SAN FRANCISCO – After that AthleticJonathan Kuminga reportedly lost faith in Steve Kerr's ability to improve his skills, the Golden State Warriors head coach and third-year division met in Kerr's office before Friday night's 113-109 win over the Detroit Pistons.
Kuminga's latest frustration came a night earlier when he watched the final 18 minutes from the bench — a particularly agonizing final six minutes — as the Warriors let slip another gut-punch as they lost an 18-point lead over the Denver Nuggets.
Kerr's decision to limit Kuminga to 19 minutes and zero in the fourth quarter was put under a harsh microscope despite a 16-point lead and a clear need for his downhill skill set. Guminga's boiling feelings were revealed to the public. Kerr felt that a face-to-face conversation was essential. Speaking after the win over Detroit, Kuminga said the debate had a positive impact.
“I think it went well,” Kuminga said. “I think it's about understanding each other better. And communication. We don't sit down together and talk about non-basketball stuff, basketball stuff. We don't get to do that as much. I felt really comfortable having that conversation today, and if there's something I want to ask, I go to his office. I have to. His door's open. Go in there and chill and wait for him to come. I think that's the communication every time something goes wrong. Communication is the key.”
Kuminga played a season-high 36 minutes against the Pistons. He didn't rest for a second in the fourth quarter. He had 11 points and six rebounds and spent most of the crunch time as the primary defender on Kate Cunningham. It was his 12th straight game in the starting lineup, but Kuminga has yet to play more than 30 minutes in a row. So the playing time tracker is constantly monitored.
“I'm not complaining about playing time (during the meet),” Kuminga said. “If I do something good, I go back and remind him and say, 'Yo, coach, what do I need to do to get better at this? What do I need to do to get more confidence or more minutes?' Like I said, it's about communication and better understanding from both of us.
Concerns about Cuminga's fluctuating role — after the previous season, when he went from an integral part of the rotation to a bench spectator after Andrew Wiggins returned from a long absence in the final two months of the regular season — created questions about him. A future with warriors. Does he want to stay with them longer? Will he still be on the roster past the Feb. 8 trade deadline? After Friday's meeting, how does he feel about his standing with the organization and with Kerr in general?
“I love it here,” Kuminga said. “I got drafted here. There's always ups and downs. When you see all the ups and downs, it seems like it confuses a lot of people. But I know Steve believes in me. I know he believes in me at this point. It's about communication and a better understanding. That's the beef. No. That's not all. Scratch whatever happens. It's in the past. Move forward with a better understanding and hope that we can all work with each other, help this team, and leave it all in the past.
What is that better understanding?
“All together I need to understand some things better on the floor and improve the team,” said Kuminga. “Who is he going with tonight or next night? Who does he trust the most? As a coach, you talk about who you trust the most or who is making things happen as the coach you want at the moment. So it's all about those little things. When we sat together and talked about it, it was great.
The crux of the problem is the Warriors' inability to match Kuminga and Wiggins on the floor together. Entering Friday, they were a combined minus-66 in 131 minutes. The Warriors have an analytics department that feeds these numbers to the coaching staff, partly to drive their lineup choices. That's why Kerr hesitated to play his two big wings together, calling them an “unnecessary” pairing.
But he struggled to find time for them against the Pistons. They were on the ground together for six minutes. They outscored Detroit by seven points. But Wiggins struggled to a 1-of-5 shooting night and offered little else. So he was limited to 19 minutes and Kuminga got 36.
“I'm going to keep it real,” Guminga said. “I went to the coach and talked about playing with the Wicks. I don't want it to sound like Vic and I are fighting for a few minutes every day. I know Vicks comes to work every day. Same for me. I don't come to work every day thinking about taking Vicks' minutes, taking this guy's minutes. We play well here and help the team win and do the things we all want to do as a team. Championship and all. When the team wins, everyone wins. Moving forward, it's really about what the team needs first and taking care of the rest.
In the immediate future, more minutes are opening up in the Warriors' rotation. Chris Paul broke his left hand against the Pistons and will have surgery next week. He left indefinitely. Kerr said it would give Brandin Potziemski, Corey Joseph and Moses Moody a chance. But it opens the door to further experimentation with the Guminga and Wiggins lineups.
Draymond Green will re-create the upcoming logjam from his indefinite suspension. But that's another deeper problem for another day.
“I've been there before,” Curry said of Kuminga. “He's upset and angry, and there's nothing wrong with wanting to play. Probably should have played. Probably not. … But the ultimate challenge for anybody in this league is not letting the story be told for you, and you can't fix that in your own voice or directly with a coach or whatever. We all go through our challenges. We all go through our learning lessons. Like I said, he's not wrong to be upset and frustrated. I heard the coach talking. He was half-joking, but for about 15 years he was always sad during his playtime. It's a talking point in every locker room in some way, shape or form. There are ways to express it, ways to express your opinion but protect the team. I'm proud of his approach – we talked about it before the game. Go outside and play. Go ring. Be an expert. That's what he did.
(Jonathan Kuminga drives against Detroit's Isaiah Livers in the first half Friday: Photo by Jeff Siu/Associated Press)