Long before the punch, the leaked video, and the contract conversations, there was all kinds of chatter about how the Warriors had to "figure out their future." Beyond the immediate negotiations, pressing signatures and endless, maddening speculation about certain players motivations and attitudes, there was a larger existential question: How much longer can this once-in-a-generation team, this dynasty in progress, this squad that fell off the mountain just to climb it again when no one thought that they could, stay together? How much longer will the Golden State Warriors' core three and up-and-coming stars be competing for championships? One year? Three years? Six?
I felt a sense of dread, deep in my gut, when the video came out. "This is the biggest crisis that we've had," said Coach Kerr about the punch. I was quick to shrug and defend Draymond, but then forced myself to confront my gushing bias. Emotions around the Warriors have run a little wilder than expected these past few weeks, but that describes almost every moment that I've ever watched the Dubs.
But now that game one of the 2022-23 season is finally here, now that the ink is dry and at least a few questions about what will happen tomorrow have been answered — I am relieved beyond words. It's finally time to stop talking, speculating and trying to figure out the future. It's time to enjoy the moment. (The Dubs ask that fans, if you're headed to the Chase Center tonight, to get there early for the 6:30 p.m. Championship Ring ceremony.)
"You want it to last as long as possible," Draymond Green, speaking about longevity and chasing championships, said in late September. "You don't know how many opportunities you have to do it again, so you have to take advantage of the [opportunities] that you have. And for us, we're certain that we have a chance this year."
New Faces, Old Faces
The Warriors looked great in preseason, especially the so-called up-and-coming generation.
James Wiseman, the Dubs' center and protege-in-waiting, seemed like a stand out, if only because of his highly anticipated return. It will be interesting to see how the 7-foot Wiseman — who has played just 39 games in two seasons, and was sidelined all of last year with an injury — will fit into the Warriors' lineup as the season progresses.
Johnathan Kuminga continues to dazzle, and will probably continue to grow into his role in the lineup. Like most fans, I was expecting to see more of Kuminga in the playoffs. (I can think of a few comments on this website, wondering emphatically: "Why don't they have Kuminga guarding [Nikola Jokic, Ja Morant, Luca Doncic, Jason Tatum]?"
Another exciting old new face is Moses Moody, who did play a few big, critical moments in the playoffs, especially the elimination Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. (In case you're wondering: Kuminga and Mooney's contracts with the Warriors expire in 2025.)
And then there are the new faces: JaMychal Green, Ryan Rollins, Donte DiVincenzo, and Patrick Baldwin Jr., just to name a few who played a bit in the preseason. "Who the hell is Pat Spencer?" I wondered when I tuned into a game last week. (This is the first preseason basketball I've ever watched in my life.) Stephen Curry, who was guest announcing with Bob Fitzgerald and Kelenna Azubuike, got fired up when Spencer drove the lane and dunked a week ago.
So who will become a regular rotation player off the bench? Who will be this season's Otto Porter Jr. or Nemanja Bjelica and hit huge shots while playing short minutes?
Why Draymond Green is Still My Guy
It's amazing how different writing about Draymond, the punch and the video is now as opposed to just one week ago — though it still feels like there's elephant in the room (but maybe it's a smaller elephant or a bigger room), especially when looking ahead at the season. (Can you believe that tomorrow will mark just two weeks that the punch happened?)
Here are some of the headlines from the past two weeks: "Draymond Green's punch forces the Warriors to choose the past or the future"; "The Warriors are backed into a corner with Draymond Green's contract;" "Whoever leaked the Draymond Green punch video did the Warriors a favor;" "For Draymond Green, the video changes everything;" "Warriors' Draymond Green, another aging offensive liability, is possibly interested in joining Lakers."
I feel like I read dozens of articles that reiterated (kind of in this order) these established facts: Draymond Green punched Jordan Poole; the video was leaked and the Warriors were upset that it did; the press and fans were upset that the Warriors were upset about the leak; Draymond apologized; his contract will be up next year, he'll be 33 at the end of this season, and Jordon Poole [had also been] negotiating his contract.
It was remarkable to watch the story spin its wheels. Despite the frenzy, there was no discussions about any number of valid questions: What kind of behavior do we expect from athletes? What goes on behind closed doors, and do we as fans, who have invested our time, loyalty and money, have a right to know? Do we expect to be kept apprised of someone's contract negotiations, or their feelings about staying or getting traded? Are we — meaning fans and the media — willing to speculate endlessly in the absence of facts?
I never expected to be a Draymond Green fan, but I am. Stephen Curry is perhaps the most likable human being on the planet, at once ultra cool, stylish, and lethally talented, but also, boyish and goofy. As a lover of boats and the water, I feel like I can most related to the taciturn Klay Thompson.
Like most Warrior fans, I sat on the edge of my seat as the fiery and demonstrative Draymond walked the tightrope, again and again, giving referees and earful and flirting with technical fouls and ejections. Is this what I would have chosen as a fan? To ride this rollercoaster of emotions? Of course not. But that's part of the fun — you don't get to curate your team. You get on the rollercoaster, or you don't.
In the wake of the video — which was awful and shook me — it felt like we were forced to make a decision about Draymond, which is to say to cast some judgement upon him. At the same time, there was also an attempt to try and contextualize what a fight among teammates meant. Remember in The Last Dance how Michael Jordan had punched Steve Kerr in the face? (Pictures of Kerr with a shiner followed.) "In 32 years, I've probably seen 20-plus fist fights in practice," Kerr said in an interview.
So this is kind of normal, right? Do I have (and do I need) permission as a fan to move on?
In the wake of the video, I had to ask myself: "Have I drank the Kool-Aid? Have I unknowingly become a member of a cult? How many terrible things have been perpetrated in the sports world because everyone was caught up in the excitement, the myth, the history, and in the case of a winning team, because everyone was worshiping at the throne of championships?
I am loathe to analyze the "sincerity" of someone's apology, but Draymond's apology spoke to me.
"I was wrong. With the video leaking, there's a huge embarrassment that comes with that . . . the embarrassment that Jordan has to deal with [and] this team has to deal with, but also, Jordan's Family. His mother, his father saw that video. For that I apologize to his mother, his father, his family, his friends that care for him. I apologize to this organization. We just won a championship. There'll be a ring ceremony. My family will be here, [JP's] family will be here. On a night where it should be celebration and love — it still will be — there's this dark cloud in the room, and I caused that."
Draymond is still my guy. I'm not trying to tell you, reader, to feel one way or another about Draymond Green. I respect if someone has changed their mind about him, or needs to "rebuild the trust." But Draymond is still my guy, because who am I to judge? I'm a flawed human being, too. He's still my guy, because he still a core part of this team. For anyone questioning Draymond's importance in the lineup, just look at the Warriors record when he was injured, starting in January. (They were 19-17.)
But there I go, fetishize winning. Draymond Green is still my guy, because when you're a middle-aged fan, like me, you start to appreciate more than the just the game. I appreciate the people, and people are more interesting when they're complicated — especially as they're trying to navigate the chaos of the spotlight.
Big Games of the 2022-23 Season
December 25 — Warriors vs. Memphis Grizzlies, at Chase Center: This will be the first meeting of the year between the Warriors and Grizzlies, who share more than a little bad blood after last year's Round 2 series. (There will be another home game against Memphis on January 25, then the Warriors play in Memphis on March 9 and March 18.)
December 10 — Warriors vs. Boston Celtics, at Chase Center: The first meeting of the year following the 2022 NBA Finals.
December 30 — Warriors vs. Portland Trailblazers, at Chase Center: I'm calling this Gary Payton II appreciation night.
January 19 — Warriors vs. Boston Celtics, in Boston: What will the Celtic fans cheer at Drama in a post-punch world Instead of "F*ck You, Dray Mond," will it be, "We Disagree With the Way You Internalize and Express Your Emotions, Dray Mond."
Top Image: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors looks on during the NBA Japan Games between the Washington Wizards and the Golden State Warriors at Saitama Super Arena on October 02, 2022 in Saitama, Japan. (Photo by Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images)