LOS ANGELES — In the two weeks Marquese Chriss has been in camp with the Golden State Warriors, one of the players he’s become closest to has been Draymond Green.
On Wednesday, after a 126-93 preseason loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, Green said that the Phoenix Suns were to blame for Chriss’s tenure with them not working out, leading to Chriss — a former No. 8 overall pick — having to fight for the final roster spot on his fourth team in four years.
“I don’t think there was ever a doubt that he was a legitimate NBA player,” Green said. “I think everyone was just kind of waiting on him to turn that corner. He seems like he’s turned the corner.
“I think he’s been in some pretty tough situations. No one ever blames the situation, though. It’s always the kid. No one ever blames these s****y franchises. Just always want to blame the kid.”
Chriss signed with Golden State after being pushed to the fringes of the league, having his basketball IQ questioned and after being tagged with the league’s worst label — uncoachable — after two seasons with the dysfunctional Suns.
After going one-and-done at Washington, the 6-foot-10, 240-pound Chriss played all 82 games for the Suns as a rookie, but averaged a pedestrian 9.2 points and 4.2 rebounds on a team that went 24-58 in its first season under Earl Watson.
Watson was fired three games into Chriss’s second season in 2017-18, amd in February of that season, Chriss — described by former Washington coach Lorenzo Romar as a “gentle soul” — was suspended for getting into an argument with an assistant coach. He was labeled a cancer, even as the Suns traded their second-leading scorer and starting point guard before the All-Star break and finished 21-61. Chriss averaged 7.7 points and 4.4 rebounds, and was traded in August for Ryan Anderson.
“I was going through a lot, as far as basketball, and even off-the-court things like that,” Chriss said Monday. “Mentally, it was tough for me.”
That next season, the Suns went 19-63, as Chriss averaged 6.5 minutes in 16 games with Houston, then 14.6 minutes in 27 games with the Cleveland Cavaliers. A frustrated Chriss got into an on-court fight with Raptors center Serge Ibaka, and wound up a free agent with no guaranteed offers this offseason — just a handful of two-way deals.
He eschewed them to take a chance with Golden State, a team hard-capped and unable to sign a 15th player without jetisoning someone.
He’s since flourished in a culture fostered by veterans like Green and Stephen Curry, and presided over by Steve Kerr. He’s averaged 9.5 points and 8.3 rebounds in 22.6 minutes in four preseason games, including three starts.
He’s taken advantage of the injuries that have thinned the Warriors’ front court. Chriss’s work as a passer, his ability to set screens in the pick-and-roll and his work in the dribble handoff have garnered him rave reviews from his teammates and Kerr — who recently called him the “surprise of camp” and very receptive to coaching.
“He came into this league as a kid, but, it’s never the organization’s fault. It’s always that guy,” Green said on Wednesday. “So, I’m happy he’s got an opportunity to show what he can really do. He’s a prime example. But, no one’s still to blame in the organizations. It’ll always be the kid. It’ll be the next kid who comes in’s fault, and the kid after that.”
Warriors guard D’Angelo Russell knows something of that experience. While Magic Johnson was the general manager of the Lakers — who picked Russell second overall in 2015 — Russell became a scapegoat for the franchise’s disfunction.
A video taken on Russell’s phone of Nick Young admitting to infidelities leaked on social media, which led to a trade to Brooklyn, where he flourished, becoming an All-Star last season. Asked about Green’s comments, Russell enthusiastically agreed.
“For sure,” he said, nodding. “That’s the business of the league. That’s all I’ve got to say.”
Asked to hypothesize about why players like Chriss and Russell get the blame for being the problem instead of the franchises who draft them, Green pointed to the media.
“You want all the access from them, so the way you guys come out and bash players, you all don’t do that to organizations, because it’s all about access, and protecting your future,” Green said. “No one really protects these younger guys’ future, because, ‘It’s all about what can I do for myself.’
“No one talks about the organizations. It’s always ‘Player, player, player,’ because they can’t do s*** about it but be young, carry the name, carry the weight and be out the league and onto the next thing. That’s what I think it is. No Phoenix writer is going to bash the Phoenix Suns. But, let’s be frank about it: When he was there, the organization was terrible. Everything was going wrong. But, he gets blamed like he’s the problem. When he left, ain’t nothing go right. So, that’s my take on it.”