PORTLAND – It was late Saturday night and Bob Myers was trying to slide out of Moda Center and back to the luxury hotel where the Warriors are staying during the Western Conference finals when I asked for a minute, maybe less, to discuss Draymond Green.
The general manager spent nearly seven minutes talking about Green, and his willingness to elaborate might have been related to my first question.
Why are you underpaying Draymond?
Myers burst out laughing. He knows there is some truth to the statement, even if delivered in jest. Green’s $17.47 million salary is the fourth-highest on the team – less than half of Steph Curry’s $37.46 million salary – and the GM realizes the power forward’s value to the Warriors is immeasurable.
“Are you putting this on the record?” he asked after catching his breath.
“The thing about him is he . . . you can write this, and please make it sound better than this. You can quote me that I’m asking you to make it sound better.
“He knows how to win.
“And that’s enough. That’s enough of a characterization of somebody. It’s actually the highest compliment you can give a guy. He knows how to win. That means defending. That means leading. That means intensity. That means confidence. That means all the things that he does.
“Look, it’s rare to see performance elevated in the playoffs. Things tend to become more difficult. It’s a like a hitter who likes fastballs, but now he’s getting curveballs. He finds a way to elevate his game, which is a mark of a really elite player.
“You’ve just got to deal with him all year.”
Myers laughed again. To “deal” with Draymond means coping with challenging times, such as the all-too-public squabble with Kevin Durant last November that the Warriors deemed serious enough to slap Green with a one-game suspension. It means the frequent beefing with officials, which was the genesis of coach Steve Kerr’s caught-on-camera comment in March that he was “so f-----g tired of Draymond’s s--t.”
There is no doubt that Draymond’s teammates also get tired of some of the fire he brings. He can be abrasive. He spares no one.
But there is not a soul in the locker room or the front office that believes the Warriors would be better, or even nearly as good, without Green. And his recent reduction in tantrums suggests he can be even better.
Green’s passion for winning is, once again, on full display in the postseason. Everything is done in full sprint. He’s playing with such zest and each end that his teammates are struggling to keep up. To watch Draymond for a few minutes is to feel your pulse rate rising.
“When I finish the playoffs, every year, I’m exhausted, more so mentally than physically, because I view these games as life or death,” Green says. “I’ll be stressed out the entire playoffs. It’s like a life or death situation for me. That’s how I view it.
“When you have that mindset, when you’re viewing it that way, it’s easy to raise your game because it’s bigger than just that particular game for me.”
The energy has generated impressive numbers. Green this postseason ranks in the top five for assists and in the top 10 for rebounding and blocked shots. He has three triple-doubles and is one of two players (Denver center Nikola Jokic is the other) with multiple triple-doubles. Green has eight double-doubles, the same as Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo.
With DeMarcus Cousins out of action, Green is more aggressive to the basket. After averaging 7.4 points per game in the regular season, he’s up to 13.3 in the playoffs. With Kevin Durant and Cousins unavailable in the conference finals, Green is up to 16.0.
Yet the numbers don’t properly convey his influence on the games.
“He’s a hurricane of energy out there,” assistant coach Jarron Collins says. “He’s pushing the pace when he gets the ball. He has a unique ability when he gets the defensive rebound and pushes the pace. Sometimes he’ll get the outlet pass and push it. The force he plays with allows us to keep our opponents on their heels.
“On the defensive end, he’s doing everything. He’s defending at the point of attack. He’s calling coverages. He’s helping and recovering, faking and feinting, getting quick closeouts and shot challenges on the perimeter.”
Now we’re getting to Green’s true value. He dictates what happens on the floor in much the same way as, gasp, Antetokounmpo. Neither is a deadeye shooter, but both bring such gravity to the floor that the game bends toward them.
Yet Green was voted in a poll of conducted by The Athletic to be among the league’s most overrated players. He shrugs it off. Curry grinned when reminded of that on Sunday.
“Yeah, him and Russell Westbrook,” Curry said. “But you don’t feel that way when you actually play against either one of them.”
The greater one’s knowledge of basketball is, the more they are likely to appreciate Green. He does things, big and small, that prod his team toward success. The Warriors wouldn’t be three-time champions without Green, and CEO Joe Lacob seems to comprehend that.
“I want Draymond Green to be here forever,” Lacob told The Athletic three weeks ago. “He’s as Warrior as they come.”
Which brings us back to the subject of salary. Green is in the fourth year of a five-year contract he signed in 2015. Though Green has changed agents, going from former Warriors guard B.J. Armstrong to Klutch Sports’ Rich Paul, Draymond insists he wants to stay with the Warriors
The money has to come his way.
Even if the Warriors are uncertain about his durability when he turns 30 next year, they have no one ready to replace him. There might not be a player in the NBA or on the college scene that brings the same package of intellect, awareness, passion for defense, skill on offense and contagious energy.
“It might be OK to say he’s just a one-of-a-kind guy,” Myers says. “I don’t know if there’s anybody in the league that’s like him.
“He’s such a big part of us. I’m enjoying it. You can’t not enjoy it. The competitiveness is my favorite part of him. You could compliment a guy a lot of different ways, but the simple fact is you want him on your team. Some people appreciate what he does.
“Now I know he has detractors; you hear them in other arenas. But they would love to have him on their team. Why would they love to have him? Because he wins.”
By that rationale – which is the same as the Warriors applied to Andre Iguodala two summers ago – Draymond will get what he deserves. He can be a pain in the rump, but he’s the soul of the team. No soul, no rings.