LOS ANGELES – In the wake of the Warriors methodically destroying the Los Angles Lakers on Monday night, it was tough to tell who in the visitor’s locker room at Staples Center was hotter.
Klay Thompson was incredibly hot, scoring 44 points, shooting 17-of-20 from the field, 10-of-11 from beyond the arc.
Not for behind Thompson on the heat scale, though, were coach Steve Kerr and third-string center Jordan Bell.
During a timeout with 5:14 remaining, Kerr and Bell engaged in the kind of squabble rarely seen between a head coach and a player on the far end of the bench.
Both were visibly upset, with Kerr finally walking away. Veterans Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry both went over to Bell, trying to calm the Long Beach native, who was playing in front of family and friends.
Bell was on the court for the final 7:09 of a 130-111 victory. The University of Oregon product, in his second season, jacked up five of the team’s 15 shots in that span, which may or may not have been the cause of the dispute.
Bell bolted from the locker room afterward, declining to answer questions.
Kerr, visibly upset, addressed the matter but kept his comment brief and vague.
“It was a total misinterpretation of something I said,” he said, “and we cleared it up.”
Kerr surely would like to think this is the end of it, as would Bell. And perhaps it is. But there have been questions about Bell’s commitment and habits dating back to at least the middle of his rookie season.
Durant made a point last April, during a late-night flight from Indianapolis to Oakland, to sit with Bell and have a veteran-to-rookie talk. He provided Bell with pointers on professionalism and work habits. Bell listened well enough that he worked his way back into the rotation, regaining the trust of his teammates, in the postseason.
Bell has potential, because he flashed it early in his rookie season. That success, however, may have been the worst possible thing for his development. There have been good moments here and there, but he has never consistently recaptured the best of himself.
This season, he has regressed enough to fall out of the rotation.
Yet there was Durant, and then Curry coming over to talk with Bell after the clearly heated exchange with Kerr.
Durant’s message – “Stay focused on the game” – is one he has previously delivered to Bell.
“We’re all gonna go through times throughout the NBA when we want to speak our minds and vent, and we might be frustrated over some things,” Durant continued. “Coach has been so open in letting guys get that out but also challenging guys as well. It’s a healthy dialogue, and it’s just a healthy relationship between us and Coach. He lets us know what he sees out there and if you have something to say to him back, he’s not going to be afraid to go back at you.
“I think Jordan understands that, at this point, we just want to continue to keep getting better. Coach will always – especially the younger guys in the league – definitely be on them a little bit more because he expects a lot out of them. He sees the potential in him. On Jordan’s side, we just want him to keep playing. That stuff happens, so we’ll move on.”
Curry’s basically echoed those sentiments.
“Just play basketball,” he said was the point his message to Bell. “He has a job to do out there, and not to get distracted. Finish the game strong because that’s what his job is, to be ready whenever he’s out there and play hard. He handled it well and ... just moved on from whatever happened.”
The Warriors are evaluating Bell to determine if they want to offer the 2017 second-round draft pick a $1.8 million qualifying offer for next season. He’s not exactly winning his case.
There is time to make up ground, as happened last season. But given the issues that have surfaced thus far, there is legitimate reason to wonder if the Warriors are sold on Bell having a career with them.