No matter how much he fights it, it is difficult for Gerald Green to shake the perception that he is just a dunker. He can shoot, he’ll tell you. He’s working on his defense, he’ll say. So Green is passing on the Slam Dunk Contest that he once dominated. This season isn’t about being a high-flyer. It’s about being a Dallas Maverick.
“It’s not really important,” Green said following the Mavericks-Celtics game in Boston (RECAP HERE). “It’s just something that really my friends and family want for me. They wanted me to get into it this year. I said no.”
Dunking may have been one of the skills that got Green in the NBA, but it couldn’t keep him there. In eight months he had been traded twice and eventually waived by his hometown Houston Rockets. He had been out of the league for nearly four months when the Mavericks signed him to a one-year deal last summer. Now Green wants to repay the Mavs for taking a chance on an unemployed 22-year-old.
“I just really wanted to stay focused on basketball,” he said. “I didn’t want the misconception that everybody thinks I’m just trying to dunk. Dunking is fun. That’s not my skill. So that’s one thing I was trying to do, just stay focused on basketball and not really worry about it.”
Green’s focus has been challenged by inconsistent playing time. He averaged 14 minutes per night in November, then appeared in just four games in December. He was on the court for just a minute in two of those contests. This month he has started twice but has not played in eight other games. On Sunday, he was in street clothes against his former team.
“It’s tough for me right now but I’ve just got to still think positive,” he said. “I love the situation, I love the organization, I love the team. I’ve just got to wait my chance. Right now it’s up and down, start, inactive. It’s tough, I’m not going to lie. But it’s a situation I’m dealing with.”
The Mavericks appreciate Green’s commitment despite the sporadic minutes. He asks his veteran teammates for advice “all the time,” according to guard Jason Terry. What they see in his dedication goes beyond the box scores.
“Oh man, the kid has a tremendous upside,” said Terry. “When I watch him play, I think he could be an All-Star in this league. He just has to get on the right team and in the right system. When he has played, he’s helped us tremendously just because his athleticism. He can score with the best of them.
“Like I said, he’s still young though. 22-years-old in his fourth year in the league, he’s going to have a long career ahead of him if he just stays humble and continues to work hard. He’s always in the gym shooting late nights, so his hard work is going to pay off eventually.”
Nothing is guaranteed for Green, so he hits the court hard every time. Not only does it improve his game, it also challenges his teammates to be better.
“He’s just one of those guys who sticks with it, and you know if you’re guarding him in practice he’s going to come at you,” said Antoine Wright, adding, “He comes into practice every day and treats it like it’s his game, and that’s something that you have to do when you’re not playing. And being a young guy, it gives him an advantage because it shows the coaches that he’s still in tune to what’s going on.”
Even though Green is focused on the Mavericks this season, he isn’t hanging up his dunking shoes just yet. He has plenty of family in Texas who wants to see him in the 2010 contest in Dallas.
“Next year will be a totally different year,” he said. “If things go well I think I’ll probably do it in Dallas. I missed the one that was in Houston, but I’ve got a lot of family in Dallas and hopefully if I’m still in Dallas next year – I’m a free agent so I don’t know how it’ll go – I can’t predict the future but I know I want to get into the one that’s in Dallas.”
Ask the Mavericks and they’ll tell you there will be plenty of chances to Green to dunk again.
“He’s a tough young player,” said Wright. “I think he’s going to be in the league a long time.”
During his two seasons in Boston, Green played with six members of the Celtics 2008 championship team. He was happy to see his former teammates win the title, and even happier for those off the court.
“They deserve it. Those guys deserve it,” he said. “I was happy for them, but I think the most I was happy for was those people in sitting in the yellow and black seats out there. Those people, when we were losing 18 in a row when I was here, those seats were still sold out. So I really enjoyed it for my ex-teammates because I know where we came from, but those fans deserved it. They stuck with it, through winters and snowstorms.”
And how about that championship bling? Tony Allen was the first to show it off, and Green was so impressed he placed a Blackberry on his fingers to demonstrate the size of the 92-diamond ring.
“I started to steal it,” he joked, “But it said a big ‘Tony Allen’ on it.”