PORTLAND, Ore. — As the Golden State Warriors celebrated their fifth straight Western Conference championship after eliminating the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night, forward Draymond Green pointed out that as the conversation surrounding Kevin Durant’s pending free agency continues, Durant’s addition to the Warriors three summers ago made the group “unbeatable.”
Durant hasn’t played since injuring his right calf in Game 5 of the conference semifinals on May 8, but Green singled out Durant as being the reason the organization has been able to go to another level over the past three seasons and sits on the precipice of winning its third straight NBA championship.
“There’s been so much talk about how, ‘Oh, they’re the Warriors. Before Kevin got there they were great.’ Bulls—,” Green told ESPN. “We was damn good. I think we were a very good team who was tough to beat. I think when Kevin came here, he made us unbeatable. When DeMarcus [Cousins] came here, it made people scratch their head even more. And so we need those guys. The next series is going to be tough, and I hope and pray that we can get him back.”
The Warriors remain cautiously optimistic that Durant, who is scheduled to be reevaluated later this week, will be able to return for the NBA Finals, but the Warriors remain vague on an exact return because they want to make sure Durant continues to respond well to treatment.
Green was vocal prior to Monday’s Game 4 in Portland that the Warriors were motivated to close out the series because it would allow Durant and Cousins more time to recover. Cousins has been sidelined since tearing his right quad in Game 2 of the first round against the LA Clippers on April 15. Durant would have nine full days of recovery in advance of Game 1 of NBA Finals, scheduled for May 30, at the Milwaukee Bucks or Toronto Raptors. The extra rest also allows Andre Iguodala, who missed Monday’s contest because of a left calf injury, more time to heal.
“Our goal is obviously to get all three of those guys back,” Green said. “We know we’re a good team with who we have, but those guys make us great and almost unbeatable. And we know we need [Durant].”
The Warriors have praised Durant repeatedly throughout the postseason, especially in the wake of his injury. He averaged 34.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists in the playoffs prior to getting hurt. In order to win a third straight NBA championship, Warriors players and coaches reiterated that they’re going to need him to finish the job.
“It’s very special, go five straight [to the NBA Finals]; it obviously hasn’t been done since the ’60s,” Warriors swingman Klay Thompson told ESPN. “We’re aware that it’s pretty amazing. It’s nice that we’ve won with enough time to try and get K back, because we desperately need him. And I think everyone knows there’s a couple matchups for next series that will be huge to have him fully healthy. It’s just a special time right now to be a Warrior.”
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr knows Durant still has to overcome some hurdles in his recovery, including being cleared for on-court work again, but Kerr feels good about the possibilities.
“I’m just hopeful that that’s the case more than anything,” Kerr told ESPN of being able to add Durant back into the lineup. “We don’t know how it’s going to end up. I’m really proud of the guys for holding down the fort during this series, and hopefully his rehab continues to progress and we get him back, because we’re going to need him. No doubt.”
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — New Los Angeles Lakers head coach Frank Vogel called new assistant coach Jason Kidd “an incredible asset” and said he’s not going to worry about looking over his shoulder.
Vogel said that although the Lakers’ front office planted the seed of adding Kidd to his staff, he welcomed the former Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks head coach as his assistant after the two connected and had a “lengthy” discussion for the first time. Vogel and Kidd did not have a previous relationship, but the Lakers’ head coach laughed off the notion that some might view Kidd as a potential successor.
“No, I am very good at blocking out noise,” Vogel said with a chuckle when asked about how some in the media have already deemed Kidd as a successor. “I have been around this business a long time. I really don’t give that a second thought. You can say that about every coach in the league about their assistant coaches. It happens from time to time. I believe if you treat people with the right respect and do the job at the highest level, build an environment of positivity and collaboration, you can’t worry about that stuff.
“You can’t worry about looking over your shoulder. You got to worry about getting good damn coaches, and that is how I feel about this hire.”
Vogel, who went 304-291 (.511) in his career as head coach of the Indiana Pacers (2010-16) and Orlando Magic (2016-18), said he’s had his most success with a strong assistant coach who has playing and coaching experience on his staff.
Kidd interviewed with Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and senior basketball adviser Kurt Rambis for the head-coaching vacancy before the team opted to offer Ty Lue a contract. Lue walked away from negotiations when the Lakers refused to budge from its three-year, $19 million offer, sources told ESPN.
Vogel, who shares an agent with Lue, was originally presented by Lue as a potential coach to join his staff when he met with the Lakers brass. When Lue removed himself from consideration and the Lakers expressed interest in meeting with Vogel for the head coaching position, rather than as an assistant, Lue gave Vogel his blessing, sources told ESPN.
The Lakers now hope Kidd can help Vogel develop young players such as Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart. Kidd also has a relationship with LeBron James, having played alongside James on Team USA.
As a head coach, Kidd went 44-38 and reached the second round of the playoffs in his first stint as a coach, with the Nets in 2013-14, and was 138-152 in 3½ seasons in Milwaukee from 2014 to 2018.
As the Lakers focused in on Vogel as head coach, he reached out to Kidd and the two got to know each other with a long phone conversation in which each became comfortable with the other.
“I didn’t know Jason very well prior to that,” Vogel said. “But, obviously, great respect for his playing career and his coaching career. I think he’s done a good job as a head coach. … This has been the model that’s best for me, in terms of building my coaching staff: find a respected player with coaching experience that can help strengthen my message.
“I had a great, lengthy interview process with Jason where we talked about every topic you can imagine, and came away thinking he’s going to be an incredible asset to our program.”
Vogel said he addressed Kidd’s domestic abuse arrest in 2001, when Kidd pleaded guilty to charges of domestic abuse involving his then-wife Joumana.
“Of course it does,” Vogel said when asked whether the incident gave him pause. “But this was something that was in the past, and he’s sort of spoken upon it and moved on from it. I believe he’s in a very different place than back then.”
Vogel was also optimistic about the current state of the Lakers despite the tumult that has surrounded the organization since Magic Johnson unexpectedly stepped down as president of basketball operations in April. Vogel said there’s “a positive vibe happening with our team right now,” but he also stressed the need to build continuity.
“We need to build togetherness with our organization, and I don’t just mean with the 15 guys or 17 guys that are going to be in uniform or in that locker room,” Vogel said. “I’m talking about organizational togetherness. Starting with ownership and the front office to the coaching staff, the players, the trainers, the business side — we are all going to be pulling in the same direction. This is something I’ve always preached as a head coach because you can accomplish amazing things if everybody is together. When that happens, with the way we do things from day to day, that stuff translates to the court and how we play.”
Part of Vogel’s optimism heading into next season stems from the belief that LeBron James will bounce back from an injury-plagued season. A groin injury limited the four-time MVP to just 55 games.
James attended the entirety of Vogel’s news conference on Monday, standing in the back, away from the cameras, leaving the spotlight on the team’s new coach.
Vogel said he did not have any dialogue with James before accepting the position but their discourse has been encouraging since he entered the fold.
“It was very positive,” he said when asked about his communication with James. “There’s an excitement about what we can be and what we can accomplish, and I’m looking forward to getting started with this.”