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Warriors beg Draymond Green to ‘leave officials alone’ amid reinstatement

Draymond Green spoke publicly on Tuesday for the first time since being reinstated by the NBA from his indefinite suspension. The Golden State Warriors star ultimately was banned for 12 games after striking Phoenix Suns big man Jusuf Nurkic in the face on December 12th, the latest example in an increasingly long line of unsportsmanlike acts that have come to define the latter half of his career.

Green has been back at team facilities since being reinstated on Saturday, ramping up toward a return. He missed Sunday’s dispiriting home loss to the Toronto Raptors while reconditioning, a defeat that sent the Dubs’ record to 7-6 since he was suspended. They have a -0.2 net rating over that timeframe, sporting a bottom-five defensive rating of 121.0.

The hope is that Green’s presence helps Golden State re-establish itself as a top-10 defense while unlocking Stephen Curry on the other end and providing Steve Kerr with much-needed lineup and rotational clarity, a development made easier at the moment with both Chris Paul and Gary Payton II sidelined due to injury. It’s long been impossible to separate Green’s unique effectiveness from the special leeway he gets from officials with regard to arguing calls and sparking animus with opposing players, though.

Can the future Hall-of-Famer get back to his previous level of impact absent that outwardly contentious on-court persona? That might be the biggest challenge Green faces in his return, one Kerr pointed to directly on Tuesday by acknowledging the Warriors have finally tasked him with “leaving officials alone.”

“That’s a big part of it and we’ve talked about it. Can he walk that line, can he still play with fire and energy but leave the officials alone? That’s the challenge,” Kerr said of Green. “It’s gonna be a big challenge, but we’re gonna ask him to do that. We need that so we can focus on the game. His teammates need that so we that can focus on all of the little details that are eluding us right now, that are keeping up from being a consistent team. So that’s what we’re asking of him.”

Can Draymond Green’s competitive fire finally burn differently?

Green said all the right things on Tuesday, insisting he benefited from therapy while away from the team and copping to the need for his behavior to change going forward. It was a refreshing about-face from the last time he sat in front reporters following his return from suspension, Green steadfastly maintaining his approach wouldn’t change after being banned five games for putting Rudy Gobert in a chokehold.

Green’s indefinite suspension prompted a long-awaited shift in how Golden State publicly manages his transgressions. Instead of allowing for the unfortunate reality that Green’s production and overall influence is rooted in his always-combative in-game persona, Kerr and company—their hand essentially forced, it bears noting—have finally admitted it’s necessary for that part of his game to change.

There’s nothing inherent about Green as a player that should prevent him from re-emerging as a two-way force while broadly ignoring the officials. He can still glean energy and intensity from feeding off home and away crowds and the success or struggles of his teammates. It’s not like his super-computer basketball brain runs on constant, overly antagonistic back-and-forths with referees and opponents. Green should still be able to make early help rotations defensively, find cutters and shooters with one-step ahead playmaking and flip the angles of screens without that undercurrent of hostility fueling him.

Still, it’s worth wondering if his competitive fire will burn the same absent the on-court identity Green has ridden to four championships and his well-deserved status as a Warriors icon and arguably the greatest defender of his generation. He’s indulged it for more than a decade, after all, only pushed to change as his career suddenly hung on the precipice of ending in its 12th season.

The key for Green is realizing he could’ve reached those exalted team-wide and individual heights without so readily embracing that villainous role in the first place. Maybe his comments on Tuesday really are indicative of Green’s altered perspective, one that could propel Golden State to a midseason turnaround not just due to his presence on the floor, but serve as a galvanizing force for a locker room that sorely needs a collective sense of direction.

Keep your fingers crossed that proves the case, Dub Nation. Any reversion back to his old habits as the season continues would mean even harsher punishment from the league, not to mention the near-certainty of the Warriors’ front office punting on the last legs of the dynasty altogether, rebuilding on the fly without Green to save the twilight of Stephen Curry’s career from further disaster.