clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Return of Draymond Green Won’t Fix the Warriors

Golden State is set to get its defensive anchor back after a 16-game suspension, but the Warriors’ problems are bigger than any one player

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Everything you need to know about the Golden State Warriors’ current circumstance could be seen on Stephen Curry’s face following his team’s 133-118 defeat at the hands of the Toronto Raptors earlier this month. Twenty minutes after the drubbing, draped in full uniform, hand on head, Curry sat shell-shocked in front of his locker, scrolling through tweets chronicling the colossal damage that has been visited upon Golden State this season.

Chris Paul, the team’s stabilizing presence and a much-needed secondary creator, is out for the foreseeable future following hand surgery. Klay Thompson, a steady second scorer, has struggled with his shot. Andrew Wiggins, who was a pillar of Golden State’s last title run, has looked like a shell of himself and may be counting down his final days in the Bay Area. Third-year wing Jonathan Kuminga has complained both publicly and privately about his playing time, but he has yet to earn the full trust of the coaching staff. And, of course, Draymond Green, the team’s polarizing patriarch, has been in and out of the lineup serving suspensions after putting Rudy Gobert in a choke hold and hitting Jusuf Nurkic in the face.

Add it all together, and Golden State has lost seven of its past 11 games, dropping to 18-21 on the season and 12th place in the Western Conference, a game and a half out of play-in contention. One dispiriting loss after another has brought the Warriors’ mortality into clear view. Last week, following a 36-point blowout against the Pelicans, Curry, who rarely speaks about front office business, alluded to changes being necessary: “We have a standard that’s pretty evident that if things stay the same,” he said, “that’s a definition of insanity, right? Keep doing the same thing, expecting a different result.”

The most immediate modification to the team is the addition of Green, who is reportedly expected to return from his suspension on Monday night for the game in Memphis. Green rejoins a team in peril, whose defense has fractured in his absence. But with the most consequential trade deadline of the Curry era looming, the question is whether Green’s arrival will be enough to help the Warriors or if a more dramatic overhaul will be necessary.

The Warriors are cautiously optimistic that Draymond, who has long been the emotional leader of the team, will bring a necessary structure to a reeling locker room. “He’s exactly what we need right now,” forward Kevon Looney tells me. “Somebody to give us a jolt, give us that extra bit of passion, the extra bit of confidence, that swagger that we’ve been missing: He’s going to bring that.”

On the court, Green will be expected to lead a defensive unit that has struggled mightily in his absence, posting a 123.8 defensive rating in the 16 games he missed, the second-worst mark leaguewide during that span (ahead of only the Pistons, who own the worst record in the NBA). More importantly, the Warriors will need the 33-year-old to maintain his passionate spirit while avoiding the reckless actions that have characterized his season.

“I mean, I think this is very different from the past,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr tells me. “This feels like Draymond has been put on notice by the league, by the team. In some ways, it feels like he knows he’s got to conform. He’s got to find the balance, because another incident like any of them from the last year, I think he knows he’s in trouble.”

A day after returning to practice last week, Green said he can refrain from crossing the line once more.

“I’m very confident I can remove the antics,” Green said. “And I’m very confident, if I do remove the antics, no one’s worried about how I play the game of basketball. Nobody’s worried about how I carry myself in the game of basketball. But it’s the antics. So that’s my focus.”

Yet even the version of Green that solves problems on the court rather than creates them can do only so much for the Warriors. If Draymond is on his best behavior, he still won’t be able to turn back the clock for Thompson, who is a step slower after major surgeries on his knee and Achilles. He won’t be able to draw out the version of Wiggins that helped carry the Warriors in the 2022 Finals. And he won’t be the true second star next to Curry that the Warriors desperately need. In fact, Green’s presence may further complicate the Warriors’ already knotty frontcourt situation.

During Green’s suspension, two other Warriors forwards found themselves at the center of Golden State’s orbit. Kuminga has posted career-high averages in points, rebounds, and minutes this season, yet Kerr has often opted to finish games with Wiggins, trusting the 28-year-old’s experience over Kuminga’s better play. This comes after last season, when Kuminga averaged 13.4 points and 4.3 rebounds over a 25-game stretch while Wiggins was out dealing with a personal matter, only to see his playing time slashed upon Wiggins’s return.

These lineup decisions have inspired resentment from the 21-year-old, who has made an occasional habit of complaining to assistants and the local media about his playing time. The disconnect between Kerr and Kuminga came to a head when the former benched the latter during a second-half collapse against the Nuggets, but subsequent conversations between the two don’t seem to have swayed Kerr’s decision-making: In Saturday’s 129-118 loss to the Bucks, Kerr opted again to take Kuminga out with four minutes to go, even though Kuminga scored a team-high 28 points, with Kerr citing Kuminga’s indecisiveness as the reason.

“We’re trying to get him to understand if he gets to the dunker spot,” Kerr explained to reporters following the game, “finishes his cuts rather than staying at the foul line, it improves our spacing, and he’ll pick off two or three buckets per game getting to the dunker, going to the offensive glass, and running to that spot in transition or after a screen. His tendency now is to linger on the perimeter. I want him at the rim. He’s one of the best in the league finishing when he gets the ball in the paint.”

Yet Kerr’s quote illustrates another tension facing the Warriors as they work to reintegrate Green. Draymond rarely shoots 3s anymore, Kuminga’s shot is a work in progress, and Wiggins is suffering through the worst 3-point shooting season of his career. During Green’s absence, Kerr frequently talked about the poor on-court fit between Kuminga and Wiggins. Now, with Green back in the lineup, it’s unclear whether any two of the three can thrive on the court together.

This roster conundrum has Golden State looking toward the trade market for help. League sources believe that Wiggins, who makes $24 million this year and is signed through at least 2026, is likely to be included in trade offers. Golden State also has attractive, young players in Kuminga and Moses Moody whom it can add to any deal. Factoring in Paul and the rest of the Warriors’ supporting cast, the front office has many directions it could pursue. Golden State has long been linked to the Raptors’ Pascal Siakam, yet the 29-year-old may not bring the team close enough to its goal of competing for a title this year. Since Kevin Durant departed in the summer of 2019, team executive chairman Joe Lacob has coveted a generational talent to replace him, most notably Giannis Antetokounmpo. As the deadline approaches, no such player is available.

In the meantime, the Warriors will fight to stay in contention and climb back onto stable ground. They’ll hope for a boost from Green, even though they know their problems are bigger than his absence. This roster could look very different a month from now; in previous seasons, winter was the time when Golden State fine-tuned its process for a championship run. Now, the team is hoping to reinvent itself before its time runs out.