Suns' Gerald Green a new player after early struggles lead to formative experience
Suns guard Gerald Green is in the midst of a career year, albeit one predicated on past failings. He wouldn't be in Phoenix were it not for his difficulties in Boston, Minnesota, Dallas and Indiana, all of which sent Green into the chasm of NBA irrelevance. He wasn't merely a fringe player trying to make a living, but a former lottery pick that had failed to latch on with six different NBA teams. Draft spot aside, his only basketball acclaim came by way of his massive vertical leap and a cupcake -- inauspicious hallmarks for a spurned player on the verge of falling out of the league entirely.
His signing with Indiana in 2012 was supposed to change all of that. Green had stabilized his game and his shoot-first tendencies enough the season prior to secure a three-year, $10.5 million deal with the Pacers. The first year of that contract played out horribly; minutes and attempts were there for the taking as part of Indy's empty second unit, but Green responded to that opportunity with one of the worst shooting seasons of his career. He doesn't have much NBA value when not putting up points, and thus the tax-wary Pacers pursued options to shed Green's contract the following summer.
He was ultimately included as salary filler in the deal to acquire Luis Scola -- a decision that may well have saved his career. Green still has a quick trigger, but his gunning has been put to good use for the Suns this season and pushed back against his downward drift. Green reflected on his new home and his meandering career path with Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe:
". . . 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.
“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."
Green's characterization here is important, as he sets up his tale as one of redemption rather than validation. This was not the case of a player who was in any way done wrong by the league; Green had his chances, as he readily acknowledges now. But when NBA teams stopped calling in 2009 -- just four seasons after Green was drafted -- he was made to face his NBA mortality.
What followed wasn't a transformation so much as a simple shift in approach. Green is still a bombs-away shooter from the perimeter for better or worse, and not much of either a playmaker or defender. But he's also cut back pretty dramatically on the kind of ball-stopping freelancing that had become his trademark, and quite clearly approaches his basketball work with a fundamentally different tenor. Even though Green hasn't changed all that much as a player, he's changed enough as a person and as a professional to make a tangible difference in his play.
That much has kept Green on the floor for a career-high 29.1 minutes per game and in the Suns' favor through 66 games -- both of which would have seemed improbable even a year ago. He's averaging a career-best 15.6 points per game, put up 41 against the Thunder earlier this month, and is hitting a career-high 2.5 three-pointers per game, doubling his previous best. Things change, and so, clearly, has Green.