If the NBA wanted the past-conduct precedent it set by suspending Draymond Green to maintain a shred of credibility, the Memphis Grizzlies would have been playing without Dillon Brooks Monday night in Game 4 of their first-round series against the Lakers. However, the after he was ejected from Lakers-Grizzlies Game 3 on Saturday night.
Brooks was tossed for a flagrant-2 groin shot on LeBron James. A flagrant-2 doesn't automatically equal a one-game suspension, but when the league openly announced that Green's punishment was "based in part on Green's history of unsportsmanlike acts," it set a precedent that known dirty players are going to punished differently, even for similar or even identical acts, than those with cleaner reputations.
Brooks' reputation is anything but clean. He's widely considered to be a dirty, antagonistic player; basically Draymond Green, only not as good. And the numbers back it up. Brooks led the league this season with 18 technical fouls. His two flagrants might not sound like a lot, but nobody in the league had more than three.
Brooks had been taunting LeBron in the media all series ahead of Game 3. Yet the league apparently took all of this into account and still didn't suspend Brooks. The Green suspension, which I have argued, now looks like even less like a justifiable verdict.
Brooks' act itself, just as Green stepping on the chest of Domantas Sabonis' after Sabonis wrapped up his ankle and he lost his balance, probably wasn't worth an ejection. You could argue he was going for the ball when LeBron crossed behind his back, but you could also argue Brooks leading with the back of his hand is not exactly a natural way of going for a steal.
Either way, the league should have brought Brooks' history into this decision. The Green suspension should have been too recent to not err on the side of upholding its precedent.
Adding more context to this situation, both James Harden and Joel Embiid were recently hit with flagrants for delivering groin shots. Embiid's came in Game 3, and was unquestionably the most egregious of them all -- a full-on kick from the ground up without absolutely no claim to trying to make a legitimate basketball play, which is one of the factors that is supposed to inform flagrant rulings.
Embiid wasn't even given a flagrant-2 for this. Just a flagrant-1, which doesn't result in an ejection. This was a ridiculous ruling. There was nothing even remotely close to a basketball play in that action. Indeed, consistency is not a strength of NBA officiating or subsequent punishment. There is no reasonable world in which Embiid is not ejected for that, but Harden is for this ...
Nevertheless, Harden was ejected, and it largely mirrors Brooks' infraction. You can look at that play and say that Harden put a little extra precision and pop on that elbow, but it's at least arguable that he was simply making a forward basketball move in cramped space, just as it's at least arguable that Brooks was making a play on the ball with LeBron and Green was reestablishing his balance after Sabonis grabbed his foot.
Harden, despite being issued a flagrant-2, was not suspended for Game 4. The rationale for that, of course, would be that he doesn't have a history of these types of incidents. But Brooks does.
And that's the precedent the league appeared to have established with its ruling on Green -- that the same exact act can be adjudicated differently for different players with different histories. Harden got a pass. Green did not. And by that standard, Brooks shouldn't have skated without a suspension, either.
But now the NBA just looks even more foolish for the Green suspension.