His transformation into a steady and dependable NBA player has been stunning, considering Gerald Green was in Russia a few years ago, banished from the NBA because of his immature attitude and limited game.
Of course, Green was splendid at dunk contests, in which his athletic prowess was on display and nothing more was asked. But when it came to learning offenses, playing consistent defense, or being unselfish, Green experienced trouble. The league has enough freakish athletes with little basketball IQ.
So Green headed overseas and to the NBA D-League to reinvent himself. The finished or nearly finished product is a sparkling offensive player with the same physical ability but more knowledge of the game and more humility.
In his first season with the Phoenix Suns after being part of the Luis Scola trade with Indiana last July, Green is averaging a career-best 15.4 points per game on 43.8 percent shooting and 38.2 percent from the 3-point line. Green is averaging 20.6 points in March, though he scored just 4 in Friday’s win over the Celtics.
“Yeah, I’m definitely excited to be here,” said Green, the Celtics’ first-round pick in 2005. “I’m glad that I’m playing a little bit more. It’s a good place for me to be. I knew that this was a place that I could see myself playing for a long time.”
Green was supposed to be a cornerstone of the Celtics’ future nine years ago, but after two uneven seasons he was dealt to the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of the Kevin Garnett trade. It was then that Green became a basketball vagabond, playing with three teams in two seasons. Then at age 23, he was out of the NBA. He played two seasons in Russia and another in China before signing with the Nets, and his immaturity was replaced by humility.
“When you go places in life that you think you’ll never go, you change a little bit,” he said. “You mature a lot faster. I knew something had to change. It either was going to be me or I wasn’t going to be back in the league. That made it an easy decision for me to change. Two years ago, I was nowhere to be found. Now I’m older, more mature, understand that this is not a hobby, this is a job.”
His short time with the Nets earned him a three-year deal from Larry Bird and the Pacers — his first long-term contract — and he has lived up to his potential in Phoenix.
“I’ve been through a lot and used to take things for granted,” said Green, now 28. “Ever since I’ve come back into the league, I’ve always taken it like this is my second opportunity to prove myself that I should be in this league. I haven’t done anything yet.”
While in Boston, Green was expected to make an immediate splash, but he clashed with coach Doc Rivers, who gave the high school product strong suggestions about how to play the game and carry himself. Those lessons did not always translate well.
“Yeah, he was [tough on me], but if I knew then what I know now, the things that Doc was telling me were all the right things,” Green said. “He wasn’t telling me nothing that was incorrect. All Doc was trying to do was help me and I just didn’t understand the fact . . . I just didn’t know how to be a pro. When you’re coming from a situation where you’re the man and shooting 20 shots a game — in high school, I could sub myself in. I went from that to getting sent down to the D-League. It’s tough for a young kid to go through it.
“I was going from a very poor kid to paying all the bills. So, it was a big difference from all angles. I just didn’t know how to handle it. I wish I could turn back the hands of time but I kind of don’t because it wouldn’t have made me into what I am today.”
Green remembers the disappointments during his Boston years and had a message for Suns general manager Ryan McDonough, who acquired him from Indiana and was the assistant GM in Boston during his tenure there. “I feel like I let him down the first time,” Green said of McDonough. “I didn’t want to do it again.”
Injury, losing season have Bryant on edge
Not only is Kobe Bryant a little upset he hasn’t recovered quickly from a fractured left knee sustained in December, but the Lakers are headed for the draft lottery with an uncertain plan for the near future. Bryant wants to win next season, but with very few impact free agents expected on the market and a likely 19-year-old lottery pick as their major addition, the Lakers could be headed for mere mediocrity.
“I think we have to start at the top in terms of the culture of our team, what kind of culture do we want to have? What kind of system do we want to have? How do we want to play?” Bryant said last week. “And it starts there, and then from there you can start building out your team accordingly.
“Well, you have to start with [owners] Jim [Buss] and Jeanie [Buss], and how that relationship plays out. It starts with having a clear direction and clear authority. Then it goes down to the coaching staff, what Mike [D’Antoni] is going to do, what they want to do with Mike, and it goes from there. It’s got to start from the top.”
Bryant said his injury has him in a constant foul mood. “I feel like killing everybody every time I go to the arena,” he said. “I’m on edge all the time. I feel it, probably more than anybody in the organization does. I feel it more. It drives me absolutely crazy.”
And the losing?
“How can I be satisfied with it? We’re like 100 games under .500. I can’t be satisfied with that at all,” he said. “This is not what we stand for, this is not what we play for. A lot of times it’s hard to understand that message if you’re not a diehard Laker fan. It’s really hard to understand where we’re coming from, what we’re used to, what we’re accustomed to, which is playing for championships, where everything else is a complete failure. That’s just how it is. That’s how it was explained to me by Jerry [West] and all the other great Lakers who have played here, that’s how I grew up thinking, and that’s just how it is.”
Regardless of what happens this summer, Bryant has promised — singlehandedly if he must — to bring the Lakers back to respectability. Since beating the Celtics Feb. 21, the Lakers are 3-8 with two of the losses coming by 48 (to the Clippers) and 29 points (to the Thunder).
“Let’s just play next year and [stink] again. No, absolutely not, absolutely not,” Bryant said. “It’s my job to go out there on the court and perform. No excuses for it. You have to get things done. Same thing with the front office. The same expectations they have of me when I perform on the court, the same expectations I have for them up there. You have to be able to figure out a way to do both.”
Silver, league wrestle with raising age limit
It’s obvious that new commissioner Adam Silver has made the league’s age limit the foremost topic in his opening weeks at the helm. Silver has not camouflaged his desire to increase the age limit to 20 but is open to debate from the players’ union and even the NCAA.
Silver said he has spoken with NCAA president Mark Emmert about participating in discussions that would create a more feasible system for players entering the draft. Because so many college coaches complained about players who wanted to explore the draft waiting until June to decide whether to leave or come back, the NCAA moved up the date to declare.
The NCAA’s deadline for players to withdraw from draft consideration is April 16, while the NBA deadline is June 16. Silver suggested more uniform laws with the NBA and NCAA, which would work wonders for fringe draft players who may want to return to school in May.
Privately, the NBA has a major issue with “one-and-done” players entering the league and clogging up rosters. With the new collective bargaining agreement emphasizing more price-effective contracts, owners need more production from rookies. Cleveland’s Anthony Bennett, who has experienced a disastrous rookie season as the first overall pick, is a prime example of a player unprepared for the NBA rigors.
And if the argument is for the owners to avoid drafting one-and-done players, well, that may be difficult when 15 of the best 20 prospects are freshman entries.
“The next step is for us to formulate a proposal,” said Silver, who visited Boston last week. “What I’ve been saying internally at the NBA is let’s make sure we have a better understanding of the issue. It’s a lot more complicated than just saying 19 to 20. College needs to have a seat at the table because there are various rules they can address as well as to the window in which you can hire an agent, maintaining eligibility, potentially insurance for kids who are forgoing college and becoming a pro. It’s got to be more of a holistic approach, but ultimately there’s nothing we can do without our players association.”
Silver needs cooperation from the NBPA and wants to institute a change before either side can opt out of the collective bargaining agreement in 2017. The question is whether Silver will push for a rule that would allow players to hire agents or advisers and retain their college eligibility. Of course, the NCAA would have a major influence on that topic.
“I think it needs to be studied. I don’t know enough about it and all of the ramifications for such a broad-based change like that,” Silver said. “I certainly know I’ve talked to enough D-1 coaches directly who have a long list of issues they would like to see addressed. I’m sure my coaches have a long list of issues they would like to see me address, so in fairness to the NCAA, these are highly complex issues they’re dealing with. There’s no doubt the right discussions haven’t taken place where all the interested parties are at the table. My sense is we could figure out something that’s better than the current one-and-done system.”
Silver also mentioned having representatives from youth basketball and AAU programs in discussions. The NFL has recently made concerted efforts to form branches with youth football. The NBA has made little acknowledgment of the ever-growing and powerful AAU programs.
“The whole culture of youth basketball and how that plays into our one-and-done society,” Silver said when asked about why he would want to involve the AAU. “The pressure some of the young players feel to come out right away. There’s a notion that maybe has become currency that if you’re not a lottery pick in your freshman year, somehow you’re not as good. When you could be a lottery pick in your first year but you could have a better career if you stayed in school. So, I think all of those things we need to discuss.”
Opinions vary regarding the age limit. The success rate of one-and-dones has varied over the years. There is a perception that players who are going to enter the draft after their freshman seasons don’t even bother attending class during the second semester.
“I don’t think [raising the age limit] would be a good thing for the league,” said Pistons forward JoshSmith, who entered the 2004 draft out of Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. “Coming in from high school, I think when a player is ready, he’s ready. You can be in so many different circumstances and situations. People always say that the league will be there. Well, I have to disagree, I think school will be there. The league is something you have to reach whenever your stock and your potential is at its highest peak. No matter if you come out of high school or college, the NBA game is going to go 100 miles per hour to you.”
Smith said his transition to the Atlanta Hawks in 2004 was fostered by veteran teammates. “It was going super-fast for me, but by the same token I did a good job of studying film and listening to the veterans on my team,” he said. “I feel like I blinked my eyes a couple of times and it’s been 10 years. Time flies, especially when you’re having fun. Now I’m looked at as one of the guys who is a veteran.”
Silver also responded to questions about fan dissatisfaction regarding rebuilding teams such as the 76ers, pointing to teams such as the Knicks and Lakers who are forced to reload every season because of fan pressure.
“I’m very sympathetic to those fans, although we’ve had this year, for the first time, teams who have outperformed expectations,” he said. “Fans, beat writers, and others in the community have openly questioned, ‘What is the team doing? They’re going to be locked into mediocrity.’ I think for fans, they want to be part of a vision. There’s very short-term strategies and long-term strategies.
“I’ve heard fans over the years be just as critical of teams where the sense is they’re operating only for today. ‘I can’t believe they traded away yet another first-round draft pick. What are they thinking? How are they going to build their team over time?’ And you heard back from that ownership, ‘Well, in my market, I don’t have the luxury of building over time, I’m forced to do something to try to benefit my team immediately.’ ”
One of the issues holding up any discussion on the NBA age limit is the lack of an executive director for the players’ union. The players were able to talk with two candidates at the All-Star Game but appear no closer to choosing a replacement for Billy Hunter, who was removed last year. Of course, any decision on an age limit would have to be approved by the players, and with no front man, the NBPA is quickly losing ground . . . The Pistons are headed for major changes after this season and it could start with team president Joe Dumars, who is expected to resign. Dumars staked his reputation on the Maurice Cheeks coaching hire, which did not work out, and owner Tom Gores is expected to start fresh by hiring a new general manager and then potentially a coach to replace interim coach John Loyer. The Pistons don’t have hopes of a first-round pick if they finish with anything worse than the eighth overall selection thanks to the regrettable deal that sent Ben Gordon to the Bobcats along with a conditional first-round pick for Corey Maggette. Maggette had an expiring contract, which enabled the Pistons to save $12 million on the additional year of Gordon’s contract, but it may cost them a high pick in a fruitful draft. The Bobcats also have the option of taking Detroit’s pick in 2015 (top 1 protected) or 2016 (unprotected) . . . Earl Clark appeared headed toward career security with a two-year contract with the Cavaliers following a breakout season with the Lakers. His contract contained a team option for the second season, so when the Cavaliers dealt him to the 76ers in the Spencer Hawes deal, Philadelphia rejected the option and waived him. Now Clark is on a second 10-day contract with the Knicks, fighting for his NBA life . . . The Nets fully intended to sign Jason Collins for the remainder of the season when they agreed to a 10-day contract last month, and after his second 10-day contract expired, Collins was indeed signed for the rest of the season.