CHASE CENTER — After two-time MVP Stephen Curry underwent hand surgery on Friday, knocking him out for at least the next three months, Draymond Green is the last remaining healthy member of Golden State’s championship core.
“The one thing we won’t do is run him into the ground,” said head coach Steve Kerr. “We have to maintain a good schedule with Draymond, minutes-wise, games-wise. If he’s banged up, we should make sure we take care of him.”
As the Warriors move on from a run of three NBA titles in five straight trips to the Finals, their priorities have changed. Rather than taxing their few veterans and making a desperate push for a low playoff seed, this year will be about development, and Green will be a major part of that.
“It’s like, I went from the second brother in line to the older brother, which is a completely different thing,” Green said. “Just adjusting to that, I’ve never been that in my NBA career. That’s an adjustment, but one that I’m excited about.”
Even just four games into the season, Green has already dealt with a leg issue, getting elbowed in the back and a persistent nerve issue in his elbow. With still 78 games to play (including Friday’s against San Antonio), grinding the undersized forward — who turns 30 in March — makes little sense, especially when his play will likely make little difference in what’s likely a lotter-bound season.
Golden State, through the first four games, has the worst defense in the NBA, and by far the worst defense of Kerr’s tenure. Green is a former Defensive Player of the Year, and at his best, is a tenacious two-way asset.
What Green can do is to help mentor the likes of No. 41 overall pick Eric Paschall — who’s drawn comparisons to a young Green — and the seven other newcomers age 23 and younger.
“He’s taken on a real leadership role,” Kerr said. “He understands how much our young players need him, and he’s been fantastic. He’s also one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met in my life, and so this will be a big challenge for him and for everybody.”
Golden State already had a suspect roster laden with youth and castoffs, in large part thanks to the sign-and-trade that sent Kevin Durant and a protected first-round draft pick to Brooklyn and brought back D’Angelo Russell. Because of the hard cap that resulted from that move, the team can only carry 14 players.
The Warriors already had to jetison a strong wing defender — Alfonzo McKinnie — in order to make room for Marquese Chriss, a 6-foot-10, 240-pound, 22-year-old former lottery pick who shored up a front court thinned by injury.
Though Willie Cauley-Stein is back from a mid-foot strain that kept him out of training camp, Kevon Looney is still out indefinitely due to a neuropathic condition impacting his hamstring. That means the 6-foot-6 Green has had to play quite a bit of center.
Kerr said that while the objective for this year’s team remains the same — to win games — the expectations now must shift.
“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be the first team there for the loose ball,” Kerr said. “There’s no reason why we can’t be the team that plays hardest. We may not have enough talent, but we should be competitive as hell, and that’s what we’re going to preach. That’s how we’re going to prepare the guys.”
Green — who Kerr called the most competitive person he knows — refused to admit that postseason play may be a fantasy at this point.
“Are the things that have happened bigger blows to our chances? Absolutely, but as someone who’s healthy, I’m not going out there like, ‘Welp, it’s over for the playoffs,’” Green said. “No, you go play and try to win games. Whatever happens, happens.”
That, Kerr said, is part of keeping Golden State’s championship culture alive, despite current circumstances.
“He’s kind of the lone survivor,” Kerr said. “He’s got to help all these young guys and teach them what we’ve been about, help to mentor them. That’s the most important thing.
“Carry on with the way we’ve gone about our business for the last five years plus, just in terms of preparation, work ethic and joy and everything that we’ve been about, has got to carry forward. That’s what the culture is about. The players are the ones who really carry that, and so we’ll really be relying heavily on Draymond for that.”