There are always Bruce Bowens and Pat Beverleys, irritants and occupational hazards. At a certain stage of their development they realize they're not going to be One Of The Greats and find a different application for the mania they had previously been channeling into dribble moves and pull-ups. They still have to be able to play, but the defining characteristic of that play is all the nonsense they do in the margins: soft and hard antagonisms, clutching and tripping and barking and occasionally squaring up as if to fight, if never actually throwing hands. It's a pose and a niche. See this video of Pat Bev working out in Timbs. He understands the job.
Much stranger is somebody like Draymond Green, who has been crucial to a team that has won four titles over the past decade. The cliched line that he gives the Warriors an edge that Klay Thompson and Steph Curry lack isn't without substance, but it deemphasizes Draymond's immense talent. In his prime, he could guard pretty much anyone, of any size or shape, and he remains a very good defender even now. He's an excellent passer who doesn't need to see much of the ball to rack up assists. His mind is a compendium of offensive sets, and he has an innate understanding of space and rhythms that puts him in the right spots at the right moments. Draymond is fiery and intimidating, sure, but if he weren't incredibly smart and skilled, he would be much more of a type: a long-tenured bench guy you send out there to give energy and elbows. Taller, pudgier Patrick Beverley.
No, Draymond is much more like Ron Artest. They're not precisely equivalent figures. Artest—FKA Metta World Peace, The Panda's Friend, Metta Sandiford-Artest—is more complicated. But they are both unusual figures, star-level players with long track records of knucklehead business. Draymond acknowledged his recently, a glimmer of self-awareness within a broadly oblivious statement following his putting Rudy Gobert in a headlock: "To continue mentioning, 'Oh, well, he did [stuff like this] in the past,' I paid for those. I got suspended in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. You can't keep suspending me for those actions."
It reminded me of David Stern discussing Artest's season-long ban after the Malice at the Palace in 2004: "To the extent that it was my decision, I did not strike from my mind the fact that Ron Artest has been suspended on previous occasions for the loss of self-control."
And Bonzi Wells talking about Artest being suspended for a 2006 Kings playoff game after elbowing Manu Ginobili: "With Ron's questionable past, [the league's] going to look for a way to get him. Whether it's minor or major, they're going to look at it in a different way."
And Bill Plaschke claiming Artest got off easy, being banned only seven games for assassinating James Harden in 2012: "This was not something that can be disciplined in seven games, not with Artest’s history, not with Harden’s injury. This was something that probably should have required twice that many games."
You get the idea. Disciplinary history has consistently been part of the league's calculus when dispensing punishment. Fans and press regularly bring up a player's record of rowdiness when he commits a fresh sin. Early in his career, Artest established that he was prone to fits of anger and disassociation. He cemented that reputation in 2004, when he went into the stands in Detroit, and from there proceeded a series of reform efforts and relapses, the latter of which were framed by his past transgressions. For his part Artest was typically pretty contrite, especially after he entered his 30s and found therapy. (You'll recall that he thanked, in order: his hood, his family, and his psychiatrist after the Lakers won the title in 2010.) He didn't want to hurt people or get tossed from games. He just had a habit of losing his damn mind.
Draymond evidently has greater control over his actions, or at least he thinks he does. He also appears to believe that his whole act is a net positive. He's probably right about that, but it's been a point of debate not just in the press over the years but within the Warriors organization. Publicly, they've backed and protected Draymond—he has survived, among dozens of other smaller incidents, missing Game 5 of the 2016 Finals, blowing up on Kevin Durant in 2018, and punching Jordan Poole in 2022—but their exasperation with him comes across as clearly as their ultimate support. Kerr summarized the company line during last year's playoffs, when Draymond was suspended for Game 3 of Golden State's series against Sacramento for stomping on Domas Sabonis: “There’s no stopping Draymond, you can’t put your arm around him and say, ‘ok, calm down.’ It’s ok, we accept Draymond for who he is and what he stands for because, frankly, it makes us win.”
Kerr called Draymond's latest violent outburst "inexcusable," and said the league's five-game suspension is "deserved." He expressed this with something like proud resignation. You imagine his handling of Draymond behind the scenes was harsher, and more colorful, but in public Kerr has no choice but to shrug. The Warriors have always backed Draymond, and they're committed to him for the next four seasons, at about $25 million per. They likely don't expect him to be earning that money as the contract is winding down, but it's the type of move you make with an aging core, when your options are limited. Is tolerating Draymond easy? No, but we need him. Like a streaky shooter or someone with a bad injury history, you just hope he's at his best when the contests matter most, that he doesn't do something colossally stupid in Game 3 of the Conference Finals.
Draymond understands all this about as well as he understands the game itself. And he has internalized his protected status, which is why he strikes a persecuted pose when he gets sanctioned for putting an opposing player in a headlock.
To the extent Ron Artest got himself together, it was motivated by an on-court decline and informed by a few years in the wilderness with the Sacramento Kings. He was flatly unwanted before Daryl Morey's Rockets took a not-wholly-successful flier on him in 2008, and then became a valued role player on a title-winning Lakers squad. If Artest did not free himself completely from violent impulses, he did cut a humbled figure in Los Angeles. And he wasn't defiant. He had a decent grasp of how the league and public viewed him, and what he deserved. Like Artest, Draymond's sense of what he deserves is a reflection of how he's been treated. The Warriors, in their every action, have made clear that he is essential. This is sensible as far as it goes, but it has also given the league's most decorated bully no reason to change.