Jordan Bell needed to be humbled -- how a 'deep conversation' with Durant changed his mindset


Jordan Bell needed to be humbled -- how a 'deep conversation' with Durant changed his mindset

HOUSTON -- Jordan Bell’s next chance to remind folks of his vast potential comes this week, maybe as soon as Monday night. Should he flourish, forgive him if he jogs over to hug Warriors teammate Kevin Durant.

For seven weeks, Durant’s voice has been echoing about Bell’s head and not because they’ve been talking every day. It’s what Durant said back on April 5 that continues to influence Bell.

The Warriors had lost by 20 at Indiana, with coach Steve Kerr using such words as “pathetic” and “embarrassing” to describe his team’s effort. There was no joy, and no comfort, either, other than the team flying back home to the Bay Area.

Durant saw an opportunity help a teammate and seized upon it.

“On the plane back, KD came over and sat next to me,” Bell recalled to NBC Sports Bay Area. “And we were talking about hoops and how much he loves it. It was a deep conversation. It made me look at him totally differently. It was like, ‘Damn, this dude really loves basketball.’ Everybody around here says they love playing basketball, but he was saying he wants to die playing basketball. I never felt that way; I want to die in my sleep, something peaceful. He loves it on a totally different level.

“Ever since that conversation, it’s been different. I really love basketball, too. So why wouldn’t I go hard and respect the game like he respects the game?”

[LISTEN: Warriors Outsiders Podcast: West Finals predictions; 'what the series comes down to']

Bell in recent weeks has rededicated himself to the game and to his teammates. After tumbling from the playing rotation for several reasons, the forward/center is working his way back and has reached a point where Kerr now says Bell could play meaningful minutes against the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals, which begin Monday in Houston.

That was the plan back in January, when the Warriors saw star quality -- before Bell’s stunning rise took a few detours.

Bell’s first three months in the NBA allowed the Warriors to fantasize about their immediate future. Despite being a second-round draft pick, he was rapidly developing into a player they knew they would need. At 6-foot-9, he was quick and agile and stunningly efficient for a rookie. His metrics, from field goal percentage to defensive rating, were extraordinary. His defense, in particular, jibed with the way the league operates these days, with big men able to switch out on small men.

The Warriors, players and coaches, would watch Bell soaring above the rim and view him as necessary in their effort to thwart the team growing into their greatest inter-conference threat: the Rockets. He would be the X-factor, the antidote to Houston’s quick, agile and efficient center, Clint Capela.

“He’s perfect for that,” Kerr thought at the time.

And then the ride started to stall. In the first minute of a Jan. 17 game at Chicago, Bell sustained a severe left ankle sprain and missed 14 games over five weeks. He has been trying to catch up ever since, and now he appears ready to remind folks he is more like the baller that captivated Warriors fans in his first 60 days than the dude who has spent most of the last 60 days mostly cheering from the bench.

Bell landed there by taking shortcuts, which can happen in the glow of early success. He was recovering from injury, but even when he was feeling better he didn’t seem fully committed. There might an occasional tardy arrival. He did not, for example, seem to realize that “optional” practices were for veterans, not rookies.

Meanwhile, Kevon Looney, a third-year player who has endured surgery to both hips, surged past Bell and into the playing rotation. Looney knew not to take anything for granted. Not nearly the athlete Bell is, Looney is sound fundamentally and had earned the respect and trust of his teammates.

In retrospect, Bell concedes he had to be humbled.

“Oh, definitely,” he said. “It was coming easy and then I wasn’t playing with the same intensity. I was comfortable for a while. I still tried to play hard, but I wasn’t playing the same.”

The coaches noticed and wondered if maybe Bell had taken his early success for granted. Teammates also noticed, and it eroded some of the trust he had gained.

That’s where Durant comes in. He noted Bell’s work ethic had diminished from earlier in the season, when he was an eager pup trying to make a strong positive impression. He was, in a word, coasting.

“I told him no matter what we do here -- because it’s a different organization, where we’ve got a lot of veterans, guys that have won before, guys that know their routine -- that as a rookie you might not want to follow those examples,” Durant told NBC Sports Bay Area. “You might have to come in on off days or show up before shootarounds.

“Guys like Draymond (Green), Klay (Thompson), myself, we might get to pick and choose our spots, but that’s because we’ve been in it for so long. It was like me saying, ‘Jordan, you have to dive right in, see what you are. See what your groove is and figure it out from there.’ ”

Bell cites a number of reasons for his midseason dip. Twelve days after returning to the lineup from the sprained left ankle, he sustained a less severe sprain of his right ankle. That cost him three games, over eight days. When he returned for good, neither his confidence nor his production was the same.

It was as if the game he thought he mastered by December had evolved to something altogether different in March.

“I realized it’s a learning experience,” Bell says. “Just learning basketball, there’s so much you think you knew. But there’s a whole bunch you haven’t gotten to. It’s like you think you’ve finished the book, and then there’s a 12-volume series that you have to go through.”

Bell is eager to be coached hard, even by teammates, Green in particular. Bell aspires to be similar to Green, gritty hard-nosed player willing to do whatever it takes to win. Green earned that reputation partly because he wouldn’t be an All-Star without a total commitment. Bell, a superior athlete, imagined he would take an easier road.

“I know how young guys have to adjust and I had wanted him to figure it out on his own,” Durant said. “Let him see how he wanted to approach games and practices. And like a lot of young players, you’re trying to figure out the balance. I just told him that no matter if you play or not, your work ethic and your commitment to the game has to stay the same.”

Bell is listening. How could he not? Durant is an MVP, a four-time scoring champ and a nine-time All-Star. The Hall of Fame awaits his induction.

“Even though I see him every day, I was surprised at how hard he goes in every single drill,” Bell said. “If we’re doing layup lines to start practice, he’s the first one dunking -- and hard as hell. Maybe everybody hasn’t had a chance warm up, but he’s like, ‘Let’s go.’

“He told me, ‘The reason why I go so hard is that I really love basketball. I love this game.’ He’s always talking about wanting to get better, just keep getting better, one percent better each day. Just seeing him do it, I tell myself that ‘I’m not going as hard as KD right now, so let me pick it up.’ ”

Bell played a total of 12 minutes during the five-game, first-round series victory over the Spurs. He played 24 minutes in the five-game dispatch of the Pelicans. With Kerr’s belief in matchups and Capela playing a key role for the Rockets, the coach would love to see Bell earn 15-20 minutes per game.

“He’s done a really good job the last few weeks, working hard and staying in engaged,” Kerr said. “He’s played well when we’ve thrown him out there, and I wouldn’t hesitate to put him out there in this series.”

If it works out, and Bell can come close to offsetting Capela, he can thank Durant. If it doesn’t play well, Bell can keep listening to his veteran teammate until he gets it right.

“I just tried to encourage him and let him know that I understand, that I was a rookie too,” Durant said. “And I’m always here to talk if he needs it.”

Kevon Looney's lifestyle change has allowed him to reach a new level

Kevon Looney's lifestyle change has allowed him to reach a new level

SALT LAKE CITY -- There was a time, not long ago, when folks around the NBA wondered if Kevon Looney's unforgiving hips could make it in the league. And the feeling among many Warriors fans was, well, that’s OK.

The Warriors drafted Looney nine days after winning their first championship in 40 years. They had Stephen Curry, their first MVP since moving to the West Coast in 1962. They had Steve Kerr, a coach in whom they could believe. They had Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes, none older than 25. The future looked bright.

If Looney, selected with the team’s No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft, didn’t work out, no problem. The Warriors, playing the high risk/reward game, were open about his challenges, conceding from the start that he was a risk due to damaged hips that might not withstand the rigors of the NBA.

Two years and two surgeries later, in 2017-18, Looney was a solid contributor as the team won its third championship in four seasons. He started at center in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

This season, as the Warriors chase their third consecutive championship, Looney clearly has a future in the NBA, probably with the team that drafted him.

“He’s just gained more confidence,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr says. “He’s more talkative; he’ll speak up in meetings. He knows he belongs. That’s really a key time in every player’s career, when you might make it the first couple years but you don’t really feel like you belong. He knows. He knows he belongs now. He’s going to have a long career, and a very productive one.”

Looney’s journey is about sheer perseverance and the highest levels of discipline. He always felt he could make it, so even in the darkest hours, when those surgically repaired hips were keeping him in the gym by day and awake at night, he never stopped believing.

“I know how far I’ve come,” he said. “It was frustrating coming back from the injuries. It was my first time going through something like that.”

Looney, 22, looked good last year. He still had a hitch in his gait, but he generally got where he needed to be. Through this training camp and the season opener on Tuesday night, he looks even better. The hitch is slight and he’s noticeably quicker.

The summer of 2017 was the first time he actually worked on his game, instead of going through rehab. The summertime is when most players seek to grow their games. After two seasons simply trying to get back to where he was, this was most encouraging.

But this past summer, spending endless hours in Los Angeles honing his game - even playing some one-on-one with teammate Kevin Durant -- is when Looney reached another level. It showed when the Warriors gathered in September.

“I’m excited about the growth I see in Loon,” Durant says.

“He had a great summer,’ Kerr says. “He looks great. For the second summer in a row, he’s put his body in position to perform at a high level. He’s been our best big in camp, and he had a fantastic first game.”

Looney played 18 minutes Tuesday night, finishing with 10 points and 10 rebounds. He was a team-best plus-23.

The single most significant factor in Looney’s progress was his devotion to conditioning. Seeing the results noted fitness trainer Amoila Cesar achieved with former Lakers forward Julius Randle, Looney reached out to Cesar in 2017, followed the regimen and came away with a new and far more sculpted physique.

A component of that is Looney developing a newfound dedication to diet, something that had been stressed earlier by veteran teammate Andre Iguodala, the team’s resident health nut.

“I wasn’t in shape my first two years,” Looney said. “I lifted hard, but I didn’t always eat right. I used to eat fast food a lot. I had to cut out fast food, cut back on most all fried foods, especially catfish and hot wings.

“Andre was telling me about this for two years, and I didn’t take it seriously until I had to.”

Looney dived into foods he once avoided. Kale. Spinach. Broccoli. Cauliflower. He rarely reaches for bread and even more rarely allows himself the guilty pleasure of his beloved flaming hot Doritos.

He doesn’t go to the dietary extremes to which Iguodala subjects himself -- no red meat, for example -- but Looney is reaping the benefits of a cleaner diet.

“I see something like that for Loon, and it’s got to be his routine -- but for the rest of his life,” Iguodala said. “I’m just trying to help him out.

“You don’t have to eat like me. But you have to be conscious of what you’re eating. You have to know yourself, know your body and know your DNA makeup. All of that plays a role into how long your career will be. You’ve got to have that in the back of your mind.”

When you sculpt your body well enough to go from the fringes of the NBA to a bright new future, it becomes easier to walk past the snack aisle at the grocery store.

The surgeries and lifestyle changes have erased all doubts about Looney having an NBA career. He’s past the can-he-make-it stage. He’s entering the how-good-can-he-be phase.

Which, at such young age, is a wonderful place to be.

Draymond Green knows 'the most important thing in contract negotiations'


Draymond Green knows 'the most important thing in contract negotiations'

Draymond Green will make just under $17.5 million this season and then just over $18.5 million next season.

He is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2020 but he is actually eligible to sign an extension right now.

Because the 2017 Defensive Player of the Year still has two years remaining on his current contract, the maximum amount he could sign for today is just under $100 million over four seasons (starting in 2020-21). It's very unlikely Draymond agrees to an extension now because he would be leaving a lot of money on the table.

[RELATED: Report: Klay Thompson does not plan on giving Warriors free-agent discount]

Whether he inks a new contract sometime this season, or next summer or in July 2020, he told Anthony Slater of The Athletic that he will be a very active participant in the negotiations:

Sometimes, you get guys who leave it up to somebody else, leave it up to an agent and then blame the agent when it doesn’t go how they like. First off, you need to understand the business. You need to understand whatever it is you need to know.

The most important thing in contract negotiations as a player is understanding what’s in front of you. So often, guys don’t. That’s one thing I’ll always be.

When I took less money (on my last contract) when KD was coming, I knew everything I was doing. And then I made my decision. I would never look back and be like, 'Ah, I took less money, (my agent) B.J. (Armstrong), screwed me.'

Nah, I knew everything that was going on — I knew how much money we had, I knew our books, I knew what we’d have next year, I knew what the cap would be, I knew what was the most I could take, I knew what the max was. I knew everything. Then I made my decision. That’s how it should be.

Just learn the business. You’re a CEO of your business. You are a business and you are the CEO of that.

This should not come as a surprise to anybody. Draymond is the guy who reportedly filed for a "Hampton 5" trademark.

It will be fascinating to see how the contract situations with Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond play out.

But that's a conversation for another day.

"That is something we’ll all talk about when that time is here," Draymond told The Athletic. "But it’s not now. We’re trying to win a championship. We’re not focusing on that now. But that’s something we definitely will talk about."

Drew Shiller is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders. Follow him on Twitter @DrewShiller