PHOENIX — This wasn’t the way he planned it. Not even close.
In fact by professional basketball standards, Gerald Green is the walking equivalent of a wanderer — a player bursting with skills and athleticism but never enough to set any kind of firm roots.
Since June 2005, he’s covered just about every time zone and stomping ground the league has to offer — from Boston to Minnesota to brief pit stops in Houston and Dallas to New Jersey and back to the Midwest in the basketball-crazed state of Indiana.
Sprinkle in the international stints he had in China and Russia, as well as the D-League experience in the City of Angels, and Gerald Green’s career looked more or less like a road map of potential and possibility never fully realized.
Or at least it seemed to be heading in that direction.
Even after signing a three-year deal with the Pacers before the 2012-13 campaign, it was almost expected that he wouldn’t see it through in the Hoosier State. In fact, his inclusion in the three-player trade last July was a mere formality based on prior track record alone.
That he actually managed to revitalize his floundering career as a member of the Phoenix Suns was downright surprising, but in Jeff Hornacek, the former No. 18 overall pick found a coach who saw him as more than a one-trick pony.
The candle-blowing dunks and awe-inspiring 720s might have been listed at the top of his proverbial résumé, but Green had never really been given free rein to illustrate that his game had more wrinkles to it than just an assortment of aerial moves.
At least not until the 2013-14 season.
Green played all 82 games for the first time since entering the league, making a career-high 48 starts, including 33 in a row when Eric Bledsoe was out of the lineup due to a torn right meniscus.
Goran Dragic might have been the chief reason Phoenix stayed afloat – 17-16 record — during that extended absence, but most nights when the Most Improved Player needed a right-hand man, it was the veteran swingman that he relied on most.
During that span, Green scored in double-figures in 27 of 33 games, including eight 20-point performances, three 30-point performances and a career-high 41 points in a come-from-behind victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder back on March 6.
Ultimately, it didn’t seem to matter what role he was asked to play — whether it be long-term starter, spot starter or instant offense off the bench.
In fact, of Hornacek’s most-used lineups during the Suns’ 48-34 campaign, the 28-year-old was featured in four of them.
“They gave me an opportunity,” said Green, who averaged a career-high 15.8 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. “I think since Day 1, they gave me a chance. When I sat down with Jeff, Lon [Babby] and Ryan [McDonough] right after I got traded, they told me, ‘Hey, man. We’re going to give you the opportunity to go out there and play and go out and grow.’”
And grow he did.
The high-flying theatrics were still common displays, but for the first time as a professional so too was his consistent shot-making from distance.
It was poetry in motion most nights. Not always the prettiest setup at the start, with his feet often not centered towards the target. Nevertheless, the rise was impeccable, the release unblockable and the results, well, they spoke for themselves.
Green entered this season with 232 made three-point baskets. He almost matched that six-year total in one sitting with the Suns.
The Houston native shot a career-best 40 percent from beyond the arc, connecting on 2.5 attempts per game — good for seventh-best in the NBA.
A closer look reveals that not only was he a proficient shooter from three, but an elite one from the left corner, where he shot a league-high 52 percent.
His precision all over the perimeter was quite astounding actually — 42 percent from the right corner, 38 percent from the top of the key and left of the top of the key and 36 percent from right of the top of the key.
“I feel like I haven’t done anything yet,” said Green when asked about his career year. “The players that are considered to be good are the ones apart of teams trying to go to the playoffs and try to push to be a great team. I think we are a good team and I think we had our chances. It’s a tough taste we have in our mouth. I still hold my head high.”
After tasting the Eastern Conference Finals with the Pacers last summer, the taste is undoubtedly tough for Green, who despite a career year saw his team fall just short of postseason play.
But as he well admits, the prolonged summer will give him plenty of time to transform into a more complete basketball player.
In many ways, Green’s versatility with the Suns caught teams by surprise. His reputation as an athletic freak with no real tangible complementary traits preceded him, and it largely went assumed that his production levels would at some point fall.
However, they didn’t.
Yet for the journeyman who finally found some semblance of an on-court identity, a one-hit wonder won’t suffice.
“I think if I can become a better ball handler, a better playmaker at the pick-and-roll position or just being a better playmaker off the dribble, I think I can take my game to another level,” said Green. “I haven’t really earned that right yet to say that but this summer, man, I’m just going to work a lot on my ball handling.”
The question is will his first full summer in the Valley also be his last?
Unquestionably, the Suns are the beneficiaries of Green’s three-year deal, as they seemingly acquired him at or near the peak of his career.
But with a clear need for an offensive-minded small forward and an organizational desire to keep the backcourt of Bledsoe and Dragic together for the foreseeable future, where does that leave Green?
If he could sign a rather affordable $10.5 million contract when his stock was still somewhat hazy, imagine what the market might look like next summer should he come close to replicating his 2013-14 production.
The 6-foot-8 wanderer, who has always walked down a road less traveled since the conclusion of his teenage years, is bound to set roots, whether it be in Phoenix or elsewhere, at some point. And the importance of that shouldn’t be understated.
After all, his worldwide journey of professional discovery can’t really come full circle without it.
Tags: Phoenix Suns