- Draymond Green is one of the best defenders on the planet and a future Hall of Famer. He's also a lot to handle. Here's why Green, not Kevin Durant, will likely be the first member of the Hamptons Five to leave Golden State.
It's August, the NBA summer is over, and most of the league is now on vacation. With that in mind, allow me to sneak in one prediction while everyone is away: Draymond Green won't be on the Warriors by this time next year.
Here is the case.
Draymond is exhausting. His strained relationship with Steve Kerr once inspired a 4,000-word opus from ESPN in 2016. Earlier that year, his "I am not a robot" screaming match with Kerr drew the attention of local police in Oklahoma City. Over the past two regular seasons, he's alternated between ambling through games on extreme cruise control and cursing out Kevin Durant in front of 25 HD cameras. He was spectacular through most of the playoffs, but after the Finals, David West said the team spent most of the year dealing with internal tension that would have shocked outsiders. Who wants to guess whether Draymond made the problems better or worse?
This isn’t meant as an attack on Draymond—he's one of the game’s best personalities, constitutionally incapable of taking it down a notch—but it's part of the context as we imagine the future in Golden State. Draymond is one of the three best defenders on the planet and a future Hall of Famer. He's also a lot to handle. He's about to turn 30 years old. Soon, he will become much more expensive. At some point, the costs may outweigh the benefits.
Back in June, ESPN's Chris Haynes reported that Draymond is not expected to take a discount on his next contract. He'll be a free agent in the summer of 2020—two seasons from now—and he's going to get paid. For now, Green is making $17 million per year, which is $7 million less than Steven Adams and $12 million less than Al Horford. If he wins Defensive Player of the Year next season—a realistic goal—he'll be eligible for a $226 million supermax extension next summer. Even if an offer in that range never materializes, he’s headed for a significant and well-deserved raise. Does it make sense for the Warriors to be the team that gives it to him?
The Warriors already have massive money committed to Steph Curry and KD. Klay Thompson hits free agency next summer and he'll be eligible for his own giant deal. Paying all three is a no-brainer, and inevitable Lakers free agency rumors aside, Klay is probably a Warrior for life. Draymond's future will be a more complicated discussion. His game is already showing signs of wear and tear after years of playing small-ball five and bouncing around with guys twice his size. He hasn't always taken care of his body off the court. His shooting has declined. Leaving aside the massive luxury-tax implications for the Warriors, any team would think hard before committing $150 million to a player with that profile.
There’s an obvious caveat to this discussion: If Kevin Durant leaves, Draymond stays. That's easy. Without KD on the books, Bob Myers and Steve Kerr would do everything they could to retain the rest of the nucleus and ensure that the title window remains open. Draymond wouldn’t be going anywhere.
But are we sure Durant will leave? There will be rumors all year long and there will be dozens of writers (including me) trying to will a Durant exit into existence. But the more I've thought about that move this summer, the less sense it makes for KD. There are valid questions about whether Durant's 2016 decision has worked for him or the NBA, but he is pot committed at this point. Even if his individual fulfillment has been complicated over the past two years, that's not dispositive when it comes to his 2019 decision.
Be realistic about what's possible for Durant elsewhere. Would he really be beloved if he won three consecutive titles and joined forces with LeBron in L.A.? Would it really make sense for him to join the Knicks and bet the second half of his prime on the health of Kristaps Porzingis and Kyrie Irving? What happens if he leaves next summer and never wins another title? Durant's decision next July will require considering narrative context, likelihood of future success, and the reality that, in some ways, leaving Golden State would only embolden the critics who claim this move was always a bad look. If he goes somewhere else, skeptics won't disappear, and there will be more pressure than ever to make it work with a new team. Staying with the Warriors and continuing to chase titles next to Curry could very well be more attractive than embracing all that downside—particularly if there's enough room to change the story and create more upside in Golden State.
Enter the Draymond trade. It would make sense as the natural byproduct of organizational fatigue after managing his personality for the past several years. It would also fit with the cold-blooded image that Warriors management has long cultivated. In every interview owner Joe Lacob has given for the past four years, he's talked about trying to own the next decade in the NBA. Somewhere along the line that will mean selling high on one of the superstars and replenishing the rotation with younger, cheaper and better role players to complement Curry. Trading Draymond is the most realistic way to make that happen.
The trade could also make sense as a signal that Golden State is committed to giving Durant the same kind of influence that LeBron has enjoyed in Cleveland and L.A. If KD is searching for a new challenge next summer, there's no reason he'd have to go to Los Angeles or New York. The complexion of the Warriors looks quite different if you remove their defensive linchpin, and that scenario could bring the best out of everyone else. Durant would have an opportunity to continue chasing titles, but with less room for error, and less room for his critics to downplay his success.
That last point is where this argument careens into pure speculation that's colored by all kinds of narrative nonsense, but still. It's August, we're all friends here, and this is the NBA. Narrative nonsense is part of the game, and public perception will absolutely factor into next summer's Durant decision. If there is any lingering tension behind the scenes while Durant searches for a slightly different story, moving Draymond is one obvious move Golden State could make to accommodate the next phase of KD's career. If that move happens to come right as Draymond approaches his 30th birthday and a massive contract extension, even better.
The trade market would be complicated, and that could probably be its own discussion. Draymond has more value to contenders with stars already in place, and those teams aren't typically replete with young trade assets. Anyone pursuing him will be taking a risk because of his age and impending free agency. Suitors will probably play in bigger markets, and the move would probably be borne of desperation after striking out elsewhere. Potential teams that could satisfy some of the criteria: the Clippers, Nets, Knicks, Bulls, Mavs, Heat, Blazers, and maybe the most intriguing option of all, the Lakers. Imagine if L.A. manages to sign one star next summer, but not two. That scenario would come just as LeBron is turning 35 years old, and he'll probably be coming off his worst playoff finish in nearly a decade. Isn't it conceivable that an impatient Lakers organization misses on Durant but then decides to offer a handful of younger prospects in exchange for Draymond?
There's always a wild card. Even as the internet tracks rumors and free agency possibilities all year long, the NBA offseason works because the actual news is usually stranger than anything we could've scripted.Two years ago everyone knew that Gordon Hayward might leave Utah, but no one ever imagined Kyrie Irving would leave Cleveland. Last summer the entire league was talking about LeBron landing spots, but no one mentioned Kawhi Leonard. Even two months ago, once it became clear that Kawhi was on the way out of San Antonio and 50 different basketball reporters were generating fake trades, almost no one mentioned the Raptors.
As we close this summer by looking ahead to next year's crowded class of free agents—Durant, Leonard, Irving, Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Al Horford, Marc Gasol, Kemba Walker, DeMarcus Cousins, Tobias Harris, DeAndre Jordan, Khris Middleton—keep in mind that next summer's frenzy will probably feature at least one star that we haven't considered yet.
That's Draymond Green.