Basketball usually isn’t funny. Watching the Timberwolves evokes a wide array of emotions of mine and, if you’re reading this, probably yours too. In recent seasons past the Wolves’ play has incited fans to boil with anger and discontent–the ones who didn’t walk away entirely, that is. With the exception of January 2009 and last season with Ricky, the overwhelming reaction to watching Wolves basketball has been negative. We’ve distracted ourselves in different ways, looking ahead to the umpteenth consecutive draft lottery or arguing about whether Kobe is actually better than Jordan. But laughter was rarely a part of the equation.
That doesn’t mean there were no laughs. One sticks out: I have one memory of LOL’ing my face off at Target Center during a particular Wolves game. This game. It was a rare game Pat and I attended together when he was home for the week. We were still trying to figure out who we really had in this new group who arrived in the KG deal. The team was playing really, really badly (apparently a 4-26 record heading into that Blazers tilt) but we each had a few guys that piqued our interest as possible long-term solutions. We should’ve known better. Now they’d be lucky to make one of our League Pass Teams.
One was Al Jefferson, who had a totally unique “throwback” game, was piling up points in the post. Another was Ryan Gomes, who looked solid, with the fundamentals down and decent defensive instincts. The third was Bassy Telfair – a hyped-up high school prospect with Coney Island street cred.
But there was one player Pat and I disagreed on: Gerald Green.
Green was drafted straight out of high school by the Celtics and was included in the Garnett trade, without fanfare in Minneapolis or regret in Boston. He was a wing with great length and tantalizing athleticism (KAAAAAAAAAHN!) who had yet to translate those gifts into meaningful basketball production.
Green’s game was built more for the street than the NBA hardwood. There was a time when iso’s ruled the world, but Gerald wasn’t living in it and he didn’t seem to get that. His worst qualities mirrored one of his teammates, Shaddy McCants. The difference was, McCants had a nice shooting touch and could score a relatively efficient 20 points when the stars aligned. Green had the shot and the hops, but unlike (good) McCants, he had the composure of a golden retriever.
So in that game, on one 4th Quarter possession, Pat and I had been going back and forth on Green; me saying he was terrible and soon out of the league, Pat saying he was too talented for that and that the Wolves oughta give him some time
In what seemed like just PERFECT timing for my argument, Green took a pass on the right wing, channeled his inner-J.R. Rider, and waited between 10 and 23 seconds for the shot clock to approach zero before *deciding* on a move. I’m pretty sure the Playstation controller in Green’s head hit some combo of special moves & joystick misdirections that led to (I’m trying to remember exactly here, so this is probably embellished, but not by as much as it sounds) a short dribble right, between the legs dribble back to the left, and then a hard spinning reverse pivot back to his right where he launched a spinning fadeaway near the right baseline. The the end result–the ball hit the back edge of the side backboard and squirted out of bounds–was impossibly even worse than the move that generated it. I burst out laughing and was ready to rest my case. Gerald Green sucked and always would suck. Have a nice life in Skopje, Gerald!
And for a long time, I believed I had won that argument. Green got a cup of coffee in Dallas the next season after the Wolves declined his team option. Then he spent 2009-10 and 2010-11 out of the NBA, first playing in Russia and then the D-League. I’d practically forgot he existed when, last year, news broke (“broke” is perhaps a bit strong here, unless you’re an NBA junkie/blogger) that Green was back, having signed with New Jersey. I remained skeptical but was anxious to see if anything had changed with the enigmatic baller. After all, the man could blow out cupcakes while dunking. There are less-interesting players to watch, even if I was pretty sure they were all better than Green.
The crazy thing was, Gerald had grown some game in his time out of the League. Along with completing the best alley-oop dunk in league history, Green also played some very solid minutes for the Nets. He played in 31 games through the entire months of March and April. In April, he averaged 15.1 points on 46.4 percent shooting, including 41.2 percent from three. For those 31 games, his win shares per 48 was .072, up from the negative WS/48 he’d posted in his previous two seasons, and his 15.8 PER was up from the single-digit rating he’d had his last year in ‘Sota.
The crazy thing is, in the offseason Green inked a three-year deal with the Indiana Pacers; a franchise being run by a guy who’s no dummy–Kevin Pritchard–and is on the rise. So Green will finally be logging minutes in a winning atmosphere with a little job security.
All this came back to me when I saw Green posted on ESPN’s player ranking this morning at #246. While the rank doesn’t exactly inject Green into the MVP conversation, it validates him as a credible NBA player. As far as that night when I was tearing up from my own laughter at Green’s floor decisions, I’m pretty sure it means he’s come a long way. I like that this can still happen in an era of advanced metrics and “players are who they are.” Green’s not who he was–he clearly worked on his game, was receptive to some coaching, and managed to mold himself into a nice player.
Best of luck to him this year in Indiana.