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When Talent Destroys A Team
How 2 NBA Teams Shined A Spotlight On Bad Work Culture
It’s no secret that I love basketball. I grew up playing it in little leagues. I never got to play in school, but that didn’t stop me from dreaming about playing in the NBA. I’m guessing I never got the call up to the big league because of a lack of height and general talent, but that’s not really what this post is about. No, this post is about two NBA teams I watched self-destruct this year. And, no, one of them is not my beloved Spurs.1 I’m talking, of course, about the Memphis Grizzlies and the Golden State Warriors.
The Grizzlies and Warriors are on two different trajectories: the Grizzlies are a young team on the rise and the Warriors are in the twilight years of a decade-long dynasty. While they are very different in terms of accolades and culture, they share one thing in common: some really bad drama this year.
From the Jump
Before the season even started, the two teams were embroiled in some pretty terrible events.
The Grizzlies were - outside of the public eye - dealing with the actions of their rising superstar, Ja Morant, who had been in legal trouble for some violent, destructive behavior. I don’t want to get into the particulars, but - suffice it to say - there were police involved, there was a gun in some of the situations, and it’s still playing out.
The Warriors were coming off an NBA title, the league’s top award, and were poised for a repeat, when their team was punched off-course when veteran Draymond Green punched young up-and-comer Jordan Poole in the middle of a practice. And it wasn’t a simple swing, Draymond really let it rip. Not only did this happen during a team practice, but video of it was leaked to TMZ, and the entire internet was set ablaze with opinion pieces and foamed-mouth trolling. I’m not going to share the video because: 1) it’s on the internet and you can easily find it, 2) that is not what this post is about.
The legal troubles and the punch are not the point of this post. It’s what their aftermath revealed about their organizations and their workplace culture. For all intents and purposes, neither Green or Morant saw much punishment for their actions. Morant eventually was suspended from a few games by the team and league, and he was sent to counseling for - checks notes - a week or two. Green never got a suspension, and the team played it off as an internal issue. Both teams seemed to respond the same way: they would have preferred these stay internal issues, and they were more annoyed by the subsequent publicity than the actions themselves.
The problem with this, you ask? When you disregard behavior because of talent, you inevitably break your team. Jordan Poole - since getting punched - went from being a key player in the Warrior’s title run last season to a complete liability on defense and offense, with the stats to prove it. Ja Morant was suspended mid-season for a few games, throwing off the chemistry of the no. 2 seed Grizzlies, who were then ousted by the no. 7 seed Lakers in the playoffs. And just recently, Morant has been in the news again for brandishing a fire arm in an Instagram Live video.
Now? Both teams are on the outside looking in on the rest of the playoffs, one team poised for a deep playoff run that was cut short and the other receiving scrutiny on how much longer their team can compete for a championship at all.
There comes a point when the preferential treatment you show talented players (re: staff members) creates a toxic culture, diminishes your shot at success, and harms other workers in your organization. When your other workers see this lack of accountability it tells them one thing: the organization doesn’t care about me, they only care about protecting their success.
In many cases, unaddressed conflicts can have severe repercussions on the victims of said-conflicts. Poole is not the same player that he was pre-punch. Some of that could be seen as not only a lack of confidence in his team, but the organization he works for, to support his growth as a player and person. On the Morant side of things, a lack of accountability for destructive actions creates a culture where stars are free to continue being destructive and potentially harm others.
A lack of accountability creates more victims, not less. And eventually, that environment drags people down and shows in the results: namely, for these teams, early playoff exits. But that can show-out for companies in dropped numbers, lack of motivation in staff, and turnover.
Derailed In One Season
Here’s the other thing: the Warriors were a shining, golden child of the NBA. Armed with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson (the titular splash bros), and Draymond Green, this team has been in the mix to win championships since 2015. But their future is uncertain now. Some of that can stem from aging stars, but they’ve also created a culture where young players don’t feel protected or supported by leadership.
Memphis was a team on the rise, attaining the no. 2 seed the past two years leading into the playoffs and saw relative success in the previous post season. Now? They have questions about their superstar, and a team that feels equipped to handle his absence during the regular season but falls apart in the post season.
That is how quickly a lack of accountability can toss your organization into chaos and disorder, creating questions that can shake the very foundation of your team culture. It’s a cautionary tale to be sure.
Where do we go from here?
This may all be moot. Hopefully, these two organizations regain accountability and are able to right the ship. Maybe next year, I’ll look like a complete idiot when these two teams meet in the Western Conference Finals, but somehow I doubt that will be the case.
But, let’s learn from this for our own organizations. Some crucial questions to ask:
Is my leadership setting a bad precedent for accountability?
Am I giving special treatment to top performers or senior positions?
Have I ignored victims of talent run amok?
Have I tried protecting talent over team?
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They did that on purpose. #WembyPlease