Draymond Green still ticked off about 2012 draft

Jon Wilner
San Jose Mercury News
Draymond Green

The topic is the 2012 NBA draft -- his draft – and Warriors forward Draymond Green has his game face on. Offered a printout of every selection to assist his recollections of that fateful night, Green scoffs.

"I don't need it."

And with that, he begins.

"First was Anthony Davis to New Orleans," he says. "Then Charlotte took (Michael) Kidd-Gilchrist. Then Washington took Bradley Beal. Fourth was Cleveland: Dion Waiters.

"Eight was Toronto: Terrence Ross ...

"Sixteen was Houston: Royce White ...

By the time he's done, Green has reeled off the names of all 34 players selected ahead of him and the corresponding team.

In order.

Ticked off? You're darn right he's still ticked off.

"I know why I had to wait," he said. "I know what the scouts thought: 'He's a tweener. Who's he going to guard? He's maxed out his potential.'

"But I knew none of that was valid. What happened to me is what normally happens to players in my situation. But I knew I wasn't normal."

Four years after he was labeled too small for power forward and not skilled enough for the wing, the former Michigan State star is one of the NBA's dominant forces. The indomitable heart of the team that won a league-record 73 games, he finished seventh in the MVP race, was second in defensive player of the year voting and has redefined the power forward position.

In any redraft of the 2012 prospects, Green would be no worse than the third selection behind New Orleans' Davis and Portland's Damian Lillard.

"I'm surprised by the level he's achieved so quickly," said Warriors personnel director Larry Harris, who scouted Green extensively at MSU. "But I'm not surprised he got there."

The Warriors not only passed on Green once but twice -- with the No. 7 and No. 30 selections -- before grabbing him with the fifth pick of the second round (35th overall).

"We kind of blew it," general manager Bob Myers said with a laugh. "But at least we got him."

Despite his long memory and the boulder on his shoulder, Green doesn't tease Myers about passing on him.

"It's hard to give them (bleep) about it," he said, "because what they did makes perfect sense."

The tale, like the list of players picked ahead of Green, is worth recounting.

Background check

The process that led to Green joining the Warriors began, as so many Warriors processes once began, with a thud.

On Feb. 23, 2011, then-general manager Larry Riley shipped center Dan Gadzuric and forward Brandan Wright to the New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets in exchange for forward Troy Murphy, by then in the final stages of his career, and a second-round pick in the 2012 draft.

The trade was received poorly by Warriors fans, who had hoped a bevy of expiring contracts would prove valuable in the midseason trade market. But it was not to be. Within a week, Murphy was waived. The second-round pick in 2012? It seemed like a bone tossed to a junkyard dog.

But Riley believed otherwise. The Warriors had assessed New Jersey's roster and calculated that a below-average season could be in the works for the Nets in 2011-12. They also examined the list of college players likely to be eligible for the '12 draft and concluded there might be more first-round prospects than first-round slots.

"We wanted to eliminate the players who wouldn't be a factor for us," Riley said of the trade. "The likelihood of attracting a good free agent to Golden State wasn't real high, but it's not unusual for a second-round pick to become a pretty good player.

"From (picks) 45 through 60, it's tough. But we placed value on second-rounders, especially the first 15 picks of the second round."

Two weeks later after the trade, Green played one of the finest all-around games of his college career, leading Michigan State to a Big Ten tournament victory with a stat line that would become familiar to Warriors fans: 21 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocked shots.

Although a bit overweight, Green, a junior, had emerged as an intriguing NBA prospect. The Warriors began their due diligence.

Draymond Green played at Michigan State from 2008-12.

"We checked into Draymond's family, who he hung around with at school, who he stayed in touch with from high school," Harris said. "There were no issues. Everything came back the same: He was very intense, and he hated to lose at anything. That's carried over, obviously."

The Warriors were not alone in their appreciation for Green's skills and smarts -- or in wondering where he would fit in the pros. Could he defend bigger power forwards? Would he force defenses to play him honestly on the perimeter? "He wasn't totally broken as a shooter," Riley said.

In NBA parlance, Green was a classic tweener.

The pivot point for Riley came in February of Green's senior season, when he attended a Michigan State-Ohio State showdown on a snowy Sunday afternoon.

"It was so cold, and I was struggling to get myself into the game," Riley recalled. "But Draymond played his tail off" -- 12 points, nine rebounds -- "and I remember walking out of the arena thinking, 'There's something about this guy. Somehow, he's going to make it at the next level.'"

Possibly for the Warriors.

"At the time," Riley added, "we needed players with big hearts."

How it went down

On draft night, approximately 100 of Green's friends and family members filed into the Dow Events Center in Saginaw, his hometown, for a celebration. Most projections had Green going in the final 10 picks of the first round, but there were warning signs.

Atlanta had expressed strong interest, but three days before the draft, the Hawks announced general manager Rick Sund's contract would not be extended.

Larry Bird, Indiana's president of basketball operations, was intrigued enough to invite Green for two workouts at the Pacers' facility. But the day before the draft, Larry Legend stepped down as part of an executive reorganization by the Pacers.

Memphis had given Green the impression it was interested. Same with the Warriors, who rated Green "in the low 20s" on their master list of prospects, according to Myers. Not surprisingly, he wasn't part of the discussion for the No. 7 pick, which was used to draft North Carolina forward Harrison Barnes.

As the first round unfolded, the anxiety level rose in the Dow Events Center in Saginaw.

At No. 23, Atlanta passed on Green to select guard John Jenkins.

At No. 26, Indiana passed on Green to pick center Miles Plumlee.

"That's when we started to get nervous," said Michigan State assistant coach Dwayne Stephens, who attended the party and remains a close friend.

More big men were scooped up, then a guard. Finally, the Warriors were back on the clock with the 30th and final pick of the first round -- a pick they had obtained from San Antonio a few months earlier in the Stephen Jackson trade.

Nerves were frayed in Saginaw, but spirits were high in the Warriors' draft room: They had two good options.

"We were shocked (Green) was there," Myers said.

But they were also fond of Festus Ezeli, a big man from Vanderbilt who offered something Green could not: Six feet and 11 inches of rim protection.

"We had a long discussion about which way to go," Harris said. "We're thinking: What's the sound decision and what are the ramifications?

"It's so hard to get size. Our intel told us that if we picked Draymond, Festus wouldn't last (until the 35th pick). But there was a chance Draymond would still be there."

Ezeli was the pick.

Nearly a Piston?

At the Dow Events Center, a heartbroken Green retreated to a back room, consoled by his mother and several close friends.

Draymond Green: "I know why I had to wait. I know what the scouts thought: 'He's a tweener. Who's he going to guard? He's maxed out his potential.'”

He knew the teams at the top of the second round (Charlotte, Washington and Dallas, which had two picks) were unlikely to call his name. If the Warriors passed on him at 35, Green set his sights on Detroit with the 39th pick. General manager Joe Dumars had been a father-figure to Green over the years.

"I told my agent that if it wasn't Golden State, he should tell the next three teams that I was going to play overseas, so Detroit could take me," Green said.

The first player off the board in the second round, to Charlotte, was small forward Jeffery Taylor.

In their draft room, the Warriors hoped a foreign player would shorten the bridge to Green. Sure enough, Washington took Tomas Satoransky, a guard from the Czech Republic, with the 32nd pick. Two spots separated the Warriors from Green, and both belonged to Dallas.

Harris' intel proved to be spot on: So desperate for size were the Mavericks that they used the 33rd pick on a 6-foot-10 project named Bernard James, who was 27 years old and had served in the military before attending college.

At No. 34, the Mavericks took Jae Crowder, a small forward from Marquette.

The Warriors celebrated. Their gamble had paid off: Green was on the board.

"He was the guy," Myers said. "There was no debate."

In Saginaw, there was only relief. Green took a little time before returning to the party with a smile on his face.

"He needed to digest it all," Stephens said. "It put a chip on his shoulder."

The experience is seared into Green's memory. Not only can he recite the name of each player selected ahead of him, in order, he knows their whereabouts.

He knows, for example, that John Jenkins, selected by Atlanta in the spot Green thought was his, has been injured, waived and assigned multiple times to the D-League.

He knows Plumlee, selected by the Pacers, is a journeyman on his third team in four years.

He knows Taylor, the first pick of the second round, is playing in Spain.

"I will never forget that night," he said. "I had to wait all that time. I'm not saying I'm cocky or anything, but I felt like I had to wait behind guys I was better than.

"And I think I've proven it."