Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green is having an amazing summer. The 25-year-old won his first NBA championship in June and then inked a five-year deal worth $82 million in July. Since then, he has been loving life and enjoying the perks that come with being a high-paid champion.
Recently, Green made a record-setting $3.1 million donation to his former school, Michigan State University, and brought the Larry O’Brien trophy on campus so students and faculty could take pictures with it. While Green has been busy this summer, he has also been working extremely hard in preparation for the 2015-16 season, as he’s determined to continue his development and help the Warriors repeat as champions.
Basketball Insiders recently had the chance to chat with Green about his championship, crazy summer, free agency experience, offseason training, donation to MSU, Defensive Player of the Year snub and more in this exclusive interview.
Basketball Insiders: First of all, how does it feel to be a champion? I know you’ve been having a lot of fun since winning it all, taking the trophy different places and things like that. Now, you’ll always be introduced as ‘NBA champion Draymond Green.’ How much are you enjoying this?
Draymond Green: “It’s cool. It’s an amazing accomplishment to have. Like you said, every time your name is mentioned, it’s ‘NBA champion Draymond Green’ or ‘World champion Draymond Green.’ It’s great! But at this point in my career, I want more. It was good for the first two months, but now it’s time to get ready for training camp and try to do it again. If I was a guy in my 13th year or something, then I’d feel like, ‘Man, I finally got one.’ But I just finished my third year and I feel like there is much more for me to accomplish in my career. So it was great, and it is still great – I’m not taking anything away from it at all because it’s phenomenal. But, at the same time, I want more. Now, I’m in a mode now where I’m like, ‘Forget that championship; let’s try to get another one.’”
Basketball Insiders: That leads to my next question for you. Some teams get complacent after winning a title. They’re content with that one championship and don’t play as well that next season. But with you guys, it seems like you’re all really hungry and have something to prove. I wrote about that recently – talking about how you guys were historically good and seem poised to be even better, yet all of a sudden people are talking about Cleveland being a favorite because they’re healthy or San Antonio being a favorite because of their offseason moves. Do you guys kind of feel like you’re being disrespected a bit as the defending champs coming into the year? And does that motivate you at all?
Draymond Green: “I mean, I definitely think there is some disrespect going on. But at the end of the day, there will never be an asterisk next to our title in the record books, so it is what it is. And we don’t need any more motivation. We want to repeat, because the feeling of winning that championship was too good. So we don’t need anybody to say, ‘Oh, Cleveland is healthy!’ or, ‘The Spurs have done this and that!’ It is what it is; that’s the NBA. People make moves and people get hurt – that’s the game we play. At the end of the day, it is what it is, but that’s not going to motivate us because we were already motivated and we are looking forward to defending our title and trying to win another.”
Basketball Insiders: How much better could the Warriors be next year? As you mentioned, you just finished your third year. You, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli are all 25 years old or younger. Steve Kerr is going into his second year as a head coach and he’s poised to improve and you guys will be more comfortable under him. Not to mention, you brought everyone back so with that continuity, your chemistry should be better. Your team could significantly improve next year and I think a lot of people are forgetting that. How much better can you guys play this year compared to last year?
Draymond Green: “I think we could get a lot better. At the end of the day, what Coach Kerr always preaches on the offensive end is flow. And I think that flow gets better with time because you understand, ‘I’m going to get my shot here,’ and, ‘If I move the ball, it’s going to come back to me,’ and all of that stuff. You understand all of that better in year two. In our first year with Coach Kerr and our first year in that offense, it was different. I mean, if somebody tells you to pass up an open shot [but] you’re going to get it back, you’re not used to that. You’re thinking, ‘Uh, why should I pass up this shot?’ At this point though, we understand it now. That makes a difference, so I think we can get a lot better. I think we are going to get a lot better and I think the sky is the limit for this group and for this organization.”
Basketball Insiders: Let’s talk about your free agency process. First of all, congratulations on your five-year, $82 million contract. What was it like to go through free agency? I know some players love it and some players hate it. And restricted free agency is obviously pretty rough for some guys. Fortunately for you, your deal got done pretty quickly and all along it was pretty clear you would be going back to the Warriors. What was your free agency process like?
Draymond Green: “It wasn’t much. I talked to one other team and that was really not a serious conversation at all [because] I knew where I wanted to be. I knew where I was going to be and my focus was to have my agent, B.J. Armstrong, work with the Warriors and get a deal done. That was the main focus. I talked to Joe [Lacob]. I talked to Peter [Guber]. I knew where I was going to be, I knew where home was, and we got it done. It was great that the Warriors stepped up to the plate and got it done in the fashion that they did, where I didn’t have to sign an offer sheet or anything like that and we just got the deal done. It says a lot about the Warriors as an organization, it says a lot about Peter and Joe as an ownership group, it says a lot about the front office with Bob [Myers], Kirk [Lacob], and Travis [Schlenk] and everyone else. I’m one of their guys and they stepped up to the plate and got it done. That meant a lot to me.”
Basketball Insiders: Was that other team you talked to the Detroit Pistons? I’m just curious because there was some talk about you going home and you had some other connections to the Pistons as well [Editor’s Note: Green’s former agent, Arn Tellem, joined Detroit’s ownership group as Vice Chairman of Palace Sports and Entertainment.]
Draymond Green: “That other team was not Detroit. I’d rather not say [the team.]”
Basketball Insiders: You kind of embraced a villain role last season and I loved it. One of my favorite quotes from the playoffs was when you were asked about being a villain and you were smiling and nodding as you talked about loving that role. Do you like getting under the opposition’s skin and being that guy who no one wants to play against but loves having on their team?
Draymond Green: “I mean, it’s fun! Like you said, nobody wants to play against you, but the guys on your team love you. And that’s all that matters: that your teammates love you, that they want to go to battle with you and that they are there for you. If nobody else [around the league] likes me, well, they’re not helping me win a championship anyway. If your teammates like you or love you, that’s all that is important. When people want to paint you as the villain and you’re getting booed in Memphis or getting booed in Cleveland, it is what it is. I enjoy it. I mean, it’s fun to me.”
Basketball Insiders: Since signing your contract, have you made any big purchases?
Draymond Green: “Yeah I made a big purchase: a $3.1 million donation! (laughs)”
Basketball Insiders: Yes, let’s talk about that! That’s an excellent purchase. For those who don’t know, you donated $3.1 million to Michigan State University, which Forbes reported is the largest donation ever made by an active professional athlete to his or her former school. Why did you choose to make that donation? Most players who get a big pay day buy something nice for themselves, but that’s extremely selfless of you and I thought that was very cool. How did you make that decision?
Draymond Green: “I mean, this is the university that I love. I love Coach [Tom] Izzo. I love [Athletic Director] Mark Hollis. I love [President] Dr. Lou Anna K. Simon. They’ve all been there for me and I talk to guys all of the time – because everyone knows I’m a talkative person – and when you talk to guys and ask about their colleges, some guys cannot even get in touch with their [former] coaches. I can get in touch with our athletic director and I can get in touch with our president whenever I want and that’s special. So it was a no-brainer for me to give back to this university because they’ve done so much for me, getting me into the position I’m in. I want to give back and possibly help the guys who come after me get to the same position I’m in, where they could live their dream just like I’m living mine. The university has done so much for me. I’m not where I’m at today without this university. I’m not where I’m at today without Coach Izzo. I’m not where I’m at today without Mark Hollis placing us on the platform that he placed us on, putting us on an aircraft carrier [for the Carrier Classic] and putting us in the biggest games possible. I’m not where I’m at today without Lou Anna K. Simon doing everything she does for the university. I’m thankful and I wanted to show my gratitude in a way that helps the university; not just me doing an interview or going on the radio and saying, ‘Oh, Michigan State has done this for me.’ I thought, ‘What can I do for Michigan State?’ I’m really tight with [former MSU player] Travis Walton and we always talk about relationships. One thing he always says is, ‘My granddad always told me a good relationship is give/take. It’s never take/take and it’s never give/give.’ So I always give/take. Obviously, the relationship is great between the university and I. But it was give/take, with them giving to me and me taking. So now I’m giving and they are taking, and that’s how it should be.”
Basketball Insiders: That’s a great way of looking at it and I love that explanation. Switching gears a bit, what are you working on this summer in terms of your game? I know this offseason has been busy, but you’ve obviously been working out a lot too. What aspects of your game are you focused on improving this summer?
Draymond Green: “Well, I definitely want to improve my jump shot; it obviously got better last year, but I want it to continue to get better. Also, I’m really trying to improve my post game. Teams like to switch on me every now and then and I think in the playoffs I did a great job of taking advantage of drives, but I want to score on the bigs in the post as well. Those are a couple of things I’ve been working on.”
Basketball Insiders: I’m glad you mentioned playing in the post. You kind of changed the league last year by being able to go down low, play multiple positions and even defend centers very well at times. People used to say that you were a tweener without a position and you changed that to turn it into a positive thing by being able to play all over the floor. One thing that I found interesting is that at this year’s NBA draft combine, many of the players who didn’t have a certain position, they said would say that they model their game after you and could be a ‘Draymond-Green-like player who is versatile and impacts both ends of the floor.’ You know you have arrived when you start to hear college players and high school players compare themselves to you. You playing center and thriving in super small ball is making the whole league have to adapt to you and the Warriors. What does it mean for you to have that kind of impact on the league?
Draymond Green: “It’s cool because it has changed the way people view the game, and transcended the game. That’s cool! Michael Jordan transcended the game. Magic Johnson transcended the game. You talk about names that transcended the game and then everybody says, ‘Oh, you did this and you did that for the league and now everybody is doing it,’ and that really is cool. Am I Michael Jordan? Absolutely not! Am I Magic Johnson? Hell no! (laughs) But at the end of the day, you find your way to leave your mark on the game and maybe I found a way to leave my mark. That’s cool, but I also know that the work isn’t done.”
Basketball Insiders: To be making that kind of impact in year three is pretty damn good. How much more room do you feel like you have to improve? Because, from the outside looking in, it seems like you could still grow a lot since you’re only 25 years old. How much better can you be?
Draymond Green: “I think I’ve got a lot of room left for improvement and I’m going to continue to work and continue to get better. I don’t think I’m anywhere near my prime yet and there’s a lot of room left to grow. So I’m going to keep working and continue to try to reach that.
Basketball Insiders: Many people felt that you should have been Defensive Player of the Year last season, including myself. Now, I know winning another title is the ultimate goal, but does not getting that award motivate you and is that a goal for you coming into this year?
Draymond Green: “It’s definitely something that I want to accomplish. But obviously it [comes down to] someone else’s opinion so it’s not something that you can control. But yes, it’s definitely a goal of mine.”
For more Basketball Insiders Q&As, check out our interviews with Portland’s Damian Lillard, Los Angeles’ Lou Williams and New York’s Kyle O’Quinn among others. Later this week, be sure to check out our upcoming interviews with Los Angeles’ Blake Griffin, Portland’s C.J. McCollum and NBA trainer Idan Ravin.
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