When news of a shouting match in the Warriors locker room first surfaced Tuesday afternoon, it was reasonable to downplay the implications. This Golden State team is perpetually under the microscope and every crack in the foundation is worth discussing, but the reality is that most good teams fight and curse at each other over the course of an 82-game season.
In some cases, testy post-game exchanges can be a sign of health; the alternative is a locker room full of vague, passive aggressive cliches thrown back and forth between teammates as the entire ship sinks deeper into a sea of permanent mediocrity. (I live in DC.) Given the history of Draymond flare-ups in Golden State, and given the success that has come right alongside them, dismissing any kind of long-term Warriors concern seemed like the smart play.
Then they suspended Draymond. That decision changed everything. Warriors concerns are more legitimate now, and questions about the future are unavoidable. The suspension was the most serious disciplinary action of the Kerr era in Golden State. It cost Green a $120,000 game check. The move also guaranteed that, instead of a few stray reports that fade away within 24 hours, this will become a storyline that lingers for months. And if nothing else, embracing the inevitable crush of scrutiny that would come with a suspension speaks to how serious the Warriors felt this matter had become.
In case anyone missed the past 36 hours of updates on this story, all of this began in Los Angeles. At the end of a tied game in regulation against the Clippers, Durant wanted the ball for a chance to take the last shot. Draymond wanted him to run the break. Eventually that turned into a turnover in the final seconds and a heated argument on the sidelines. Then Draymond went back to the locker room and took the subtext of this Warriors season—Is Durant leaving? Will he be recruited all year long? How does the team feel about all of this? -- and made it text. According to one report, Green "repeatedly called Kevin Durant a b***ch" in a display that prompted one Warrior to say, "with what was said, there is already no way Durant is coming back."
The suspension (and a handful of great NBA reporters) made all of this public knowledge. So where does that leave us? The best basketball team on the planet just acknowledged a heated and unacceptable feud among two of its best players, and then the coaching staff and front office publicly took Kevin Durant's side. Players seem to be more mixed. Tuesday night, Durant made it clear that he and Draymond haven't yet worked things out. No one knows where this is headed, but that’s part of the fun here.
Here are the five most likely outcomes.
Scenario no. 1: Everyone moves on and continues winning titles
This is the most likely outcome for the rest of this season, but it shouldn't be discounted in the long term, either.
The Warriors, by some accounts, were already dealing with these tensions last season. Maybe this week’s version is worse, and it's certainly more public, but Golden State still has the most talent in the league. Given the struggles in Boston, the gap between the Warriors and the rest of the league might be wider this season than it was a year ago. If Steph Curry is healthy by May and June, it would be insane to bet against them.
Likewise, while it's easy to read this week's events and conclude that Golden State's management prefers to keep Durant over Draymond, it's also important to remember that Joe Lacob likely wants to do everything in his power to keep both. To that end, if the Warriors win another title in June, it will be very much harder to imagine any key players walking away from one of the most successful basketball teams the sport has ever seen. Changes aren't inconceivable, but none of the Golden State upheaval will be as inevitable as some of this week's reporting has made it seem. Still: for argument's sake, let's assume that the status quo is off the table.
Scenario no. 2: Durant to the Knicks
This is, amazingly, the second most likely scenario in play. Durant Knicks buzz has been percolating around the league since June. In September, a league source told SI that the wheels for a New York move were already in motion, in much the same way LeBron's L.A. move had been (allegedly) scripted well before July 2018. There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of that claim.
Namely, the Knicks haven't signed an All-NBA superstar in 30 years, and any superstar would have to be very confident and borderline reckless to entrust his prime to an organization run by James Dolan. Nevertheless, New York would come with tremendous business upside for Durant, and after three years of hearing that he hasn't been challenged on the Warriors, no one could say that the Knicks are not a challenge.
What's more, Durant's manager and business partner was reportedly consulted for the Knicks coaching search. New York ultimately went a different direction, but the lines of communication seem to be open on that front. In any case, there is too much buzz to dismiss this option.
Scenario no. 3: Trade Draymond
I wrote about this in August, when I predicted a fissure between Durant and Draymond and wondered whether Golden State may move Green as a show of long-term support for Durant. If KD is seeking a new story and a new challenge, breaking up the original Golden State nucleus and attempting to continue dominating anyway could give him exactly what he needs, while also giving him a better chance to succeed than he would find anywhere else.
Draymond is getting older. After several years of excelling as a smallball five, his body is already showing signs of decline. He's due for a new contract after next season, and he'll be extension-eligible this summer. Draymond's next deal will be a tricky investment for anyone, but with massive luxury tax penalties looming in Golden State, the decision will be even more complicated for the Warriors. It's possible that lingering tension with KD would give Golden State management cover to make a move that the front office would consider pursuing regardless. But of course, that decision only makes sense if Durant is committed long-term. If KD leaves, Golden State will do whatever it can to keep Draymond and continue winning titles.
Scenario no. 4: Durant to the Clippers
This is the more successful older sibling of Durant Knicks rumors. The Clippers also give Durant a massive platform, all kinds of business opportunities, and his own team to carry through to the playoffs, where he can prove skeptics wrong. The difference here is that the Clippers already have a vibrant collection of young talent, a savvy front office, and an owner who will spend whatever it takes to win. Also, that owner isn't James Dolan. Don't count out the Clippers. But meanwhile...
Scenario no. 5: Durant to the Lakers
Don't count out the Lakers? It’s really easy to count out Durant Lakers rumors. But maybe it’s too easy. I know: if Durant is leaving the Warriors because he wants to go somewhere that allows him to win on his own terms, why would he join LeBron James? That’s a fair question and I'm not here to write Lakers fan fiction. Really, I'm not interested in arguing this one way or another. This is the least plausible outcome on the board. But what's most important is an objective acknowledgement: of every scenario that will eventually be in play for the future of Durant and Golden State, nothing is more entertaining than the prospect of KD going to L.A. to team up with LeBron.
In this version of the timeline, Durant isn't satisfied with merely leaving the Warriors. He needs to go somewhere that allows him to go beat them immediately. And no, Durant wouldn't have a chance to anchor his own team in L.A., but there's always the chance that he's wired differently than any superstar we've ever known and that's the way he's meant to remembered.
KD would be adored by Lakers fans, and if L.A. misses the playoffs this year (not impossible), Durant could still play the savior role he would otherwise inherit in New York. Meanwhile, this move would reignite Golden State's rivalry with LeBron, while Draymond would begin next season with a 2,000-word GQ interview explaining his side of the Clippers locker room feud and telling the world that KD was never a real Warrior. Also, Steph would have a chance to break both LeBron and Durant at once and assert himself as the best player of this generation.
But who knows.
In the end, everyone’s guessing. There probably won’t be any real answers until next July.
If the question is how we got to this week, and who's at fault, assigning blame shortchanges everything makes the Golden State situation so fascinating. Draymond definitely delivered the message at the wrong time and in the wrong way, but his basic points are reasonable. He and the other Warriors stars shouldn’t feel pressure to defer to anyone. They didn’t help forge the NBA’s greatest dynasty in 25 years only to spend each season acting like the Pelicans with Anthony Davis.
Durant has created these conditions by signing one-year deals each season and refusing to quash free agency rumors. If Golden State's coaches have responded to that uncertainty by showing Durant favoritism over the past few seasons, soft pedaling criticism and giving KD latitude to operate on his own terms, Draymond and his teammates would be well within his rights to resent those developments as well.
Durant's perspective makes sense too. He is incredible enough to set the terms for any team he plays for—even this one. If Draymond wants to demand that Durant appreciate what the Warriors were able to do without him, Durant would be reasonable in demanding that Draymond recognize how much easier his life has become since. Golden State became unstoppable as soon KD signed in July 2016, and Green spent long stretches of the past two years coasting through the regular season.
KD has given this team the largest margin for error in NBA history, and he still hasn't really gotten credit for it. That isn't Golden State's fault, but it's a reality nonetheless. Durant can’t win even when he wins. If he isn't sure he wants to spend the rest of his career grappling with that paradox, that would be understandable. He doesn’t owe it to anyone to commit long-term.
Ultimately, what's happening in Golden State this week is the by-product of two players who think they're right. And they both kind of are. As noted Warriors fan Sam Esfandiari pointed out, the whole dichotomy was on display during the possession that started all of this: Durant is good enough to demand a chance to end a tie game on his own terms, while Draymond and the Warriors have been successful enough to expect KD to run the floor and fill a lane like everyone else.
Sometime soon, everyone on the Warriors will begin pretending all of this is fine. If wins and losses are the barometer, it probably will be. But this week's drama was real, it wasn't the by-product of overzealous media, and some of this tension will be there all year long.
It had me revisiting something Warriors assistant Ron Adams said during last June’s NBA Finals. He was talking about coaching Draymond. "You embrace the originality of these players," he told a few reporters. "Every one of our guys is gifted. But they're different. Steph is a magician at times, and then he makes you cry with a couple of turnovers. That's part of who he is. We try to minimize the stuff that's not helpful for the team, with any player. But these guys, we're coaching them, we're directing them, but they are the people [in charge]. Players are getting much more involved. They have more say in the team. Steve [Kerr] has done a wonderful job, a unique job, empowering this team."
This is the core issue. The stars on the Warriors have always been the ones who shape the Golden State culture. Now agendas are beginning to conflict. How much will that matter? We'll all find out together.