OAKLAND - About an hour after Golden State escaped Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals with a win over the Trailblazers, Warriors big man Jordan Bell found himself surrounded by reporters, a situation unfamiliar to him this season.
Minutes after his scrum, in a crowded a hallway, anyone important in Warriors organization has positive words for the second-year player. A "good job from assistant coach Mike Brown makes way for a "great job" from team owner Joe Lacob.
For much of his second season, such occurrences have been few and far between for Bell, who has usually been able to escape the locker room undetected amid a rough season mired by inconsistent minutes, on-camera tiffs with coaches and suspension.
Now, after three solid postseason outings, including a 11 point, 3-rebound performance Thursday evening, Bell finds himself back in the rotation.
Eight months ago, after a promising but volatile rookie season, Bell entered his second NBA training camp looking to prove he was a long-term piece for the Warriors' frontcourt while battling for playing time with Damian Jones and Kevon Looney. However, Bell's play and minutes began to dwindle as did his spirit. About an hour before a midseason game in December, Warriors coach Steve Kerr summoned center into his Oracle Arena office with more bad news: he was effectively out of the rotation indefinitely.
"Christmas sucked for me," Bell said. It's been tough, up and down. Not knowing you're going to play. You got to find a way to keep working and try to find happiness.
Over the next two months, Bell averaged just 10 minutes per game, as he averaged career lows in points, field goal percentage and blocks. Even after Jones was lost for the season and Cousins returned from his Achilles tear, Bell's minutes plummeted. His frustrations even made it to television, when, late in a road matchup against the Lakers, cameras caught him in a heated argument with Kerr.
Two months later, on the eve of a late-season road matchup against the Grizzlies, Bell went to a gift shop at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and put a purchase on the hotel bill of Brown as a prank. Ultimately, the Warriors didn't find the action funny and suspended him without pay. The fallout from the reason behind the suspension caused an uproar around the league and social media. Users made memes insenuating Bell ordered pornography and other unauthorized services to Brown's bill.
Worse for Bell, he's in the final year of his two-year rookie scale deal, and the optics of his second year don't look good for a guy who's in line for a qualifying offer this summer. Since the incident, Bell maintains he's not worried about his summer plans.
"I don't really care what people think of me," Bell said. "I know what kind of person I am. Obviously, people make mistakes but everybody makes mistakes, we just happen to be in the light of the media so I don't really care about that. I know the type of player I am. I know what kind of person I am. People, fans, it's a what have you done for me lately type of game. If you haven't done anything lately, you see people turn their back. Now, I get all positive stuff in my DM's and comments. When I wasn't playing, I was getting all types of negative comments like 'trade me' stupid stuff like that."
Last season, Bell's rookie year could best be described as a rollercoaster. Opening the season, he made 26 of his first 37 shots. Over a 15-game stretch in December, he averaged 7.7 points and 5.3 rebounds on 65.4 percent from the field. Then, he injured his ankle, and his effort started to lack upon return - to the point Kevin Durant took him to the side on a team flight late to talk late in the year.
This season, despite the hiccups, his teammates see growth.
"He's gotten more intelligent," Warriors forward Draymond Green said. "I think all those things are great but more important than all of that [is] his mental. His professionalism. I think that's where he's grown the most and think right now, that's paying off for him. It's the staying ready, being in the gym non-stop, even when you're playing for 10 games straight, staying in the gym, being there early and getting in early. That's what's paying off for him now. We have confidence in Jordan because he's been in the gym all year long."
The effort has paid off as of late. In Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals, with Kevin Durant out with a calf injury, Kerr looked to Bell, who delivered four points, two rebounds and two blocks. Four nights later, he was plus-5 in a series-opening win against the Blazers, setting the stage for Thursday's performance. Now, as the postseason moves along, Bell could be seeing more minutes at just the right time.
"I think people understand in the postseason is when I play my best basketball," Bell said, heading out into the night. "It's winning time. You use the regular season to get better, then in the postseason you put it all together and try to win."