Skip to main content

An Ode to Danny Green

Everyone’s fears were confirmed when the Sixers announced Green had torn both his ACL and LCL on the play—the sort of injuries that require long, arduous rehab.

Between Luka Dončić and the Mavericks taking Phoenix’s soul, the relentless chatter surrounding the Ja Morant injury, the fantastic Celtics-Bucks series and the fever pitch that descended upon James Harden, Doc Rivers and the Sixers after their dud of a season-ending loss, I worry that one of the league’s most depressing story lines of the week got lost in the grand scheme of things.

In the first quarter of Philadelphia’s Game 6 with Miami, the always-wobbly Joel Embiid tumbled onto the floor yet again as he scored a basket, with the majority of his weight coming down on the left leg of Sixers teammate Danny Green, who’d moved into position to grab the board in case Embiid missed.

In a way, it was quintessential Danny Green for that reason: A guy who’s worked his tail off to accomplish what he has, getting hurt by continuing to work his tail off.

He is the textbook definition of a perimeter player who isn’t ever really asked or expected to go into the paint. He’s grabbed less than one offensive rebound per game for his entire career. But on this play, Green was in the restricted area and was effectively fighting off the ever-physical P.J. Tucker for position in the trenches. After all, this was Philadelphia’s season on the line. In trying to stay alive, every point—every play—would matter. (Not that this is the takeaway, but Green’s mentality is part of what made Harden’s no-show so maddening.)

Green writhed in pain, scooting around for several seconds in an effort to eventually get to his feet. But he couldn’t. The pain was too severe, and he’d need to be carried off the floor. The image of him being carried would be brutal regardless of a player’s age, but for Green—a role player who turns 35 in a month or so—the situation felt particularly cruel. Everyone’s fears were confirmed when the Sixers announced Green had torn both his ACL and LCL on the play—the sort of injuries that require long, arduous rehab. Green’s $10 million contract with Philly next season is unguaranteed, making it highly unlikely the team brings him back.

I have an enormous soft spot for difference-making role players. It’s rare—virtually unheard of—that NBA teams win championships without superstars. But the same is true of NBA championship teams when it comes to role players like Green. They have to have them.

Perhaps that’s why Green has three championship rings, all with different teams. The Spurs in 2014. (San Antonio easily could have won in ’13, too, in part because of how incredibly Green played in those Finals against Miami.) The Raptors in ’19. The Lakers in ’20.

He’s been known as the NBA’s prototypical 3-and-D player for the better part of the last decade, meaning he has enough skill as a shooter to keep defenses honest by spacing the floor while also holding his own and showing resistance in one-on-one matchups against the league’s elite wing scorers. And there’s no doubt he’s excelled in that defined role. But if you know Green, or his backstory, there’s so much more to him than that.

The North Carolina product was far from a sure thing in the NBA. He got drafted by the Cavaliers in the middle of the second round back in 2009, during the last season of LeBron James’s initial stint with Cleveland.

Green played for the Cavs but also spent time with the G League. (Actually, this is long enough ago to when it was called the D-League.) The Cavs cut him before the start of the next season, prompting the Spurs to pick him up … before also cutting him. San Antonio signed him back a couple of months later, then seasoned him with its D-League affiliate in Austin before calling him back up. The ragtag nature of the minor league system was such a far cry from the NBA that it left Green wondering whether he’d realistically have a path back to the main stage. “I do recall we had tryouts where we would pick up random guys from the street, and they were trying out, looking like they were on the block five minutes ago. And now he’s on our team, and his job was to foul me in practice,” Green said. “And I’m thinking, ‘If that’s really how they operate, can anybody try out and just join the team?’”

But of course Green did make it back. He told me about the countless times he got reamed by coach Gregg Popovich about occasional confusion within the Spurs’ vaunted defense. But truth be told, Popovich trusted Green a ton, considering the guard’s humble beginnings in the NBA.

Philadelphia 76ers forward Danny Green (14) shoots the ball against the Miami Heat during the fourth quarter in Game 3 of the second round for the 2022 NBA playoffs.

It often isn’t thought of this way, but Green’s presence in San Antonio’s system arguably allowed the Spurs to utilize a more patient approach with someone like Kawhi Leonard, who got a chance to grow over time instead of being reduced to standing in a corner (like Green), or instead of having to own the most difficult defensive assignment game in, game out, since Green could share that responsibility.

Aside from that, Green possessed elite skill in a rare attribute: He was fantastic at serving as a one-man fortress in transition at one point, so much so that Zach Lowe wrote a whole breakdown on his ability to defend such plays. And offensively, during those 2013 Finals against Miami, Green hit 25 triples in the first five games alone, shattering the record in a championship series well before it even ended. (In fairness, much of the Heat’s comeback in that series stemmed from Miami aggressively closing out on Green, forcing him to put the ball on the floor. The shift cooled him off, and he just shot 2-for-19 total in Games 6 and 7.)

By being a role player, there are opportunities for positive recognition. Robert Horry will always be seen as Big Shot Bob because of his ability to come through in those moments. But more often, there are chances to become the GOAT. Green spoke of receiving death threats back in October 2020, after missing a shot that likely would’ve won the Lakers the title in Game 5 of the Finals. Still, in Game 6, Green tied for a team-high with three triples in the title clincher, which Los Angeles won by 13. It wasn’t glorious, necessarily, in the way that a game-winning shot would have been. But it was meaningful, which is the job of a role player.

It shouldn’t merely be the stars and superstars who are valued as they fade away. High-level, culture-building players like Green are so important. And in some ways, they’re just as rare as the stars they play alongside. Because of that, I sincerely hope we get an opportunity to see Green contribute again in a meaningful way before his playing career comes to an end.

More NBA Coverage: