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Joe Dumars is Bringing a Player’s Perspective to NBA Executive Role

The NBA Head of Basketball Operations discusses the rationale behind suspensions of players like Draymond Green and Ja Morant and potential tweaks to the In-Season Tournament.

When Draymond Green spun around and struck Phoenix Suns center Jusuf Nurkic in the face on Dec. 19, his third ejection of the season, one man was in charge of handing out a suspension the entire sports world eagerly anticipated. Basketball Hall of Famer Joe Dumars has served as the NBA‘s Executive Vice President, Head of Basketball Operations for 18 months now, overseeing the enforcement and implementation of league rules, game operation policies and procedures, and matters of conduct and discipline.

It was Dumars who suspended Green for five games on Nov. 15 for putting Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert in a chokehold during a game, and it was Dumars who handled Ja Morant’s multiple suspension-worthy actions last season, landing on a 25-game punishment to begin this season that the Memphis Grizzlies All-Star guard just recently completed serving.

In a recent roundtable discussion with several journalists at the NBA’s Midtown Manhattan headquarters, Dumars explained how and why he decided to suspend Green indefinitely. He used the initial Morant model of a more open disciplinary timetable and based the Golden State Warriors forward’s return around completing a series of remedial actions rather than a set number of games.

There are reports that Green would be sidelined for at least three weeks, which Dumars would not address. The Detroit Pistons legend said he came to this decision with the help of Green, the Warriors, the NBPA, and health professionals. When asked if a season-long suspension was considered, Dumars said he couldn’t talk about what was discussed on the matter prior.

“When you put a number at 5, 10, or 15 games, that becomes the focus,” Dumars said. “Everybody focuses on how many games as opposed to, ‘Draymond, take some time off, get yourself right. Whatever you need to do, get your help.’ We didn’t want him to feel like, ‘I have to hurry up and do this now because I have 5, 10, 15, 20 games.’ The only thing we really want to see him do is get better so when he comes back, we’re not dealing with the same issues over and over again.”

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Though the reasons for their respective suspensions couldn’t have been more varied, Dumars and the league now take a more holistic approach to suspensions in special circumstances like Green, Morant, and Kyrie Irving’s November 2022 suspension when he played for the Brooklyn Nets. Rather than simply hand out punishments, Dumars believes there’s an obligation to help players mature and learn how to deal with real-world issues.

“We have to administer punishment, but we can’t discard these guys either,” he continued. “These are human beings, and if we can administer the punishment and help at the same time, we should try to do that. We’re not just trying to suspend him and send them away, and then that’s it in this case.”

In his game operation capacity, Dumars was generally pleased with the recently completed In-Season Tournament. He enjoyed the overall competition and its role as a bridge between opening night and the NBA’s signature slate of Christmas Day action.

He went on to say that the midseason tourney proved that when you put a trophy in front of NBA players who want to win in a competitive landscape, in addition to some extra money, they will buy in and embrace it. The brightly colored courts alerted fans on TV that the games they were watching were different. Spirited quarterfinals hosted by teams like Sacramento and Indiana proved that the fans also bought into the elevated atmosphere.

Sooner rather than later, the league must develop its plans for next year’s IST. The league is in the process of gathering data and feedback on potential tweaks and changes from teams, players, executives, partners, coaches, and the competition committee.

Nothing, Dumars said, is completely off the table.

That includes moving the semifinals and finals from Las Vegas — though it will likely remain — hosting semifinal games at team venues, adding a team-based incentive for the IST winner, and several other potential tweaks. And while the WNBA‘s Commissioner’s Cup served as a blueprint and a testing ground, of sorts, for the IST, now that the inaugural tourney is over — and with the Comissioner’s Cup making changes in 2024 to look more like the NBA’s version — the feedback will come directly from NBA stakeholders.

As heavy rain gave way to sunshine at the NBA’s Olympic Tower on this particular day, Dumars’ time was up. After an eventful month, to say the least, the man who holds a pivotal role in the league is hopeful that Christmas will bring some calm to end the year.

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About The Author
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung is a Senior Staff Writer at Boardroom. He has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with past work appearing in Forbes, MLB.com, Awful Announcing, and The Sporting News. He graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and his Twitter and Spotify addictions are well under control. Just ask him.