Gerald Green: It Was Never Easy Being Green

Jan 27, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Gerald Green (14) celebrates with forward P.J Tucker (17) during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. The Suns defeated the Sixers 124-113. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 27, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Gerald Green (14) celebrates with forward P.J Tucker (17) during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. The Suns defeated the Sixers 124-113. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports /

Gerald Green was never your typical NBA player. In fact, he was close to never being a basketball player in the first place.

There were always obstacles for the Houston native to overcome. One came in the sixth grade, when he lost his right index finger in an attempted dunk gone awry. Wearing his mother’s class ring, the youth rose up to dunk on a makeshift rim (yes, Green was dunking when you were still learning how to multiply), on his way down the ring caught on a nail, shredding his right index finger to the bone.

Amputation was the only solution.

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Green was cut from his high school basketball’s junior varsity team as a sophomore, only to be given the final roster spot after a player was kicked off the squad due to a hair violation (yes, you read that correctly).

He made the varsity team as a junior, but his season was derailed due to academic ineligibility. Not knowing whether he would continue playing basketball, Green transferred to Gulf Shores Academy in Houston to repeat his junior season.

“I almost decided to quit because I didn’t think I was good enough,” Green told USA TODAY.

For a player that was cut from the JV team just two years before, the 6’8″ guard looked markedly improved at Gulf Shores Academy. Green averaged 29 points and 13 rebounds per game as a junior, suddenly stationing himself on every major college’s radar. With his hype building, he averaged 33 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists as a senior.

“He just had that raw talent,” Glenn Thompson, an assistant coach at Gulf Shores, said to USA TODAY at the time. “His attitude on the court. For 6-8, his three-point shot was unbelievable. He’s got the whole package. He’s very coachable.”

Coming out of school, Green was rated as the top recruit in the country by, but after originally committing to Oklahoma State University, the high-flyer chose to go an alternative route — a route that would take him on a journey around the world.

No, he didn’t decide to become a truck driver or a cruise line employee. Instead, Green opted to enter the NBA Draft as a 19-year-old, setting off an inconsistent career and a bizarre chain of events, happening in the following order:

  1. Drafted 18th overall by the Boston Celtics in June 2005
  2. Traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in June 2007
  3. Traded to the Houston Rockets in February 2008 only to be released three weeks later
  4. Signed with the Dallas Mavericks in July 2008
  5. Not re-signed by the Mavericks, Green opted to play with Lokomotiv Kuban, a Russian basketball team, in December 2009
  6. Played in 2010 NBA Summer League with Los Angeles Lakers
  7. Signed with BC Krasnye Krylya (another Russian team) for the 2010-2011 season
  8. Moved to China in October 2011 to play with Foshan Drallions
  9. Released in December 2011 by Drallions, two weeks later signed with L.A. Lakers
  10. Released by Lakers on Dec. 22, 2011, one week after signing with team
  11. Signed with Los Angeles D-Fenders of NBA Development League on Dec. 28
  12. Signed with New Jersey Nets in February 2012 for remainder of season
  13. Signed as free agent with Indiana Pacers in July 2012
  14. Traded to the Phoenix Suns in July 2013

That marked 14 transactions, three different countries and 13 different teams (including three in December 2011 alone) Green was a part of within an eight-year period.

Since coming to the Suns that number has remained unchanged, as he finally found his way in the NBA.

Last season, the 6’8″ guard saw his first consistent minutes on an NBA team and delivered the goods, shooting 40 percent from the three-point line, averaging 15.8 points and finishing the year fourth in voting for Most Improved Player.

Struggling to find his niche for so long, Green had finally carved out a league-wide reputation: Ultra-streaky role player, capable of scoring 25 points in a single quarter, who can heat up faster than a Phoenix sidewalk in July.

Not to mention his already known ability to dunk the ball.

After such a long and incredibly resilient journey, Green had finally found a home in the valley. He quickly became a fan favorite and with his individual growth, the team experienced tremendous success, winning 48 games and coming oh so close to the playoffs.

That was last season. Safe to say, the expectation had been set for this season. Both Green as a player and the team as a whole were to improve and grab the ever-elusive playoff berth. Things didn’t go exactly as planned.

To sum up this season, Green put it best:

“It’s been tough on all of us.”

Phoenix suffered a nine-win regression to 39-43, while Green’s statistics dropped in every possible category. The most shocking statistical drop however, may have been his playing time, as he averaged 19.4 minutes this season compared to 28.4 minutes last season.

He registered his first DNP – CD (Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision) since coming to the Suns on Jan. 30 against the Chicago Bulls. Through the rest of the season, Green saw his minutes drop drastically and registered seven more DNP’S, falling into Jeff Hornacek’s doghouse.

To Green’s credit, he remained the consummate professional throughout this time. He was consistently the first player off the bench to congratulate his teammates or offer words of advice and encouragement. And despite his rough season, he had nothing but good things to say about his teammates and the Suns organization.

“The Morris twins are a great piece. Eric Bledsoe can be the best point guard in the NBA in the future, I think he is that good. Alex Len is a great center piece who can whole down the paint. Great coaching staff. This is a great organization,” Green said.

He even owned up to his defensive inefficiency.

“Defensively I could be a lot better. I want to get stronger to be able to [guard] small forwards and power forwards,” Green said.

While his defense absolutely played a role in his lack of playing time, there was likely much more to it. The Suns have frequently stated how they wish to develop their younger players through game situations. That task is made much more difficult by keeping Green on the team and giving him the minutes he believes he deserves.

With Green’s impending free agency and a logjam at his position, Phoenix’s decision to cut his minutes and distribute them elsewhere may have already shown their intentions to let him walk this summer.

“I am going to let my agent handle that. I’m focusing on getting better in the offseason and letting my agent handle all the off-court stuff and I’m just going to focus on getting better and getting ready for next year,” Green said.

The fact of the matter is this: the NBA is a “what have you done for me lately?” type of business. Despite Green’s presence as a fan favorite, there will be no emotions factoring into whether Phoenix chooses to re-sign the guard or not.

Here is another fact: Even if they may not be replicated again, the memories Green has experienced with this team over the last two years won’t be forgotten.

“We have had a lot of good moments. We just couldn’t get the ‘it’ moment which was making the playoffs. There have been so many good moments in the last two years though,” Green said.

What makes the situation difficult is the bond that Green has built with Suns nation in the short amount of time he has been in the valley. Through his community work, willingness to engage fans and crowd-igniting play, Green wants them to know he did everything he could up to this point.

“I’m going to try and give it my all no matter what. I know I’m not the best player in the world but I’m going to give it my best when I am out there,” Green said.

Whether he comes back or not, it is safe to say he has left his mark at US Airways Center, an arena where the fans’ loudest cheers were never for “franchise player” Eric Bledsoe, “franchise center” Alex Len or even Mr. Hustle himself, P.J. Tucker.

No, the loudest of cheers were normally reserved for the player in the No. 14 jersey, the one swishing 30-foot three-pointers and rising up for gravity-defying dunks with only nine fingers. The one who doesn’t hesitate to smile and talk to the little kid in the first row, the one who has seen more of the world than most people can dream of.

The one whose name is Gerald Green.

“They’re the best fans in the NBA,” he said. “It means a lot to me, for me to have the crowd acknowledge me when I get into the game, it’s truly an honor.”

No, the honor has been ours. Thank you, Gerald.

Next: Jerel McNeal: 2014-15 Phoenix Suns Player Grades

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