busy studying the game footage on his flatscreen, rewinding and restarting one moment over and over again.
The Michigan State coach watched the final play of regulation unfold, a star teammate clapping for the ball only not to get it. He examined the body language of two bickering teammates, trying to look at all the angles as if he were a detective trying to uncover any clue to explain what had transpired.
On this November day, Izzo was overcome with concern not over his then-11th-ranked Spartans’ upcoming opponent, Louisiana-Monroe, but over what had happened between Golden State Warriors stars Draymond Green and Kevin Durant, more than 2,300 miles away in Los Angeles.
“He’s gotten mad before,” Izzo said of Green, his fiery former player. “But it went to a different level a little bit.”
Izzo picked up his phone and repeatedly called and texted Green, bombarding the All-Star’s phone as if he were recruiting the power forward all over again. He needed to know that his prized pupil was OK, because when Green “goes dark” on him, the Spartans’ coach knows something is wrong.
“He blew it off like every tough guy does [saying], I’ll get through it,” Izzo told ESPN of when he finally got in touch with Green after the Warriors suspended him for one game for his role in the dust-up. “But that’s eaten at him a little bit. It really has. But I just know him well enough that he’ll make amends for it. He’ll work it out. … [But] I think he was a little lost there for a while. He said it was going to be OK, but I could tell that was a phony answer.
“I know when things are bothering him and when they hurt him. I don’t think he’s [all the way] back to normal, but I think he’s making some progress.”
DURING HIS ONE-NIGHT
forced exile from Oracle Arena, Green found peace less than 24 hours after his verbal firefight with Durant by surrounding himself at his home in the East Bay with two of his loves outside of basketball: family and a bottle of Tignanello wine.
“Played with the kids, spent some time with my girl,” Green told ESPN of what he did while the Warriors started to move on from the Green-Durant dispute with a 110-103 win over the Atlanta Hawks without him. “Had a couple of glasses of wine. Had a great evening at home.
“I don’t really get shaken up about too much. S— happens … well other than someone saying [on social media], ‘Oh he needs to be traded,’ something like that, I was fine.”
However, in the immediate aftermath of the Green-Durant dispute, Stephen Curry — who was trying to figure out what happened since he was injured and not with the team during the overtime loss to the Clippers at Staples Center that night — and the Warriors weren’t the only ones concerned about where Green’s head was.
In between prepping for the Warhawks in Michigan State’s first home game of a holiday tournament, Izzo was working back channels, calling Steve Kerr and some of Green’s closest confidants to glean if one of his all-time favorite former players had made a mistake, lost his cool and possibly crossed the line.
More than anything, Izzo wanted to make sure that Green was mentally and spiritually intact.
“His number one thing, ‘I need to make sure you’re in a great head space,'” Green said of Izzo’s message. “‘I need to make sure that whatever’s going on, it don’t happen again.’ That’s amazing.”
Like when he flexes his muscles after scoring while being fouled at the rim, the Warriors’ enforcer brushed off the suspension with his usual bravado.
“[People] ain’t got nothing else to talk about,” Green said. “Great. Enjoy it. I got suspended for Game 5 of the Finals [in 2016]. Who cares about Game 17 on Tuesday?”
What was actually the Warriors’ 15th game of the season turned out to be a rare opportunity for Green to get some much-needed balance with family time and recharge.
Green’s start to the season was slowed by injury and an offensive slump he hadn’t experienced since his rookie season, when he was a role player coming off the bench. The three-time All-Star’s 3-point shooting through December was the worst it had been since his rookie season (24.6 percent) and defenses picked their poison against Golden State by leaving Green wide open on the perimeter.
Izzo knew Green already came into the season physically ailing following a painful toe injury that cost him 13 games, and perhaps Green was more ornery as a result. But Izzo sensed Green was also mentally reeling a bit from the blow-up with Durant.
“When I talked to him, I think his head was floatin’ a little bit,” Izzo said. “I think he was not sure on how everybody was reacting. Some media went one way, some the other. Probably some players one way, some the other. The price of leadership is strange. … Being a good leader is feeling what’s needed to be said.”
Green and Izzo are basketball soulmates. Their bond goes beyond their two Final Fours together. Izzo considers Green, along with Mateen Cleaves, to be the best winner he has ever coached.
The Spartans’ coach has not only watched Green grow up since recruiting him as a teenager out of Saginaw, Michigan, but he helped transform Green from a pudgy freshman into a consensus All-American and national player of the year by his senior year. After one conversation with Kerr a few years ago, the Hall of Fame coach flew to meet the Warriors on the road in Denver just to tell Green something constructive in person that he might not necessarily like hearing.
“With Coach Izzo, my relationship with him is more meaningful, it’s better now than it was then,” Green said. “It’s rare that someone cares about you that much. … So many times, things start going wrong, people tuck their tail and they run and they act like they don’t got nothing to do with you.”
KERR AND GREEN
have had their share of practice-halting arguments, but the Warriors’ coach is a master at pushing the right buttons with his players. Their relationship has grown to the point where Kerr said earlier this season he didn’t think they would get into any more fights while describing their relationship as more “collaborative than ever.”
For his part, Green says he did not feel that Kerr and general manager Bob Myers were choosing sides between himself and Durant, as some speculated.
“I mean, it’s easy to feel any way you want to feel. To be honest with you, I didn’t even think that deep into it because it didn’t really matter,” Green said. “To me, I got suspended for the game. I’m not going to think deeper into it [like] it’s going to change [the outcome].”
“We’re fine, we’re great,” Green added of his relationship with Kerr and Myers. “We all got one common goal; that’s to win a championship.”
Kerr says Green has “been great” since the punishment and that he’s not worried about Green’s emotional state. Still, Kerr said he turned to Izzo “a couple of times” during the difficult decision for input, much the way he did when he solicited the Spartans coach’s advice on the best approach toward Green when he first took over at Golden State.
“He was very helpful,” Kerr said of Izzo’s advice during Green’s suspension. “There’s a reason why Draymond reveres him.”
Two months after the suspension, Green and the Warriors look as if they’ve buried any doubt about any tension or negativity lingering from the incident by putting together a seven-game winning streak. Kerr says Green “is feeling about as good as he’s felt all year physically” and it showed during the past three wins over Denver, New Orleans and the LA Clippers.
After owning the worst turnover rate in the NBA, Green dished a combined 36 assists while turning the ball over only once in each of those three victories last week. Green also buried four 3-pointers against the Pelicans, including two in the final 3:10 of the comeback win.
They’re playing much better than when they lost eight of 13 games in November and early December, a stretch that had some wondering whether Green and the Warriors might be showing signs of vulnerability when Curry was injured, Green battled the toe injury and Klay Thompson went through a shooting funk.
“I think we were more vulnerable last season, in the regular season,” Green says of the Warriors’ 58-24 regular-season record in 2017-18, their worst record since Kerr took over in 2014. “They said that going into the playoffs last year. We beat everybody’s asses.”
Of course, if the Warriors don’t three-peat, or even if they do and then Durant leaves in free agency, there will be detractors who probably will point back to the night at Staples Center when Green and Durant were shouting at each other.
“I just really didn’t give a damn [about what people outside the Warriors think],” Green said of those wanting to divide Green, Durant and the Warriors. “Because I know at the end of the day, no one wants to see us win again.
“They would love for us to break up, for it to be broken up by that. Because they can’t, f— … can’t nobody f—ing’ beat us. So, I just look at it and laugh.”
On Sunday, after the Warriors concluded practice, players were scattered all over UCLA’s John Wooden Center. Green was seated next to Durant near the end of a long row of folding chairs as if nothing had happened two months ago in Los Angeles.
Green flashed an appreciative smile when reminded of how concerned Izzo was and is. But he had no plans to change the way he leads or to bite his tongue.
“I am the leader that I am, at the end of the day,” Green says. “You learn from different situations, whether it’s mistakes, whether it’s things you did right. And you take them with you.
“But as far as like changing my style of leadership or the way I lead, no. Never. It’s been successful. So I won’t change it because of one incident.”
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