Steve Kerr sounds fed up as Draymond Green threatens to derail Warriors again

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr says Draymond Green, now serving a five-game suspension, “has to find a way to not cross the line.”
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr says Draymond Green, now serving a five-game suspension, “has to find a way to not cross the line.”

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

After rewatching the video, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr couldn’t deny all that transpired early in Tuesday night’s loss to the Timberwolves.

The ferocity with which Draymond Green grabbed Minnesota center Rudy Gobert around the neck. The seven seconds Green held Gobert in that headlock. The ill intent in Green’s eyes.

In a stark contrast to his comments in the immediate aftermath of that melee near midcourt, Kerr publicly chastised Green on Thursday for yet another “inexcusable” act. But when Kerr told reporters that Green “has to find a way to not cross the line,” many might have wondered whether he ever will.

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If he has shown anything in the 7½ years since he missed a pivotal NBA Finals game for that infamous swipe at LeBron James’ groin, it’s that Draymond does Draymond. Odds are that no suspension — not even the career-high five-game one he’s serving now — will fix his impulse-control issues.

This leaves Warriors management in a tricky spot. By signing Green to a four-year, $100 million extension in July, Golden State sent a clear message: It was still willing to stomach Green’s antics for more championship runs. But the moment Green corralled Gobert’s neck Tuesday, he didn’t just suffer another reputational hit — he threatened to derail the Warriors’ season for the second straight year.

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‘He took it too far’: Warriors’ Kerr says Draymond Green crossed the line

Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green and Minnesota Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns get physical in 1st quarter during NBA In-Season Tournament group play game at Chase Center in San Francisco on Tuesday, November 14, 2023.

Just six months ago, after a team with several future Hall of Famers exited in the Western Conference semifinals, Kerr conceded that poor chemistry stemming from Green’s preseason punch of then-teammate Jordan Poole caused Golden State’s problems. Now here the Warriors are, fielding all-too-familiar questions about Green as they entered the weekend trying to snap a five-game skid without him.

Golden State was looking at facing West contenders Oklahoma City and Phoenix, a surprisingly productive Houston team and the Victor Wembanyama-led Spurs before Green can come back Nov. 28 for a game against Sacramento. With little cohesion on both sides of the ball, and Stephen Curry still day-to-day with a knee injury, the Warriors are at risk of being 6-11 when Green returns — presumably amid a chorus of boos — at Golden 1 Center.

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Just 13 games into the season, Golden State reached the weekend at a critical juncture. All those feel-good vibes from the team’s 5-1 start have given way to a mess of concerns: Can Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins figure things out? Will a once-vaunted second unit rechannel its steady ways? Is Curry’s injury a sign of things to come for one of the league’s oldest teams?

Perhaps nothing is more worrisome long-term, though, than Green’s penchant for controversy. By not suspending him for that viral punch of Poole 13 months ago, the Warriors continued a dangerous precedent of letting Green get away with things lesser players couldn’t.

Then, little more than a week after trading Poole to Washington, Golden State inked Green to a nine-figure contract that will pay him $27.7 million in his age-37 season in 2026-27. At the time, Kerr and general manager Mike Dunleavy admitted that they didn’t think the Warriors could win another championship without Green.

That’s fair. The Warriors weren’t about to find anyone in free agency who could replace Green’s defense, passing and heart, especially with the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement forcing high-spending teams like Golden State to round out rosters on minimum contracts.

But even if re-signing Green was a move the Warriors felt they had to make, it still brought significant risk. Last year reinforced that Green has an uncanny ability to torpedo a season in a matter of seconds. Now that the Warriors have squandered some crucial opportunities to hold him accountable, what’s making him think twice in chaotic moments?

League-issued news releases mentioning his past behavior as justification for Green’s suspensions don’t seem to faze Green. In fact, they could fuel his me-against-the-world mentality even more.

For Green to make serious changes, he might need the only NBA franchise he has ever known to scare him straight. Perhaps the Warriors place him on a sort of probation: One more major transgression, and he’s banished to a lottery team.

This is easier said than done. With a less-than-stellar reputation, and a contract that should outpace Green’s production, the Warriors could have a tough time getting much value back for him in a trade. Parting ways with Green would almost certainly ensure the end of Golden State’s dynasty, which is why it must make the best of whatever time it has left with him.

That means striking a difficult balance: make him understand his indiscretions hurt the team, yet don’t go so hard on him that he revolts. Therein lies why Kerr’s recent change of tone was so important.

After Tuesday’s loss to the Timberwolves, he defended Green as much as he could, saying that Green had tried to protect Klay Thompson from Gobert. There was no mention of those seven seconds Green had Gobert in a headlock.

But after rewatching the video, Kerr said Green’s “got to let go. … He hung on for six, seven seconds. It was a terrible visual for the league, for Draymond and for everybody.”

You could hear the exhaustion in Kerr’s voice.

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