1 at the time, not down 2-0 in the first round as they are now. They were also at the beginning of their dynasty, having won an NBA-record 73 games in the regular season with a core group of players in their mid-20s, unlike now when they’re trying to squeeze one more championship run out of a team that’s getting older and extraordinarily more expensive.
The common thread is Green crossing the line — in the eyes of the NBA at least — at one of the most damaging moments possible for his team, then watching as his teammates, coaches and executives rally behind him to try to salvage this season without him.
And make no mistake, the Warriors are rallying behind Green again.
Initially, there was frustration internally toward Green for his behavior, sources said. But the league’s decision to suspend him for stomping on Kings center Domantas Sabonis‘ chest in Game 2 (an action that earned him a flagrant foul 2 and an ejection with 7:03 left in the game) has engendered a full-throated defense of Green and anger at the ruling.
As one team source told ESPN, “We are livid. We paid the price already [when Green was ejected] in Game 2. We get that. No problem there. But this suspension was unnecessary.”
At a news conference Wednesday, coach Steve Kerr called Green “the ultimate competitor,” while noting “everybody knows he’s going to occasionally tip over the edge and [let] his emotions get the best of him. That’s part of it. … But we don’t have a single championship without [him]. We’ll go to bat for Draymond and go to battle with him every day of the week.”
Warriors president of basketball operations Bob Myers said simply, “Certainly, he’s crossed that line but he has been punished for it.”
This is the calculus the Warriors have made at every uncomfortable juncture Green has put them in over the years: Do his positives still outweigh times like these?
So far, the answer has been yes.
“There’s so many positives, but when you play with so much emotion, sometimes it runs over,” Myers told ESPN. “But for the most part it’s been a tremendous driver of success.”
In 2016, Myers even went so far to show his support for Green that he sat with him to watch the game for which he was suspended. Green wasn’t allowed inside Oracle Arena, so they watched from a suite inside the Oakland Coliseum, where the Athletics were hosting the Texas Rangers.
“When I’m at the game, I don’t help the team. So I figured I could help him,” Myers said. “Just to support him.”
The scene was surreal. Oakland native and five-time NFL Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch sat in the suite along with a handful of Green’s friends and business associates. And they were watching next door from Oracle Arena to be close enough to celebrate an NBA title if his teammates could close out the series without him.
The Warriors did not win that Game 5, however, or any other games in that series against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Green has spoken many times about the guilt he felt about missing that game and not being there for his teammates.
This season even began on a similar discordant note, with Green being fined and taking time away from the team after punching teammate Jordan Poole during a preseason practice, a leaked video showing the punch.
At the time, Kerr called it “the biggest crisis we’ve ever had since I’ve been coach here.”
Green’s stature within the organization has never fully recovered, according to team sources.
But Green has seemed to diffuse some of the tension over time with good behavior and solid play (he finished fourth in the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year voting) following public and private apologies.
“He’s still Draymond,” one team source said, referring to Green’s championship pedigree. “But it’s different for the younger guys.”
Green’s contract situation — he has a $27.6 million player option for the 2023-24 season — has loomed over the entire season, too. Not so much because Green expressed frustration at not getting an extension done with the team before the season — he largely dropped the issue publicly and privately after the altercation with Poole — but because it’s getting exorbitantly expensive to keep the Warriors together at their current salary and luxury tax level.
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Winning another title is the best argument they can make to do so. That was already set up to be a difficult task after falling behind 2-0 to the Kings, who have been pushing the pace and playing a style reminiscent of the Warriors in their heyday.
Doing so without Green in Game 3 is hard to imagine.
So hard to imagine the Warriors weren’t even discussing his absence as a real possibility in their meetings on Tuesday, according to team sources.
“We didn’t even talk about it,” one team source said.
That was based on their own assessment of the situation: Sabonis had grabbed Green’s ankle while on the ground before Green stepped on his chest. Both were assessed technical fouls during the game, and Green had been ejected.
But the Warriors also considered Green had only had a basic conversation with a league investigator on Tuesday while the league weighed its decision. NBA executive vice president and head of basketball operations Joe Dumars said on ESPN’s NBA Today that he didn’t speak to Green until Wednesday morning, long after the league announced its suspension.
It wasn’t until Myers received word from the league office late Tuesday night that Green was being suspended that they started mapping out adjustments in earnest.
“I was extremely surprised,” Kerr said. “And then immediately into what’s next? How do we win the game? There’s no time to spend worrying about it or complaining about it. We know what the league decided to do and we have to respond accordingly and go win the game.”
Green participated in Wednesday’s practice and addressed the team, telling his teammates to focus all their energy on the game.
Dumars told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that Green’s “excessive and over-the-top actions” and his history as a “repeat offender” were instrumental in the league’s decision. (Green’s 11-year pro career includes 163 technical fouls, 17 ejections and now four suspensions.)
In 2016, it was actually an accumulation of technicals during the playoffs that turned his altercation with James in Game 4 of the Finals into a suspension. This time it was a combination of previous offenses, his stomp on Sabonis’ chest and his reaction to the Sacramento crowd.
As Myers said Wednesday, “We’ve been here before.”
Like in 2016, Green will not be allowed in the arena while he’s suspended.
This time there’s no championship to celebrate if the Warriors can win without him, though. There’s just a long road back.