Grantland on the Rise of Draymond Green, Who Thankfully the Warriors Did Not Trade for Kevin Love
Adam Rifkin stashed this in Warriors!
The Warriors might have offered David Lee, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond Green for Love — there is some debate about that now3 — but talks never got that far, since everyone involved understood that Saunders wouldn’t listen to any deal that didn’t include Thompson.
About the same time Griffin and Saunders passed each other in Vegas, first-year coach Steve Kerr was plotting out his rotations under the assumption Golden State would pass on Love — the preferred outcome of Kerr, Ron Adams, and most of the coaching staff. Kerr had Green penciled in for 10 or 12 minutes as Lee’s backup, and as both men tell it, Myers took Kerr aside to deliver a gentle message: “If we don’t do this trade, you’re gonna have to play this guy a lot more.”
Flash forward 11 months, and it’s incredible how much has changed on the power forward front. Lee doesn’t play, and Green has emerged as a borderline star who received strong consideration for defensive player of the year, most improved player, and even an All-NBA team. Even the loudest Green boosters didn’t expect this. That group includes Adams, who pushed the Bulls to draft Green in 2012 when he worked as Tom Thibodeau’s lead assistant. “As a coaching staff, we were very disappointed we didn’t get him,” Adams says. “He is definitely a Chicago kind of guy. This is no reflection on Kevin Love, but every team wants a Draymond Green. He has internalized the parts of the game that are the winning parts: the hustle, the grit, the defense, making the right play at the right time. I love that guy. I’m glad he’s on our team.”
It’s an easy thing to say now, three wins from the championship, but no one on the Warriors would trade Green for Love straight-up. “Thankfully, we didn’t pull the trigger,” Andrew Bogut says. “I don’t know if that trade would have gotten us to this point. I didn’t think it would be a huge upgrade. David Lee provides the same output, besides the 3-point shooting. I thought we could have just found a stretch 4 at the veteran’s minimum — someone like James Jones.”
The howlers would have laughed Saunders out of a job had he accepted Barnes and Green for Love, but that package looks intriguing now. Saunders liked Green in college but has no regrets. “We wanted someone who could carry us offensively,” he says. “Draymond makes everyone else better, but he doesn’t do it himself on offense.”
“Looking back, [Golden State] made a great decision,” Saunders adds. “It worked out for everyone.”
Well, maybe not everyone. The Cavs are also three wins from the title — without Love. They’ve discovered a gritty, anti-modern, defense-first style that demolished the East and came within inches of sweeping the Warriors at home, where Golden State is supposedly invincible. Their success has team executives across the league wondering if Love just isn’t as good as they thought, or whether Cleveland’s success without him is more about LeBron’s presence than Love’s absence. By not playing, Love has become the league’s most confusing and polarizing player.
Golden State’s non-trade was a big bet on Thompson, but it morphed into a bigger accidental bet on Green — with a massive payoff. Green on offense sucks an opposing big man a few feet farther from the paint than Lee could, and he is the roaring soul of the league’s best defense — a human Tetris piece capable of switching onto almost any player and filling whatever need emerges at a given moment.
“He didn’t just fill the power forward position,” Myers says. “He overfilled it.”
The season did not start this way. “Draymond’s training camp was awful,” Kerr says.
“I was atrocious,” Green recalls over dinner, laughing. Green was doing too much, searching out highlights, trying to prove he had skills the coaches didn’t know he had. He earned the nickname Draymond James among some Golden State officials for his habit of imitating LeBron-style feats — and failing.
Kerr and Alvin Gentry, the team’s associate head coach, pulled Green aside and showed him clips of things he did well: cinder-block post defense, swiping steals with his meat-hook hands, driving in from the 3-point arc and dishing to shooters in the corner. “Just be dirty,” Kerr remembers telling him. “Guard everybody. Be a playmaking 4.”
The lessons made Green angry at first, the coaches say, especially since Lee was lighting it up. Then Lee hurt his hamstring during the preseason finale and Green became the de facto starter. The Warriors looked like a different team with Green in Lee’s spot. After a win at Oklahoma City, the Warriors were 10-2, and Kerr took Lee aside for a painful conversation. “I just said, ‘Draymond is gonna remain our starter,’” Kerr remembers. “‘It’s unfair. You didn’t do anything to deserve this.’”
Only, Kerr didn’t tell Green he had won the job. “I wanted him to stay motivated,” Kerr says. When Lee returned to practice a few weeks later, he strolled onto the floor with the starters, according to multiple Golden State coaches and players. Green appeared confused. Kerr signaled for Green to take his place, and everyone finally knew: The power forward spot was Green’s. Starting Barnes over Andre Iguodala was Kerr’s plan from the beginning. Starting Green was an accident — a lucky break.
“I had no idea Draymond was going to be this good,” Kerr admits. “But you look at the way the game is played now, and it’s all about versatility and two-way players. Can you score a basket and then go guard three positions?"
Meanwhile in NBA Finals 2015 Game 3, Draymond was drained and David Lee almost saved the day:
If there’s any cognitive dissonance in hearing the highest-paid Warrior up at the podium comparing himself favorably to James Jones, it’s all in our heads, not David Lee’s. This is a former low-tier star who earned $15 million this season, completely locked into his reality as an end-of-the-bench guy. But there was a reason why he was up there answering questions. He was nearly a hero.
I wonder how much Lee has thought about this moment — and whether it would ever come — since the beginning of the season, when he was replaced by 25-year-old Draymond Green as the starting power forward of the Warriors. Green asserted himself as the emotional core of the Warriors. He’s loud, he’s brash, he’s passionate — everything he’s described as in that Beats commercial. But when you play up that role, you can’t just turn off that part of you. You are the open book so that no one else has to be. You are the main fire that keeps the many wicks alight. But Green was stifled last night, going 2-for-10, looking hesitant to shoot, getting stuffed on three occasions by a terrifying Cavs interior line, and jawing with the refs for most of his time on the floor. He was losing it — his poise, his ability to assess the floor clearly. He and Harrison Barnes shared a game-low plus-minus of minus-14. Steve Kerr couldn’t afford to have him on the court.
What followed was miraculous: six minutes of Leandro Barbosa and Lee on the floor together, an unlikely tandem Pinky and the Brain–ing the Warriors back into the game before Stephen Curry finally found the lock combination to his reserve of illegal fireworks. Lee scored 11 points on perfect shooting from the floor, with four rebounds and two huge assists, all in 13 minutes. All in his first Finals appearance.
“We’d talked all season about this,” Lee told ESPN’s J.A. Adande during the postgame press conference. “My job as a pro is to be ready.” He couldn’t have come up with a more clichéd response to his unexpected success, but that’s Lee in a nutshell. His presence, his words, his game, it’s all matter-of-fact. You know exactly what you’re getting from him. There isn’t another universe out there that could consider Lee’s ho-hum consistency anything close to a shot of adrenaline, and yet, here, in this one, with the Warriors on the brink of flaming out completely, that’s exactly what Lee was. If only it was enough.