Jordan Poole Is Going His Own Way

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“Next question. Next question,” Jordan Poole deadpans when I ask about Draymond Green. “Now you know I wasn’t going to answer nothing along the lines of [that].”

Poole is eager to steer our conversation toward his upcoming season in Washington, D.C., where the Wizards are embarking on a rebuild that the 24-year-old hopes will eventually lead him back to the postseason and, ultimately, the NBA Finals. “I’m big on being where my feet are,” Poole says. But his feud with Green—who infamously punched Poole during a Warriors practice last October—is the reason Poole finds himself in our nation’s capital rather than the decorated confines of Golden State.

The punch and the subsequent fallout not only eroded Golden State’s season and its ambitious two-timeline plan, but also has come to define Poole’s career. The Warriors were never able to mend the divide that opened up in their locker room, and so they traded Poole, fresh off a career-best season in scoring, as a way to finally heal the wound.

Before last season, Poole had a sibling-like bond with Green, who enlisted himself as Poole’s mentor and fiercest defender soon after the 28th pick in the 2019 draft arrived in Golden State. “It’s really a big brother, little brother relationship,” Poole told me in the fall of 2021. When veterans complained about Poole’s shot selection or propensity to trash talk in scrimmages, Green, sensing a kinship, would come to his defense. As Poole developed alongside Green, Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson, Warriors brass began to view the young guard not only as a key fixture of the current team, but also as the young player who could carry them beyond the Curry era. Golden State signed Poole to a four-year, $128 million extension last October, just 10 days after Green punched him.

In the days, weeks, and months after Green and Poole’s training-camp scuffle, their relationship changed. Just before the Warriors’ season opener against the Lakers, Green, in partnership with Turner Sports, released a mini documentary in which the forward expressed regret about the situation, but didn’t offer an apology. The divide widened as Green, who declined comment for this story, accepted several invitations to speak on the situation during last season, but never spoke with Poole directly, angering many within Poole’s inner circle. According to Warriors officials, head coach Steve Kerr made several attempts to convince Green to take Poole to dinner, to smooth over their relationship, but Green declined. Those around the situation now believe the lack of disciplinary action—other than an undisclosed fine—and the inability of anyone on the Warriors to repair the fractured relationship soured the team’s season. Poole became isolated, left to balance his personal goals with the team’s, widening the chasm between the Warriors core and the young prospects tasked with prolonging the dynasty. Poole’s determination to prove he was worthy of carrying the torch led to on-court mistakes that left teammates and coaches befuddled. And after a dismal postseason performance for Poole and a second-round exit for the Warriors, the organization began to explore opportunities to trade him.

After the season, Poole traveled to London and the Swiss Alps to clear his head. Despite the difficult year, he expected to return to the team. “I belong here in this organization, bridging the gap,” Poole told me last spring. “We won a championship [in 2022], so we got another chance with our guys to go do it again. I don’t know why anybody else would feel otherwise.” But about a week into the trip, during dinner with some buds, Poole received a call from new Warriors general manager Mike Dunleavy Jr., who informed him that he had been traded to the Wizards for Chris Paul.

The Warriors were moving on. And deep down, Poole was ready to move on, too. He’d tried for years to play a role alongside a title-contending core, but he’d always wanted to lead his own team. With the Wizards, he’d have the chance to not only flip the narrative of his career, but to be the face of the franchise.

Poole’s path to reinvention coincides with a new beginning in Washington. Six months ago, the Wizards fired longtime general manager Tommy Sheppard and replaced him with team president Michael Winger and GM Will Dawkins. Shortly after assuming their roles, the front office duo traded All-Star guard Bradley Beal, Washington’s longtime cornerstone, and Kristaps Porzingis. They acquired Poole, then re-signed Kyle Kuzma to a four-year, $102 million contract, setting the stage for a rebuild of an organization that hasn’t made it past the first round of the playoffs since 2017, promising a very different environment than the title-chasing club he left behind. It’s an unanticipated, but ultimately welcome, change for the young guard.

“I kind of been almost preparing for this my entire life,” Poole tells me. “I’m coming from a situation of an organization where it’s so much all the time: media, scrutiny, noise, just, 24/7 highest level of basketball. And I passed that class. Four years, you pass that course, you learn so much over those four years. And now we got a new course, we got new classes, we’re enrolled into a new situation.

“I feel prepped,” he says. “That’s the best way to put it.”

In D.C., Poole can put his imprint on a team in a way he never could in Golden State. Poole will have more freedom than he has ever experienced in the NBA, which raises the question of how he will look outside of the Warriors’ context, and what can be expected from a team led by him.

Since his NBA debut, Poole has cultivated a habit of quizzing the most senior voices in the locker room, jotting mental notes about improving his craft and what it takes to lead a team. Observers have long pointed out the stylistic similarities between Poole and Curry, and that the similarity is no accident. Poole studied Curry’s role in Golden State’s offense, and practiced mimicking his movements. When he went home, he’d scour highlights of Damian Lillard, hoping to master Lillard’s stepback jumper. Warriors officials raved about Poole’s work ethic, citing him as the second-hardest worker on the team, behind only Curry.

As Poole gained experience in the league, he also sought tutelage from outside Golden State’s orbit. “JP would hit me randomly like, ‘Yo, what kind of food you be eating before a game?’ or ‘What was you thinking on this shot right here?’” said Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant, who played three years in Golden State but never overlapped with Poole. “You could just kind of sense that love of the game and guys who just enjoy figuring out the nuances of the game and the details. And Jordan was like that, always asking questions on foot placement, ball placement, hand placement, all that little stuff that the nerdy guys like me tend to think about.”

Yet Poole’s passion for studying the game hasn’t always seemed to translate to the court. His lack of effort on defense, high turnover rate, and tendency to take every shot available tested his teammates’ patience during the 2022-23 season. In a January matchup against the Grizzlies, with about a minute remaining and the Warriors up by two, Poole received a kickout after an offensive rebound, looked off Curry, and hoisted an ill-advised long 3-pointer with 13 seconds remaining on the shot clock. On the way down the floor, Curry threw his mouth guard in frustration and was ejected. A minute later, Poole converted a game-winning layup.

The following month, during a matchup against the Thunder, the Warriors turned the ball over in the waning moments of the first half after Green, appearing frustrated at not receiving a pass from Poole, gave up on the play. As these moments accumulated, Warriors coaches scratched their heads about how to get through to the young guard. Team sources say Kerr began to give his feedback to Poole between games, away from the team, hoping his messaging would be received more constructively in private.

In practice sessions, Poole’s trash talk grated on his veteran teammates, who felt he hadn’t earned the right to be brash, even though his style seemed to match the mindset that fueled the start of Golden State’s run a decade ago.

“I think a lot of people didn’t like his attitude early on,” Green told me in 2022, a few months before the punch. “And I loved it. … I was a rookie that talked, so I’m not going to go tell another rookie to shut up because y’all think, ‘Oh, you young. You shouldn’t say a word.’ I don’t roll like that. And so right then and there I’m like, ‘Oh, you getting under people’s skin. OK. I love that.’”

But underneath the brashness, people around the Warriors know Poole as soft-spoken, private, and shy. Over the years, certain members of the organization privately wondered whether Poole would have the presence to ever seriously take the mantle from the gregarious personalities of Curry, Green, and Thompson. Poole’s nature as a quiet student of the game doesn’t seem to square with his aloof reputation or his occasionally erratic playing style.

Yet it’s impossible to disentangle Poole’s ability from the unique circumstances he faced in Golden State. From the beginning, he’s had to find his way within a well-established, championship-winning system—and he did so to great effect, winning a title in the 2021-22 season and becoming one of the more promising young scorers in the league. Even as he assumed greater importance in the Warriors’ plans, his opportunities remained limited to filling the gaps around Curry, Thompson, and Green. Poole disputes the notion that last season went poorly, but he does acknowledge that his role made things harder.

“Individually, you got to look at role shift—who I’m playing with, different teams, sometimes starting, sometimes not starting, 35 minutes, 22 minutes. Of course, you take that all for what it is, because as a player, you go on the court and you try to perform,” Poole says. “But there are things that just come with that naturally. The role fluctuates, performance can fluctuate, depends on the person, depends on the role.

Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

“We just had a really good season the year prior. So when you start comparing, of course, it won’t look as good as it did. But I didn’t lose sleep over it.”

Now, there’s no uncertainty about his role. In Washington, Poole is no. 1 on the call sheet—he’s the highest-paid player, the go-to scorer. But the top spot also comes with new burdens and responsibilities. Poole will need to embrace everything that comes with leading a franchise, including the discomfort he feels being the center of attention.

During his first public appearance in D.C., a team-sanctioned fashion show at a dock on the Potomac River, Poole donned a ski mask the entire evening. “I really don’t leave the house too often,” he admits. “Ever.”

But as the preseason wears on, Poole is making strides to come out of his shell. Over the summer, Poole began to watch Navy SEAL training videos, studying how admirals lead their troops into battle. A month before training camp opened, Poole partnered with Kuzma to lead a minicamp at the Wizards’ facility.

“I feel like I personally am the right person,” Poole tells me of his desire to be the face of the franchise. “In terms of personality, authenticity, positive energy, God-fearing, right? These are the things that you need to get a city behind you. I’m also invested, right? I’m here. I want to be here. I can get everybody else to want to be here. I want to see people come to the games. I want to interact with the fans. I want to interact with the youth.”

But even though he’s moved on from Golden State, Poole hasn’t stopped seeking tutelage from his former teammates, who know better than anyone what it means to lead a team. Shortly after the trade, Curry reached out to Poole, inviting him back to Northern California to train with Curry and Thompson at a high school gym in the South Bay. Both future Hall of Famers were unsure whether Poole would accept. “There was always a fear that he might not show up,” Curry says. “Just because he wanted to kind of be on his own in that respect.”

In August, Poole obliged, enjoying one last workout with the fellas, and receiving a message on how to approach his new journey. “The biggest piece of advice was, he’s got a great opportunity to spread his wings and figure out what his version of leadership looks like,” Curry says. “Building a culture with a team that he’s obviously starting from scratch, and you can go in there and set the tone for the direction that he wants the team to go.”

“I can text them, call them. Obviously fans of them,” Poole says of Thompson and Curry. “We put in so much work, and experienced the highest level of basketball together. And that’s stuff that you don’t lose. Good people. It was just like little brother went to a different school. Little brother just went to a different school and he’s doing his own thing.”

As for the Splash Brothers lending a hand to mend fences between Green and Poole?

“There’s always that hope,” Curry admits. “But it’s two grown men that can figure that out. They know where we stand on it and how I see both of them individually. So, will I facilitate something? Probably not, but I definitely hope that there can be some kind of, maybe, meeting each other where they’re at. Because life is short.”

But Poole is insistent about keeping his focus ahead. His challenge, now, is taking everything he has learned from Curry and the Warriors and applying it in a new context, in a new city with new teammates. It’s an opportunity that Poole is embracing with open arms. “Not a lot of people can get their own team at such a young age,” he says. “And I learned at the highest level, now I can apply that. Really turn the city around and get something exciting.”

Poole’s new team will need everything he can give. Not unlike the Warriors before Curry, the Wizards have fallen on hard times. Since its 1978 championship, the franchise has never made it past the second round of the playoffs. In the 2010s, the team hoped to build a contender around Beal and fellow All-Star John Wall, only for injuries to derail Wall’s career. When Wall was traded to Houston, the Wizards pivoted to building around Beal, acquiring Kuzma, Russell Westbrook, and later Kristaps Porzingis, hoping to compete in a deep Eastern Conference. It didn’t work. Last season, the Wizards won just 35 games for a second straight year, leading to Sheppard’s departure and, now, a rebuild under Winger and Dawkins.

Poole understands that the process in Washington will take time. In fact, that’s part of what excites him about it. In the early 2000s, Poole’s father Anthony purchased season tickets for the Milwaukee Bucks, which ended up giving his son an intimate look at a team in basketball purgatory. The Bucks toiled in mediocrity throughout Poole’s childhood, never making it past the first round of the postseason. But during Poole’s eighth-grade year, the team drafted Giannis Antetokounmpo and took its first step toward building a team that a decade later regularly contends for titles. Poole hopes to lead a similar turnaround in D.C.

“I saw what it was like before what it is now,” Poole says of the Bucks. “There has to be a process where you start to build something great, and it’s cool to be able to be here when it starts. And now we have the chance to do something so special. If you are a competitor, you love challenges.”

Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. is encouraged by what he’s seen from Poole already. “He just does a great job of pulling guys along. And he’ll do it in the moment. We saw it this summer, just watching him just open run,” he tells me. “He’ll talk us through situations and orchestrate offense, organize guys. If it didn’t go well, he would pull them aside, start talking to them, ‘This is what I want. This is what I’m looking to do.’ And it’s a subtle thing, but that’s just ... It’s a sign of subtle leadership.”

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

It remains to be seen how Poole will look in a new environment with lower expectations. The Wizards are expected to finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, but this season will be about establishing a team identity and winning culture. “We use the term ‘reshape’ as one of the words we’re going with,” Dawkins said to describe the Wizards’ mantra this season. “We’re fully embracing it.” Poole will score plenty of points, but more important is whether he can improve his defense, shot selection, and consistency now that he’ll play a primary role on his team.

Kuzma, like Poole, has championship experience, having won the 2020 title with the Lakers. He understands the kind of foundation the Wizards need to build. “At the end of the day, it’s all about our habits right now,” Kuzma told reporters earlier this month. “A lot of people don’t really have expectations for us, but in between the lines everybody’s very competitive, and if you’re competitive that means you’re putting yourself up to win every single night.”

Though clients of the same agency, CAA, Poole and Kuzma are still building their relationship. They haven’t spent much time together, only exchanging the occasional pleasantry as opponents during previous seasons. But there have been glimpses of a successful on-court partnership.

“We’ve been great,” Kuzma says. “We’ve been in the gym together, we hang out together. We live five minutes away from each other. So just coming out and just understanding we have to play with a purpose and our purpose is one, to produce, but make everybody on the team better and figure how to do it cohesively.”

Poole has been in the league just five years, but his NBA journey has brought more twists and turns than most people experience in their entire careers. He won a ring. He has played with one of the greatest players ever. He’s been at the center of one of the biggest stories, on one of the biggest teams, in the league. But building a contender in D.C. will be the biggest challenge of Poole’s basketball life.

“Just to be the best that I can possibly be,” Poole says when asked what he wants out of his career. “I kind of got that from KD, very early, probably in middle school. Your max, my max, his max may be different, but I’m not comparing myself to you or him. I’m comparing myself to me. It’s either, do I have more in the tank? Can I go harder? Can I learn more? Can I become better? Can I separate myself? Those are the questions that I’m asking me.

“And then through my work, through my diligence, through my curiosity, that’ll just continue to grow.”

In Washington, Poole finally has the role he was tabbed for but never actually got in Golden State. It’s a blank slate, and a prime opportunity for the fifth-year guard to put his signature on the league. It’s anyone’s guess what this next step will bring, but Poole isn’t stressing.

“Playing the game I love at the highest level, my family is taken care of, my basketball legacy is taken care of with the ring,” he says. “This is probably the first time in my life I’ll play basketball with no pressure. So that’s kind of how you look at it. But it’s a really good opportunity. It’s a cool opportunity, dope opportunity.”

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