OAKLAND, Calif. — There were no Rubik’s Cubes. No coy smiles. No sarcastic jokes — well, one sarcastic joke. But for the most part Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, normally gregarious and infinitely patient with the media, was in no mood for nonsense before Tuesday’s game against the Hawks.
Kerr was bombarded with question after question about the news that made the media presence much larger than it normally would be for a matchup with a team tied for the worst record in the NBA. Draymond Green was suspended for the game following a shouting match with Kevin Durant which reportedly carried over into the locker room over the final possession of regulation during Monday’s 121-116 overtime road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Normally tolerant of even the most trying of questions, Kerr was short and direct with the media, showing no interest in his usual expansive, flowery answers.
He said from the beginning that he wasn’t going to go into any detail about the incident that led to Green’s suspension, saying that it will remain within the team — the expected party line answer from an organization that has, for the most part, kept its issues internal over its past four seasons of unparalleled success.
Did you speak with Draymond?
“I have talked to him, and that’s private.”
How would you describe Durant and Green’s relationship, even before the incident?
“They have won championships together, they have been teammates now for three seasons and they were teammates on the Olympic team. You can draw your own conclusions.”
Even when asked a basketball-related question about Tuesday night’s starting lineup, Kerr refused to reveal the starting power forward — as he usually does — but added, “I’m not in a very good mood tonight.” The only time Kerr smiled during the entire press conference was when he was asked about the now-famous incident in which Michael Jordan wound up punching him during practice.
“By the way,” Kerr said, “I kicked MJ’s ass.”
So it was telling that the one question Kerr went in-depth on — the one where he got most animated — was regarding Durant’s impending free agency. According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Green brought up KD’s contract situation as the argument carried into the locker room after Monday’s game, but Kerr went to great lengths to deny it ever happened, saying that nobody on the team has ever brought up the possibility of their two-time NBA Finals MVP fleeing the Bay Area after this season.
“Not the slightest bit,” Kerr said when asked if Durant’s potential free agency has affected the locker room. “Nobody ever talks about Kevin’s free agency. It doesn’t bother any of us. This is the NBA. There are guys that are either under contract or are upcoming free agents. It’s the business. We are focused on this year. I didn’t think anybody in our locker room or anyone on our coaching staff thinks twice about Kevin’s free agency this summer. That’s next summer. We are coaching this year and we are playing this year.”
It was a calculated point of emphasis from Kerr, flying directly in the face of a sourced report, and it did have an air of Kerr protesting a bit too much. Durant’s choice to sign another one-year contract with a one-year option is the darkest shadow hanging over the Warriors’ pursuit of history — a fourth title in five straight Finals appearances, maybe more.
And that’s why an incident like this stands out so vividly. Durant and Green have had arguments in the past, but it’s always been chalked up to the heat of the moment — two ultimate competitors clashing in pursuit of greatness. They hug it out and move on.
“I think they have a lot in common,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said of Durant and Green before the game. “They both want to win. They both love to play. I think they would play basketball for free. It’s a relationship that wants to do great things together, and they will, and they have. So I think they’ve got a sound relationship. But, you know, in this game, in this sport, one of the best things about sports is it’s emotional. Sometimes, you know, it becomes too emotional.”
The Warriors knew suspending Green would put a giant spotlight not only on his relationship with Durant, but also on the ripple effect it would have on whether or not Durant will break up potentially one of the best dynasties in NBA history.
They knew all this, and still made the decision to suspend Green.
We’d love to know what was said, and how personal Green got — Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes reports that Green repeatedly called Durant “bitch” — but whatever insults were hurled were enough for Kerr and Myers to deprive Green of a game check and a night of doing what he loves. It sent a message that Green had crossed the line on which he has so precariously teetered over the past several seasons.
Whereas Kerr eschewed his normal demeanor for a more stoic one, the Warriors locker room seemed, well, normal. Durant laced up his sneakers in silence as he prepared for pregame shooting drills. Stephen Curry, who didn’t play in Tuesday’s game, laughed to himself about how many media members were present. Andre Iguodala cracked a joke and laughed loudly as he walked away.
As Kerr and Myers both continually reiterated, adversity like this arises every season. “We’ll get past it and move on,” they kept saying. And they might be right.
But no dynasty lasts forever, and a combination of conflicting star personalities has been a factor in derailing great teams of the past. Sure, the Warriors could immediately rattle off 20 straight wins and cruise to another championship. But if they don’t — if there are any cracks in their seemingly impenetrable armor as the season goes on, and a playoff loss precedes Durant changing teams — we’ll look back at this incident as more than just a heated argument between teammates.