December 7, 2015
MIAMI -- This is more than just doing a job or meeting a mandate from the organization. Gerald Green is discovering a passion for defense he never knew existed.
He needed to reinvent himself as a defender if he wanted a major role with the Heat, but the genuine enthusiasm has been unexpected.
"I'm finding joy out of it," he said, nearly bursting out of a chair near Miami's practice court. "Listen, dude, I'm lovin' this. I'm surprising myself.
"I used to talk about, 'Man, I gotta score, I gotta get a bucket,' and now I catch myself saying, '(Forget) that, we gotta get a stop.' And that's totally different. I'm loving the mindset."
The Heat love what they have gotten from Green, too, especially filling in for elite defender Luol Deng the past five games. If Deng is not back from his strained left hamstring tonight, Green will make his sixth straight start when Miami hosts the Wizards.
The team has been talking about Green's defensive progress since training camp, and those words came to life over the first month of the season. His tenacity is obvious to the eye, and the statistics support what his teammates keep saying.
Green is facing an average of nine shots per game and holding his man to 37.4 percent shooting, according to the NBA's advanced stats. That puts him third on the Heat behind Goran Dragic and Josh McRoberts.
"He's learning what it takes to make winning plays on a winning team on both sides of the floor," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "That was part of our discussion this summer: What do you want to be a part of? What do you want out of your season?
"This is what we're looking for, and if you want that kind of challenge, we're extremely intrigued by your talent. Let's see if this is the right fit. He's embraced everything."
Signing him seemed counter-intuitive when the Heat started calling him a defensive addition.Green, 29, is a former Slam Dunk Contest champion who in the previous two seasons averaged 20.8 points per 36 minutes and hit 38 percent of his 3s. He has never been regarded for his defense.
If Spoelstra and Pat Riley wanted a live-wire shooting guard to back up Dwyane Wade, this made sense. But if defensive stopper was on their offseason shopping list, Green hardly seemed like the answer.
His apparent disinterest in defending hurt him in Phoenix last season, when coach Jeff Hornacek sliced his playing time dramatically toward the end.
"We need to focus on the defensive end the whole game," Hornacek said on a local radio station. "When he's scoring, it's great because he scores 15, but a lot of times we feel he's giving up 15."
Green disputed that assessment, but maybe there was something to it. While he does not think of himself as a flimsy defender, he knows his reputation. And if his improvement this year is steeped in effort and attention, that suggests those things were lacking in the past.
The shooting percentage he is allowing now is 4.5 percentage points below what those opponents usually hit. With the Suns, though, players who normally made 43 percent saw their accuracy rise to 45.7 when Green guarded them.
Logically, the qualities that made Green such a prolific attacker -- a 6-foot-7 frame, speed and a spectacular leaping ability -- should translate to defense if applied correctly.
"It's just effort," Chris Bosh said. "With all the athleticism he has, there's no way he shouldn't be a defender. He has the God-given ability to be super athletic. When you have that, it's just working to get the principles and just really wanting to do it."
So why now? What is this really about for Green?
What compels a man to go against his nature when there are avenues of far less resistance? The Heat love reclamation projects, but are extremely tough on them. Some general manager out there happily would have signed the same Gerald Green the league has seen since 2005. He might even have landed a starting job.
But after seven teams in eight seasons, interrupted by a two-year stint in Russia, Green grew tired of wandering. He is sick of losing, too. Miami offered the chance to solve both of those problems -- at a price.
In addition to revamping his defense, Green took a sizable pay cut from the $3.5 million he made last season by signing for the veteran's minimum. His deal with the Heat is one year, $1.4 million.
Green is not thinking about this as another one-season stay, though. He believes he has an opportunity to earn a multi-year contract and the stability he craves.
"I'm trying to find a home, and can't Miami be my home?" he said. "That's where my intentions are. So what is a Miami Heat requirement? To D-up. I know if I want to be here the rest of my career, (forget) offense. I gotta D-up. That's where my mind is at."