Gerald Green has stolen a nickname. He’s stolen the hearts of Mavs fans. And now he’s trying to steal some playing time for a franchise that may be forced away from its plan of patience.
My exclusive visit with the explosive, erratic Gerald Green, who is part coming-of-age story, part comeback story and part maybe-coming-on-at-just-the-right-moment story:
Green is shooting 3-pointers, dozens and dozens of them, under the watchful eyes of Dallas assistants Dwane Casey and Mario Ellie. Casey is in charge of supervising the kid’s shooting form, working with him the way a mechanic tinkers under a hood. Elle is in charge of something altogether different.
Mario Elle is finishing up Mavs practice by burying the kid in relentless trash-talk.
“That’s a shot I used to make all day,’’ Elle taunts after a rare Green miss. “It’s still a shot I can make. All day.’’
Green does not bark back. Green does not smile. He does not respond at all, except for the robotically efficient manner with which he receives the rebound feed from a staffer, springs his 6-8 frame from the floor, and swishes almost every single shot.
“I am a Dallas Maverick, and my job is to get better every day,’’ Green tells me, beginning our conversation by wasting on me the same amount of expression he’d just wasted responding to Elle’s taunts. “I’m not saying it doesn’t get frustrating. I’d be lying if I said that. But I am a Dallas Maverick, and I’m glad of it, and I understand the job. And sometimes, the job is working and waiting.’’
Green, who on Jan. 26 will turn 23, continues his NBA journey with his fourth team in three years. The high-school-to-the-pros former 18th overall NBA pick has always seemed like a breakout player waiting to happen. But in Boston, then in Minnesota, then in his hometown of Houston, the breakout never really came.
With Dallas, it looks like it might be coming again – if only because the Mavs might need it to come.
Green may be ready. Are the Mavs?
“We certainly have a plan with him,’’ assistant Casey tells me. “We value him very much. He has incredible potential. What we’ve been doing is trying to manage all of that in just the right way. We think the world of him, and his future.’’
But when Casey calmly uttered details of the master plan, it was way back last week. Now, with Josh Howard hurt and with the Mavs seemingly in search of a booster shot, why not make that future now? Coach Rick Carlisle provided Green an opportunity earlier this season, allowing the kid to start 10 games and to play through some mistakes before putting the brakes on the experiment at the end of November. From that time to before Friday in Phoenix, the Mavs played 19 games and shuffled rotation bodies endlessly. And all that while, Green was allowed to appear in just six of the games for just 12 lousy minutes – and all of those were mop-up minutes.
Carlisle allowed Green to bob his head above water in the 28-point flood that was the Phoenix game. Gerald finished the blowout loss, playing nine minutes and shooting 6-of-8 for 13 points.
And then Sunday in Sacramento came another loss – but another promising taste of success for Green. It seems to take Green a moment to get into the flow of things; he’s dealt with what we’ve called “fumblitis’’ in is first moments in the last two games. But with Howard unavailable, Green served as Carlisle’s sixth man and in his first four minutes on the floor he responded with a 3-pointer, a fast-break layup and three rebounds. He hit three of his first four shots and led Dallas after one period with seven points. He didn’t play a significant role in the second half, but in the first half in Sacto, he had four rebounds and nine points in nine minutes.
The end of one quarter in Phoenix. The end of the next quarter, in Sacramento. Add ‘em up. A total of 13 minutes. A total of 20 points.
Isn’t that exactly the sort of offensive uptick these Mavs need right now?
“Coach Carlisle has 14 kids to worry about,’’ Green tells me, “so I don’t expect him to explain every single decision he makes.’’
So Carlisle weighs his options. Go with the original plan, as stated by Casey, to let Green serve a long internship? Spoon-feed Green some minutes, hoping that the errors he makes are offset by his point-a-minute potential? Let him slowly play his way out of what sometimes seems like a “I-can-go-1-on-5’’ offensive mindless? Or – what the hell? – concede that there is a “dog-days’’ climate around team right now that might be cured by giving a substantial role to the kind of player who brings teammates and fans to their feet every time he touches the ball?
(Note: Green did start Tuesday in Denver, in a tight 99-97 loss to the Nugs. So it's a start. Literally.)
Yes, in Phoenix he touched the ball twice early on and goofed. He set up on the left wing both times. On the first possession, he attempted to drive into the lane and lost the ball. Turnover. On the second, he used his athleticism to get in the paint again, but the athleticism trapped him when he left his feet from behind the backboard and committed another turnover.
And yes, in Sacramento, he had a concentration lapse early on when Jason Terry delivered into his high-reaching hands an alley-oop pass that, if completed, would’ve owned the next morning’s SportsCenter. The ball skidded innocuously through Green’s hands, and an opportunity was lost.
Oh, and yes, the reason he was given the hook back in November was the result of what Carlisle believes is too many mental lapses, too many missed opportunities, too many goofs. And if Carlisle “can’t trust him’’ (my words, not Rick’s), then. … well, Carlisle can’t trust him. And for a team that reains designs on the No. 2 spot in the West, that’s the end of that.
If Dallas is going to battle through mistakes anyway, why not battle through mistakes of fringe players who are 22 instead of 32? Should the coach be so worried about receiving that very first ding on his new car (i.e., his new team)? We’ve often said that coaches love veterans because they are “security blankets’’ who the coach can always count on to be in the right place, to know the right assignment, to not embarrass himself. But what if the figurative security blanket is – as is the case with real security blankets -- actually holding you back?
Hey, we’re not talking about seeing if an Olympic track star can “run the court’’ with Chris Paul or if an NFL nose guard might be able to “wrestle inside’’ with Shaq. This isn’t drafting Bruce Jenner or Babe Didrickson here. I mean, this isn’t some zany experiment with a non-basketball player, and Green’s presence on the roster isn’t some Slam-Dunk Contest gimmick. Oh, and all the moments available aren’t about CP3 or Shaq; sometimes the opportunities are there against, you know, Francisco Garcia.
I explain to Green how many Mavs fans feel. “Let’s see what the kid can do!’’ I also explain that while it’s a sort of “Backup-QB Syndrome’’ – we always embrace the guy who doesn’t play, especially if the guy is young and promising and has a million-inch vertical – it’s a very real emotion.
“Really? They feel that way about me? I had no idea,’’ says Green, and he drops his expressionless wall. “That’s flattering. I hope I get the chance to give them something to cheer about.’’
Adding to the cheer-worthiness of it all is the fact that Green’s hoped-for maturation is a coming-of-age thing. We love that in the movies, don’t we? And what if it’s also a comeback story? (Did you see the Golden Globes stars give a standing ovation to Mickey Rourke? It was his reward, and our appreciation, for him simply being alive.)
Coming at the right time?
Green seems like a sharp kid to me. Maybe he’s burdened by the same sense of entitlement that is part of the package of so many pro athletes who’ve been treated like gods since age 6. But my overall sense is that he’s seen difficult times in the NBA, that he’s maturing, and that he knows that relatively speaking, a month of DNPs is nothing.
“Right,’’ Green says. “It’s frustrating and all I can do about it is work and get better and be ready if and when the opportunity is there. But it’s not the end of the world.’’
But it is the end of the bench. And I guess that I find it encouraging that despite being chained down there, Green lacks awareness regarding the Dallas fan base’s thoughts. That is probably a testament to his focus on the right things. Like his job. He doesn’t even have a clue that
“How’d you know that? That’s what everybody in the locker room calls me, and there’s a story behind it,’’ says Gerald, laughing. “It’s actually the nickname of my younger brother, . It was Garlon’s nickname first. But because he’s younger, a long time ago I decided I had the right to steal it.’’