14 Jan

Draymond Green’s return from suspension will boost Warriors on court, but earning back trust will require work

SAN FRANCISCO — Draymond Green’s return to the basketball court will almost certainly go smoothly for the Golden State Warriors. His defense, playmaking and energy have all been sorely lacking since the league suspended him for 12 games following repeated incidents that culminated with a wild shot to the head of Phoenix Suns center Jusuf Nurkic.

Green’s successful return to the locker room, however, will require significantly more work.

After Green punched former teammate Jordan Poole before the beginning of last season, Warriors coach Steve Kerr mentioned several times how trust had to be regained. And what does “trust” mean? Some use slightly different terminology, but there are four widely accepted elements of trust:

Competency: Green has no problem with this, given his outstanding play over the course of his decorated career.
Communication: Green has been the vocal leader of the Warriors for the better part of the past decade.
Compassion: While he may appear occasionally cold-hearted on the court, Green has drawn rave reviews as a teammate from those who know him best — Kerr as well as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in particular.
Consistency: Ay, as Hamlet said, there’s the rub.
So many of Green’s troubles have come from a sense of unpredictability, and it’s nearly impossible to trust a leader when you don’t know how they will behave from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute. Kerr has spoken ad nauseam about the fine line Green attempts to tiptoe between passion and disorder. Over the past couple of seasons, he’s fallen off the high wire too many times in the wrong direction, and cost his team dearly in the process.

What he’ll have to work toward when he rejoins the Warriors locker room on Sunday is consistency, predictability, and ultimately trust. After Friday’s arduous 113-109 win against the three-win Detroit Pistons, Curry reflected on Golden State’s off-court difficulties over the past couple of seasons.

“Last year trying to back [up the championship] and all the things we had to deal with. This year is more of the same,” Curry exp;ained. “Different challenges, but a lot has gone into 35 games. You’ve got to stay fresh mentally, physically, not get exhausted or fatigued with all the things that you’re trying to balance, while also trying to perform on the court.”

That perfectly sums up the challenge for the Warriors, who just lost Chris Paul for an extended period of time due to a broken left hand. They need to figure out their basketball issues — incorporating Green into an already turbulent rotation, finding a consistent second scorer, etc. — all the while attempting to generate a cohesive unit with a veteran leader who has, once again, broken the team’s trust.

On the surface, there will be no hard feelings. The sentiment surrounding Green’s final incident before his suspension was sympathetic — that he needed to work on himself as a human being first and foremost. Basketball will come later. The organization and the league clearly feel that Green has done sufficient work in that area, so he will surely be welcomed by his teammates with open arms.

“I mean, it’s Draymond Green. He does everything,” Thompson said on Thursday night. “We’re all just so excited when he comes back, because it doesn’t even need to be stated what he means to this team.”

The Warriors may be excited, but it will certainly be a shock to the system. Green has been away from the team since mid-December, and his reinsertion will have to be handled delicately. Green will need to show contrition and accountability without losing the edge that has taken him from a second-round pick to a potential Hall of Famer.

Most of all, he’ll need to prove himself reliable by engendering a sense of consistency and predictability. Even if Green is able to do that, the 17-18 Warriors need it to happen fast if they’re going to salvage a roller coaster of a season.

“Every season you have different and unique challenges that, if a team is trying to reach their full potential, you have to persevere through,” Curry said. “This season’s been an extreme case of that.”

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