When Jordan Bell and the Warriors reunite on the court Friday night, nearly two years after their unceremonious divorce, there will be no mystery to the purpose of each.
The Warriors will ask Bell, familiar with a system built around Stephen Curry, to provide big-man insurance for Kevon Looney and Draymond Green. And to remain focused while bringing the same youthful energy he had as a rookie in 2017.
“He knows our team,” coach Steve Kerr said Thursday. “He understands how to play with Steph and Draymond and the guys.”
Bell, who likely will play Friday night against the New Orleans Pelicans, will ask the Warriors to assist in reviving a career that, after some early promise, has been inching sideways since he left the Bay Area in the summer of 2019.
“The reason they brought me back is because it wasn’t something that had to be explained to me,” Bell said. “I know what I got brought back to do, and it’s just to play the right way. It’s no specific thing. If I had to put a name on it, I would just say defend and be a ball-mover and make the right passes.”
The Warriors let Bell walk after two seasons largely because his contributions, on and off the court, were not commensurate with the maintenance he required. He wasn’t ready to be an NBA professional, and his immaturity led to issues requiring discipline. The franchise that on draft night in 2017 paid $3.5 million for his rights was willing, two years later, to have someone else on the roster.
Bell signed with the Timberwolves, who after six months traded him to Houston, which one day later flipped him to Memphis, which waived him three weeks later. Bell signed with the Cavaliers last summer but was traded to the Lakers, who waived him after two days. This season? Bell this season has played on one Exhibit 10 contract and two 10-day deals, all with the Wizards.
The question now is whether this meandering journey has brought wisdom to the player who as a Warrior was as known for his 2018 championship parade celebration – swilling cognac during a shirtless ramble through downtown Oakland – as anything he did on the court.
To hear Bell tell it, he has evolved.
“COVID helped me grow up as a man,” he said. “And I understand that in the NBA, there’s only 450 people here. You don’t get this opportunity every day, so whatever opportunity you have, you take advantage of it. Your career is not for sure.
“Even with Kobe [Bryant] passing . . . you never know when your time is up, in life or in basketball. You only get so many years to play this game and live this life. When you get that opportunity, take advantage of it. You have to live in the moment. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself because everybody is human. We’re all going to mess up. It’s about how you handle it, how you fix it and how you keep growing as a person.”
Bell, 26, was visibly emotional in recalling losing his “best friend” in 18 months ago, an experience that led to some soul searching that continued during the pandemic.
The Warriors, noted for their “culture,” hope Bell is ready to buy in.
Remember, this is the guy that had a very visible verbal spat with Kerr on the sideline during a Warriors-Lakers game in January 2019. Though both at that time were furious, Kerr is looking at his threadbare roster and letting bygones be bygones.
“I think he’ll be great; I enjoyed coaching him here,” he said. “I know people want to focus on [the argument]. That’s routine. That stuff happens all the time. I’ve always enjoyed coaching Jordan, enjoyed having him on the team when he was here, and I’m excited to have him back.”
It was Bell who, two months later, charged a hotel gift-shop purchase to assistant coach Mike Brown, who when presented with the check realized someone forged his name. Bell initially denied making the transaction – until, according to sources, he was seen on the security footage. There are more incriminating details, but the upshot is that the misdeed prompted the Warriors to issue a one-game suspension.
That bridge, thought burned, has been rebuilt. Bell is on a two-way deal, so the investment is minimal. Under these circumstances, this is a logical signing.
“The way we play is pretty unique,” Kerr said. “He gives us depth. We’ve been really, really thin, playing eight guys the past few weeks. It’s great to get Eric [Paschall] back, so that will add some depth. If Looney or Draymond were to get injured, what Jordan has the capability of doing is stepping in and playing the way we know how to play. There’s a real comfort level there.”
Bell has had plenty of time to think. He has seen some of his University of Oregon teammates, like Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks, Raptors big man Chris Boucher and even Celtics rookie Payton Pritchard, thrive in the NBA. These things might be motivative.
Though Bell’s role at the outset is small, he has a chance to make an impression. And make amends. In which case he could find his way back to the league, whether it’s with the Warriors or another team.