SAN FRANCISCO — Coach Steve Kerr was frank about the lasting impact that Draymond Green punching Jordan Poole in a preseason practice had on the Golden State Warriors’ season.
He was just as forceful about how important it is that Green return to the Warriors next season if they are to have any hope of getting back to the top of the NBA.
“If Draymond is not back, we’re not a championship contender,” Kerr said at his season-ending news conference Tuesday. “We know that. He’s that important to winning and to who we are. I absolutely want him back.”
Green’s future is one of the many key questions facing the Warriors this offseason after they were knocked out of the playoffs by the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round.
The 33-year-old Green has a $27.6 million player option for next season and could choose to opt out in order to get another lucrative long-term deal.
Green has said he wants to remain with Golden State and make a run at a fifth championship with teammates Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
He has been integral to the Warriors’ success as an elite defensive stopper able to guard all sorts of players and a playmaker on offense who helps set up Curry and Thompson for their 3-point shots.
But Green also has a volatile side that showed up again when he punched Poole in practice in October and when he stomped on the chest of Sacramento’s Domantas Sabonis to earn a one-game suspension in the first round.
“He knows that he had a great season this year, from a basketball perspective, but he knows that he also compromised things by what happened back in October,” Kerr said. “So part of him coming back next year has to be about rebuilding some of that trust and respect that he’s earned here for a long period of time.
One thing I love about Draymond is he’s always brutally honest, and he can take that sort of critique because he knows it’s the truth. I want him back. I think we all want him back.”
Kerr said the punch challenged the cohesive culture the Warriors have created over the years and that contributed to winning four championships in an eight-year period.
He said the season got off on the wrong track and the team never fully recovered, despite showing some signs late in the regular season and when rallying back from a 2-0 series deficit against the Kings.
“Anytime some trust is lost, then it makes the process much more difficult, and there was some trust lost,” Kerr said. “That’s as blunt as I can be.”
Rebuilding that is one of the big tasks facing the Warriors, along with their efficiency in transition, being able to defend without fouling and getting more out of the group of young players who need to complement the championship trio of Curry, Thompson and Green.
Poole regressed in the playoffs after playing a key role in last year’s title run and averaging 20.4 points per game in the regular season.
He shot 34.1% in the playoffs, averaged only 10.3 points per game and played only 21.8 minutes per game because of the struggles. Kerr said he still considers Poole one of the foundation pieces of the franchise.
Second-year players Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody also were unable to establish consistent roles, with Kuminga barely getting on the court in the postseason and Moody providing some flashes in spot duty.
“You’re trying to raise young guys and teach them good habits and teach them how to win, and you’re hoping your veteran players can help mentor those guys, and you put all that stuff in place,” Kerr said. “Last year we won the championship, this year we lost in the second round, so you can fit the narrative however you want, but every year is going to present different challenges, and you just have to meet those and do everything you can to help the team.”
The Warriors also have some questions to deal with in terms of management with general manager Bob Myers’ contract expiring at the end of next month and Kerr about to enter the final year of his deal.
Kerr said he’s not worried about his future right now and is focused instead on Myers, whom he hopes remains with the team.
“Right now Bob’s contract situation is number one because that influences a lot of the player decisions that have to be made, contracts, draft, free agency, ” Kerr said. “We will get to my stuff whenever that happens, and I’m in no rush for that.”