In the closing seconds of Game 4 of the NBA Finals, a giddy Draymond Green and Kevin Durant stood near the Golden State Warriors' bench, high-fiving each other uncontrollably. The All-Star forwards have a personal ritual of double-tapping on high-fives after one of them makes a good play, thus the continuous slapping in this moment -- which concluded in a massive hug -- to celebrate their sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
When the final buzzer sounded, Green, an NBA champion for a third time, burst toward midcourt to confiscate the game ball from rookie Jordan Bell and then gave it to team security official Noordin Said.
"Don't let go of this ball," Green relayed to Said before going back to celebrate with his teammates. "Don't let it go."
Yes, Durant won Finals MVP, but it was Green who took home the game ball, and perhaps rightly so. Because if it weren't for Green's financial sacrifice three years ago, Durant playing in the Bay Area likely would have been a pipe dream, and securing three championships in four years likely would have been out of reach.
"I took less so we could go after KD," Green told ESPN during the Finals. "I am a student of this game, and I studied the business side of it and the numbers, where some people don't. They leave it up to their agent to do it."
Not Green. It turns out he was the player who masterminded the Warriors' dynasty that could have Golden State high-fiving for years to come.
Entering the 2012 NBA draft, Green was viewed as a tweener with very little upside. At 6-foot-7, evaluators had an arduous time projecting his natural position during pre-draft workouts.
Green recalled guarding perimeter prospects one minute, then defending bruisers down low the next.
"I was all over the place," he said. "I didn't see anybody else being asked to do what I did in those workouts. That s--- was crazy. It took a toll."
His skill set, competitive drive and basketball IQ were apparent, but his place on the court remained a league-wide mystery. The Warriors took him with the 35th pick.
Six years later, his place is beyond secure. After three All-Star appearances, two All-NBA team honors, an Olympic gold medal and three NBA championships, the league knows what Green brings to the table.
"Draymond is a catalyst and the anchor for their defense," LeBron James said. "Very, very smart defensively. He knows pretty much every set. He kind of flies around and dictates their defense, either on the perimeter or protecting the rim as well."
Furthermore, Green developed a desire to protect the Warriors' nucleus. Winning had become contagious in 2015, and he wanted more. But in order for it to come to fruition, he knew he had to demonstrate how serious he was about his vision.
"I want to win," Green said. "I want to win at all costs."
When Green agreed to his five-year, $82 million deal in 2015, he did so at a discounted rate. Golden State had just won its first title in 40 years, and Green's prolific career was starting to take off. But he left $12 million on the table with the goal of accumulating more on-the-court success.
His agent, B.J. Armstrong, knew they could have sought more money (Green was eligible to sign a five-year, $94 million contract). He circled back with Green a few times to make sure he wanted to do this. Most players, specifically second-rounders, attempt to collect all of the gold in the pot on their first contract. Green insisted, and Armstrong, who could not be reached for comment on this story, notified the Warriors of the agreement.
Instead of focusing on maximizing his earnings in what was at the time the most important summer of his career financially, Green had his sights set on the following summer -- when a certain 7-foot scoring machine would hit the market. Green studied the collective bargaining agreement, crunched the numbers and accepted just enough so Durant's max salary could fit into the Warriors' equation.
The significance of his smaller deal was that the cap hit in the second year (2016-17) was $15.3M versus $17.6M, according to an analysis by Bobby Marks, ESPN's NBA Front Office Insider. That savings helped create a max salary slot based on Andrew Bogut being traded and the rights to Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli being renounced.
"That money is not changing my neighborhood," Green said. "It's probably $6 million after taxes and fees. It's not changing my neighborhood, but championships can. Championships can change my life.
"So it's about what's important to you. And I knew how important it was to me and the opportunity we could have if I did what I did. And I didn't need [Warriors general manager] Bob [Myers] to explain that to me. Bob never once explained that to me. I knew it going in. So that's where I based my negotiations at. The number I asked for, I got."
At the time of finalizing his deal, Green said, he kept his plan to pursue Durant to himself. Green and Durant also maintain that there was no courting until after the 2015-16 season -- when Green told Durant the Warriors needed him after they lost an excruciating NBA Finals in 2016.
Green is the league's texting aficionado. A text to Durant after the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the 2016 Finals stating, "We need you," got the wheels in motion for a game-changing transaction. In January, he texted Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown, "You're an All-Star" -- a nod to what he saw the second-year player doing on both ends of the court. And during the Warriors' second-round series against New Orleans, a livid Green sent a long text at 4 a.m. to Durant after a loss, challenging him to bring more the next game. Durant responded by dropping 38 points.
Green has a way of motivating others. It's an example of Green's ability to connect with players around the league and establish relationships. He's tight with James, Damian Lillard, Joel Embiid, Donovan Mitchell and Brown, to name a few. Green is especially fond of looking out for the younger players. During the playoffs he provided pointers for Embiid and Brown to guide them through their postseason journeys.
"I remember my rookie year," Green said, "[Former Warriors assistant coach] Pete Myers used to always tell me you get paid for the next young guy to get paid, and it's your job and your duty to give back to the next young guy and show them the way. You owe that to the game. And I will never forget that. So I try to do whatever I can to have relationships with younger guys, to teach them the way, so they can teach the next guy."
From the outside looking in, Green is seen by many fans as a loudmouth. But among his peers, he's considered the perfect teammate -- an attribute that comes in handy when it's recruiting time.
"I think a lot of people hate me because they don't know me," Green said. "I think if you know me, there are very few people that know me and hate me. But nonetheless, it really doesn't matter to me if someone does hate me. But I think relationships are important, because at the end of the day, we have to have each other's back. And understanding that it's bigger than basketball."
"He sacrifices his body, sacrifices points, accolades, money, all that type of stuff just for the betterment of the team."Kevin Durant on Draymond Green
That mindset is why Green didn't want Tristan Thompson to get suspended during the Finals. After a late Game 1 scuffle in which Thompson shoved the ball in Green's face, the league interviewed Green about the incident the next day. The conversation -- as paraphrased, according to sources -- went something along these lines:
NBA: Do you expect any of the negative emotions to spill over into Game 2?
Green: No, each game is a story of its own. I don't anticipate there being a carryover. Not at all.
NBA: What about Tristan shoving the ball in your face?
Green: Nah, it was 2.6 seconds remaining in the game. Tristan was just giving me the ball so we could get the game over with.
NBA: Are you sure there won't be any bad blood?
Green: Man, it's the Warriors versus the Cavaliers, not the Bloods versus the Crips.
According to sources briefed on the call, the league paused momentarily before replying, "Well, OK." Thompson avoided a suspension.
"He feels good doing for others," Durant said about Green. "Just like on the court, he feels good going out there rebounding, blocking shots, talking to guys, getting assists, and that stuff is the serving of the game that guys do. And him wanting to be responsible for that allows him to be the guy that sacrifices a lot. He sacrifices his body, sacrifices points, accolades, money, all that type of stuff just for the betterment of the team. That's what everyone needs on their team."
Said Bob Myers: "He has filled the role of Mother Hen. That's just who he is. So if that means he's going to be the one to put himself out there or sacrifice, that's kind of who he is. He's so good around talent, which is a skill. He heightened the talent of our other players, and so I think without him, we're not where we are. It's clear."
After the Warriors closed out the Cavaliers on Friday, owner Joe Lacob told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne: "All good things cost a lot. We're going to try to sign Klay and Draymond to extensions this summer. They've earned the right to do whatever they want. Maybe they want to wait until free agency. I can't control that. But we'll do whatever we can to keep them."
With two years and $36 million remaining on his deal, Green is eligible for a three-year, $72 million extension, which would start in 2020-21.
According to league sources, Green will turn the extension down when it's offered. That's because if he earns MVP, Defensive Player of the Year or All-NBA Team honors next season, he will be eligible for a super-max contract of five years, $226 million.
No one anticipated Green being in such a lucrative position coming out of Michigan State. But if he achieves one of those incentives, will the Warriors be willing to pay a 30-year-old (in March 2020) Green that much? Or would Lacob let him walk or try to trade him if Bell shows he's capable of filling Green's role?
Sources say Green is not expected to take a pay cut on the next go-around. But the team's glue guy and architect said he isn't worried about his next contract negotiation.
"I don't focus on that because as much as I looked out for the team's success, that still helps me in a sense of winning a championship and building a legacy that lives on forever," Green said. "I don't look at it like it's their turn to do me right. If I continue to play my game, if I continue to do better, they got to do me right, or somebody else will.
"I did what I did because I wanted to win championships, so that's paid off so far. Everything else will take care of itself when it's time."