When the Warriors leave Bankers Life Fieldhouse late Monday night, after facing the Indiana Pacers, they’ll go to Indianapolis International Airport for a flight that should strike a chord within Jordan Bell.
The last time the Warriors flew from Indy to Oakland, Bell had a visitor.
Kevin Durant left his seat to go sit next to Bell. It was time for KD to get real with JB.
Having observed Bell’s actions -- and inactions -- over the previous six months, the 10-year veteran was compelled to explain the hierarchy of the NBA to the rookie forward/center who clearly didn’t know or didn’t care.
Six weeks after that conversation, on the eve of Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, Bell sat next to me after practice in Houston recalling Durant’s advice and encouragement during the four-hour flight. He described it as a “deep conversation.” Bell said he needed to be humbled, and he was.
Bell vowed to be more focused and committed. More professional. He eventually exhibited enough positive signs to earn his way back into the rotation, going from zero minutes in Game 1 against the Rockets to six in Game 2, after which he averaged about 15 minutes over the final nine postseason games.
Seven months later, Bell’s future with the Warriors is dimmer than ever. The lob to Bell is MIA. Moments when his incredible athleticism becomes productive are exceedingly rare. For every chance the 2017 second-round draft pick has earned this season, there has been a relapse related to effort or preparation or errors – mental or physical or both – resulting in a maddening cycle of being in the rotation for a few games, falling out for a few, getting back in and falling out again.
Still, it was not until last week that Bell had gone back-to-back games without a single minute of playing time. He never left the bench in Washington or Boston.
His last appearance came a week ago, in Los Angeles, where the Long Beach native jacked up five shots in the final seven minutes of a blowout over the Lakers. During a timeout, shortly after he took a 19-foot jumper seven seconds into the shot clock, Bell and coach Steve Kerr engaged in a heated exchange – a spat that should be out of place when the team is up 24 with six minutes remaining.
Bell was angry enough that Stephen Curry and Durant were immediately sent over to try soothing him. Not 20 minutes later, the usually agreeable Bell wordlessly blew past reporters while leaving the locker room.
Kerr was upset enough that general manager Bob Myers felt the need to take a few minutes for a calm postgame chat with his coach, hoping to cool his blood.
It was a troubling scene between an NBA lifer with eight championship rings -- five as a player, three as a coach -- and a second-year player with commitment issues.
The Warriors have a decision to make, and Bell has not provided much of a reason for them to extend a qualifying offer ($1.82 million), as they did with Patrick McCaw. There was a consensus within the franchise to bring back McCaw. There is no such consensus with Bell. Given his inconsistency, it’s trending the other way.
The Warriors expect to go shopping for a big man this summer. They do not anticipate DeMarcus Cousins to come back on another steep discount; they can offer no more than a 20-percent raise over his current $5.34 million salary. Kevon Looney will be an unrestricted free agent and might get offers. And then there is Bell.
In the best-case scenario, Bell actually lives up to his vow, the promise he made to himself last spring, after being counseled by Durant. He’s mentally engaged, fully prepared and his physical gifts lift him into the rotation once and for all.
That, however, is the longest of shots. The Warriors have seen so much they don’t like from Bell that they still might not be convinced.
Bell has to re-sell himself, vigorously, to have any chance of a future with the Warriors. And if it’s too late to persuade the Warriors, maybe another team will come calling.